Lady Frances Cromwell

a 17th century ‘Rom Com’ in one act

DRAMATIS PERSONÇ

  • OLIVER CROMWELL (25 April 1599 - 3 September 1658) Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
  • FRANCES CROMWELL (1638-1720) Cromwell’s youngest daughter
  • JEREMIAH WHITE (1629-1707) a Nonconformist minister, preacher to the Council of State, and Puritan chaplain to Oliver Cromwell
  • DR. GORDON A chaplain

THE SCENE: Whitehall Palace – London

Jeremiah White Chaplain to Cromwell

Although his portrait suggests that Jeremiah White was not much to look at it does appear that an attractive personality and witty conversation made him popular, especially with the ladies. His position as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell gave him a close intimacy with the family and particularly Cromwell’s youngest daughter Frances. He was very taken with her and she with him. It was said at the time that “The lady did not look upon him with disfavour.” Unfortunately the budding Jeremiah-Frances love affair did not appear to be going anywhere because they were both frightened of what would happen if her brother – Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland and all round big cheese found out about it. They needn’t have worried. The big cheese already knew all about their relationship!

With the assistance of a nosy servant Oliver Cromwell managed to surprise the young couple at the very moment when the chaplain, Jeremiah, was on his knees before the daughter, Frances, and kissing her hand…

Cromwell discovering Jeremiah on his knees

“What do you mean by assuming this posture before my daughter?” demanded Cromwell.

Jeremiah was many things and one of them was being quick on his feet – or in this instance, on his knees. He immediately gestured towards a Lady in Waiting who was standing beside Frances.

“May it please your highness I have long courted this gentlewoman here, but without success, and I am asking her ladyship Frances to intercede for me.”

Cromwell turned sharply towards the Lady in Waiting.

“What is the meaning of this? Do you not know that he is my friend and I expect you to treat him as such?”

The Lady in Waiting was ready with her reply.

“If Mr White is willing to honour me thus I shall not oppose him.”

Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell was not a man to mess about. You do not get to be the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland etc. etc. by messing about. Remembering that there was another chaplain, Dr Gordon, on duty in Whitehall Palace he summoned the cleric to the room and had him marry his daughter and Jeremiah White there and then. He also bestowed a handsome wedding present on the newly married and extremely surprised couple. Despite the speed of it all they lived together quite happily for over 50 years, living proof that the old axiom “Marry in haste and repent at leisure” does not always apply.

Frances Cromwell

Things did not work out so amicably for Cromwell’s daughter, the Lady Frances Cromwell. On 11th November 1657, at the age of 19, she married Robert Rich, the heir to the Earl of Warwick. The pomp and splendour of their wedding did nothing to guarantee its longevity. Barely 9 weeks later, on 16th February 1658, Robert Rich died from ‘consumption’. Ever an optimist, on the 7th Mat 1663, Lady Frances married again, this time to Sir John Russell, a colonel-of-foot in the Protector’s Army. After fathering 3 sons and two daughters Sir John died in 1669. Lady Frances survived him by over 50 years, living with her older sister Mary, Countess Fauconberg and enjoying the considerable benefits of the estates of not 1 but 2 former husbands. She died in 1720, the last of Oliver Cromwell’s family.

— from Martyn Day

Credit – portrait of Frances Cromwell. – John Michael Wright (1617-1694)