Cromwell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cromwell Surname Meaning

The surname Cromwell in England originates from the village of that name in Nottinghamshire some five miles north of Newark. The root is the Old English crumb, meaning “bent” or “crooked,” and waella, a “spring” or “stream” – thus a winding stream. There was indeed a Ralph de Cromwella, recorded in 1177, who was lord of the manor there. 

Although the Cromwell surname is well known through historical personages, the Cromwell numbers today are relatively few in England. There are more in America.

Cromwell Surname Resources on The Internet

Cromwell Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America and Canada

England. The Cromwells were lords of the manor of Cromwell in Nottinghamshire from the 12th century and possibly earlier. Later Cromwells made their home at Tattershall castle in Lincolnshire. Lord Ralph Cromwell served as Treasurer of England from 1433 to 1443. But the male line died out on his death and the Cromwell name did not survive in Nottinghamshire. Indeed there were no Cromwells recorded in Nottinghamshire in the 1891 census.

There followed, unconnected, two famous Cromwells.

Thomas Cromwell.  Thomas Cromwell’s birth occurred around the year 1485 was on Putney Hill in the outskirts of London. His father was a blacksmith and sometime brewery owner. From these somewhat obscure origins came a man who held the highest office in the land during the reign of Henry VIII. The TV adaptation of the book Wolf Hall portrayed him as a brilliant lawyer and a masterful political operator. But his time at the top ended abruptly when he was tried and executed for treason in 1540.

Despite Cromwell’s downfall, his line did continue through his son Gregory who was created Baron Cromwell. The later line, ennobled as the Earl of Ardglass, made their home in Staffordshire. The male line here died out in 1687.

Oliver Cromwell.  Oliver Cromwell was distantly and indirectly related to Thomas Cromwell. Thomas’s older sister Katharine and her husband Morgan Williams, a Welsh lawyer, had a son named Richard who was brought to court by Thomas. Richard was soon a King’s favorite and came into possession of Hinchinbrooke nunnery in Huntingdonshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. He changed his last name from Williams to Cromwell at this time.

The line from Richard Cromwell led to:

  • his son Sir Henry Cromwell, one of the two wealthiest landowners in Huntingdonshire
  • his grandson Robert Cromwell, a man of more modest means and his great grandson Oliver Cromwell, the man who led the Parliamentary side during the Civil War and ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658.

Oliver’s son Richard followed him as Lord Protector, but lasted only two years in the position. The male descent from Oliver was via his fourth son Henry who retired to Spinney Abbey in Cambridgeshire after the Restoration. Later Cromwells made their home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. The last male survivor of the Lord Protector was apparently Oliver Cromwell, a London solicitor, who died in 1821.

James Waylen’s 1897 book The House of Cromwell covered this family history.

America.  The Cromwells in New York and Maryland each claimed a descent from the family of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector.

New York. John Cromwell the emigrant came to Westchester county in 1686 in an area that later was known as Cromwell’s Neck. His grandson John was an active patriot during the Revolutionary War.

David Cromwell of this family, a Quaker, married Rebecca Bowman in the 1820’s and produced two sons who both perished at the time of the Civil War:

  • Henry B. Cromwell had started the Cromwell Steamship Company with ten ships in 1854 at the tender age of 26. Ten years later in 1864, at the age of 36, he was dead. His steamship company was thriving and continued to thrive after his death as one of the main steamship companies of the East Coast.
  • his younger brother James meanwhile, a major in the Union army, was shot through the heart as he was leading his men on a charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. A gold locket bearing the picture of his wife Anna was found around his neck. She had just given birth to a son that James would never meet.

Another line via Charles Cromwell survived the Civil War and led in the 1930’s to Oliver Cromwell, a noted American mountain climber, and his brother James Cromwell who married the tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Their sister Louise was the first wife of General Douglas MacArthur.

John Nelson Cromwell from Brooklyn died at the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863. His son William Nelson Cromwell was a lawyer who was active in the promotion of the Panama Canal project for which he was richly rewarded. He is remembered by the Cromwell Book Prize awarded annually in the field of American legal history.

Maryland.  William and John Cromwell came on the Benona Eaton to Maryland in 1671 and their descendants were local gentry in Anne Arundel county. Cromwell Valley Park north of Baltimore was named after the family.

Later Cromwells would spread into Kentucky and Indiana (their lines covered in Jean Cromwell Price’s 1984 book The Cromwells of Maryland, Kentucky, and Indiana). Still, Maryland has the largest number of Cromwells in America today.

Philemon and Rebecca Cromwell moved from Maryland to Twin townshiip in Darke county, Ohio in 1838. They purchased 156 acres in a wild state near Ithaca where they built their home and raised nine children. Henry and William Cromwell fought in the Civil War. Henry died in 1864 at the Battle of Wilderness in Virginia. His remains were never recovered from the battlefield. William survived.

Canada. A Loyalist Cromwell family came from America to Weymouth, Nova Scotia in 1783. Curiously, this family was African American and descended from freed slaves. The Cromwells are still there and held a family reunion in 1988.

Cromwell Surname Miscellany

The Cromwells of Cromwell in Nottinghamshire.  The Cromwells were first recorded as lords of the manor of Cromwell in 1177.  It was said that they were descended from Healfdene, the main landowner in Cromwell at the time of the 1086 Domesday Book.

It was Ralph de Cromwell who was summoned to the House of Lords as the 1st Baron Cromwell in 1375.  He made his home at Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire.  This home was made quite splendid by Ralph, the 3rd Lord Cromwell, who served as Treasurer of England from 1433 to 1443.When Lord Ralph died in 1456, he left no male heirs.

The Cromwell estates passed to one of two joint-heiresses, his niece Lady Maud Willoughby.

Thomas Cromwell’s Birthplace.  It is believed that Thomas Cromwell was born at the top of Putney Hill, on the edge of Putney Heath.  In 1878 his birthplace was still of note:

“The site of Cromwell’s birthplace is still pointed out by tradition and is in some measure confirmed by the survey of Wimbledon Manor for it describes on that spot ‘an ancient cottage called the smith’s shop, lying west of the highway from Richmond to Wandsworth, being the sign of the Anchor. The plot of ground here referred to is now covered by the Green Man public house.

Cromwell was born there to Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith and brewery-owner, and his wife Katherine.  Some reports have his father as Walter Smith who changed his name to Walter Cromwell.

Sir Richard Cromwell, a King’s Favorite.  On May Day 1540 Sir Richard Cromwell eminently distinguished himself by his military skill and gallantry during a day of jousting at Westminster.

He and five other challengers had each of them, as a reward for their valor, 100 marks annually with a house to live in for them and their heirs forever,.  This house had been granted out of the monastery of the Friary of St. Francis at Stamford which had been dissolved two years prior.

It was said that when the King saw Sir Richard’s prowess he exclaimed:  “Formerly thou wast my Dick, but hereafter thou shalt be my diamond.”  He dropped a diamond ring from his finger, bidding him afterwards bear such a one in the fore gamb of the demy lion in his crest. 

Oliver Cromwell’s Reputation.  Oliver Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the British Isles, considered a regicidal dictator by historians such as David Sharp, a military dictator by Winston Churchill, but a hero of liberty by John Milton and Samuel Carlyle, and a class revolutionary by Leon Trotsky.

In a 2002 BBC poll in Britain, Cromwell was selected as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time.  However, his measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland have been characterized as genocidal or near-genocidal, and in Ireland his record is harshly criticized.

John Cromwell’s Patriotism During the Revolutionary War.  John Cromwell’s name cropped up in 1777 when he suffered severely from the maltreatment of the British troops and their allies the Cow Boys because of  his well-known attachment to the American cause.

At one time then, it was said, a party of Cow Boys entered his house and demanded that he should tell them where he kept his money concealed.  Upon Mr. Cromwell’s refusal, they seized him and, heating a shovel red-hot in the kitchen fire, applied it to his naked person.

John Cromwell lived to relate this and other incidents he experienced during the war, telling them with much relish at a good old age.  He died in 1805 at the age of seventy eight.

James Cromwell and His Four Wives.  Jimmy Cromwell was the son of the Palm Beach society doyenne Eva Stotesbury.

His first wife was the automotive company heiress Delphine Dodge.  She was the only daughter of Horace Dodge of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, co-founder of the Dodge Motor Company.  They had one daughter Christine in 1922 and divorced in 1928.

He married the 22-year-old tobacco heiress Doris Duke in 1935.  After their marriage in New York they undertook a six month honeymoon cruise of the world.  The couple were both supporters of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Jimmy published books to present his economic ideas and used her fortune in finance his political career. In 1940 he entered the election for U.S. Senator from New Jersey, but lost the race.

Three years later they entered into bitter and protracted divorce proceedings.  Doris Duke, asserting that her husband wanted a $7 million ”endowment,” won a decree in Reno but that was voided by a court in New Jersey. Cromwell then obtained a divorce that became final in 1948.

Jimmy Cromwell was married to his third wife, Maxine MacFetridge, from 1948 until her death in 1968.  Germaine Benjamin was Cromwell’s fourth wife, from 1971 until her death in 1987.  Cromwell himself died in California in 1990 at the age of 93.

Cromwell Names

  • Thomas Cromwell was chief minister to King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540. During that time he was one of the strongest and most powerful advocates of the English Reformation.
  • Oliver Cromwell led the Parliamentary side during the English Civil War and ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658.
  • Henry B. Cromwell founded the Cromwell Steamship Company in New York in 1854.
  • Richard Cromwell, born Roy Radabaugh, was an American actor popular in the 1930’s.

Cromwell Numbers Today

  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in Maryland)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *