Cromwell, Mary (1636–1712)

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Cromwell, Mary (1636–1712)

Countess of Fauconberg. Name variations: Mary of Falconberg; Mary, countess of Falconberg; Mary Fauconberg. Born in February 1636 in Ely, England; died in 1712 in London, England; daughter of Oliver Cromwell, later Lord Protector of England, and Elizabeth (Bouchier) Cromwell; married Thomas Belayse, Viscount Fauconberg, in November 1657 (died 1700); no children.

Mary Cromwell was the seventh of eight surviving children of Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth Bouchier Cromwell . At the time of her birth, her father, who would later gain permanent renown as one of England's most important rulers, had just begun his climb to fame as a newly elected member of Parliament. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. By all accounts, the Cromwells were the model of a contented and affectionate Puritan family; both Elizabeth and Oliver were loving and devoted parents, despite the demands and dangers of Oliver's political and military career. Mary had a particularly close relationship with her father, revealed in their letters and in the letters of those who knew them. Oliver admired his daughter, whom he and everyone called Mall, for her intelligence and high-spirited nature. By the time she was 16, it was clear Mary resembled her father physically and in her character—dark hair and eyes, outgoing, aggressive, and strong-minded.

In 1653, Oliver Cromwell began looking for a suitable husband for Mary. By this time the Puritan party, with Oliver as its military and political leader, was winning the long English Civil War against the Anglican royalists. King Charles I had been executed four years earlier, and Cromwell was consolidating his power over England as head of the Parliament. He wanted his children's marriages to be part of this consolidating process by arranging alliances with powerful and influential families. Negotiations for Mary's hand were opened between several powerful potential allies, including the sons of the duke of Buckingham and the Prince of Condé, the French noble leading a revolt against the French king. These maneuverings went on for four years; as Oliver's power grew, his political needs changed, and he sought new alliances. In the end, Oliver, now installed as Lord Protector of the Realm and the most powerful man in England, finally concluded a marriage arrangement for Mary, now 20 years old.

Mary's new husband was a widower, Thomas Belayse, Viscount Fauconberg. He was an Anglican, not a Puritan, and although he was not a Royalist himself, he came from a family who opposed Cromwell's Puritan Party. This alliance reveals Cromwell's move toward reconciliation with his enemies as his hold on power became secure. But Cromwell was not only thinking of himself in arranging this marriage; he saw Belayse as an intelligent man of high moral character whose high social position would make him a good husband for his beloved daughter. Rumors that Belayse was impotent (he had no children from his first marriage) were treated as a joke by Oliver, and did not deter the Cromwells from the proposed wedding.

Mary and Viscount Fauconberg were married in November 1657 in a private Anglican ceremony at the royal palace of Hampton Court. The Cromwells provided the new Viscountess Fauconberg with a large dowry and welcomed the couple to remain in London at the Cromwell court, rather than moving up north to Fauconberg's estates. Thus Mary did not have to part from her family even after her wedding. In some ways the rumors about the Viscount proved to be correct; in four decades of marriage, only once did Mary suspect herself to be pregnant, and she never gave birth to any children.

The next year, Mary and Thomas left London for a long political tour of northern England. The trip was designed to improve Cromwell's image and support among the north's prominent families, many of whom were staunch Royalists, by demonstrating the alliance between Cromwell and the Royalists that their marriage represented. As always, Mary would be a loyal daughter and valuable political asset to her father, concerned with helping him maintain his position.

In August 1658, Mary took care of her father after the death from cancer of his favorite child, her older sister Elizabeth (Bettie) Cromwell . Oliver, himself in poor health, was devastated by Bettie's death, so much so that Mary refused to leave him even to attend her sister's funeral. Only a few weeks later, Mary faced another personal tragedy when Oliver died in September. In his letters, her husband describes Mary's intense grief for weeks after the loss of her beloved father.

The remaining Cromwells were treated well by the royalists who regained power after Oliver Cromwell's death, despite their connection to the Lord Protector. Even the newly crowned king Charles II, son of the king whom Cromwell had executed, refused to punish Cromwell's wife and children. The family retained its property and much of its wealth.

However, in death Oliver himself was deeply hated by the royalists. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Oliver's body was disinterred from its vault in Westminster Abbey and thrown into a common grave pit to be burned. Among the many different versions of what happened to his body after that is one popular story concerning Mary Cromwell. Countess Fauconberg is said to have bribed the soldiers guarding the grave pit to give her her father's body. She then had the body transported to northern England and reburied in a tomb (which still survives) on her husband's estate of Newburgh. The actual fate of the body is unknown, but the legend, true or not, certainly shows that Mary's lasting devotion to her father was widely recognized.

Of all the Cromwells, Mary prospered the most after the Lord Protector's death. Her husband Thomas remained in favor in the new administration and served King Charles as an ambassador. He went on to become a Privy Councilor to King William III, who made him an earl as well. Mary remained a popular figure at the royal court for the rest of her life; always loyal to her own family first, she used her influence to help her many relatives and improve her family's fortunes. Mary was widowed in 1700, at the age of 63. She survived her husband by 12 years, living well into the reign of Queen Anne , the third monarch to rule after Cromwell. Countess Fauconberg was buried at St. Nicolas Church in Chiswick, near her estates at Sutton Place.


Fraser, Antonia. Cromwell: The Lord Protector. NY: Alfred Knopf, 1973.

Laura York , Riverside, California