Cranfield, Lionel, Earl of Middlesex 1575-1645, was baptised on 13 March 1575 (Doyle), and when a boy was apprenticed by his father to Mr. Richard Shephard, a merchant adventurer dwelling in St. Bartholomew's Lane, near the Exchange (Goodman, i. 299). Mr. Cranfield — being a very handsome young man, well spoken, and of a ready wit, Miss Shephard, his master's daughter, fell in love with him, and so there was a match between them. His master gave him 800l. portion and forgave him two years of his apprenticeship (ib.) After his marriage with Elizabeth Shephard, Cranfield traded with great success as a merchant adventurer and member of the company of mercers. He attracted the king's notice by his ability when representing his company before the privy council, and succeeded in securing the favour of the Earl of Northampton, who became his patron (ib. i. 304). The first acquaintance I had with him, said James to the parliament of 1624, was by the lord of Northampton, who often brought him unto me a private man before he was so much as my servant. He then made so many projects for my profit that Buckingham fell in liking with him after the Earl of Northampton's death, and brought him into my service. — He found him so studious for my profits that he backed him both against great personages and mean, without sparing any man. Buckingham laid the ground and bare the envy; he took the laborious and ministerial part upon him, and thus he came up to his preferment (Parliamentary History, vi. 193). On 1 April 1605 Cranfield was appointed receiver of customs for the counties of Dorset and Somerset, in July 1613 he became lieutenant of Dover Castle, was knighted July 4, and made surveyor-general of the customs July 26. He was elected M.P. for Hythe in 1614 and for Arundel in 1620, becoming on 20 Nov. 1616 master of requests. Buckingham's growing power quickened the pace of Cranfield's rise. He was appointed successively master of the great wardrobe (14 Sept. 1618), master of the court of wards (15 Jan. 1619), and chief commissioner of the navy (12 Feb. 1619). In all these departments his industry and business experience enabled him to effect great reforms. In the household alone he effected an annual saving of 23,000l. (Gardiner, Hist. of England, iii. 200). In the wardrobe he saved the king at least 14,000l. a year. The king, he used to say, shall pay no more than other men do, and he shall pay ready money; and if we cannot have it in one place we will have it in another (Goodman, i. 311). In spite of these services Cranfield, who had now become a widower, found in 1619 that any further advancement must be purchased by marrying one of Buckingham's needy relatives, and giving up accordingly the hope of wedding the widowed Lady Howard of Effingham, he married in 1621 Anne Bret, cousin of Lady Buckingham (Gardiner, Hist. of England, iii. 213). Before this date, however, he had obtained a seat in the privy council (5 Jan. 1620). In the parliament of 1621 Cranfield took a prominent part in the attack on Bacon. His opposition, no doubt sensibly embittered by a dispute which had arisen between the court of wards and court of chancery, was based on his objections to Bacon's policy with respect to the question of patents and monopolies, which Cranfield considered harmful to trade. After Bacon's fall there were expectations that Cranfield would succeed him as chancellor. He was the likeliest to get up, and I may say had his foot in the stirrup (Hacket, Life of Williams, i. 51). But James appointed Williams, and consoled the disappointed candidate with the title of Baron Cranfield of Cranfield (9 July 1622). This, says Mr. Gardiner, is the first instance of the rise of a man of humble origin to the peerage whose elevation can in any way be connected with success in obtaining the confidence of the House of Commons. On 30 Sept. following Cranfield succeeded Lord Mandeville as treasurer, the latter being removed on account of his opposition to the Spanish alliance. Cranfield's own views on foreign policy were dictated rather by the needs of the treasury than by any sympathy with foreign protestants. His new task was one full of difficulty. A fortnight after his appointment he wrote to Buckingham: The more I look into the king's estate the greater cause I have to be troubled, considering the work I have to do, which is not to reform in one particular, as in the household, navy, wardrobe, &c.; but every particular, as well of his majesty's receipts as payments, hath been carried with so much disadvantage to the king as until your lordship see it you would not believe any men should be so careless and unfaithful (Goodman, ii. 207). This state of things he set himself to reform with marked success (ib. i. 322, ii. 211), and the king's gratitude was shown by his promotion to the title of Earl of Middlesex (17 Sept. 1622). His devotion to the interests of his master's treasury was one of the causes of his fall. When, on 13 Jan. 1624, James consulted the committee for Spanish affairs on the question of the king of Spain's sincerity in the negotiations, Middlesex voted for delay, and took the lead in opposition to war (Gardiner, History of England, v. 178). He also gave special offence to Prince Charles by arguing that, even if the prince had taken a dislike to the infanta, he supposed the prince ought to submit his private distaste therein to the general good and honour of the kingdom, and carry out the marriage contract for reason of state and the good that would thence redound to all Christendom (ib. v. 229).
Contemporary gossip added other causes, as that the treasurer would have brought a darling Mr. Arthur Bret, his countess's brother, into the king's favour in the great lord's absence, or grudged that the treasury was exhausted in vast sums by the late journey into Spain and denied some supplies (Hacket, 189). Early in April charges against Middlesex arose in a committee of the commons which was investigating the condition of the stores and ordnance, and on 5 April the earl stood up in his place in the lords and informed them that a conspiracy was going on against him; if it was suffered no man would be in safety in his place. On 16 April, at a conference between the two houses, Coke, seconded by Sandys, charged Middlesex with receiving bribes and altering the procedure of the court of wards for his private benefit. One accusation was that he had had a stamp made for signing the orders of the court of wards. The lords refused Middlesex the aid of counsel, and would not allow him copies of the depositions against him till after his answer to the charges. Only by the personal intervention of James could he obtain a few days' delay for the preparation of his reply. The king had already warned Buckingham against sanctioning the dangerous precedent of an impeachment, and told him that he was making a rod for his own back (Clarendon, i. 44). He now, on 5 May, made a long speech to the lords, in which he left Middlesex to their judgment, while plainly hinting his own belief in the treasurer's innocence (Parliamentary History, vi. 193). Once he sent for the lord-keeper and told him that he would not make his treasurer a public sacrifice; but Williams persuaded him that necessity imperatively obliged him to yield to the wishes of the commons (Hacket, i. 190). On 1 May Middlesex made his first answer to the charges brought against him, and on 7 May the impeachment began and was heard continuously. Middlesex complained that for a man to be thus followed, morning and afternoon, standing eight hours at the bar, till some of the lords might see him ready to fall down, two lawyers against him and no man of his part, was unheard of, unchristian like, and without example, but he could not obtain a day's respite (Parliamentary History, vi. 279). On 12 May he delivered his final defence, pleading among other things that though he had been a judge eight years not a single charge for corruption in the exercise of his judicial office had been brought against him, and urging also that his service had been in reformations of the household, of the navy, of the wardrobe, of the kingdom of Ireland, in all of which he had procured himself enemies while serving his master. The lords on the same day acquitted him of two minor charges, but voted him deserving of censure on four articles: mismanagement in the administration of the wardrobe, receiving bribes of the farmers of the customs, and misconduct in the management of the ordnance and the court of wards. Accordingly on 13 May 1624 he was sentenced to lose all his offices, to be incapable of employment for the future, to be imprisoned in the Tower during the king's pleasure, to pay a fine of 50,000l., and never to come within the verge of the court (ib. vi. 297-309). According to Heylyn it was moved also to degrade him from all titles of honour, but in that the bishops stood his friends and clasht the motion (Life of Laud, 123). Middlesex was released from the Tower on 28 May 1624, but was not pardoned until 8 April 1625 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 288). In order to obtain his pardon Middlesex was obliged to write a letter of abject penitence and submission to Buckingham (5 Sept. 1624, State Papers, Dom.), and he complained in his letters that Chelsea House was forced from him like Naboth's vineyard, and 5,000l. in addition demanded (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 289). A year or two later, however, he had the satisfaction of seeing his great adversary attacked by parliament and his own merits acknowledged. In 1626, during the debates on Buckingham's impeachment, a member compared the sums received by the duke from the king with those reputed to have been received by Middlesex. Eliot replied that it might be true that Middlesex had received a large sum from the king, but that it was true that Middlesex had merited well of the king and done him that service that few had ever done, but they could find no such matter in the duke (ib.) The belief that he had been hardly treated was very general. I spake with few when it was recent that were contented with it, except the members of the house, writes Hacket (Life of Williams, 190). During the remainder of his life Middlesex lived in retirement. He was restored to his seat in the House of Lords 4 May 1640 (Doyle). King Charles, according to Goodman, had a great opinion of the wisdom of the Earl of Middlesex, and during the course of the Long parliament did advise with him in some things (i. 327). On the outbreak of the war the earl, who was now nearly seventy, endeavoured to remain neutral. In his letters he complains of heavy and unjust taxation from the parliament. Copt Hall was searched for arms; another of his houses, Millcote, was burnt to the ground, and his countess was at one time imprisoned (correspondence in Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep.) Cranfield died on 6 Aug. 1645. His widow survived him till 1670. He was succeeded by his son James (d. 1651), who took the side of the parliament, was imprisoned for acting against the army in 1647, and was one of the negotiators of the treaty of Newport in 1648. With the death of his second son, Lionel, third earl, in 1674, the title of Middlesex in the family of Cranfield became extinct.
The Parl. or Const. Hist. 24 vols. 8vo, 1751-1762
Goodman's Court of James I
Clarendon's Hist. of Rebellion
Hacket's Life of Williams
Cal. State Papers Dom.
Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep., Papers of Earl de la Warr
Doyle's Official Baronage
Gardiner's Hist. of Eng.
Contributor: C. H. F. [Charles Harding Firth]