Family Group Sheet
Family Group Sheet
NameWilliam CROFTS Baron Crofts of Saxham
Death1677
FatherSir Henry CROFTS (1590-1667)
SpouseElizabeth SPENCER
Notes for William CROFTS Baron Crofts of Saxham
Van Dyck's double portraits usually explore such themes as kinship or friendship, but the present painting depicts two figures united by grief. The circumstances in which the painting was undertaken and the elegiac mood created by the subtle monochromatic tones make this one of the most moving double portraits painted by Van Dyck. Thomas Killigrew (1612-83), a royalist poet, playwright and wit, is seated on the left looking out of the composition. The pose with the head supported by the hand is traditionally associated with melancholy.

This state of mind in a man who was only twenty-six years of age was induced by the recent death of his wife, Cecilia Crofts. She died (possibly from plague) on 1 January 1638 after two years of marriage. He wears his wife's wedding ring attached to his left wrist by a black band. A silver cross inscribed with her intertwined initials is attached to his other sleeve. He holds a piece of paper on which there are drawings, possibly made with a funerary monument in mind. The other figure has been variously identified, but the most satisfactory suggestion is that he is William, Lord Crofts (c.1611-77), Killigrew's brother-in-law, who suffered a double loss at the beginning of 1638, since another sister, Anne, Duchess of Cleveland, died shortly after Cecilia. The paper held by Crofts is blank, but clearly it formed the basis for discussion between the two sitters - a discussion presumably meant to console, but from which Killigrew is distracted by grief. The mood of the picture, therefore, unifies the composition on one level, but so do the contrasting poses, with one figure seen from the front and the other from the back with the face turned in profile. There is also an allegorical link provided by the broken column, a symbol both of mortality and of fortitude.

Killigrew's friendships with other poets are also significant for appreciating this portrait. Thomas Carew wrote a poem commemorating the marriage of Killigrew and Cecilia Crofts (29 June 1636), while Francis Quarles wrote an elegy on the deaths of the two sisters. By showing the two sitters in conversation Van Dyck is demonstrating the sense of loss while also suggesting a means for its cure, since, according to contemporary literary convention, words had the power to heal the troubled soul. At the same time, in pictorial terms the device of depicting figures in the act of talking was a way of evoking their actual presence more effectively. The thematic and psychological interactions that characterise this double portrait are a supreme demonstration of Van Dyck's abilities as a portrait painter.

William Crofts is the most high-profile person ever to have lived at the Hall. He had been born in 1611. He was in a fair amount of trouble from an early age, getting into fights and even a dual or two. In 1644, with the Civil War raging, we see him in Paris and again in 1649, after Charles I's execution.

By now, Charles (later to become Charles II) was in exile and William was sent by him to Poland and Lithuania on embassy duties. The main purpose of his and others' forays abroad was to raise money for the would-be king's cause and Crofts was certainly successful, raising considerably more money than the cost of sending him there. Upon his return from Poland in 1652 he was made a gentleman of Charles' bedchamber, (a doubtful-sounding privilege!). From then he lived in a house near Paris and in 1658 received his long-talked-of peerage. It was drawn in Brussels on 18 May 1658, making him Baron Crofts, of Saxham.


After one of Charles' attempts to gain power in 1651, he had escaped to France from England, having hidden in the now famous oak tree at Boscobel in Shropshire to avoid detection after defeat at the battle of Worcester.


Charles had many lovers, the first of which was Lucy Walter. She had met Charles in 1648 in Holland - she was in exile too - and conceived a child by Charles the following April. This was James, later to become Duke of Monmouth.

James lived with his mother in Holland until shortly before she died in 1658. James, aged 9, was then put in the charge of Baron Crofts, taking his surname, and living in Paris until July 1662, when the Baron and he returned from exile. By then James was just 13. A year earlier, plans had been put in motion for James to be married to Lady Anne Scott, Countess of Buccleuch. She was the wealthiest heiress in Britain, with an estate of £10,000 a year. At that time, Anne was only 10.


The marriage took place in April 1663, in the King's Chamber in Whitehall, when James was 14 years and 11 days old. Anne was just 12. James had been made Duke of Monmouth two months earlier. "This being James' marriage day", Charles wrote to his sister, the Duchess of Orleans, "I am going to sup with them where we intend to dance, and see them abed together"(!)

The marriage was 'de convenance', an arranged marriage, of course, and Monmouth was quite a 'man-about-town'. He was always in trouble, sometimes so serious that the King had to intervene to save him from the course of his actions.

Later, Monmouth was to fight his uncle James for the right to rule the country, only to be executed for his efforts in 1685.

William had been married twice before, neither very successfully. His second wife died in 1662. In 1664 in married Elizabeth Spencer, of Althorp. Her father was Baron William Spencer, who of course is a distant relative of the current Earl, the brother of the late Princess Diana.


Charles visited Baron Crofts at Saxham at least four times, in March 1666, October 1668, April 1670 and October 1676. The main purpose of his visits appears to be to have a good time!

On the second occasion Lord Arlington wrote to his secretary, "I could not speak to the king at Saxham, nor until today, by reason of the uncertainty of his motions(!)"

The diarist Samuel Pepys was present since he recalls a few days later when "..the King was drunk at Saxam" and refers to "the night that my lord Arlington come thither, and would not give him audience or could not; which is true, for it was the night that I was there and saw the king go up to his chamber and was told the king had been drinking."

Then in April 1670: "on the 16th the king was entertained at Lord Crofts', from whence he will go to Lord Arlington's (at Euston), and then he will pass his time in other parts till his return to Newmarket to see a race on the 27th, after which he will return to Whitehall."

The 16th April was a Saturday, since the following day Charles, probably somewhat the worse for wear, was treated to a lengthy and rather boring sermon at Little Saxham Church. The sermon was given by George Seignior, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is rumoured that Charles nodded off during the sermon and subsequently had to ask for it to be printed, so that he could have the chance of reading it. It was printed on quarto, and ran to 33 closely printed pages.

In October 1676, in the fourth of Charles' recorded visits here, Richard Gipps of Little Horringer Hall was knighted at Saxham.

So we have, between James I and Charles II, some seven recorded instances of royal visits by reigning monarchs to Little Saxham Hall. That's eight if you count the time when young Master John wrote his poem. One can only assume that there were others, which are unrecorded. Did the Duke of Monmouth ever visit Little Saxham? Did he come with his father to one of the rowdy drunken evenings there? It is believed that he was present at Christmas 1665, when Lord Arlington of Euston was also there. "We passed Christmas merrily", Arlington wrote.

William died in 1677 at the age of 66, having no children by either of his two marriages. The monument in the chapel is of him and his second wife, Elizabeth. Little Saxham Hall passed to his first cousin, also William, but a Major. Masquerades, duels and royal visits were over and just three more generations of Crofts owned Little Saxham Hall before their name was extinguished there. Major William died in 1695.

William's eldest son Anthony married Elizabeth Gipps of Little Horringer Hall at Saxham in 1684. He died in 1725 and was buried here. Elizabeth died in 1753.
Last Modified 29 Jul 2012Created 28 Jan 2018 using Reunion for Macintosh