Perdita woman: Anna Cromwell Williams


Anna Williams, alias Cromwell (1623-1688), was the sole surviving child of Richard Cromwell, son of Henry Cromwell, who was uncle to the Protector , and Elizabeth Hake, daughter of William Hake of Peterborough. Hake-Cromwell apparently married into the recusant Apreece family of Washingley, Huntingdonshire, after her first husband's death in 1626 Victoria County History, p. 71. Their son, Henry, was born and died in 1625. The surname Cromwell was initially adopted by the Williams family ca. 1531 in honour of Sir Thomas Cromwell's advancement of his nephew, Sir Richard Williams. Anna and her husband reverted to Williams, for obvious reasons, at the Restoration in 1660.

Anna Cromwell was baptised on 23 August 1623 in Upwood, Huntingdonshire . Her husband, Henry Cromwell, was her second cousin. Her belongings are listed in an inventory of Upwood dated 1631-1633, suggesting that she spent some time during her childhood in the household of her husband-to-be. Her husband served as MP for Huntingdonshire in 1654, 1656, 1659, and from 1660 to 1673. He succeeded to the Ramsey estates in 1657, and a record of court sessions held by him from 1657-1663 survives British Library Add. MS 33454. However, Anna and her husband sold the manor, monastery and rectory of Ramsey in 1664. On her husband's death in 1673, his sisters and their heirs inherited the remaining estates. Williams is reported subsequently to be living in a house near Ramsey, and The Visitation of 1684 gives the address of Church Street, Ramsey in 1683. Anna Williams died without issue, and was buried at Ramsey on 10 January 1687/1688.

This branch of the family was staunchly royalist: Anna Williams's father-in-law, Sir Henry Cromwell, his eldest son James, father Sir Oliver and brothers fought for the King during the civil wars. Williams herself was a Protestant conformist; as is evident from the sermon transcriptions in her miscellany (British Library Harleian 2311, items 46, 47, 48 and 72) which were preached by local incumbents deprived of their livings during the Interregnum.

This miscellany of poetry and prose is strongly royalist and conformist in character. It is reported in the Victoria County History that Anna Williams alias Cromwell was "the poetess Cromwell", and Wise and Noble assert that she was " an authoress, publishing poetry and a book of prayers", although no evidence of print publication survives. Her manuscript miscellany is a compilation of royalist and religious poetry and prose, often transcribed from print sources. It contains some poetry attributed to female relatives (items 24 and 25) and, although none is specifically attributed to Williams herself, several occasional poems are likely to be hers (items 18, 26 and 27). In addition to these poems, and those popular poems she transcribes which were in circulation at the time, the manuscript contains prayers composed both by herself and her husband, religious meditations and ejaculations, sermons, and catechisms.

Biography by Matie-Louise Coolahan.

See also new ODNB entry for 'Williams [formerly Cromwell] Anna (1623-1687/8).'

British Library: MS Harleian 2311
Miscellany compiled by Anna Cromwell Williams
A Book of Several devotions collected from good men by the worst of sinners ()
Anna Cromwell Williams (Author, scribe)
Full entry.