Did Oliver come to stay, and what’s Beadle about?

Written by Tim Ward

Local legend has it Oliver Cromwell stayed in Hapton during the Civil War. The story had been passed around by word of mouth, one current resident remembers the shopkeeper having removed a plaque from the local stables citing the fact. But how to prove a local legend?

Cromwell was related to the Lord of the Manor, Thomas Knyvett III, writing to “my Noble Friend, Thomas Knyvett, Esq.”, in 1646. Knyvett, a Royalist, hoped, like many of the gentry, the King and Parliament would come to a settlement, so kept a very low profile; having, as captain of the foot band, delivered the Depwade Hundred store of arms to the magazine house in 1642.

By 1643, however, Knyvett appeared to declare his hand, taking himself to Lowestoft and getting caught up in trouble there in March. Lowestoft was believed to be undergoing fortification by Royalists and Cromwell, stationed in Norwich with the Eastern Association of Counties – Parliamentary militia – under the command of the Earl of Manchester, immediately seized control of the town, where they 18 strangers gave themselves up, among whom were… of Norff. Mr Knyvett of Ashwell Thorp”. Knyvett himself claimed to have been the unfortunate victim of circumstance.

During his early time in London Knyvett corresponded with his wife, Katherine, at Hapton; Hapton Hall having been “always the jointure-home of the Knevet family”, where the widow of the last Lord would live once his son took over the estate.

All captured Royalists had their land sequestered by Parliamentary committees, in order to pay for the war, and Nathaniel Beadle, solicitor for the Norfolk Committee, was particular in his zeal to attack Knyvett, perhaps driven by the fact he would be entitled to a “shilling in the pound”.

Knyvett had several influential friends to call on; most notably Elizabeth Hampden, Cromwell’s Aunt, and also a relation of his own. The Earl of Manchester, himself, pleaded Knyvett’s innocence, having been assured by Cromwell that the same Mr Knyvett had voluntarily surrendered without any resistance, armed only with the sword he normally wore.

Be that as it may, Cromwell later withdrew this statement of support, claiming Knyvett had tricked him at Lowestoft. All the while Manchester’s stock with Parliament was diminishing, thanks to his knack of falling out with Cromwell. Knyvett’s case almost became a disaster when letters from his sons were intercepted that spoke of their distaste for Parliament and the Puritanical changes taking place. This set Beadle and the Sequestration Committee about trying to seize all of Knyvett’s assets. Nonetheless, Knyvett tried again with Cromwell, drawing up a statement of his case and concluding with an appeal to Cromwell’s graciousness. The appeal of his friends obviously worked because in August 1644 the order for sequestration was discharged.

There is no further known correspondence until the 1646 letter. Hapton was home to Dissenters, known as Independents – a chapel was built in 1749 - whose beliefs were broadly similar to Puritanism. Local Presbyterians, not friendly toward Independents, were trying hard to suppress them– hence the appeal for the protection of “certain poor men of Hapton”. The direct response from Knyvett is not known, but correspondence on the matter with his friend, Henry Elsynge, suggested this would be a very big favour for Knyvett to do Cromwell. Was Knyvett being friendly or acting in fear of the man who’d put him in prison?

Cromwell had several reasons why he would have visited Hapton and equally several why he wouldn’t. Can it be proved he really came? Sadly not, but it’s still a good story.

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