This page describes the family of Cressy that flourished in Harpenden during the 14th to 16th centuries. They were one of the most influential families of the area, Lords of the manor of Rothamstead within Harpenden parish and part of some of the most important historical events of their times. The subsidies of Hertfordshire in 1334 fail to show any Cressy which suggests the family moved into the area with the arrival in Harpenden of Ralph CRESSY in 1350.

The family is probably descended from the family of Cressy who lived in Hodsock in Lincolnshire from the earliest 13th century. A Hugh de CRESSY was a senior advisor to King Stephen in the 12th century and the Hodsock line is probably linked to, or directly descended from him. The present website is focussed most closely on the Cressy family of Harpenden in Hertfordshire. While it is most likely that Cressy of Hodsock and Harpenden are linked, there is at present no firm connection. Indeed the name ‘Hugh’ which is characteristic of Cressy of Hodsock is absent from the Harpenden family. Nevertheless, the Harpenden family appear to have immediately acquired high social status from their arrival in Harpenden and had significant land holdings in other counties, all of which indicate descent from another substantial family.

By virtue of the marriage between Edmund CRESSY and Maud, daughter of Lawrence de AYOT and Joan MORTIMER, the family acquired substantial status as the heirs of Sir Henry MORTIMER of Chelmarsh (d.1404) and Letitia de KEYNES (after whose family Milton Keynes is named). In the 16th century, two centuries later, the Cressy coat of arms was still shown quartered with the arms of Mortimer and Keynes (Fig.1).

Figure 1: Armorial Bearings of the CRESSY family on monumental brass of William CRESSY (d. 1558). The bearings of CRESSY (argent, a lion rampant sable with a forked tail) are quartered 1 and 4; MORTIMER in 2nd Quarter and KEYNES in the 3rd Quarter.

The details of the CRESSY genealogy are in many places extremely unclear and there are references to Cressy family members whom we cannot place. Many others are placed speculatively. For example, there are undoubtedly family connections between Finch of Redbourn and Cressy, which have inspired my interest in the family. About 1538 Nicholas FINCH son of John FINCH of Flowers farm in Redbourn married Elizabeth CRESSY. Nicholas and Elizabeth eldest son and daughter were William and Grace, presumably named after William and Grace CRESSY, and Nicholas’ son William FINCH (born 1544) was a godson of William CRESSY in the latter’s will in 1558. It is possible that Elizabeth CRESSY was the daughter of a Thomas CRESSY who owned land in Rothamstead and Redbourn in the 1530s and who was William’s brother (see below).

CRESSY of Harpenden

Ralph CRESSY (~1320-1382) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire, born at an unknown locality. Appears as witness to a land grant in Wheathampstead in 1348. Bought property in Harpenden for £60 from Adam HEROUN on 7 May 1350 with Robert de PORESLEY. This appears to have been part of a sequence of bargains between Cressy and several others including John DANDELYN of Cranford, Northants and William LENVEISE of Hemel Hempstead, Herts. In 1352, he and his wife Helewise acquired land in Wheathampstead from Robert BAKER and Anne his wife of Redbourn. In 1355 he also acquired the manor of Rothamstead from the NOEL family, appearing subsequently as Lord of the manor in court rolls. By 1360 he had married Helewise and together with William EYLEE and Helewise his wife, they sold a tenement on Halliwell Street in St Albans that they had inherited from Robert ALBYN of Hemel Hempstead. The same couples also sold land in St Albans to the Abbot of St Albans in 1362, to William WOOTTON in 1363 and in Hemel Hempstead in 1367 to William WENGRAVE and Adam COOK. In 1368 he acquired land in Redbourn from Stephen WARYN and Edelina his wife of Stanbridge, Bedfordshire, but there was no mention of Helewise, perhaps indicating that she is dead. Acquired lands in Redbourn from the Earl of Warwick. He was succeeded in 1382 by his son:

Edmond CRESSY (~1340-~1408). Married Maud (or Matilda) DE AYOT (~1338-?), daughter of Lawrence DE AYOT (d.1354) and heiress of the house of Mortimer of Chelmarsh and Lettice de KEYNES. In 1378, he petitioned parliament for the recovery of the estates devolved to his wife Maud as heir of the de KEYNES family (after whom Milton Keynes and Combe Keynes were named). In 1385, he became one of the collector of Taxes in Hertfordshire. By 1403, he had married secondly Agnes, the widow of John BESTNEY, who was also the widow of John HARPESFIELD and in doing so became stepfather to John HARPESFIELD junior, their son. John BESTNEY, Edmond’s stepson, initiated an action of debt against Edmond in 1403. Edmond died about 1408. Their children are:

  1. John CRESSY (~1360-1414) of whom following
  2. Nicholas CRESSY (~1362-?) see lineage B below.
  3. Thomas CRESSY (~1370-1423). Citizen and Mercer of St Lawrence Jewry, London, free of The Mercers Company of London in 1403 as the apprentice of William PARKER (d.1403). Owed money by John de CRESSY (~1380-1414) whom I interpret as his brother. Will PCC and issue son William CRESSY citizen and draper.
  4. William CRESSY (~1365->1429) of Dodford, godfather to Sir John CRESSY below. Appeared as a witness to the Inquisition into the wardship of John CRESSY in 1429. He may be the William CRESSY who married Emma, sister of William COOK of Harpenden and from whom inherited land in 1436. Reported as dying without heirs.

Sir John CRESSY (~1380-1414). Married ~1400 to Christine WILDE and moved to Dodford in Northamptonshire. Died 1 Oct 1414 and had IPM. Monumental brass at Dodford Church upon a flat stone the two statues of a man and a woman inlaid in brass, he in arms; two shields, both gone with the inscription:. “Hic jacet Joh’es Cressy armiger et Cistina ux’ ejus, quiquid’ J. obiit 1° Oct. 1414.” Their sons are:

  1. Thomas CRESSY (1401-1407). Born Dodford, Northamptonshire 25 Mar 1401. Died unmarried 3 Oct 1407.
  2. John CRESSY (1407-1444/5) of whom following

Sir John CRESSY (1407-1444/5) Governor of Lisieux in Normandy, France. Born Dodford, Northamptonshire 25 Dec 1407, godson of William CRESSY of Dodford. In 1428 as a minor received substantial estates in Bedfordshire and the Welsh Marches as heir of Sir Henry MORTIMER who had died without issue. In 1439/40 was MP for Hertfordshire and about this time married Christina GREY (~1410-1486). Governor of Lisieux, Orbec and Pont-l’Evêque in Normandy, France. Died 3 Mar 1444/5 in Toul in Lorraine, France. Widow died in St Albans, Hertfordshire on 28 Jun 1486 by which time all their children were also dead. Their estate devolved to John’s cousin, Matthew CRESSY of Harpenden (quo vide). Their children are:

  1. John CRESSY (1442-1452) died without issue.
  2. Thomas CRESSY (~1444-<1486) died without issue before mother but after father. 

CRESSY of Harpenden, Lineage B

Nicholas CRESSY (~1382-~1430) of Wheathampstead. Probably married about 1420; defendant with John CRESSY of Wheathampstead in 1427 in an action of debt initiated by William CRANE citizen and fletcher. Died possibly ~1430. Wife is possibly Alice CRESSY whose will is proven at St Albans in 1433.

  1. Elizabeth CRESSY (~1426-?) mentioned in mother’s will in 1433.
  2. Isobel CRESSY (~1428-?) mentioned in mother’s will in 1433.
  3. Matthew CRESSY (~1430-1501). of whom following.

Matthew CRESSY (~1430-1501) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Married about 1465 Joan PERIENT, daughter of Edmond PERIENT of Digswell, who died Nov 1478 and whose memorial was visible in Harpenden church in 1808. They had a son Edmond (see below). Matthew married 2ndly #1480 Agnes VERNON (?-1527), daughter of Sir Thomas VERNON and Elizabeth nee FORTESCUE who was the daughter of Sir John FORTESCUE, Lord Chief Justice of England (~1397-1479). In ~1484, entered into a dispute with the Bishop of Winchester over Agnes’s inheritance from her grandfather. Matthew inherited a sizeable estate from cousin Sir John CRESSY in 1486. In 1495 he sought lands in Redbourn that had descended to him from his great-grandfather Ralph had bought from the Earl of Warwick and this document identifies his lineage from Ralph. Died 1501, his widow Agnes was still alive in 1509 by which time she had married 2ndly Oliver BUCKBIRD of London; she then married 3rdly Thomas TRUST and died with will PCC 1527. Their children are:

From the marriage to Joan PERIENT:

  1. Edmond CRESSY (1470-1525) of whom following

From his marriage to Anne VERNON:

  1. William CRESSY (1485-1558) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Inherited lands called Hillocks from father. He married ~1515 Alice, the widow of William ATTE WOOD, gent of London (d. 1515). Bought lands called ‘Bowers‘ in Coters End from cousin Ralph CRESSY ~1529. Became Bailiff of the manor of Harpenden ~1535. Became guardian to his cousin William LEIGH (cousin through his mother’s side) and defended an equity suit from him ~1536. Wife Alice must have died ~1540 since ~1545 he married 2ndly Grace (~1520-1570) daughter of Robert DARKENOLD of Penshurst, Kent. Godfather to William FINCH, daughter of Nicholas FINCH and Elizabeth CRESSY of Redbourn. In 1548. he and his nephew Robert STEPNETH bought an estate in Aldenham. He died 24 Oct 1558, possibly of the influenza epidemic that was rife in that year and has a monumental brass at Harpenden church (Fig 2). Will PCC 1558. His widow married 2ndly Thomas JOHNSON of St Albans who died in 1569. She died 1 Feb 1570/1 and has a brass with William in Harpenden. No heirs described in either the will of William or Grace and their monumental brass (see below) shows no children.
  2. Alice (1490-1559) married Sir Richard RAYNESHAW (?-1567), mayor of St Albans (Will PCC) and had issue Joan who married Robert STEPNETH (?-1546) of Aldenham, Hertfordshire (Will PCC 1548).
  3. Thomas CRESSY (~1487-?) received bequest from nephew Robert STEPNETH (see above) in 1548. Probably the man of that name, married to Joan daughter of William CHAPPELL and who appears on court rolls for Harpenden, Rothamstead and Redbourn in the 1530-40s. Possibly the father of Elizabeth CRESSY who married Nicholas FINCH ~1538.

Edmond CRESSY (1470-1525) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Married Margaret about 1495. Was Lord of the manor of Rothamstead, the control of which passed to Margaret. She died after 1544. Majority of estate passed to William CRESSY, Edmond’s (half-)brother. Their daughter and only heir is:

Elizabeth CRESSY (~1500-1585) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Married 1519 to Edmond BARDOLPH (~1480-1554) of Watton le Stone in Hertfordshire. She was the heir of her father but much of his estate passed to his brother William CRESSY for his life and that of his wife. In 1552, Edmund and Elizabeth settled their interest in the manor to their eldest son Edmund. Their children are:

  1. Edmond BARDOLPH (~1527-?)
  2. Elizabeth BARDOLPH (~1529-1568)
  3. Ann BARDOLPH (~1535-)
  4. Joyce BARDOLPH (~1536-)
  5. Edward BARDOLPH (~1538-)
  6. Ralph BARDOLPH (~1542-)
  7. Richard BARDOLPH (~1544-)

CRESSY of Harpenden, Lineage C

Thomas CRESSY (~1470-1530). Of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Married Agnes [Alice] who was alive in 1545. Possibly a brother to Nicholas CRESSY, or a grandson of Edmund CRESSY through another son unknown. They had issue:

  1. Ralph CRESSY (~1495-1544) Citizen and Mercer of St Michael le Querne in London, free 1515 as the apprentice of William BUTTRY. Sold ~1529 lands in Harpenden called ‘Bowers’ in Coters End to William CRESSY (~1480-1558) on condition that he allow his mother Alice to remain on the land. Died without issue and had will PCC 1544.
  2. Jane (1500->1544) of whom following:

Jane CRESSY (~1500->1544). Married John FORSTER about 1530 and had issue all of whom received bequests from uncle Ralph CRESSY.

  1. Edward FORSTER (~1540-?).
  2. Andrew FORSTER (~1542-?)
  3. Jane (~1544-?).