Cressy of Harpenden, Hertfordshire

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 Cressies 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 Leticia 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. 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.

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 1355 he also acquired the manor of Rothamstead from the NOEL family, appearing subsequently as Lord of the manor in court rolls. He was succeeded in 1382 by his son:

Edmond CRESSY (~1340-~1408). Married Maud DE AYOT (~1340-?), daughter of Lawrence DE AYOT and heiress of the house of Mortimer of Chelmarsh and Elizabeth 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 By 1403, he had married secondly Agnes BESTNEY, who was the widow of John HARPESFIELD and in doing so became stepfather to John HARPESFIELD junior, their son. 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 and from whom inherited land in 1436.

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). Probably married about 1420 and died when young. 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 who died ~1480. He married 2ndly Agnes. Inherited estate from cousin Sir John CRESSY in 1486. Died 1501, his widow Agnes was still alive in 1509 and had married 2ndly Oliver (?) BUCKBIRD. Their children are:

  1. Edmond CRESSY (1470-1525) of whom following
  2. William CRESSY (1485-1558) of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Inherited lands called Hillocks from father. He married 1508 Alice by whom he may have had children. Bought lands called ‘Bowers’ in Coters End from cousin Ralph CRESSY ~1529. Became Bailiff of the manor of Harpenden ~1535. Wife Alice must have died ~1540 since ~1545 he married 2ndly Grace (~1520-1570) daughter of Edmond 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. Will PCC 1558. His widow married 2ndly Thomas JOHNSON of St Albans who died in 1567. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Thomas CRESSY (~1485-?) received bequest from nephew Robert STEPNETH (see above) in 1546. 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.

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 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-?).