The Tudor Society

Who was Catherine Cromwell?

Thank you to Lynne for asking about Catherine Cromwell. Lynne's full question is "I was watching the actor Danny Dyer trace his family history on T.V. Apparently his family tree was traced to William the Conqueror and stopped at the Tudors which Catherine Cromwell was mentioned. She
seemed a powerful woman but I've never really heard of her. So my long-winded question is who was this Lady and how powerful was she in the
Tudor times?"

Now, there are several Catherine (or Katherine) Cromwells, one being the sister of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and Henry VIII's right-hand man, who married Morgan Williams and who is an ancestor of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, but the Catherine that was mentioned in the TV programme on Danny Dyer's ancestry was actually the great-granddaughter of Thomas Cromwell. Let me show you how she is linked to the Thomas Cromwell we all know and love (or hate!).

Thomas Cromwell had a son, Gregory, 1st Baron Cromwell, who was married to Elizabeth Seymour, sister of Queen Jane Seymour. Gregory had five children with Elizabeth: Henry, Edward, Thomas, Catherine and Frances. Their eldest son, Henry, 2nd Baron Cromwell, married Mary Paulet, daughter of John Paulet, 2nd Marquess of Winchester, and they had three children, including Catherine. Catherine was born c.1562 (although her tomb says that she died in her 63rd year, so that would make a birth year of 1557) and on 10th February 1580 (or 1581), she married Lionel Tollemache, at North Elmham. Lionel was the son and heir of Lionel Tollemache (Tollemarch) (1545-1575) and Susanna Jermyn. The family seat was Helmingham Hall in Suffolk, a moated manor house which had been built by John Tollemache (Tollemarch) in 1480, and Lionel was created 1st Baronet of Helmingham Hall in 1611. He was knighted in 1612. Lionel also served as a High Sheriff of Suffolk.

Catherine and Lionel's eldest son, another Lionel, became 2nd Baronet of Helmingham Hall on the death of his father in 1621. He was a member of Parliament and served James I and Charles I as a privy councillor. Their other children were Robert, Edward, Susan (Doyle), Mary (Castell), Catherine (Playter) and Anne (Gosnold).

Catherine died on 24th March 1620 and was buried at Helmingham. The inscription on her tomb reads "While She liv'd, for her Pietie toward God, Pity toward ye Poore, and Charity in Releeving (through her Skill and Singular Experience in Chirugerie) ye Sick & Sore Wounded, She was beloy'd and honour'd by All. And is now miss'd and lamented in her Death."

Eastenders actor Danny Dyer descends from Catherine via her daughter, Anne, who married Robert Gosnold. In the BBC programme "Who do you think you are?", Danny visited Helmingham Hall, which is still in the Tollemache family today and there, Lord Tollemache showed him a picture of Catherine Cromwell. Lord Tollemache told him that Catherine was a "polymath", i.e., an expert on all sorts of knowledge, including heraldry and medicine, and that she wrote a number of books. Her interest and expertise in medicine is backed up by her tomb inscription. Sadly, I haven't been able to find mention of her books anywhere, so perhaps Lord Tollemache has kept them in the family. I'd love to know more about her work.

Here is a video of the bit of the programme, showing Catherine's portrait:

Of course, what made Danny very excited is his link to royalty. Gregory Cromwell's wife, Elizabeth, was a Seymour, as I said, and the Seymours were descended from King Edward III and William the Conqueror.

You can click here to read more articles about Gregory Cromwell and Elizabeth Seymour.


There are 5 comments Go To Comment

  1. L

    Thanks Claire, I really appreciate all your hard work , I really enjoyed it all .

  2. M

    Thank you for sharing! I have a great interest in Thomas Cromwell and to learn more about him is awesome. Now my question is… Who is Danny Dyer???? (Lol, I will google…). ;). Michelle t

  3. L

    Hi Michelle, Dyer is a Soap actor on British T.V. Who is in a show
    Called Eastenders ,although I don’t watch it it’s a very popular show. Danny Dyers search for his family tree is funny and interesting tho🤓

  4. M

    Oh, thank you! I’m in the United States, but am somewhat familiar with British TV, (Midsomer murders, Father Brown). Now I’m curious about Eastenders. Thanks! Michelle t

  5. T

    Catherine Cromwell

    Hampshire England 1583
    Massachusetts Bay Colony, British Colonial America 1653 Married: Thomas Talmadge

    1580 – 1653
    Is this Catherine,related to that Catherine?
    Can you email me and let me know please.

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Who was Catherine Cromwell?