Examples of the atrocious treatment meted to women “of property” by voracious, conscienceless men continue to flow, and this time the name Cromwell is to the fore. In the 1430s a certain Elizabeth Whitfield, née Swillington fell into the clutches of Ralph, 3rd Baron Cromwell, as follows:
From this link :-
“….Pa L 2: Extract from bill of complaint of Elizabeth Whitfield, née Swillington (second half of 15th century [after 1456], English)
“….Women who inherited land could be attractive marriage prospects for ambitious men. This document, though, shows that marriage was not the only way to acquire wealth – it could sometimes be stolen. In the 1430s Elizabeth Swillington’s claim to manors owned by the late Margaret Gra was disputed by another distant relative, the powerful Ralph, 3rd Baron Cromwell (1393?-1456), Lord Treasurer to King Henry VI. In this extract, Elizabeth complains that she was seized by force and held at Lord Cromwell’s castle at Tattershall, Lincolnshire, where Cromwell and his henchmen tried to persuade her to sign away her inheritance. The document goes on to relate how Elizabeth was kept prisoner for months or years in various places including the enclosed nunnery of Catley Abbey, which she threatened to burn down. She was eventually forced to sign away her rights when trapped in the chapel at Tattershall. Her husband Bartholomew Whitfield refused to accept compensation of 10 marks and 100 sheep in case it invalidated a later claim. This bill of complaint after Cromwell’s death was an attempt to get the land back from his executors….”
This story is utterly appalling. I guess it was only the fact that she was married that saved her from her abductor’s bed, or that of one of his cronies. But her husband couldn’t save her from Cromwell’s cruelty and lust for wealth. The poor woman. Small wonder an honourable king like Richard III saw to it that there was a great improvement in women’s lot. He couldn’t rectify it entirely, of course, but he did what he could in the short time he had.
You can read about Cromwell here.
Go to this document to see the translation of the relevant document about Margaret Swillington/Whitfield.