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CROFT, Sir JAMES (d. 1590), lord deputy of Ireland and controller of Queen Elizabeth's household, descended from an old Herefordshire family, was son of Sir Edward Croft, by his second wife Catherine, daughter of Sir Richard Herbert of Montgomery. His father was sheriff of Herefordshire in 1505, was knighted about 1514, became one of Princess Mary's learned counsel in July 1525, and died early in 1547. James was knight of the shire for the county of Hereford in 1541; served at the siege of Boulogne in 1544 where two of his brothers were killed; was knighted 24 Nov. 1547; became governor of Haddington in 1549, where he gained a high reputation (Holinshed, Chron. s. a. 1549); served in the Calais marches in 1550, and in March 1550–1 went to Ireland to superintend the fortification of the Munster coast. On 23 May 1551 Croft was appointed lord deputy of Ireland in succession to Sir Anthony St. Leger; took vigorous measures to pacify Cork; recommended the ‘plantation’ of the turbulent parts of Munster; attacked without much success the Scottish invaders of Ulster; raised the value of the debased currency; and sought to introduce the protestant liturgy by persuasion rather than by force. But Ulster and Connaught were not to be conciliated, and in December 1552 Croft retired from Ireland with the reputation of having tried in vain ‘honourable dealing towards the Irish’ (Campion, Historie of Ireland, 1633, p. 124). Early in 1553 he became deputy-constable of the Tower of London, but on Mary's accession implicated himself in Wyatt's rebellion. He was removed from the Tower (7 July 1553), and subsequently went to raise rebel forces in Wales (January 1553–4). On being captured there he was sent to the Tower (21 Feb.); was tried and convicted at the Guildhall (29 April). He was, however, remanded to the Tower till 18 Jan. 1554–5, when he was fined 500l., ‘bound over to a good bearing,’ and released. While in prison Croft saw his fellow-prisoner Princess Elizabeth, and was suspected of treasonable designs in her favour. In 1557 Mary appears to have become reconciled to Croft, and sent him to serve on the council of the north under the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Croft was restored in blood on Elizabeth's accession (3 March 1558–9); was granted much land in Herefordshire and Kent; became seneschal of Hereford and governor of Berwick. At Berwick Croft became intimate with Sir Ralph Sadler, the English ambassador to Scotland, who recommended him to Cecil for the higher post of the wardenship of the marches (September 1559). During the year Croft was in repeated communication with the Scotch protestants, who prayed him to induce Elizabeth to champion their cause against the catholic regent, Mary of Guise. He wrote repeatedly on Scottish affairs to Cecil and the council. Knox visited him at Berwick in August, and corresponded with him subsequently. Croft temporarily countenanced the proposal to marry Elizabeth to the Earl of Arran, the leader of the Scotch protestants. On 28 Feb. 1559–60 Croft was ordered to accompany Lord Grey's expedition on behalf of the Scotch protestants. In the attack on Leith in the following year, a stronghold of the regent's supporters, Croft was ordered to take a prominent part, but his unwillingness to proceed to active hostilities and the absence of himself and his division of the army at a critical moment raised the suspicions of the home government. The Duke of Norfolk, appointed to investigate the matter, reported very unfavourably (2 June). Croft was called before the council of Winchester and dismissed from the governorship of Berwick. There can be little doubt that he had entered into treasonable correspondence with the Scottish regent. For the next ten years Croft was out of office, but he represented Herefordshire in the parliaments of 1564, 1570, 1585, 1586, and 1587. In January 1569–70 he had regained Elizabeth's favour, and become controller of her household and a privy councillor. In July 1583 he petitioned, in consideration of his poverty, for a grant of such ‘concealed land’ as he might discover within ten years, and in September 1586 he was granted lands to the value of 100l., with the reversion to a leasehold worth 60l. a year. In December 1586 he proposed a reform of the royal household.

Croft always succeeded in maintaining friendly intercourse with the queen. At one time he encouraged her intimacy with Leicester, and would doubtless have profited had the earl married Elizabeth. But he was always playing a double game; private ends guided his political conduct. Before 1581 he became a pensioner of Spain and tried to poison the queen's mind against Drake. In October 1586 he was one of the commissioners for the trial of Mary Stuart, and on 28 March 1586–7 he alone of these commissioners sat in the Star-chamber at the trial of Davison, the queen's secretary (Nicolas, Life of Hatton, p. 462). In January 1587–8 Croft was sent, with the Earl of Derby, Lord Cobham, and Dr. Dale, to treat for peace with the Duke of Parma in the affairs of the Netherlands. He held himself aloof from his fellow-commissioners and paid alone a mysterious and doubtless a treacherous visit to Parma at Bruges (27 April), on learning of which the queen sent him a sharp reprimand. The other commissioners were ordered to disavow Croft's actions, but Elizabeth could not be induced to accept the proofs of Croft's double dealing, and in answer to his entreaties pardoned what she judged to be his misdirected zeal (15 June). In August, however, Croft returned home, and Burghley sent Croft to the Tower on hearing the reports of the Earl of Derby and his colleagues. Croft and Croft's son Edward insisted that these proceedings were instigated by Leicester, with whom he had fallen out of favour. To avenge his father's wrongs Edward Croft is said to have applied to a London conjuror, John Smith, to work by magic Leicester's death. Leicester died on 4 Sept. 1588, and the younger Croft was charged with contriving his death before the council. (The examination of Croft and John Smith, the conjuror, are given in Strype's Annals, iii. 594 et seq.) The trial apparently proved abortive, and the elder Croft was not involved in the charges. On 18 Dec. 1589 Sir James was at liberty again, and died 4 Sept. 1590, being buried in the chapel of St. John the Evangelist in Westminster Abbey. Camden's too favourable verdict on his career runs: ‘He got above the envy of the court, which, however, had wellnigh crushed him, and died in a good age, his prince's favourite and in fair esteem with all that knew him.’ Thomas Churchyard [q. v.] wrote a sympathetic epitaph in his ‘Feast full of sad cheere,’ 1592. De Larrey in his ‘Histoire d'Angleterre’ (ii. 1361) and Lloyd in his ‘Worthies’ (i. 455) give flattering accounts of him. Augustine Vincent, the herald, wrote against his name in a family pedigree in the Bodleian (MS. Ashmol.) ‘obiit pauperrimus miles.’

Croft's first wife was Alice, daughter and coheiress of Richard Warnecombe of Ivington, Herefordshire, widow of William Wigmore of Shobdon (buried at Croft 4 Aug. 1573), by whom he had three sons, Edward, John, and James, and three daughters, Eleanor, Margaret, and Jane. Croft's second wife was Katherine, daughter of Edward Blount, by whom he apparently had no issue.

The eldest son, Edward, to whose curious trial reference is made above, represented Leominster in parliament in 1571, 1584, and 1586, dying on 29 July 1601. By his wife Ann, daughter of Thomas Browne of Hillborough, Norfolk, he was the father of Sir Herbert Croft [q. v.], of two other sons, Richard and William, and of five daughters. James Croft, the elder Sir James Croft's third son, was knighted 23 July 1603, was gentleman-pensioner to Elizabeth, and was alive in 1626.

[A long account of Croft's life appears in the Retrospective Review, 2nd ser. i. 469 et seq. by Sir N. H. Nicolas. Many letters written by him in 1559 and 1560 are calendared in Thorpe's Scottish State Papers, vol. i., and a few of the same date are printed at length in the Appendix to Keith's History of the Church of Scotland (1734). See also Machyn's Diary (Camd. Soc.), pp. 35, 56, 60, 61, 80; R. Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, i. 351–91; Froude's Hist. of England, v. x. xii.; Burghley Papers; Camden's Annals; Cal. of Hatfield MSS. pt. i.; Sadler's State Papers; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–90; Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1550–1; Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Autobiog. (1886), p. 82 n.]

S. L. L.