William Craven was born in 1608, the eldest son of a self-made Lord Mayor of London who died in 1618. William’s inheritance included the manor of Hamstead Marshall, a number of Downland villages and other vast land-holdings scattered around the country.
Baron Craven of Hamstead Marshall was a soldier who chose the Thirty Years’ War to pursue his military career. Within this wide-ranging conflict he fought for the cause of Elizabeth, daughter of James I, also known as the Winter Queen, whose husband had lost his briefly-held kingdom of Bohemia.
When the Civil War broke out in England in 1642 Craven stayed mostly at the Hague court of the exiled Winter Queen, and thus was never tainted with the “treason” of having fought alongside Charles I, although he bankrolled his impoverished sister’s court.
In his absence in the Netherlands, Craven had representatives who defended his extensive English estates from appropriation, not least by the new republic’s Berkshire Sequestration Committee during the early 1650s. This developed into a devious and protracted dispute in which the Commonwealth employed some highly disreputable agents to spy and report on Craven. Perjury, forgery and conspiracy followed in the attempt to smear Craven with a charge of treason, while prospective purchasers lined up to buy what they thought were his soon-to-be confiscated lands.
William Craven’s successful defence of his ownership rights owed much to his cousin, Sir Anthony Craven of Sparsholt, who conducted an effective propaganda campaign in print condemning the corruption and depravity of the process. (Some of the prospective land-grabbers were those who would sit in judgment against Craven.) Sir Anthony’s advocacy stalled the process such that Craven land was eventually saved by the Restoration in 1660. Potential purchasers of Craven land lost their deposits (which in one case had been made with counterfeit bonds).
With the monarchy restored, Craven returned permanently to England to build a grand house (which burnt down a generation later) at Hamstead Marshall, and Ashdown House near Lambourn.