Seriously, I've have been informed that, as a baby, Oliver Cromwell was kidnapped by his grandfather's pet monkey.

At first glance this smells like a myth but does anyone know of any documentary evidence that suggests this might actually be true? Or at least the source of the myth?


1 Answer 1


The story or myth is found on various biographies of Oliver Cromwell notably

Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell by children's history author Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

There is a story told—I will not say that it is a true one—of how, one day, when Oliver was still a baby, he had been taken to see his grandfather. He lay asleep in his cradle, and his nurse must have been careless, for he was left all alone. As he lay there, a monkey came lolloping into the room and right up to the cradle. The monkey thought that the baby would be a lovely plaything, so he seized him and ran away with him. Leaping, swinging, clinging with hand and tail, he swung himself and his prize up to the flat lead roof of the house.

Soon the baby was missed, and when it was discovered that the monkey was playing with him on the roof, the whole household was thrown into a state of confusion. Beds and blankets were brought out and placed on the ground, to catch the baby, in case the monkey should drop or throw him down. But the monkey was careful, and presently he brought Oliver safely to the ground again. So the baby was saved to grow up to be a great man.

and again in this chapter on the Civil War

The man who became Lord Protector was nephew to the Sir Oliver Cromwell who owned Hinchingbrooke.It is said that as a child he was taken by a pet monkey and carried to the roof of Hinchingbrooke. It is also said that he met the young Charles at Hinchingbrooke and gave him a bloody nose.

Now I must quote straight from Ted Vallance's website -someone who has spent a lot of effort researching this - and has a dedicated blogpost "Oliver Cromwell and the Monkey"

I wondered how old that particular story was.

Thomas Cromwell’s Oliver Cromwell and His Times (1822) lists the story as one of the many extravagant claims inserted into hostile biographies of his ancestor (referring here to Mark Noble’s Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell (1787)) Noble claimed that he received this story – and the other familiar one of the young Oliver coming to blows with a young Charles Stuart – from ‘the rev. dr. Lort’s M.S.S.’ (Perhaps Michael Lort, the Georgian antiquary?) who in turn received this from ‘Mr. Audley’ (the non-juror Edward Audley).

The exact passage on Google docs quotes the original incident thus

His very infancy," says Noble, if we believe what Mr. Audley, brother to the famous civilian, says he had heard some old men tell his grandfather, " was marked with a peculiar accident, that seemed to threaten the existence of the future Protector: for his grandfather, Sir Henry Cromwell, having sent for him to Hinchinbrooke, (near Huntingdon, the ancient family seat) when an infant in arms, a monkey took him from his cradle, and ran with him upon the lead that covered the roofing of the house. Alarmed at the danger Oliver was in, the family brought beds to catch him upon, fearing the creature's dropping him down; but the sagacious animal brought the ' Fortune of England' down in safety: so narrow an escape had he, who was doomed to be the Conqueror and Sovereign Magistrate of three mighty nations, from the paws of a monkey."

So in conclusion, there is an anecdote and an original reference point for the anecdote - but whether it was true or not is still debatable

Furthermore, Andrew Barclay delves in some more and offers this comment on Ted Vallance's website to dig down the source of this tale

Noble’s sources are actually rather interesting. The implication is that Lort was getting his information from ‘mr. Edw. Audley’. There is certainly another story told by Noble several pages later on which is explicitly said to derive from ‘The rev. dr. Lort’s M.S.S. from papers communicated by mr. Audley’ (1787 edn. i. p. 94n). (Do those Lort MSS survive?)

Moreover, on the previous page (i. p. 91n), Noble mentions ‘Mr. Edw. Audley, a draper of Huntingdon, and brother of the chancellor of York’, who had owned the house in Huntingdon in which Cromwell had been born. This is clearly the same man.

This provenance looks plausible. The brother was presumably John Audley, the chancellor of the archdiocese of York in the early Hanoverian period. My guess would be that John and Edward Audley were the two sons of Edward Audley who, according to the IGI (used with all the usual caveats etc. etc.), were baptised at Huntingdon in 1680 and 1682 respectively. Checking whether the former is indeed the future civil lawyer wouldn’t be too difficult.

Running the name Edward Audley through the Cambridgeshire Archives online catalogue (http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/leisure/archives/catalogue/) throws up a number of documents, including a will of 1757 of an Edward Audley of Huntingdon, gent., in a collection of documents relating to Cromwell House, Huntingdon. An earlier Edward Audley (the father?) seems to have been one of the Huntingdon aldermen in 1686. Further research might establish whether there was an Audley grandfather who, as Noble claims, could have heard the story about the monkey.

It seems to me that the story might well be a genuine example of Huntingdon oral tradition. But Michael Lort cannot have heard it much before the middle of the eighteenth century (he was only born in about 1725) and at best Audley was reporting hearsay at several removes. So we still can’t assume that the story was actually true.

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