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Crofts, Elizabeth (b. c.1535), impostor, is of unknown origins. Nothing is known of her before 1554, when she was involved in a cause célèbre that led to her being accused of attempting to undermine the church and the crown. The episode is reported in both Catholic and protestant sources, with no significant variation in detail. On 14 March that year, aged about eighteen, Crofts, a serving maid whose own religious views are not recorded, was persuaded, or perhaps paid, by protestant zealots to conceal herself behind the false exterior wall of a house on Aldersgate Street, in a part of London with a considerable reformist population. There she uttered anti-Catholic propaganda which many of her hearers took to be the words of an invisible spirit; believing her to be some kind of angel, they dubbed this mysterious voice ‘the bird in the wall’. Using a special whistle given her by one Drake, described as a servant of Sir Anthony Nevill or (more plausibly) Knyvet, she spoke heresies and treason against Queen Mary, King Philip, and the Catholic church. But when the onlookers said ‘God save the Lady Elizabeth’, referring to the queen's younger (protestant) sister, the voice answered ‘So be it’. She attracted huge crowds, her audience apparently reaching 17,000 by the second morning. It was several days before the imposture was discovered, the wall pulled down and the young vocalist arrested. She was imprisoned first in Newgate and then at Bread Street.

On 6 July (or perhaps the 15th) Crofts appeared at Paul's Cross to answer her accusers and atone for her sins. In the presence of the preacher, John Wymunsley, archdeacon of Middlesex, she confessed to having offended ‘God and the Queenes majestie … and to be a gasyng stocke to the hoale worlde to my gret shame’ (Hogarde, 120). She also denounced her accomplices, or corrupters, who included ‘Miles, clarke of Saint Butolphs in Aldersgate street, a plaier, a weaver, Hill, clarke of S. Leonards in Foster lane’; during her imposture these men had apparently gone among the entranced crowds and ‘tooke upon them to interpret what the spirit said’ (Stow, 1059). Following her penance Crofts was briefly returned to prison but soon released. It is possible that Drake had links with the conspirator Sir Peter Carew, and even with Sir Thomas Wyatt. Whether the affair of ‘the bird in the wall’ had such grandiose connections it is impossible to say, but it was clearly well prepared and very successful in attracting attention, giving it a significant place in a growing wave of questioning and dissent. Although at least one of Crofts's collaborators was set in the pillory, she herself was never held fully responsible for her actions. Londoners apparently found it easier to countenance the idea that she had been led astray or that, as many suggested, she was simply mad. After this episode nothing further is known of her.

Daniel Hahn

Sources  

C. Wriothesley, A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors from AD 1485 to 1559, ed. W. D. Hamilton, 2 vols., CS, new ser., 11, 20 (1875–7) · J. G. Nichols, ed., The chronicle of Queen Jane, and of two years of Queen Mary, CS, old ser., 48 (1850) · J. G. Nichols, ed., The chronicle of the grey friars of London, CS, 53 (1852) · CSP Spain, 1554 · M. Hogarde, The displaying of the protestantes (1556) · J. Stow, Chronicles of England (1592) · G. Burnet, The history of the Reformation of the Church of England, rev. N. Pocock, new edn, 2 (1865) · S. Brigden, London and the Reformation (1989)