Croft(s), Sir James (1517/18–90), soldier and administrator, was second son of Sir Richard Croft of Herefordshire and Catherine Croft (née Herbert). James sat in parliament for Herefordshire (1542; 1545?); was made a knight (1547), governor of Haddington (1549), and member of the council of the Welsh marches (1550); and saw active service at Boulogne (1544), Hardelot, where he lost an arm (1546), and Calais (1550). In February 1551 he was sent to supervise the defence of Munster ports against possible French invasion, and succeeded Anthony St Leger (qv) as lord deputy (29 April). In this office Croft, like Edward Bellingham (qv) (1548–9), had a military agenda, dictated to him from London: control of Gaelic areas (particularly in the midlands) by establishing forts, with seneschals or constables exercising martial law. Both men, however, had a pragmatic grasp of Irish conditions and – though they experimentally used the traditional cess to support a larger military establishment – tended to work through cooperation with both Anglo- and Gaelic-Irish, and pursued St Leger's general reform objectives. Croft came to see the seneschal system as provocative to Gaelic lords, and favoured encouraging a wider acceptance of English law and custom, supported by legal education. Though his direct attempt to expel Scots forces from Ulster failed, he contained them through arrangements with the Gaelic lords, supporting the authority of the Dungannon O'Neills rather than the earl of Tyrone. In Munster Croft extended the surrender-and-regrant policy; however, his restricted role as a mainly military functionary prevented his developing a broad base of support among clients such as the earl of Desmond (qv). His other main task – enforcing royal supremacy and reformed liturgy in the church – met with passive resistance among Irish bishops, and Croft had to ask for the appointment of English clergy to assist him. His problems were aggravated by crisis in the chronically ill-managed Irish fiscal administration, by economic distress, and by inflation of 400–600 per cent caused by debased currency. Bellingham had died in debt; Croft escaped this by retiring (November 1552).
Croft's career after Ireland was distinguished by his success in repeatedly surviving both suspicion and conviction of treason. Imprisoned for his part in Wyatt's rebellion (1553–4), he befriended the princess Elizabeth, who as queen sustained him in office and influence when he had alienated most other political figures and had had dealings with Scottish and Spanish enemies. He sat for Herefordshire in every parliament from 1563 to his death, and by 1570 was comptroller of the household and a member of the privy council's subcommittee on Irish affairs, where he changed from his former moderation to support for vigorous colonisation. He married (c.1540) Alice (Warnecombe), widow of William Wigmore; they had three sons and four daughters. After her death (1573) he married Catherine Blount. He died 4 September 1590 – nine months after release from the Tower, where he had been detained after private contact with the duke of Parma – and is buried in Westminster abbey. Through his eldest son Edward, he is ancestor of the Croft baronets. His relative William Herbert celebrated Croft's Irish policies in a Latin eulogy.