John Hampden

The English statesman John Hampden (1594-1643) was a leader of Parliament in its resistance to Charles I.

John Hampden was one of the largest landowners in Buckinghamshire. By his mother he was related to Oliver Cromwell. He received a Latin grammar school education and attended Magdalen College, Oxford. His principal interest was the reading of classical and modern history, from which he derived his political principles.

Hampden's estate would have fitted him to take up a peerage during the reign of James I, but he had already become opposed to the court. He sat in the Parliament of 1621 and in all succeeding parliaments until his death. In 1625 he opposed a loan to Charles I not sanctioned by Parliament. He was also the ally and literary executor of Sir John Eliot, the most ideologically extreme leader of the opposition in Charles I's early parliaments.

In 1632 the Earl of Warwick granted lands to Hampden and others in Connecticut, which showed Hampden's continued alliance with the leaders of the parliamentary opposition. When the refusal of Warwick and Lord Saye to pay ship money did not provoke the King to prosecute them, Hampden refused to pay his assessment in 1635. The King did prosecute Hampden. He was represented by Oliver St. John, and in the momentous decision of the case 5 of the 12 judges refused to uphold the government. This was a grave blow to the King's legal position; it became the most famous event in Hampden's career.

When Parliament met in 1640, Hampden was the spokesman of opposition to ship money. His chief importance in the Long Parliament, however, became that of a master political organizer and tactician. He never led in debate but always waited until the issues had been discussed at length before making a short and pithy speech to bring the issue to an apparently agreed conclusion, but one which actually conformed to his own policy. He worked closely with Lord Saye, the most effective opposition member of the House of Lords.

The attempt of Charles I to arrest Hampden, John Pym, and the other "Five Members" of the Commons determined Hampden on a militant course of resistance to the King. He raised troops in Buckinghamshire and was active in campaigning against the King. Although Parliament's lord general, the Earl of Essex, was more hesitant in his opposition to the King than Hampden, Essex relied heavily on Hampden's military and political advice. But Hampden's political leadership was cut short. In a typically vigorous attack on Prince Rupert's forces on June 18, 1643, Hampden received a wound in his shoulder at Chalgrove Field in his native Buckinghamshire. The wound became gangrenous, and he died a few days later.

Basically it was Hampden's principled support of Parliament which won the support of the political nation between 1635 and 1642. The same principles were adhered to by his son, Richard, and grandson, John Hampden, who were leading opponents of the later Stuarts and architects of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Further Reading on John Hampden

G. N. Grenville, Baron Nugent, Some Memorials of John Hampden (1832; 2d ed. 1854), remains the basic study. Hugh Ross Williamson, John Hampden (1933), is a popularized biography. John Drinkwater, John Hampden's England (1933), presents a highly favorable account of the man.

Additional Biography Sources

Adair, John Eric, A life of John Hampden, the patriot (1594-1643), London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976.