HOPTON, Ralph (1596-1652), of Witham Friary, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



6 Mar. 1621
c. July 1625
1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 5 Aug. 1642

Family and Education

bap. 13 Mar. 1596, 1st s. of Robert Hopton* and Jane, da. and h. of Rowland Kemeys of Vaerdre, Mon.1 educ. Lincoln Coll., Oxf.; M. Temple 1614-15; travelled abroad 1615-18; vol. Bohemia 1618-20.2 m. 18 Mar. 1623, Elizabeth (d.1646), da. of Sir Arthur Capell of Little Hadham, Herts., wid. of Sir Justinian Lewin, gent. of the privy chamber, of Otterden, Kent, s.p.3 cr. KB 1 Feb. 1626;4 suc. fa. 1638; cr. Bar. Hopton of Stratton 4 Sept. 1643.5 d. 28 Sept. 1652.6 sig. Ra[lph] Hopton.

Offices Held

Gent. of the privy chamber (extraordinary), King Charles’s Household;7 cllr., Prince Charles’s Household 1644-50;8 master of the Ordnance 1644-6.9

Lt.-col. of ft., Low Countries 1624-5;10 capt., horse gds. 1639;11 lt.-gen. of horse (roy.) 1642;12 c.-in-c. western army (roy.) 1643-4, 1645-6;13 dep. gov. (roy.), Bristol, Som. 1643.14

Commr. enclosure, Sedgemoor, Som. 1628;15 j.p. Som. 1629-46;16 dep. lt. c.1629-42;17 commr. depopulation 1632;18 surveyor, bpric. of Bath and Wells, Som. 1638-46;19 commr. array, Som. 1642.20


Hopton obtained a pass overseas in 1615 ‘to learn the languages’, but subsequently served as ‘a voluntary in the Bohemian wars’ in the Elector Palatine’s forces. He accompanied Princess Elizabeth on her flight from Prague in November 1620, and gave Sir Dudley Carleton* ‘the best account of the ill carriage of that business’. Arriving in London on 28 Feb. 1621, he was returned for Shaftesbury at a by-election a week later, on the interest of William, 3rd earl of Pembroke.21 With his father already sitting as knight of the shire for Somerset, it is hard to be certain about his activity in the Commons, but in May Sir Francis Nethersole* noted that Hopton had ‘already made himself well known’ during the debates over the insults levelled at the Palatine couple by the Catholic lawyer Edward Floyd. On 1 May ‘Sir [sic] Ralph Hopton’ urged that Floyd should not be punished until his papers had been properly examined, while on the following day, after King James demanded to know why the Commons claimed jurisdiction over Floyd, he moved that the king be asked to receive a delegation to offer an explanation.22

A week after the June adjournment Hopton obtained another pass overseas, presumably in order to fight in defence of the Palatinate.23 He returned home on leave in the winter of 1623 in order to contract a marriage which the newsletter writer John Chamberlain found unaccountable:

the gentlewoman [was] well esteemed, but somewhat attempata, as being above 30 years old, and never had but one child, her daughter, which is such a hazard for a man of his parts and fortunes, ... being the only heir male of his house, that it is not so convenient a match in my judgment, and I would not have made such a choice.

The writer’s opinion, though somewhat inappropriate from the pen of a lifelong bachelor in his seventieth year, proved sound insofar as Hopton was indeed the last of his family.24

Before the 1624 general election it was reported that Hopton had been invited to stand for Somerset in partnership with Sir John Stawell*, but that ‘in great modesty’ he had ‘refused it’. Commissioned as a lieutenant-colonel in Count Mansfeld’s army at the end of the year, he was authorized to raise 200 men in Somerset. This force achieved little in the Low Countries, and on 25 May 1625 secretary of state Sir Edward Conway I* proposed that Hopton should be recalled in order to sail with the fleet to Cadiz. The request was renewed with some urgency in the following month, and Hopton landed in England on 20 July, by which time he had probably already been returned for Bath.25 He took his seat at Oxford, where he played no recorded part in the debates, but realized, to his dismay, that ‘the war is begun without any assurance of money to support it’. He declined to serve with the Cadiz expedition, observing: ‘the miseries we suffered in the last journey [with Mansfeld] (though I could hazard myself willingly enough) make me afraid to have charge of men where I have any doubt of the means to support them’. He sent an account of the dissolution of the session to Ambassador Dudley Carleton* at The Hague, but this miscarried when his servant was captured by a Flemish privateer. He wrote again on 12 Oct. asking to be discharged from Mansfeld’s army, a request which was presumably met.26

Hopton was created a knight of the Bath at the coronation in 1626. He did not sit in the ensuing Parliament, though privilege might have been useful to him, since he was soon to be threatened with a Chancery suit by the 2nd earl of Salisbury (William Cecil*) over lands in Herefordshire. He was certainly in town, since he wrote to the earl of Middlesex (Lionel Cranfield*) from Stepney to announce the dissolution, and to report (incorrectly) that arrest warrants had been issued for some of the Lower House.27 Hopton’s father, as a deputy lieutenant, was at odds with Sir Robert Phelips*, who speculated before the 1628 Somerset election that ‘if Stawell or Sir Ralph Hopton appear upon the place, they will hazard me’. In the event, Sir Edward Rodney moved up to take one of the county seats, leaving Wells free for Hopton.28

Hopton played a significant part in the 1628 parliamentary session. He was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords of 21 Mar. on the subject of a petition for a fast, and his military experience led to his inclusion on a committee drafting a bill regulating the powers of the lieutenancy (24 March). In his first speech, on 26 Mar., he supported Phelips’ recommendation that grievances, particularly the confinement of Forced Loan refusers, be debated before supply, an intervention which suggests that the two men had sunk their local differences in pursuit of wider aims. These debates on liberty of the subject were quickly concluded, and on 3 Apr. Hopton suggested a form of words for the investigating committee’s report, which highlighted the illegality of the Loan.29 Although he enjoyed a godly reputation, he had reservations about the bill to permit marriages at all times of year. His own marriage had been solemnized in Lent, and he suggested a proviso ‘to make it unlawful to use public solemnities at marriage these times’; he was named to the bill committee (22 April).30

On 1 May, when debating the Commons’ bill to confirm the liberties of the subject, Hopton was prepared to see the text altered to bind the Crown, but he subsequently rejected the Lords’ attempts to add a proviso to the Petition of Right permitting the exercise of the royal prerogative in case of necessity, observing that this was tantamount to accepting the absolutist doctrines of Dr. Roger Manwaring (19 May). When solicitor-general Sir Richard Shilton recommended a minor change to the wording of the Petition on the following day, Hopton feared that altering the phrase ‘an unlawful oath’ to ‘an oath not warranted by law’ would encourage doubts over the powers of the law. The Lords insisted upon their amendment, but on 23 May Hopton supported Phelips and Sir Thomas Wentworth*, in refusing to accept any alteration of the Petition.31

One of the issues addressed by the Petition was the billeting of soldiers, who had arrived in Somerset only weeks before the Parliament convened. Hopton and Sir Edward Rodney* had signed warrants to billet some of these troops on Wells, where the town’s recorder, John Baber*, advised the corporation ‘to yield to necessity rather than law’ for fear of the consequences of a refusal. Baber, who also served as Member for Wells, was suspended from the Commons on 9 April. When Sir Walter Earle moved to readmit him on 16 May, Hopton, despite his own role in billeting troops, assisted Phelips in bringing additional charges against Baber, whereupon Earle’s motion was dropped. It was not until 29 May, when Baber made a formal apology, that Hopton was prepared to see Wells’ recorder readmitted, but he warned that this did not mean Baber could not be punished for any additional offences he may have committed; Baber was ultimately readmitted on 17 June after a further investigation.32

Hopton’s final speech of the session, on 30 May, concerned Sir Thomas Monson’s* monopoly of the right to issue summonses by the Council in the North. He queried ‘whether the sole making of process be a grievance’, and moved for a vote on the matter. His motion seems to have been aimed at Wentworth, who claimed that Monson’s patent was no different from a similar measure condemned in May 1621, for when a vote was held the two men served as tellers on opposite sides. In the event Wentworth carried the day, and Monson’s patent was condemned.33

The king’s acceptance of the Petition of Right on 7 June 1628 seems to have settled Hopton’s misgivings about the liberties of the subject - he remained silent during the attacks on the royal favourite, Buckingham, which followed. During the 1629 session he also held aloof from the attacks on the customs farmers for seizing the goods of the MP John Rolle* for non-payment of customs duties. Moreover, when Sheriff Acton of London was accused of behaving contemptuously towards the investigating committee, he called ‘for mercy’; but Phelips intervened to ensure that Acton was sent to the Tower. Hopton’s only committee nomination was as one of those ordered to take note of attendance at the Commons’ fast day on 18 Feb., while at the committee of religion on 17 Feb. he moved for Sir William Bulstrode’s call for a register of Catholics resident about London be extended to the Royal College of Physicians.34

In 1633 Hopton and his father opposed Phelips over the Somerset church-ales controversy, but that aside, he played little part in local factional squabbles during the 1630s. In the Long Parliament he supported the attainder of Wentworth, now earl of Strafford, but went over to the Court early in 1642. Perhaps the most successful royalist general in the Civil War, his victories earned him a peerage in 1643. He went into exile in 1646, and died ‘of an ague’ at Bruges on 28 Sept. 1652. As his estates he been sold by Parliament, he apparently left no will.35 Edward Hyde†, earl of Clarendon, who had little time for generals, remembered him ‘as faultless a person, as full of courage, industry, integrity and religion as ever I knew man’. At the Restoration the family recovered Witham Friary, Somerset, which passed through his eldest sister Catherine to her son Thomas Wyndham, MP for Wells in 1685 and 1689.36

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xxx. 106; J. Bradney, Mon. iv. 182.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.; MTR, 577, 600; APC, 1615-16, p. 158.
  • 3. D. Lloyd, Mems. Excellent Persons, 341-2; Harl. 1580, f. 224v.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 162.
  • 5. CP.
  • 6. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 222.
  • 7. LC3/1.
  • 8. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iii. 450.
  • 9. O.F.G. Hogg, Royal Arsenal, 1037.
  • 10. APC, 1623-5, p. 386.
  • 11. E351/292.
  • 12. Bellum Civile ed. C. Chadwyck-Healey (Som. Rec. Soc. xviii), 12.
  • 13. Clarendon, ii. 283-4; iv. 130.
  • 14. Bellum Civile, 60.
  • 15. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 267.
  • 16. C231/4, f. 265.
  • 17. T.G. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, pp. 315-17.
  • 18. SP16/229/112.
  • 19. P.M. Hembry, Bps. of Bath and Wells, 220.
  • 20. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 21. Harl. 1580, f. 224v; Lloyd, 342; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 349.
  • 22. SP84/101, f. 48v; CD 1621, iii. 124, 146.
  • 23. APC, 1619-21, p. 390.
  • 24. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 468-9.
  • 25. Som. RO, DD/PH219/62; APC, 1623-5, p. 386.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 27, 49, 71; SP16/7/71.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 214, 215; HMC 4th Rep. 290.
  • 28. Som. RO, DD/PH221/2.
  • 29. CD 1628, ii. 42, 78, 137, 289.
  • 30. Ibid. iii. 22, 31.
  • 31. Ibid. 200, 478, 499, 585.
  • 32. Ibid. ii. 374, 383-4; iii. 435; iv. 19.
  • 33. CJ, i. 602b; CD 1621, iii. 194; CD 1628, iv. 32.
  • 34. CD 1629, pp. 189, 220; CJ, i. 928b, 931a.
  • 35. Barnes, 298; Keeler, 222.
  • 36. Clarendon, iii. 346; Som. and Dorset N and Q, xxx. 162-3.