HAMPDEN, John (1653-96), of Great Hampden, nr. Wendover, Bucks. and Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 21 Mar. 1653, 1st s. of Richard Hampden. educ. M. Temple 1668; travelled abroad (France) 1670-3. m. (1) 5 May 1674, Sarah (d. Nov. 1687), da. of Thomas Foley I of Witley Court, Worcs., wid. of Essex Knightley of Fawsley, Northants., 1s. 1da.; (2) Anne, da. and coh. of the Hon. Frederick Cornwallis, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1695.
Commr. for assessment, Bucks. Northants and Oxon. 1679-80, Bucks. and Oxon. 1689-90; capt. London vol. horse 1689.1
Hampden was sent to study in France under the tutorship of Francis Tallents, an ejected Presbyterian minister. Burnet, who knew him well, described him as ‘a young man of great parts, the learnedest gentleman I have ever known, for he was a critic both in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was a man of great heat and vivacity, but too unequal in his temper.’ In France he adopted Father Richard Simon’s critical view of the Old Testament, and became a professed free thinker. His political thinking was profoundly affected by the historian Mezeray, who told him that France had once enjoyed the same free institutions as England but lost them through the encroachment of kings.2
Returned for the county with his father’s support in 1679, Hampden was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges in both Exclusion Parliaments. He was classed as ‘honest’ by Shaftesbury, spoke against the sale of Tangier on 9 Apr. and voted for the exclusion bill in May 1679. It is not likely that he attended the two following Parliaments, for in November 1680 he went over to France, though in 1681 he was elected for Wendover in his absence. He travelled through France, Switzerland and Germany, ‘in all which places’, according to Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme) ‘he hath been extremely industrious to vilify and misrepresent our governors and Government, both in church and state’. According to the same authority, early in 1682 he was carrying on negotiations on behalf of his party with the French court through Father La Chaise, Louis XIV’s confessor. He returned to England the following September, and was then said to have fallen under the influence of John Wildman I. On the discovery of the Rye House Plot, Hampden was sent to the Tower on 8 July 1683, after William Howard had testified that the first meeting of the Council of Six had been held at Hampden’s house in Bloomsbury. As there was only one witness against him, he was tried not for high treason but for a misdemeanour and was fined £40,000 in February 1684. He could not pay this, ‘offered several sums of money’ but was told ‘they would rather have him rot in prison than have the £40,000’. An estate of his in Buckinghamshire worth £700 p.a. and his manor of Preston in Northamptonshire were seized into the King’s hands. After Monmouth’s rebellion, a second witness appeared against him for his part in the Rye House Plot and he was transferred from the King’s Bench prison to the Tower. Tried for high treason, he confessed to the plot, though not to the assassination part of the scheme, resigned himself entirely into the hands of James as ‘the fountain of grace and mercy’, and paid £6,000 to Jeffreys and Father Petre to secure a pardon. James, who had wanted his humiliation rather than his life, gave him a pardon and liberty. (Sir) John Bramston commented ‘the Whigs are extreme angry at him ... and they have reason on their side, for, as they truly say, he hath made good all the evidence of the plot, and branded the Lord Russell [Hon. William Russell] and some others with falsehood, even when they died’. A contemporary commented: ‘At last let out, he lost his goods, his estate, his wife and reputation’. Henceforth, the memory of his humiliation, wrote Burnet, ‘gave his spirits a depression and disorder he could never quite master’. In a signed confession he attributed his misfortunes at this time to his having abandoned ‘the certainty of the truths of the Christian religion ... to which I was principally drawn by that vanity and desire of vain-glory, which is so natural to the corrupted hearts of men’. Although he had lost much of his former influence with his party, he was trusted with secret communications with the Prince of Orange in 1688.3
After the Revolution, Hampden once again appeared in society and was described as ‘a great beau’. He formed an attachment to Lady Monmouth, and King William told Halifax (Sir George Savile) that what Hampden and Lady Monmouth contrived her husband, the first lord of the Treasury, executed. The King, who ‘said young Mr Hampden was mad’, did not think him fit for the embassy at The Hague, and sought instead to send him on a mission to Spain, which Hampden refused. Returned for Wendover in 1689, Hampden was appointed as John Hampden or Mr Hampden junior to 16 committees, including those to prohibit trade with France, to bring in a list of the essentials for securing religion, laws and liberty, to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and to appoint the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. He took the chair in the committee which drew up the address promising support for the allies. On 14 Mar. he argued for a generous supply for the war and towards the expenses of the Dutch expedition to England. Later in the month, when an amendment was offered to the coronation oath for the King to maintain the Protestant religion professed by the Church of England, Hampden proposed unsuccessfully to maintain the Protestant religion, and the Church of England, ‘and that will comprehend every man’s sense’. In April he took the chair of a committee to draw up an address calling for a declaration of war against France, and did so in terms so partisan, with reflections on Charles II, that the House recommitted it under a different chairman. On the toleration bill on 15 May he argued that its provisions should be extended to all dissenters, not merely to Trinitarians. In November he gave evidence before the ‘murder committee’ of the House of Lords investigating the trials of the Whig leaders implicated in the Rye House Plot. Again he owned the reality of the conspiracy, said that William’s expedition of 1688 was but a continuation of the Council of Six, showed particular hatred against Halifax, who he thought had initiated the prosecution against him, and said ‘he looked upon himself as murdered, as truly as any of those whose case was under consideration, since few of the Lords, as he maintained, but would have preferred death to such sufferings he had undergone’. Halifax, who was shown to have interceded on Hampden’s behalf, suggested that he should ‘be contented with the honour of a confessor without pretending to that of a martyr’. On 6 Dec. he spoke for a proviso excepting Quakers from the penalties for refusing the oath of allegiance. On 14 Dec., he made a bitter attack on Halifax, Nottingham and Godolphin as the men responsible for the miscarriages of the war: ‘that these men who came to Hungerford from King James, should be the greatest men in England, I leave the world to judge. ... If we must be ruined again, let it be by new men.’ On 2 Jan. 1690 a contemporary reported that on reversing Walcot’s attainder Hampden ‘spoke much for the passing of the bill, and took occasion to make mention of some imputations laid upon him for what he said upon examination’, when his father cut him short. According to the same authority, in this Parliament father and son were ‘ordinarily opposite one to another’. He supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations and wanted to except (Sir) Robert Sawyer from the bill of indemnity, thinking the House too lenient with the prosecutors of the Whig martyrs. ‘I ask whether nobody can be murdered but a King?’4
Hampden was defeated for Wendover in 1690 when his father opposed his readoption. In November 1691, much to his father’s annoyance, he attacked the whole financial management, claiming that the commission of accounts last year had found great sums unaccounted for. The following year he was one of the four commissioners of public accounts (not being Members of Parliament) nominated by the Lords. He also declared that ‘with a general excise and an army of 100,000 men, Englishmen will be as enslaved as Asia’. He published his views in a series of tracts, one written in collaboration with Wildman, and particularly attacked the King’s refusal to give royal assent to the triennial bill. He was anxious to stand in 1695. In a pamphlet published as a guide to the electors, Halifax made a transparent attack on Hampden:
there are some splenetic gentlemen who confine their favourable opinion within so narrow a compass that will not allow it to any man that was not hanged in the late reigns. Now by that rule one might expect they should rescue themselves from the disadvantage of being now alive, and by abdicating a world so little worthy of them get a great name to themselves, with the general satisfaction of all those they leave behind them.
Wharton’s refusal to put him up as knight of the shire was said to have finally driven him to suicide. He cut his throat on 7 Dec. 1696, and died three days later. His elder son sat from 1701 to his death, representing Buckinghamshire in three Parliaments.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: Leonard Naylor / Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. SP44/165/385.
- 2. Burnet ed. Airy, ii. 354; DNB.
- 3. Grey, vii. 100; Howell, State Trials, ix. 961, 1054-1127; xi. 479-495; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 86; HMC 7th Rep. 275, 278, 343; HMC Lords, ii. 294; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 80; 1684-5, pp. 253, 302; Macaulay, Hist. 696-7; Bramston Autobiog.(Cam. Soc. xxxii), 218; HMC Hastings, iv. 308-9; DNB; Calamy, Life, i. 386-90; Dalrymple, Mems. ii. bk. 5, P. 22.
HMC Portland, iii. 442; Poems on Affairs of State, v. 167; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 94-95, 97, 204, 229, 233; Grey, ix. 159, 190, 200, 322, 361, 536; Macaulay, 1426; Clarendon Corresp.ii. 277; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 3, pp. 32, 89.
- 5. HMC 7th Rep. 200, 206, 219, 482; Luttrell, ii. 346; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 481-2; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, i. 121; HMC Portland, iii. 580.