Thame Local History
For a short biography of John Hampden, visit Compton's
For a fuller biography, visit the John Hampden Society's website biography page here.
The John Hampden Society's Home Page is here.
The following notes on John Hampden are the work of Thame Historical Society Research Group.
Early Life and Marriages
John Hampden was born 1594, of a prominent Buckinghamshire family who were Lords of Great and Little Hampden.
Little is known of his early life although it is believed that at the age of six he was sent to the free Grammar School at Thame.
Ten years later he went up to Magdelan College Oxford. Whilst at Oxford he first met his long term friend Arthur Goodwin. Again evidence is sketchy about his early life but he must have had some expertise in Latin as he was chosen to write congratulatory verses on the marriage of King James I's daughter Elizabeth to Frederick V.
After University John moved to London to study law as a member of the Inner Temple.
On Midsummer's day 1619 he married Elizabeth Symeon at her parish church at Pyrton, Oxon. They were very happily married, living in and around his estate at Great Hampden and were blessed with nine children.
Her death in 1634 must have been a distress for him for whilst she is buried at Great Hampden church John left for London soon after and never returned to the family home.
In London he married Letitia who was the daughter of Sir Frances Knollys. For both of them this was a second marriage, Letitia's previous husband had been Sir Thomas Vachell.
Going to Parliament and to Gaol
John Hampden incurred the displeasure of King James I when he instigated the re-franchising of three Buckinghamshire boroughs to send representatives to Parliament.
In 1621 he himself became the new member for Wendover. Among his friends in the Country Party at the Parliament were Pym, Wentworth and Arthur Goodwin (now MP for Aylesbury).
Hampden and his Parliamentary Country Party appear to have been in constant turmoil with the King and he and 70 others were imprisoned for a year for refusing to loan money to the King. Although initially imprisoned in the Gatehouse Gaol at Westminster he was soon committed to serve in Hampshire.
Dealings with King Charles and Oliver Cromwell
When Charles I released his prisoners and called his third parliament 1628 the new member for Huntingdon was John's cousin Oliver Cromwell.
The main business of this Parliament was the passing of "The Petition of Right" which gave many new powers to Parliament.
The King disputed this act and dissolved the Parliament. After the dissolution in 1629 Parliament would not sit again for eleven years, during which time King Charles ruled from his infamous Star Chamber.
John Hampden continued his protests and it was in this period, as a Justice of the Peace, that he gained much of his local popularity and support.
Even he however was disillusioned with the state of the country and considered emigrating to America. Surprisingly it was King Charles who stopped him and Oliver Cromwell when they were on the point of leaving.
The Ship Money Trial
The extravagance of King Charles I led to him having to devise many new ways to supplement his finances, but it was his revival of an old tax that would ultimately lead to his downfall.
Ship Money Tax had been first used to raise money to counter the threat of the Spanish Armada in Elizabeth I's time. There was no such threat when in 1635 the tax was imposed on the whole country and each landowner had his portion to pay.
With many refusals to pay, in October 1636 the Crown decided to select a test case for trial. They chose the 20 shillings owed by John Hampden for Stoke Mandeville.
The case began in May 1637, not concluding for several months, but of the twelve judges presiding only five found in John Hampden's favour. Despite losing his case he never paid this or any other Ship Money. When a Parliament was called in 1640 with an offer from the King to withdraw the tax in return for a grant from Parliament it was Hampden who moved the motion to reject the King's offer.
The Grand Remonstrance
Hampden and Pym campaigned vigorously to ensure that the Country Party had strong support in the next Parliament. So much so, that when it was called later in the year the Parliament was able to reverse many of the injustices of the past 11 years.
Amongst them Ship Money Tax was declared "contrary to law" and particular bench of judges were dismissed.
All was not plain sailing however and Hampden had to return swiftly from Scotland to speak at the debate on The Grand Remonstrance. This catalogue of the King's misdeeds was passed by a mere eleven votes.
The passing of the Grand Remonstrance led directly to an accusation of High Treason against five of its proponents (John Hampden, Sir Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, John Pym & William Strode).
King Charles led several hundred soldiers to Parliament to arrest them, but Parliament had received news of the approach of the King and insisted that the five left by the back way and along the river. When Charles arrived he could only see empty seats where the five should have been and exclaimed "The birds have flown".
The five were given refuge by the City of London, in defiance of the King. This challenge prompted the king to make a political withdrawal to Hampton Court.
The five members returned in triumph from the City to Westminster on 11th January 1642 and on the same day six thousand men from Buckinghamshire marched to London to petition the King and Parliament. It is said that every man had a copy of the Grand Remonstrance in his hat band.
Death at Chalgrove
Civil war had not yet begun but it was inevitable when the King refused to give power over the military to the Parliament.
Hampden piloted through Parliament the bill to allow Lord Lieutenants in each county to call up militia in their defence. Hampden himself with Arthur Goodwin recruited the "Green Coats" one of the best Parliamentary regiments.
Colonel Hampden and his Green Coats became very prominent in the early stages of the war and he managed to capture Oxford with Lord Saye's Blue Coats.
By June 1643 John Hampden was inspecting defences at Watlington when he heard of a sortie by Prince Rupert towards High Wycombe.
He instigated a plan to foil Rupert's withdrawal and advised Essex to deploy to Chislehampton Bridge, then set off in pursuit of Rupert's army.
Rupert turned at Chalgrove field (three miles short of Chislehampton). Hampden engaged the forces twice but was repulsed on each occasion and Essex arrived to late to prevent Rupert reaching Oxford.
During the second charge Hampden was wounded. With his friend Arthur Goodwin he made his way to Thame and the safety of Essex headquarters where he was treated in the house of Ebenezer Brown in the High Street. It is reported that King Charles sent his own physician to treat him but despite treatment he died there on 24th June 1643.
John Hampden and the Civil War
John Hampden was not a revolutionary but was a moderate patriotic man until circumstances forced him to take up the sword. He was never against the King as such but wished to see the monarchy adapted to the needs of the nation within the framework of the law. He wished that the right and privileges of each man as well as Parliament should be respected.
It is often said that if John Hampden had not been killed in 1643, the course of British history would have been very different indeed.
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