Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Compton, Spencer (1601-1643)
COMPTON, SPENCER, second Earl of Northampton (1601–1643), son of William, first earl, was born May 1601, and married, some time after 20 Oct. 1621, Mary, daughter of Sir Francis Beaumont (Doyle). Compton was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, was created knight of the Bath on 3 Nov. 1616, and represented Ludlow in the parliament of 1621-2. On 1 March 1622 he was appointed master of the robes to Prince Charles, and accompanied him to Spain next year. According to Sir Richard Wynne, Compton fell ill at Burgos, and did not reach Madrid (apud Diary of Sir S. D'Ewes, ii. 428). On the accession of Charles I he was reappointed to the post of master of the robes, which office he held till June 1628; he was also summoned to the House of Lords as Baron Compton on 1 April 1626, and succeeded his father as second earl of Northampton on 14 June 1630 (Doyle). He was lord-lieutenant of Warwickshire from 1630 till death. During the two Scotch wars he ardently supported the king, and in the council of peers which met at York in September 1640 strongly opposed the payment of any contribution for the support of the Scotch army during the treaty of Ripon (Hardwicke, State Papers, ii. 242-58). At the same time he supported the summoning of a parliament; that one word of four syllables, said he, was "like the dew of heaven" (ib. ii. 210). On the breach between Charles and the parliament the Earl of Northampton followed the king to York, was one of the nine lords impeached for refusing to obey the summons of parliament to return, signed the engagement of 13 June to defend the king, and finally undertook the task of executing the commission of array in Warwickshire (July 1642). At Coleshill, near Coventry, he first put the commission of array in execution, and then endeavoured to surprise Warwick Castle (Bulstrode, Memoirs, 73). Though he failed in this, he succeeded in obstructing the passage of the ordnance Lord Brooke was sending down to fortify the castle, attacked Banbury, and succeeded in carrying off the guns himself (8 Aug.). On 23 Aug. he was defeated by Hampden and Ballard at Southam, and on 22 Sept. took part with his troop of gentlemen in the victory gained by Prince Rupert at Worcester. This troop, which consisted of a hundred gentlemen of quality, became part of the Prince of Wales's regiment of horse, and fought in that capacity at Edgehill (ib. 75). In November 1642, after the king's return to Oxford, he gave Banbury and that part of the country to the Earl of Northampton, who was commanded to raise a regiment of horse, which was given to the Lord Compton, his eldest son, and Sir Charles, his second son, was made lieutenant-colonel of it; to Sir William Compton, his third son, was given the castle of Banbury (ib. 93). On 22 Dec. the parliament forces from Northampton occupied the town, and assaulted the castle, but Rupert's approach the next day relieved the earl from danger (Twyne, Musterings, apud Hearne, Dunstable, 760). Still his forces were so weak that he was ordered by the king to burn Banbury if seriously attacked (Warburton), Prince Rupert, ii. 91). Early in March 1643, Lord Northampton made an expedition from Banbury to relieve Lichfield (ib. ii. 132), but arriving too late to succeed in that object, he turned towards Stafford to succour the royalists besieged there, and established himself in the town. A few days later Sir John Gell and Sir William Brereton advanced against them, and the earl marched out and met them on Hopton Heath (19 March 1643). In the battle which ensued Northampton successfully routed the enemy's cavalry and captured eight guns; but their foot stood firm, and he was himself killed while too eagerly pursuing, and scornfully refusing to surrender to "base rogues and rebels." Clarendon, who describes the circumstances of his death, sums up the results of the battle by saying that "a greater victory had been an unequal recompense for a less loss." He was a person of great courage, honour, and fidelity, and not well known till his evening; having in the ease and plenty and luxury of that too happy time indulged to himself with that license which was then thought necessary to great fortunes; but from the beginning of these distractions, as if he had been awakened out of a lethargy, he never proceeded with a lukewarm temper. … All distresses he bore like a common man, and all wants and hardnesses as if he had never known plenty or ease; most prodigal of his person to danger, and would often say, "that if he outlived these wars, he was certain never to have so noble a death" (Rebellion, vi. 283). When the young Earl of Northampton sought the body of his father for burial, the parliamentary commanders refused to surrender it except in exchange for the captured guns. His sons William and Henry are separately noticed.