Open main menu

Hampden, John (1656?-1696) (DNB00)

HAMPDEN, JOHN, the younger (1656?–1696), politician, second son of Richard Hampden [q. v.] of Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire, was born about 1656. In 1670 he was sent to travel in France under the tutorship of Francis Tallents, a presbyterian minister who had been ejected from his living at Shrewsbury in 1662 (Calamy, Nonconformists' Memorial, ed. Palmer, iii. 155). They remained abroad about two and a half years. Both in February and in August 1679 Hampden was elected M.P. for Buckinghamshire (Return of Members of Parliament, i. 534, 540). The second election was marked by great popular excitement, and is the subject of several contemporary pamphlets ('A Letter from a Freeholder of Bucks to a Friend in London,' 'An Answer to a Letter from a Freeholder,' &c., 'A true Account of what passed at the Election of Knights of the Shire for the County of Bucks,' 1679). Hampden played a very insignificant part in parliament.A brief speech against the sale of Tangiers is the only utterance recorded by Grey (Grey, Debates, vii. 100). The speeches which seem to be attributed to him in 'An Exact Collection of the Debates of the House of Commons held at Westminster in October 1680,’ 1689, and in the parliamentary histories of Chandler and Cobbett should be assigned to his father, Richard Harnpden (cf. ib.) John Hampden left England for the sake of his health in October 1(580, and remained in France till September 1682. He was elected in his absence member for Wendover in the parliament of 1681, and his father took his place as member for the county.

According to Burnet, Hampden 'was a young man of great parts, one of the learnedest gentlemen I ever knew ; for he was a critic both in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew ; he was a man of great wit and vivacity, but too unequal in his temper ; he had once great principles of religion, but he was corrupted by F. Simon's conversation at Paris ' (Burnet, History of his own Time, ii. 353). Father Richard Simon, whose 'Critical History of the Old Testament' had been published in 1078, greatly influenced Hampden's subsequent life. Adopting Simon's critical views, he went farther and became a professed freethinker (Noble, Memoirs of the House of Cromwell, ii. 83).

In Paris Hampden also met the historian Mezeray, who confirmed him in his opposition to the government of Charles II. Mezeray told him that France had once enjoyed the same free institutions as England, but lost them owing to the encroachments of its kings. 'Think nothing,' he said, ' too dear to maintain these precious advantages ; venture your life, your estates, and all you have rather than submit to the miserable condition to which you see us reduced.' 'These words,' wrote Hampden, 'made an impression in me which nothing can efface' (A Collection of State Tracts published during the Reign of King William III, folio, 1706, ii. 313).

While in France, the French government suspected Hampden of intrigues with the protestants there, and at the same time Lord Preston, the English ambassador, believed that he was carrying on some secret negotiation with agents of Louis XIV on behalf of the English opposition (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. pp. 275-8).

Hampden returned to England in September 1682, and became intimately associated with the leaders of the opposition. Sydney answered for his political views, and Russell when in prison often spoke of him to Burnet 'with great kindness and esteem' (Life of William, Lord Russell, ed. 1820, ii. 272). Like his friends, Hampden was accused of complicity in the Rye House plot, and was committed to the Tower 8 July 1683. On giving bail for 30,000l. he was released at the end of November, and on 6 Feb. 1684 was tried at the king's bench 'for a high misdemeanor' (Luttrell, Diary, i. 292). The charge brought against him was that he had been one of the council of six who had met together to plot an insurrection. Their first meeting was said to have taken place at Hampden's house in Bloomsbury during January 1683, and the chief witness was Lord Howard of Escrick, one of the council in question. Howard's evidence was to some extent contradictory, for on Sydney's trial he had sworn to a long speech made by Hampden, of which he now remembered nothing (State Trials, ed. Howell, ix. 1053). Hampden was, however, found guilty, and sentenced on 12 Feb. to be fined 40,000l., and to be imprisoned till the fine was paid. The sum fixed was far beyond his means. But he states that when he 'offered several sums of money,' he was told 'they would rather have him rot in prison than have the 40,000l.' (ib. ix. 961). After Monmouth's rising he was removed from the king's bench prison to the Tower, and was again put on his trial, this time on the charge of high treason. The government had now procured a second witness against him in Lord Grey, whose confession to some extent confirmed the evidence of Lord Howard respecting the preparations for an insurrection made in the spring of 1683 (The Secret History of the Rye-House Plot and of Monmouth's Rebellion, written by Ford, lord Grey, 1754, pp. 42, 51, 59). Hampden's condemnation was absolutely certain, and therefore, by the advice of his friends, 'because it could be prejudicial to no man, there being none alive of those called the Council of Six but the Lord Howard,' he resolved to plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the king. Sir John Bramston, who himself thought that Hampden had taken the wisest course, observes : '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 and some of the others with falsehood, even when they died' (Autobiography of Sir John Bramston, p. 218). Hampden was sentenced to death, and it was rumoured that the warrant for his execution was actually signed (State Trials, ix. 959 ; Ellis Correspondence, i. 2, 6). The king, however, was content with his humiliation, and on paying 6,000l. to Lord Jefferies and Father Petre, and begging for his life, he obtained a pardon and liberty.

Henceforth the memory of his humiliation 'gave his spirits a depression and disorder he could never quite master' (Burnet, iii. 57). His influence with his party was greatly diminished, but he hints that he was trusted with the secret of their communications with the Prince of Orange (State Trials, ix. 960). In January 1689 Hampden represented Wendover in the Convention parliament, and became prominent in it as a spokesman of the extreme whigs. His zeal for popular rights brought on him the imputation of republicanism, although he expressly denied that he was for a commonwealth (Grey, Debates, ix. 36, 488). He supported the grant of 'an indulgence to nonconformists, and opposed the proviso in the Toleration Act which restricted its benefits to trinitarians (ib. ix. 253). On the question of the limits of the Act of Indemnity his voice naturally carried some weight. 'I have suffered,' he said, 'yet I can forget and forgive as much as may be for the safety of the nation.' He insisted, however, that all who were directly responsible for the shedding of innocent blood by legal process during the last two reigns should be punished (ib. ix. 322, 361, 536). On 13 Nov. 1689 Hampden was sent for by the lords to declare what he knew as to the advisers and prosecutors of Sidney, Russell, and others. In his evidence before the lords he gave a detailed account of his own sufferings, but threw little light on the fate of his associates, and made an ill-timed and ineffectual attack on the Marquis of Halifax [see Savile, George] (State Trials, ix. 960). It does not appear that Hampden was actuated by any special animosity to Halifax. It was rather part of a general plan to drive from office all those ministers of the late king who were still employed by William III. On 13 Dec. he followed it up by a vigorous speech against those ministers in the commons, referring especially to Godolphin, Nottingham, and Halifax, and attributing all the miscarriages of the war to their continued employment: 'If we must be ruined again, let it be by new men' (Grey, Debates, ix. 486). Owing no doubt to this opposition to the government, Hampden failed to secure a seat in the parliament of 1690, and his political career came abruptly to an end. He still sought to influence opinion by pamphlets, and published in 1692 a tract against the excise entitled (1) 'Some Considerations concerning the most proper Way of raising Money in the present conjuncture,' and another attacking the ministry, (2) 'Some Short Considerations concerning the State of the Nation.' There is also attributed to him (in conjunction with Major Wildman) (3) 'An Inquiry or Discourse between a Yeoman of Kent and a Knight of the Shire upon the Prorogation of the Parliament to May 2, 1693, and the King's refusing to sign the Triennial Bill' (A Collection of State Tracts published during the Reign of King William III, folio, 1706, ii. 309, 320, 330), and also (4) 'A Letter to Mr. Samuel Johnson, occasioned by his Argument proving that the Abrogation of the late King James . . . was according to the Constitution of the English Government,' 1693. In December 1696 a vacancy took place in the representation of Buckinghamshire, and Hampden hoped to be again elected for his native county, but the official leaders of the whigs were opposed to his candidature, and the hostility of Wharton rendered it hopeless. This disappointment increased his despondency, and on 10 Dec. he cut his throat with a razor, dying two days later (Luttrell, Diary, iv. 147, 153; Vernon Papers, 1841, i. 121, 124). On his deathbed he expressed much penitence for the sceptical views he had derived from Simon, and drew up a confession for circulation among his friends (printed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 1733 p. 231, 1756 p. 121, and by Noble, 'House of Cromwell,' 1787, ii. 82).

In his account of Hampden's career Macaulay is in several instances inaccurate and unfair (see especially History of England, ed. 1858, vol. v. chap. xv. 141-4), but his general judgment of his character is just. 'Hampden's abilities were considerable, and had been carefully cultivated. Unhappily ambition and party spirit impelled him to place himself in a situation full of danger. To that danger his fortitude proved unequal. He stooped to supplications which saved him and dishonoured him. From that momentl he never knew peace of mind' (ib. vol. vii. chap. xxi. 248).

Hampden married twice: first, Sarah (d. 1687), daughter of Thomas Foley of Witley Court, Worcestershire, and widow of Essex Knightley of Fawsley, Northamptonshire, by whom he had issue Richard and Letitia; secondly, Anne Cornwallis, by whom he had two children, John and Anne (Lipscomb, Buckinghamshire, ii. 265)

[Lives of Hampden are given in Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire and Noble's Memoirs of the House of Cromwell.]

C. H. F.