Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hopton, Ralph
HOPTON, RALPH, Lord Hopton (1598–1652), son of Robert Hopton of Witham, Somerset, and Jane, widow of Sir Henry Jones, and daughter of Rowland Kemeys of Vaudry, Monmouthshire, was born about 1598 (Blore, Rutland, p. 133; Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 469; Lloyd, Memoirs of Excellent Personages, 1668, p. 341). According to Wood he was a gentleman-commoner of Lincoln College, Oxford, and the statement is confirmed by the fact that he presented to the college about 1616 ‘a double gilt bowl’ (Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, ii. 152; information from the Rev. Andrew Clark). At the beginning of the ‘thirty years' war’ Hopton entered the service of the elector palatine, and is said to have escorted the queen of Bohemia in her flight after the battle of Prague (Lloyd, p. 342). In December 1624 Hopton was lieutenant-colonel of Sir Charles Rich's regiment raised in England for Mansfeld's expedition (Rushworth, i. 153). When recalled to take part in the Cadiz expedition he declined to serve, because the fleet was not properly equipped either with provisions or money (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625–6, pp. 27, 71, 123). At the coronation of Charles I (2 Feb. 1625) he was made a knight of the Bath (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 186). On 12 Sept. 1628 he was appointed one of the commissioners for draining Sedgmoor (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1628–1629, p. 397). He represented Bath in the first parliament of Charles I, and Somerset in the Short parliament. In the parliament of 1628, as in the Long parliament, he sat for Wells. In the latter assembly he sided at first with the popular party, and both spoke and voted for Strafford's attainder (Verney, Notes of the Long Parliament, p. 48; Rushworth, iv. 248). He was appointed spokesman of the committee named to present the Remonstrance to the king, and reported his answer to the commons (Commons' Journals, ii. 328, 330).
In the spring of 1642, however, Hopton was one of the most prominent of the king's supporters in the commons. He excused the attempt to seize the ‘five members,’ and opposed the declaration of the house concerning it. He spoke also against the militia ordinance, and on 4 March so vigorously attacked a proposed manifesto of the parliament that he was sent to the Tower for ten days. According to Hopton the committee who had drawn the declaration had taxed the king with apostasy ‘upon a less evidence than would serve to hang a fellow for stealing a horse’ (Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, pp. 469, 479, 482; Commons' Journals, ii. 467; Clarendon, Rebellion, iv. 338).
In July 1642 the king sent the Marquis of Hertford to Somerset as lieutenant-general of the six western counties, and Hopton accompanied him, with the title of lieutenant-general of the horse in his army. He raised a troop at his own cost, and personally arrested William Strode, one of the deputy lieutenants of Somersetshire appointed by the parliament (A Declaration made by the Lord Marquesse of Hertford and other Lords and Gentlemen of the County of Somerset, 1642; The Lord Marquesse of Hertford his Letter, &c., 1642; Lords' Journals, v. 265, 278, 286). On 5 Aug. 1642 Hopton was expelled from the House of Commons, and sent for as a delinquent (Commons' Journals, ii. 708). Hertford's little army was obliged to retreat to Sherborne Castle, and after a brief siege he resolved to transport his infantry into Wales; while Hopton, with 160 horse, fifty dragoons, and a few gentlemen, made his way to Cornwall. There he succeeded in inducing the grand jury to indict Buller and Carew, the parliamentary commissioners, and with the aid of the posse comitatus expelled them from the county. The king sent a commission to Hopton and three others to command jointly in Hertford's absence. They organised a small body of excellent Cornish infantry, and proceeded to carry the war into Devonshire (Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 79, 88; Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 239–46).
In January 1643 the parliamentary general Ruthven invaded Cornwall with greatly superior forces. Hopton, whom the other commissioners entrusted with the command, defeated the invaders at Bradock Down, near Liskeard, taking 1,250 prisoners and five guns (19 Jan. 1643; ib. vi. 248). In May 1643 Lord Stamford, with 1,400 horse and 5,400 foot, marched into Cornwall, and encamped in a strong position at Stratton. Hopton and the Cornish army attacked him there on 16 May, and routed him with the loss of seventeen hundred men and all his artillery and baggage (ib. vii. 87–90). The victors overran Devonshire, and joining Prince Maurice's forces at Chard on 4 June, attacked Sir William Waller at Lansdown, near Bath, on 5 July. Though Waller was driven from his position, the royalist army was too shattered to press its advantages. Hopton himself was shot through the arm, and badly injured by the explosion of a powder-wagon. ‘Having hardly so much life as not to be numbered with the dead,’ he was put into a litter, and carried to Devizes. At Devizes the Cornish army was besieged by Waller with a superior force, and while the horse broke through the besiegers to fetch aid from Oxford, Hopton from his sick bed directed the defence. His ingenuity and experience suggested the expedient of beating and boiling the bed-cords collected from the town to supply the want of match for the musketeers (Clarendon MS. 1738. 4. f. 9). The defeat of Waller's army at Roundway Down on 13 July by Lord Wilmot raised the siege (Clarendon, Rebellion, vii. 109–20; Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 79, 98, 159, 195, 203). A few days later the royalists took Bristol, and a quarrel took place between Prince Rupert and the Marquis of Hertford on the appointment of the governor. Hertford named Hopton, while Rupert obtained from Charles a promise of the governorship for himself. To allay their strife Hopton consented to withdraw his claim, and accepted the post of deputy governor under Prince Rupert. ‘We can think no man fitter for that command than yourself, it being by far too little a recompense for your great deservings,’ wrote Charles to Hopton, explaining that he was tied by his previous promise to Rupert, and adding that he intended to testify his acknowledgment of Hopton's services ‘by some real testimony of our favour’ (Clarendon MS. 1738. 4. f. 12). Accordingly, on 4 Sept. 1643, Hopton was created a baron by the title of Lord Hopton of Stratton, with a collateral remainder to his uncle, Sir Arthur Hopton [q. v.] (Dugdale, ii. 469; Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, ix. 482).
In October 1643 the king ordered Hopton to ‘draw into the field for the clearing of Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, and Hampshire, and so to point forwards as far as he could go towards London’ (Clarendon MS. 1738. (6). f. 2). Raising what foot he could in his own quarters, and reinforced by some horse from Oxford, Hopton advanced into Sussex and took Arundel Castle (9 Dec.) His old antagonist, Waller, cut off a detachment of Hopton's forces at Alton 13 Dec., and retook Arundel 6 Jan. 1644. The Earl of Forth came to Hopton's aid with fresh troops from Oxford, but their joint forces were defeated at Cheriton (or Alresford) on 29 March 1644. Though beaten, Hopton succeeded in carrying off all his guns (ib.; Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 296, 377, 385; Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 28).
In July 1644 King Charles marched into the west. Hopton joined him with part of the garrison of Bristol, and on 14 Aug. 1644 was appointed general of the ordnance in place of Lord Percy (Walker, Historical Discourses, 1705, pp. 16, 45, 61; Diary of Richard Symonds, p. 53; Black, Oxford Docquets, pp. 238, 240). When the Prince of Wales was sent to the west, Hopton was appointed one of his councillors, and it was intended that he should act as lieutenant-general of his army (Clarendon, viii. 180, 254, ix. 7). This appointment was made ‘by the king's special direction, and at the earnest desire of the whole association.’ The prince's council supported Hopton, but Goring, anxious to secure the chief command himself, intrigued against Hopton, refused to obey the council, and succeeded in preventing either from exercising any control over his army (ib. ix. 20, 83). After Goring's retirement to France, Hopton was appointed commander-in-chief of the ‘dissolute, undisciplined, wicked, beaten army’ he left behind him. Other men would have refused the hopeless task. Hopton, however, generously agreed to accept the post, although certain to ‘lose his honour’ (ib. ix. 135, 136). On 16 Feb. 1646 Fairfax routed Hopton at Torrington in North Devon, with the loss of the greater part of his foot. Hopton, who was ‘hurt in the face with a pike, and had his horse killed under him,’ strove to make a stand at Bodmin, but the advance of Fairfax and the insubordination of his own troops compelled him to capitulate at Truro, 14 March 1646 (ib. ix. 150; Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, ed. 1854, p. 229. His own account of this campaign is printed by Carte, Original Letters, 1739, i. 109–126). He then accompanied Prince Charles, first to Scilly and then to Jersey. While at Jersey he signed the agreement with Hyde, Capel, and Carteret for the defence of that island against Lord Jermyn's supposed design of selling it to France (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 279). In July 1648, when a part of the parliamentary fleet revolted, and placed itself under the command of Prince Charles, Hopton accompanied the prince to sea. He was the only one of the prince's councillors in that expedition ‘of whom nobody spoke ill, nor laid anything to his charge.’ Nevertheless the hostility of Prince Rupert and the intrigues of the court lords led even Prince Charles ‘to have a less esteem of him than his singular virtue and fidelity did deserve’ (Clarendon, xi. 32, 84). One reason for this was doubtless Hopton's opposition to the policy of concession to catholics and presbyterians, in order to secure their help against the independents. He formed one of the little body of church and constitution royalists of which Hyde was the spokesman. When the treaty took place at Breda in 1650 between Charles II and the Scots, Hopton and Nicholas were excluded from the king's council on account of their opposition (Nicholas Papers, i. 173, 186; Carte, Original Letters, i. 379). While Charles II was in Scotland, Hopton, ‘finding himself neglected and unacceptable, partly upon discontent, and partly to live cheaper, retired to Wesel’ (ib. p. 414). After the battle of Worcester, at the suggestion of Lord Colepeper, he endeavoured to compound for his estate, but the parliament, which had excepted him from pardon both in the treaties of Uxbridge and Newport, refused this favour (Nicholas Papers, i. 241, 268, 297). He therefore remained in exile, and died at Bruges in September 1652, at the age of fifty-four (ib. i. 311; Dugdale, ii. 469).
Hopton married in 1623 Elizabeth, widow of Sir Justinian Lewyn, knight, and daughter of Arthur Capel of Hadham, Hertfordshire (Blore, p. 133; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 492). In 1644 she was captured by Sir William Balfour at Newbury, on her way to Oxford (Rushworth, v. 655). She died early in 1646 (Cal. Clarendon Papers, i. 306; Funerall Obsequies to the Lady Elizabeth Hopton, by Edward Whatman, 4to, 1647; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xii. 294). In 1650 Hopton contemplated marriage with a daughter of Lady Morton; but in spite of Hyde's good offices the match fell through (ib. ii. 65, 98, 176). As neither Lord Hopton nor Sir Arthur Hopton left issue the Hopton peerage became extinct.
In a letter written immediately after Hopton's death, Hyde terms him ‘as faultless a person, as full of courage, industry, integrity, and religion as I ever knew man’ (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 108). As a general and as a councillor he admits that his friend had faults. ‘In the debates concerning the war he was longer in resolving, and more apt to change his mind after he had resolved, than is agreeable to the office of a commander-in-chief, which rendered him rather fit for the second than for the supreme command in an army’ (Rebellion, viii. 31). Hopton was distinguished among the royalist commanders for the good order which he maintained among his soldiers. Under his command the Cornish army was so disciplined ‘as the fame of their religion and devotion was no less than their courage’ (ib. vi. 248, vii. 98). He was remarkable also for the rare self-abnegation and fidelity with which he sacrificed his own claims and his own wishes to the good of the king's cause (ib. vii. 148). No royalist leader was so much respected by his opponents. ‘My affections to you are so unchangeable,’ wrote Waller, ‘that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship to your person’ (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 155). ‘For yourself,’ wrote Fairfax, when he offered terms to Hopton's army, ‘you may be assured of such mediation to the parliament on your behalf as for one whom (for personal worth and many virtues, but especially for your care of and moderation toward the country) we honour and esteem above any other of your party, whose error (supposing you more swayed with principles of honour and conscience than others) we most pity, and whose happiness (so far as consistent with the public welfare) we should more delight in than your least suffering’ (Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, p. 215).
A portrait of Hopton by an unknown painter, formerly at the seat of the Astley's, Melton Constable, Norfolk, is in the National Portrait Gallery. It was engraved by Van der Gucht among the illustrations to Clarendon's ‘History.’
[Pedigrees of the Hopton family are contained in Blore's Rutland and Hoare's Monastic Remains of Witham, Bruton, &c., 1824. Lives of Hopton are in Lodge's Portraits and Lloyd's Memoirs of Excellent Personages, 1668. His narratives of his own campaigns are among Clarendon's papers in the Bodleian Library, and many of his letters are to be found in Prince Rupert's correspondence in the British Museum. Some are printed in Warburton's Prince Rupert, 1849. Clarendon used Hopton's narratives largely in writing books vi. vii. viii. of the Hist. of the Rebellion, and Fuller gives some extracts in his Worthies of England under ‘Cornwall.’]