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Biography of John Hampden (1595-1643) MP

J O H N
H A M P D E N
Part 2: Parliamentary Career

In the first Parliament of Charles I, Hampden sat for Wendover, an ancient borough of Buckinghamshire which, with two others, had lately regained their dormant privilege of returning members, chiefly by his own exertions and at his expense. In this and in the following Parliament, summoned in February 1627, Hampden still appears to have taken no leading part; but his influence, both in and out of parliament, gradually increased, especially in his native county of Buckingham. After the dissolution of the latter parliament, Charles began to put in force his threat of raising supplies by unusual means and required a general loan, to which Hampden was called upon to contribute. This he refused to do and was, in consequence, imprisoned for a time in the Gate House, and then sent, still under restraint, to reside in Hampshire. The order for his release, with seventy-six others, is dated March 1628. On this occasion, he made the remarkable reply to the demand, why he would not contribute to the King's necessities, that "he could be content to lend as well as others, but feared to draw upon himself that curse in Magna Carta, which should be read twice a-year against those who infringe it."

In the new Parliament which met in March 1628, Hampden again sat for Wendover. Having become more generally known by the part which he had taken in resisting the demands of the crown, from this time forward, says Lord Nugent, "scarcely was a bill prepared, or an inquiry begun, upon any subject, however remotely affecting anyone of the three great matters at issue - privilege, religion or the supplies - but he was thought fit to be associated, with St. John, Selden, Coke and Pym on the committee."

That Parliament, after framing the Petition of Right, voting supplies and taking resolute steps towards procuring a redress of grievances, was hastily and angrily dissolved in May 1629. Previous to this, Hampden, "although retaining his seat for Wendover, had retired to his estate in Buckinghamshire, to live in entire privacy, without display, but not inactive; contemplating from a distance the madness of the Government, the luxury and insolence of the courtiers, and the portentous apathy of the people, who, amazed by the late measures and by the prospect of uninterruptedly increasing violence, saw no hope from petition or complaint and watched, in confusion and silence, the inevitable advance of an open rupture between the King and the Parliament. The literary acquirements of his youth, he now carefully improved: increasing that stock of general knowledge which had already gained him the reputation of being one of the most learned and accomplished men of his age. He directed his attention chiefly to writers on history and politics. Davila's 'History of the Civil Wars of France' became his favourite study, his vade-mecum, as Sir Philip Warwick styles it; as if, forecasting from afar the course of the storm which hung over his own country, he already saw the sad parallel it was likely to afford to the story of that work. In his retirement, he bent the whole force of his capacious mind to the most effectual means by which the abuses of ecclesiastical authority were to be corrected and the tide of headlong prerogative checked, whenever the slumbering spirit of the country should be roused to deal with those duties to which he was preparing to devote himself.'' It may here be added that Hampden's religious opinions were those of the Independent party who were honourably distinguished, no less from the Presbyterians than the Episcopalians, by granting to all persons that freedom of conscience and full toleration which they claimed for themselves. While thus awaiting, with study and patient observation, the time when the active service of a real patriot might benefit his country, his domestic happiness received a severe blow by the death of his wife on 20th August 1634. She left nine children: three sons and six daughters.

Part 3: Ship-Money Resistance


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