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Biography of John Hampden (1595-1643) MP

J O H N
H A M P D E N
Part 5: Civil War Service

In the military events of the first year of the War, Hampden took an active, but subordinate, share as colonel of a regiment of infantry which he himself raised in Buckinghamshire. Nor did he intermit, as the emergencies of war allowed him, to continue his attendance in Parliament. Here he urged a decisive course of action which he knew to be necessary to the success of the cause and which he laboured, in vain, to impress upon the Earl of Essex, the Parliamentary general. At the Battle of Brentford, his troops, and those of Lord Brook, in support of the London regiment under Hollis, bore the brunt of the day against superior numbers until the army arrived from London in the evening. On this occasion (as before at Edge Hill, where he arrived too late to take part in the fight), he, in vain, urged Essex to convert, by a decisive forward movement, the doubtful issue of the day into a victory. During the Winter months, while the King held his court at Oxford,and a Parliamentary army lay between London and that city, Hampden's regiment was quartered in Buckinghamshire and his own time was divided between the seat of war and the House of Commons.

To this period also is to be referred the association of six midland counties for the purposes of the war: Bedford, Buckingham, Hertford, Cambridge, Huntingdon and Northampton. A step which proved of material service in giving strength and union to the Parliamentary cause and which probably would not have been carried into operation but for Hampden's peculiar talent of allaying jealousies, reconciling conflicting interests and smoothing away the obstacles to any business which he undertook.

From 1st March to 15th April 1643, a cessation of arms was agreed to in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire while an attempt was made to arrange terms of pacification. This treaty having been broken off, war recommenced. Hampden was present at the successful Parliamentary Siege of Reading, while the Royalists under Prince Rupert conducted an incessant series of predatory incursions on Parliamentary outposts, widely dispersed in the intricate country on the borders of these two counties. It was in this district, with which his early habits of the chase had made him familiar, Hampden's regiment was quartered. He had laboured incessantly, but in vain, to promote some great enterprise which might give lustre to the seemingly declining cause and confidence to the adherents of the Parliament. Failing in this, he manifested no less alacrity in performing his duty than if his views and his suggestions had been adopted. Indeed it would be consonant to his character to suppose that a strict sense of what is due to military discipline, and a desire to avoid even the appearance of slighting his commanding officer, led him to still more zealous exertions. It was in a matter beyond the strict line of his duty that he received his death-wound.

On the evening of 17th June, Rupert set out from Oxford with about 2000 men and surprised and burnt two villages, Postcombe and Chinnor, which were occupied by the Parliamentary troops. When the alarm reached Hampden, he instantly set out at the head of a small party of cavalry, which volunteered to follow him, in hopes of being able to delay the Royalists sufficiently to enable Essex to occupy the passes of the Cherwell and cut them off from Oxford. Strengthened by the accession of four troops of horse, he overtook Prince Rupert who drew up to receive the attack on Chalgrove field on 18th June 1643. Early in the action, Hampden received two bullets in the shoulder, which shattered the bone, and, in an agony of pain, he rode off the field; "a thing," says Clarendon, " he never used to do and from which it was concluded he was hurt." Two others of the chief Parliamentary officers present were killed or taken and the Royalists made good their retreat. Hampden expired at Thame in Oxfordshire after six days' severe suffering. His last words are thus given from a contemporary publication: "O Lord God of Hosts, great is thy mercy, just and holy are thy dealings unto us sinful men. Save me, O Lord, if it be thy good will, from the jaws of death. Pardon my bleeding country. Have these realms in thy especial keeping. Confound and level in the dust those who would rob the people of their liberty and lawful prerogative. Let the King see his error and turn the hearts of his wicked counsellors from the malice and wickedness of their designs. Lord Jesu, receive my soul!" He then mournfully uttered, "0 Lord, save my country. 0 Lord, be merciful to . . . " and here his speech failed him. He fell back in the bed and expired.

Part 6: Reflections


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