Britannia Biographies: John Hampden Part 4
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Biography of John Hampden (1595-1643) MP

J O H N
H A M P D E N
Part 4: Prelude to War

The causes of the dissolution of the Short Parliament, and the history of the second Scottish war which compelled Charles I to summon the Long Parliament, hardly form part of our subject. It is to be observed, however, that during the Summer and Autumn, Hampden, with other leading persons of the popular party, was engaged in active correspondence with the leaders of the Scottish insurrection in whose success, as tending to the further embarrassment of the King, they placed their best hope of obtaining security for the maintenance of the liberties and privileges of the English people. Of the first great act of that Parliament, the impeachment of Strafford, he was a zealous supporter and a member of the committee of twelve appointed to arrange the evidence and to conduct that memorable trial. After the Commons, for reasons which have never been satisfactorily explained, thought fit to change the method of proceeding by introducing a bill of attainder, the name of Hampden appears in none of the records. It is probable that he abstained from taking any part in the business. It is important to keep this in mind, because the censure, which has justly been cast upon the proceedings of the House of Commons against Lord Strafford, applies solely to the attainder not to the impeachment. To the question, why, if Hampden disapproved of the attainder, he did not as resolutely oppose it as he had supported the impeachment, the following hypothetical answer is supplied by Lord Nugent. "In a case doubtful to him only as matter of precedent, but clear to him in respect of the guilt of the accused person; in a case in which the accused person, in his estimation, deserved death and in which all law, except that of the sceptre and the sword, was at all end, if he had escaped it; when all the ordinary protection of law to the subject throughout the country was suspended, and suspended mainly by the counsels of Strafford himself, Hampden was not prepared to heroically immolate the liberties of England in order to save the life of him who would have destroyed them. Hampden probably considered the bill which took away Stratford's life as a revolutionary act undertaken for the defence of the Commonwealth."

He was an active supporter of two important measures which occupied the Parliament simultaneously with Strafford's impeachment, the Triennial Bill, for securing the convocation of Parliaments, and the bill for excluding bishops from the House of Lords. After the rejection of the latter, he adopted the views of that more violent party who urged the necessity of abolishing Episcopacy altogether. But, notwithstanding his recognised position as a leader of his party and his known weight in determining the line of conduct to be pursued by it, he was not a frequent speaker and his name therefore occurs less frequently than would be expected in the records of this eventful period. "His practice was usually to reserve himself until near the close of a debate and then, having watched its progress, to endeavour to moderate the redundancies of his friends to weaken the impression produced by its opponents, to confirm the timid and to reconcile the reluctant. And this he did, according to the testimony of his opponents themselves, with a modesty, gentleness and apparent diffidence in his own judgement which generally brought men round to his conclusions." He was one of the five members accused of treason whose arrest was demanded by Charles in person in the House of Commons on 6th January 1642. "And from this time," says Clarendon, "his nature and carriage seemed much fiercer than it did before." Unquestionably, the ill-advised step was not likely to conciliate those whose life was aimed at but it is also clear that, before that event, the party with whom he acted were preparing for a struggle more serious than that in which they were as yet engaged. A Committee of Public Safety was formed, of which Hampden was a member. The power of the sword was claimed by the Ordinance of Militia, the King on his part issued his Commission of Array and at last raised his standard at Nottingham on 22nd August 1642.

Part 5: Civil War Service


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