John Hampden

Known as the “Buckinghamshire patriot”, he was born at Great Hampden (between Princes Risborough and Great Missenden) in 1594. His mother was an aunt to Oliver Cromwell.

Educated at Lord Williams’ Grammar School at Thame (Oxon) and Magdalen College Oxford, he went on to study law at the Inner Temple in 1613. At the age of three years he had inherited a significant estate on the early death of his father.

His fame rests in part from the position he took in opposing what he regarded as the high-handed use of the “royal prerogative” in the reigns of both James I and Charles I. His statue, in addition to the one at the top of Aylesbury Market Square, stands at the entrance to the Central Lobby in the Palace of Westminster.

In 1619 he married and also became a follower of the Puritans, who were very active in Buckinghamshire at that time. He established a reputation for sobriety and strictness, tempered with the courtesy he showed to his fellows, both supporters and opponents.

He was elected as MP for Grampound in Cornwall in 1621, and after the accession of Charles I in 1625 he became MP for Wendover. In 1629 the king dismissed parliament and attempted to govern the country on his own until 1640. It was during those years that the dispute over the payment of “ship money” arose. The king was also in dispute with the Scottish Presbyterians (Charles was also King of Scotland) about the episcopacy and the use of a Book of Common Prayer, among other things.

From the Middle Ages the Royal Navy had been the responsibility of the monarch, who levied a tax on the coastal counties to pay for it. The Army on the other hand, was raised when needed by the nobility and gentry in all the counties. When Charles found himself short of funds, he attempted to levy the ship tax also on the inland counties, but had to recall parliament to obtain approval. He also needed money to pay for a war with the Scots.

That led to the election of Hampden as MP for Buckinghamshire in 1640 to what became known as the Short Parliament. It lasted for only a few days because the Commons considered the king’s wishes to be “unconstitutional”.  Hampden’s demand was “no taxation without representation”. The king then attempted to arrest five of the members, of whom Hampden was the leader. From the time of William III and Mary of course, it has been accepted that the reigning monarch is not admitted to the House of Commons.

Later in 1640, the “Long Parliament” was convened, and sat until 1653 when Cromwell dismissed the “Rump”. The remaining Royalists had withdrawn in 1642 at the outbreak of the Civil War. Hampden had raised his own regiment, of which he was Colonel, and was present at the battle of Edgehill. It was during a skirmish with Prince Rupert’s troops at Chalgrove Field (Oxon) in 1643 that Hampden was mortally wounded by a faulty weapon and died at Thame a few days later.

The preacher, theologian and hymn-writer Richard Baxter (1615-1691) thought highly of John Hampden and eulogised him in words which are quoted on the plinth of the statue in  the Market Square in Aylesbury.

“MR. JOHN HAMPDEN was one that friends and enemies acknowledged to be most eminent for prudence, piety and peaceable counsels, having the most universal praise of any gentleman that I remember of that age”.

The inscription on the Hampden Jewel, which was worn by Hampden at  Chalgrove Field  and is now in the Bodleian Library, reads: “Against my king I do not fight, but for my king and country’s right”.

The above notes have been compiled from several reference books and Wikipedia.