COMPTON, Spencer, Lord Compton (1601-1643), of Castle Ashby, Northants., Compton Wynyates, Warws. and Ludlow Castle, Salop
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Family and Education
b. May 1601, 1st s. of William Spencer, 1st earl of Northampton and Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Spencer, alderman of London.1 educ. at Court; Queen’s, Camb. 1614, MA 1615; ?travelled abroad 1619-20.2 m. Oct. 1621, Mary (d.18 Mar. 1654), da. of Sir Francis Beaumont of Glenfield, Leics., 6s, 2da.3 cr. KB 3 Nov. 1616;4 styled Lord Compton 2 Aug. 1618; summ. to Lords in his fa’s barony as Lord Compton, by 1 Apr. 1626;5 suc. fa. as 2nd earl of Northampton 1630.6 d. 19 Mar. 1643. sig. Spencer Compton.
Warden, Whittlewood Forest, Northants. 1617-at least 1628;7 freeman, Ludlow, 1621;8 member, Council in the Marches 1627-30;9 ld. lt. Glos. and Warws. 1630-d.;10 commr. knighthood fines, Warws. 1630-1, oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1632-42, sewers, Northants. 1634;11 j.p. Glos., Northants. and Warws. 1634-42;12 commr. array, Northants. and Warws. 1642;13 collector, contributions (roy.) Northants. and Warw. 1642-d.; commr. sequestration (roy.) Northants. 1642-d.14
Master of the robes, Prince Charle’s Household 1622-5, king’s Household 1626-30; master of the leash 1628.15
Col. ft. (roy.) 1642-d.; gov. Banbury Castle, Oxon. 1642-d.; col.-gen. (roy.) Northants. and Warws. Feb. 1643-d.16
The Comptons, substantial landowners in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, acquired a barony in 1572, and while the Catholic sympathies of the 1st baron kept him from high office, his son, a courtier and father of the 1621 MP, more than compensated for this lack of achievement, eventually becoming lord president of the Council in the Marches. Moreover, he concluded an exceptional match with the heiress of the London alderman Sir John Spencer, allegedly overcoming the latter’s misgivings about the marriage by spiriting his bride away in a bread basket. After his father-in-law’s death in 1610 he was staggered by the scale of the fortune he had inherited; it was thus hardly surprising that his eldest son was named Spencer. Yet this was merely the beginning of the family’s good fortune, as in 1614 his younger brother’s stepson, George Villiers, caught the eye of the king and supplanted Robert Carr, earl of Somerset as royal favourite.17
While destined for a career at Court, Spencer Compton was first sent to Cambridge, where he was one of the student players who lampooned the town corporation at the king’s visit in 1615.18 His father was elevated to the earldom of Northampton and appointed president of the Council in the Marches in 1618, in which capacity he had his under-age son returned to the Commons for Ludlow in 1621. Compton’s election was anything but a formality, as the town corporation had fiercely resisted outside influence until 1614, while Council members also jealously guarded their privileges: on his first visit to Ludlow in the summer of 1621, Compton was forced to yield precedence on the bench to chief justice (Sir) James Whitelocke*.19 A minor in a House which devoted much of its time to attacking his Villiers relatives, Compton left virtually no trace on the Commons’ proceedings, although on 3 Dec. 1621 he was one of the courtiers appointed to go to Newmarket with a message intended to mollify the king’s anger at the Commons’ decision to debate Prince Charles’s marriage.20
In October 1621 Compton cemented his position at Court by marrying a relative of Buckingham’s mother, and in the following year he was appointed master of the robes to Prince Charles, giving him responsibility for an annual budget averaging £8,000. In this capacity he was sent to Madrid in the wake of Charles and Buckingham in March 1623, taking personal responsibility for a staggering array of jewels.21 On returning from Madrid, Charles and Buckingham clamoured for war with Spain, but Compton was unable to support them in the 1624 Parliament, as he was not returned to the Commons. After James’s death he was translated to the king’s wardrobe, and went to Paris with Buckingham to fetch Henrietta Maria to England; he was then involved with the dispatch of the Crown jewels to Amsterdam as security for loans to finance the war with Spain. In 1626 he was summoned to the Lords under a writ of acceleration, a move intended to reinforce the block vote against Buckingham’s impeachment following a restriction on the use of proxy votes.22
In 1628 Compton offered to surrender his post in the robes in return for assignment of the arrears on his account to a reliable source, but he did not stand down until two years later, when he was granted his earlier wish to succeed his father as lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. He inherited little of his father’s political ambition, although he secured the return of his eldest son to the Long Parliament as knight for Warwickshire.23 At the outbreak of the Civil War he quickly took to the field, sparring with Robert Greville*, 2nd Lord Brooke for control of the Midlands. He was killed at the head of his troops at Hopton Heath near Stafford on 19 Mar. 1643, and hastily buried in the countess of Shrewsbury’s tomb at Derby. No will or administration has been found, but in gratitude for the earl’s sacrifice, the king waived his claim to the wardship of his heir, which would only have lasted a few months.24 His descendants continued to live at Castle Ashby until recent times.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 67, 73, 124.
- 2. Al. Cant.; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 107.
- 3. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 401-2; CP; J. Bridges, Hist. and Antiq. of Northants. i. 345.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 160.
- 5. CP.
- 6. C142/476/144.
- 7. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 493; 1628-9, p. 354.
- 8. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 131.
- 9. HMC 12th Rep. iv. 251.
- 10. APC, 1630-1, p. 284, 294; HMC 12th Rep. ix. 487; A. Hughes, Pols. Soc. and Civil War in Warws. 59-60.
- 11. E178/7154, f. 189C; 178/5687, ff. 5, 9; C181/4, ff. 110, 180.
- 12. Q.S.O.B. (Warws. county recs. i) ed. S.C. Ratcliff and H.C. Johnson, p. xxi; SP16/405.
- 13. Northants. RO, FH133.
- 14. Castle Ashby, ms 1083/6-9, 18.
- 15. E101/436/3; E351/2809-11; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 142.
- 16. Castle Ashby, ms 1083/3, 5, 10, 12, 19.
- 17. Chamberlain Letters, i. 67, 73, 124; HMC Buccleuch, i. 87, 98-9; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 8-11.
- 18. Al. Cant.; Chamberlain Letters, i. 587.
- 19. LUDLOW; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 91.
- 20. CJ, i. 657-8; CD 1621, vi. 224, 482; vii. 621-2; C. Russell, PEP, 133-7.
- 21. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 513, 520-30; 1623-5, p. 560; E101/435/16, 20; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 485-6.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 22, 548; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 619; HMC Var. v. 123; CP; Russell, 285-6.
- 23. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 185; 1640-1, p. 113.
- 24. Ibid. 1641-3, p. 384, 455; HMC Hastings, ii. 86, 88, 95-6; HMC Cowper, ii. 320; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, ii. 375-8; Bridges, i. 344.