HOPTON, Robert (c.1575-1638), of Ditcheat, Som. and Llanthony Abbey, Mon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1575, 1st s. of Sir Arthur Hopton† KB of Blythburgh, Suff. and Witham Friary, Som. and Rachel, da. of Edmund Hall† of Gretford, Lincs.; bro. of Thomas*.1 m. c.1594, Jane, da. and h. of Rowland Kemeys of Vaerdre, Mon., wid. of Sir Henry Jones (d. c.1591/2) of Ivy Bridge, Westminster, 2s. incl. Ralph* (1 d.v.p.), 4da.2 suc. fa. 1607.3 admon. 17 Sept. 1638.4 sig. Robert Hopton.
Capt. of ft., Low Countries and Cadiz 1596.5
J.p. Mon. 1598-1623, Som. by 1610-d.;6 capt., militia ft. Som. to 1605;7 commr. subsidy, Mon. 1608, sewers, Som. 1610, 1616, 1625;8 surveyor, bpric. of Bath and Wells, Som. 1616-d.;9 sheriff, Som. 1617-18;10 dep. lt. by 1624-30;11 commr. Forced Loan 1626-7, enclosure, Sedgemoor, Som. 1628, oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1629-d.12
Commr. trade 1622, 1625.13
Hopton’s family was of Yorkshire origin, with a tradition of Crown service dating back to the reign of Edward IV. In Tudor times their principal estates lay in Suffolk, which county they regularly represented in the Commons between 1539 and 1589. However, Hopton’s father disposed of his East Anglian interests to provide for his 15 children, ten of whom were daughters. Fortunately for themselves, the Hoptons also owned a group of manors in east Somerset, acquired at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and for the remaining half-century of their existence they flourished as west-country magnates.14 Their migratory tendencies were not exhausted, however, as Hopton himself acquired an interest in Monmouthshire in the mid-1590s by marrying the widow of one of the 2nd earl of Essex’s officers who had died in the Normandy campaign of 1591-2. Hopton went on to serve under Essex in the Cadiz expedition of 1596, for which he was summoned from garrison duty at Flushing, but this seems to been his last campaign. He profited from the difficulties of John Arnold† to take long leases of Llanthony, Monmouthshire and of Ewyas Lacy, Herefordshire - thereby becoming overlord of the ancestral estate of the Cecil family - and joined the Monmouthshire commission of the peace in 1598.15
Hopton’s father and eldest son were both created knights of the Bath, but he himself was the only adult head of the family in eight generations not to be knighted. This was not for lack of means: his mother’s jointure included a lucrative iron forge, the revenues from which he later used to rebuild both Ditcheat and Evercreech Park, Somerset. Nor did he show any distaste for public life, as in 1604 he was returned to the Commons for Shaftesbury, where he may have been nominated by William, 3rd earl of Pembroke.16 He made no recorded speeches during the five sessions of the Parliament, and was named to only a handful of committees. At the end of the second session he was one of those named to distribute the Members’ collection to the officers of the House (27 May 1606), and at the start of the fourth session he was one of the large delegation ordered to attend a conference at which lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) discussed the state of the Crown’s finances (15 Feb. 1610). Two weeks later, on 1 Mar., he was added to the committee for scrutinizing the Minehead harbour bill.17
Hopton was one of the most energetic Somerset magistrates of the period, and he and John Symes* were the only justices to oppose Sir Robert Phelips* during the 1614 county election. He took his own turn as knight of the shire in 1621, presumably with the support of Phelips’s adversary John Poulett*, who signed his election indenture.18 He was named to two committees before his son Ralph joined him in the Commons as Member for Shaftesbury: one to inquire about abuses at the Fleet prison (14 Feb.); the other to attend a conference with the Lords to prepare a petition to the king for enforcement of the recusancy laws (15 February).19 His seniority and status as knight for Somerset makes it likely that most of the subsequent committee nominations regarding a ‘Mr. Hopton’ refer to him. His Monmouthshire estates doubtless explain why he was nominated to the committee for the bill to abolish the Crown’s presumed right to promulgate statutes for Wales by means of Proclamation (13 Mar.), while it was presumably out of concern for his Somerset constituents that he was appointed to consider bills for wool cards (10 Mar.) and the fees exacted by customs officials (7 May). He was added to the committee for the recusancy bill on 11 May and was named to attend a conference with the Lords about the Sabbath and certiorari bills 13 days later.20
Hopton probably made four speeches (as Mr. Hopton) during the session. On 27 Apr. he unsuccessfully urged a vote to declare the sale of baronetcies a grievance, while on 1 May, when the Fleet inquiry revealed the scandalous behaviour of Edward Floyd, a Catholic inmate who had mocked the king’s daughter, he urged the House to ‘inquire [into] who those are that do resort to Floyd, because ’tis likely they are so ill-affected and [have] such rotten hearts as Floyd’. On 31 May, as the Commons debated what to do in the few days remaining before the summer adjournment, Hopton seconded Sir Thomas Roe’s motion to suspend the export of ordnance and currency, and called to promote free trade. On 4 June, the day the House adjourned, he opposed calls for a fresh grant of supply, urging that ‘this was an extraordinary occasion which would not be supplied in an ordinary way, wherein the purse of the poor would be drawn dry before the affections of the rich will be wound up to this height’; he was presumably content with the undertaking that Members would support the relief of the Palatinate with all resources at their disposal.21 He left no trace on the records of the autumn sitting.
Although Hopton was appointed to the Privy Council’s standing committee on trade in 1622, and his surviving brothers held posts at Court and in the diplomatic service, he never sat in Parliament again. In the feuds that divided Somerset during the following generation he opposed Phelips over militia training and the reintroduction of church ales, showing a degree of real animosity when he described himself as ‘esteemed a fool by them that do think themselves wiser than other men’. It was presumably Phelips, as one of the commissioners for compositions for knighthood fines, who rated Hopton for the exceptionally large figure of £150 in 1630. Hopton died intestate around eight years later, letters of administration being taken out by his son (Sir) Ralph on 17 Sept. 1638.<