COMPTON, Sir William (c.1625-63), of Linton, Cambs. and Drury Lane, Westminster.
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Family and Education
b. c.1625, 3rd s. of Spencer Compton†, 2nd Earl of Northampton; bro. of Sir Charles Compton and Sir Francis Compton. educ. Eton 1634-6; travelled abroad 1646-8. m. c.1651, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Lionel Tollemache, 2nd Bt.†, of Helmingham, Suff., wid. of William, 1st Baron Alington [I], of Horseheath, Cambs., s.p. Kntd. 12 Dec. 1643.1
Maj. of ft. (royalist) 1643, lt.-col. 1644-5; lt.-gov. Banbury Castle 1644-6; col. of horse 1645-6; maj.-gen. 1648.2
Master of the Ordnance June 1660-d.; PC 3 Apr. 1662-d.; commr. for Tangier 1662-d.; treas. loyal and indigent officers fund 1662-d.3
J.p. Cambs. July 1660-d., dep. lt. c. Aug. 1660-d.; commr. for assessment, Cambs. Aug. 1660-d., Warws. 1661-d.; chairman, corporations commission, Cambs. 1662-3; commr. for loyal and indigent officers, Cambs. London and Westminster 1662.4
Of the six remarkable royalist brothers, Compton was probably the ablest and certainly bore the highest character. He was well-endowed for a younger son, his grandfather, the 1st Earl, having settled on him the Kentish manor of Erith. His defence of Banbury Castle during a three-month siege in 1644, when he was still in his teens, was remarkable not only for physical determination and courage but for the simple Anglican piety which he enforced in the garrison. His moral courage was no less; he alone dissented from his eldest brother’s unjust and irregular cashiering of one of his officers in 1645. He surrendered on honourable terms on 8 May 1646, but, as a Kentish landowner, he could not refuse to take up arms in the second Civil War and served during the siege of Colchester as a major-general. Cromwell is said to have described him as ‘the sober young man and godly Cavalier’, and he escaped with the moderate fine of £660. He settled in Cambridgeshire on his marriage, and as a member of the Sealed Knot was engaged in most Cavalier plots until the last phase of the Interregnum, when his refusal to credit the treachery of Sir Richard Willys led to his exclusion. At the Restoration he crossed to Holland with the fleet, led a troop in the King’s escort from Dover to London, and was appointed master of the Ordnance.5
Compton was returned for Cambridge, ten miles from Linton, at the general election of 1661, probably without a contest. He was an active Member in the first and second sessions of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was appointed to 64 committees, managed three conferences (none of major importance) and carried eight messages to the King. In the summer of 1661 he was named to the committees for the security, corporations and uniformity bills and the bill of pains and penalties. Apart from these government measures, he also took part in considering the bill for drainage of the Bedford level. After the recess he was appointed to the committees considering the annulling of the conveyance of Lady Powell’s estate, the bill for ease of sheriffs, ways of relieving loyalists, and the militia bill. He was teller for candles in the debate on the Powell estate bill, and on 14 Mar. 1662 he was instructed to carry the militia bill to the Upper House and to remind their lordships of the sheriffs bill. When the militia bill returned in May, he was appointed to the small committee to consider a proviso about the assessment of peers, and he also served on the committee for the additional corporations bill. In the same month he attended the King with two messages, asking him to prevent a duel between Lord Ossory (Richard Butler) and Philip Howard and to arbitrate between the old and the new adventurers in the Bedford level.6
In the second session of the Cavalier Parliament, Compton brought a reply from the King to the address against the Declaration of Indulgence. It is clear from his letters that he had little sympathy for the nonconformists. He was appointed to the committees to consider the petition of the loyal and indigent officers and the bill for hindering the growth of Popery. On 4 Apr. 1663 he was one of 12 Members ordered to join with the Lords in returning thanks for the proclamation against Popish priests and Jesuits. He served on the committee to consider defects in the law against sale of offices. On 12 May he was among the Members entrusted with an address on improving the revenue, and four days later he was appointed to the committee to consider amendments to the Bedford level bill. When the King revealed the proposal of Sir Richard Temple to act as ‘undertaker’, Compton was sent to thank him for his message and, a week later, to ask who had been the intermediary. He served on the committee for the bill for the loyal and indigent officers, and was one of six Members appointed to draw up an additional clause on 10 July. He carried the subsidy bill to the Lords, and on 25 July was sent to ask the King to allow the export of horses to the plantations and to preserve the timber in the Forest of Dean. His last appearance in the Commons was to convey the King’s answer two days later. Compton died after a short illness at his home in Drury Lane on 18 Oct. 1663, aged 38. Samuel Pepys, usually no admirer of Cavaliers, wrote of the general, if transient, regret:
all the world saying that he was one of the worthiest men and best officers of state now in England; and so in my conscience he was—of the best temper, value, abilities of mind, integrity, birth, fine person, and diligence of any one man he hath left behind him in the three kingdoms.
Of not one courtier in a thousand, Pepys added, could it be said, as of Compton, that no man spoke ill of him; and it is clear that with his death the Government lost a steadying influence in the House of Commons which would have been increasingly valuable in the subsequent sessions of the Cavalier Parliament.7