1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Northampton, Earls and Marquesses of

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NORTHAMPTON, EARLS AND MARQUESSES OF. The Northampton title has been held in various English families. About 1080 Simon de Senlis (d. 1109), a Norman noble, and the builder of Northampton Castle, was created earl of Northampton as well as earl of Huntingdon by William the Conqueror; his son Simon (d. 1153) was also recognized in the title about 1141, though his stepfather, David, king of Scotland (1084—1153), had meanwhile obtained the earldom in right of his wife. The second Simon died childless. In 1337 William de Bohun (c. 1310—1360), a distinguished soldier, son of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th earl of Hereford and 3rd earl of Essex, was created earl of Northampton; and his son Humphrey, who succeeded, fell heir in 1361 to the earldoms of Hereford and Essex, which thus became united under that of Hereford. The titles, however, became extinct at his death in 1372.

In 1547 William Parr (1513—1571), son of Sir Thomas Parr and brother of Catherine Parr, was created marquess of Northampton, and though attainted in 1553 was recreated marquess in 1559. He took part in suppressing the rising in the north of England in 1537, and after serving as member of parliament for Northamptonshire was made Baron Parr in 1539. In December 1543, just after his sister had married the king, he was created earl of Essex, a title formerly held by his father-in-law, Henry Bourchier, who had died in March 1540. Under Edward VI., who called him “his honest uncle,” Parr was equally prominent, being lord-lieutenant of five of the eastern counties, and being great chamberlain from 1550 to 1553. He favoured the claim of Lady Jane Grey to the English throne and consequently the accession of Queen Mary was quickly followed by his attainder. Although sentenced to death he was pardoned and released from prison at the end of 1553. After enjoying the favour of Queen Elizabeth, Northampton died at Warwick on the 28th of October 1571. He left no children and his marquessate became extinct. In 1604 Henry Howard (see below) was created earl of Northampton, his title dying with him. It next passed into the Compton family, where it has since remained. The 1st earl of Northampton in this line, William Compton (d. 1630), who received the title in 1618, was a great grandson of the Sir William Compton (1482—1528) who was with Henry VIII. at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and his son the 2nd earl is noticed below. The 9th earl, Charles Compton (1760—1828), was created a marquess in 1812, receiving at the same time the titles of Earl Compton and Baron Wilmington. His son Spencer Joshua Alwyne, the 2nd marquess (1790—1851), was president of the Royal Society from 1838 to 1848; the latter's son Lord Alwyne Compton (1825—1906) was bishop of Ely from 1886 to 1905. The 5th marquess (b. 1851), son of the 4th marquess (1818—1897), was, as Earl Compton, a Liberal member of parliament from 1889 to 1897.

Henry Howard, earl of Northampton (1540—1614), was the second son of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, the poet, and of Lady Frances Vere, daughter of the 15th earl of Oxford, and younger brother of Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk. He was educated first by Foxe the martyrologist, afterwards by John White, bishop of Lincoln, with whom he acquired Romanist opinions, and finally at the charge of Queen Elizabeth at King's College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he obtained his M.A. degree in 1564, subsequently in 1568 being incorporated M.A. at Oxford. The discovery of his brother's plot to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and of his own correspondence with her, deprived him of Elizabeth's favour, and he was arrested more than once on suspicion of harbouring treasonable designs. In 1583 he published a work entitled A Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies, an ostensible attack upon astrology, which, being declared to contain heresies and treason, led to his imprisonment. On regaining his liberty he is said to have travelled in Italy. His flattery of the queen in lengthy epistles met with no response, and his offer to take part in the national defence against the Spanish invasion was refused. He attached himself, however, both to Essex and to Robert Cecil, and through the influence of the latter was in 1600 again received by Elizabeth. At the close of the queen's reign he joined with Cecil in courting the heir to the throne in Scotland, the main object of his long letters of advice, which James termed “Asiatic and endless volumes,” being to poison the royal mind against Sir Walter Raleigh and other rivals, whom he at the same time hoped to ensnare into compromising relations and correspondence with Spain. These methods, which could not influence Elizabeth, were completely successful with James, and on the latter's accession Howard received a multitude of favours. In 1603 he was made a privy councillor, on the 1st of January 1604 lord warden of the Cinque Ports, and on the 13th of March earl of Northampton and Baron Howard of Marnhull in Dorset; on the 24th of February 1605 he was given the Garter and on the 29th of April was appointed Lord Privy Seal. In 1609 he was elected high steward of the university of Oxford, and in 1612 chancellor of Cambridge university. The same year he was appointed one of the commissioners of the treasury.

He was one of the judges at the trials of Raleigh and Lord Cobham in 1603, of Guy Fawkes in 1605, and of Garnet in 1606, in each case pressing for a conviction. In 1604 he was one of the commissioners who composed the treaty of peace with Spain, and from that date he received from the Spanish Court a pension of £1000. The climax of his career was reached when he assisted his great-niece, Lady Essex, in obtaining her divorce from her husband in order to marry the favourite Somerset, whose mistress she already was, and whose alliance Northampton was eager to secure for himself. He obtained the divorce by the decree of a special commission, and when Sir Thomas Overbury's influence seemed likely to prevent Somerset completing the marriage project, he caused the former to be imprisoned in the Tower. Shortly afterwards Overbury died from the effects of poison administered by the direction of Lady Essex; and the close intimacy which existed between the latter and Northampton, together with his appointment of Sir Gervase Elwes or Helwys, a friend of his own, as the keeper of the victim, leaves his name tarnished with the blackest suspicions. The discovery of the crime was not made till some little time after Overbury had succumbed, and meanwhile Northampton's own death anticipated his fall, together with that of Somerset, from power. He advised against the summoning of parliament in 1614, and then fomented disputes to compel James to dissolve it. He died unmarried on the 15th of June 1614, when his title became extinct, and was buried in the chapel of Dover Castle, the monument erected above his grave being subsequently removed to the chapel at Greenwich College. His will shows that he died a Roman Catholic.

Northampton, who was one of the most unscrupulous and treacherous characters of the age, was nevertheless distinguished for his learning, artistic culture and his public charities. He built Northumberland House in London and superintended the construction of the fine house of Audley End. He founded and planned several hospitals. Bacon included three of his sayings in his “Apophthegms,” and chose him as “the learnedest councillor” in the kingdom to present to the king his Advancement of Learning. He was the author of a Treatise of Natural and Moral Philosophy (1569; MS. in the Bodleian Library); of a pamphlet supporting the union between Elizabeth and the duke of Anjou (1580; Harleian MSS. 180); A Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies (1583); a reply to a pamphlet denouncing female government (1589; Harleian MS. 7021); Duello Foiled, printed in T. Hearne's Collection of Curious Discourses (1775), ii. 225, and ascribed there to Sir Edward Coke; Translation of Charles V.'s Last Advice to Philip II., dedicated with a long epistle to the queen (Harl. 836, 1506 and elsewhere in Stowe 95, King's MSS. 106); devotional writings (Arundel MSS. 300); speeches at the trials of Guy Fawkes and Garnet in State Trials, vol. i. In Somers Tracts (ed. 1809), ii. 136, his opinions on the union between England and Scotland are recorded.

See the life in Surrey's and Wyatt's Poems, ed. by G. F. Nott (1815), and Sidney Lee's article in the Dict. Nat. Biog.

Spencer Compton, 2nd earl of Northampton in the Compton line (1601—1643), was the son of William, 1st earl, lord president of the marches, whose father had been created Baron Compton by Elizabeth, and of Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Sir John Spencer, lord mayor of London. On the 3rd of November 1616 he was created a Knight of the Bath, and was elected for Ludlow in the parliament of 1621, the same year being appointed master of the robes to the prince of Wales and attending the latter in the adventure to Spain in 1623. He warmly supported the king in the Scottish expeditions, at the same time giving his advice for the summoning of the parliament, which “word of four syllables” he declared was “like the dew of heaven.”[1] On the outbreak of the Civil War he was entrusted with the execution of the commission of array in Warwickshire. After varying success and failure in the Midlands he fought at Edgehill, the king's return to Oxford was given, in November 1642, the military supervision of Banbury and the neighbouring country. He was attacked in Banbury by the parliamentary forces on the 22nd of December, but relieved by Prince Rupert the next day. In March 1643 he marched from Banbury to relieve Lichfield, and having failed there proceeded to Stafford, which he occupied. Thence on the 19th of March, accompanied by three of his sons, he marched out with his troops and engaged Sir John Gell and Sir William Brereton at Hopton Heath. He put to flight the enemy's cavalry and took eight guns, but in the moment of victory, while charging too far in advance, he was surrounded by the parliament soldiers. To these who offered him quarter he answered that “he scorned to take quarter from such base rogues and rebels as they were,” whereupon he was dispatched by a blow on the head. Clarendon describes his loss as a great one to the cause. Northampton married Mary, daughter of Sir Francis Beaumont, by whom besides two daughters he had six sons, of whom the eldest, James (1622—1681), succeeded him as 3rd earl of Northampton, Henry (1632—1713) became bishop of London, and Charles, William and Spencer all distinguished themselves in the king's cause. The 3rd earl's third son Spencer (1673—1743) was a favourite of George II. and in 1728 was created earl of Wilmington, a title which became extinct at his death.

See the article in the Dict. of Nat. Biog. by C. H. Firth; E. B. G. Warburton's Life of Prince Rupert: S. R. Gardiner's Hist. of England and of the Civil War; Thomason Tracts, E 99 (18) [Hopton Heath and Northamptorn's death], E 103 (11) [e1egy], E 11 (11), E 110 (8) 1642 [Proceedings at Banbury], E 83 (47) [speech].


  1. Hardwick State Papers, ii. 210.