Death and Burial of John Hampden

John Hampden died of wounds recieved at the Battle of Chalgove on Saturday 24th June 1643 in Thame.   On the 26 June 1643 Rob Goodwin wrote a letter to  Col. Sir Thomas Barrington, in which he mentions the death of John Hampden on the previous Saturday nignt.

Rob Goodwins Letter of 26 June 1643
Rob Goodwins Letter of 26 June 1643

we received the sad tidings of Colonel Hamdens (sic) death; he died on Saturday night last.’.

However, he does not mention any funeral or any funeral arrangements.  

On the evening of Saturday 24th June Royalist forces were threatening to overwhelm Essex’s headquarters in Thame. In the midst of this turmoil John Hampden died. A dead John Hampden was a great prize for the Royalists. His body and grave had to be kept hidden.

The Worthy Discourse 

Traditionally it is stated that on the 25th June with Drums muffled and Colours furled the Regiment followed the coffin to Great Hampden. Six pall bearers carried the coffin towards the mournful villagers and the body of Col John Hampden was received at the church by Rector Robert Lenthall

The above scene is said to have been taken from ‘The Worthy Discourse Between Col John Hampden and Col Oliver Cromwell’ an account said to have been published in 1647 by Dr William Spurstow. In 1847 Lord Nugent published what he stated was a verbatim copy of ‘The Worthy Discourse’. Nugent had realised that Hampden’s burial was a secret affair for when he came to exhume John Hampden in July 1828 he was unable to find the grave. Lord Nugent’s 1847 publication of ‘The Worthy Discourse’ is a complete fabrication which cannot be attributed to Dr William Spurstow. Nugent described in The Worthy Discourse the funeral that he thought Col John Hampden deserved.

Most Likely Scenerio

Hampden died in the evening of the 24th June and it is assumed that Richard Hampden collected the body and took it Great Hampden. In the early hours of the 25th June Col John Hampden was lowered into a pre-dug grave. On covering the coffin with earth and replacing the tiles Richard Hampden closed and locked the door to ‘his’ church. The grave was marked by a Surcoat of Arms that was hung at the entrance to the Chancel above where John Hampden is buried. After the 24th June John Hampden is never seen or heard of again except for an entry in Great Hampden’s parish register.  There was no memorial stone raised to mark his grave and his place in the church remained unknown until 1663 when John Yates was appointed Rector and carried out a survey of the Chancel (see below).

Parish Register

From the parish register of Great Hampden (aka Hampden Magna) it would appear that John Hampden was buried on 25 June 1643.   However, above the entry of John Hampden’s burial is an entry on the right had side of the page that reads:   ‘Robert Lenthall Rector Novb: 30. 1643’.   This would suggest that the entry for John Hampden’s burial was made by Robert Lenthall after he took over as incumbent.

Parish Register showing burial of John Hampden
Parish Register showing burial of John Hampden


Note:  According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd) ( )  Robert Lenthall was appointed Rector of Hampden Magna on 10 November 1643 the patron being Richard Hampden.  Prior to this appointment Robert Lenthall had been kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, New England in 1642 and is whereabouts in June 1643 aren’t known.  So the entry of 30 November 1643 is probably when he accepted the Parish Registers and at the same time inserted the burial entry for John Hampden.   Robert Lethnall eventually left Great Hampden sometime in late 1647 after burying his daughter Sarah (11 Aug 1647), wife Susanna (27 Aug 1647), his son Adrian (2 Sept 1647) and cousin John Pickering (25 Sept 1647) all of whom died of “the sickness”.

The incumbent prior to Robert Lenthall was William Spurstowe who according to the Church of England records appears to have left Hampden Magna  in May 1643 to take up a position in Hackney.  So there appears to have been no incumbent at the time of John Hampden’s burial.

For a complete list of incumbents of Great Hampden see:  CCEd: Location: Parish (Church): Great Hampden

John Hampden is buried in the family church but questions remain about:

  • Why is the entry in the burial register written after the note of November 1643, rather then at the time of his burial?
  • Who officiated at his burial?

Was his tomb left unmarked because of the fear that his body would be disinterred his grave desecrated and his decomposing body hung on pikes, the ultimate insult an enemy could inflict,  if The Parlimentarians lost the war, which in June 1643 was looking likely.   From Rob Goodwin’s letter the Royalists where trying to end the war by offering a pardon to these that had fought on the Parlimentarians side.

“….a proclamation which came from Oxford, granting pardon to all members of either howse that would come in to Oxford within ten daies excepting out of that pardon only 5 Lords and 13 Commoners the Earles of Essex Warwick Manchester Stamford and my Lord Say and Seale; Sir John Hotham, Sir Ac: Haselrigg, Sir ffran: Popham, Sir Ed: Hungerford, Sir Hen: Lindloc??, Mr Pym, Mr Strode, Mr Natha: Fiennes, Mr Alex: Popham, Mr Hamden, My Lord Major Colonel Mann the proclamation did seeme to anihilate this Parliament…..”

Then later in the same letter:

“…I cannot write you any good newes our forces at Leister have taken some of their Commanders ; my Lord Fairfax is in great want of horse ; the Queene advanceth: the last night the Cavaliers plundered Wickham and tooke a troope of my Lo: Generals horse; and this City tooke an alarum upon it and were up in armes all night….

The incumbent following Robert Lenthall was John Saunders who was appointed Rector on 18 January 1661.   So it would appear that for the period 1647 to 1661 there was no incumbent at Great Hampden, this was not uncommon during this period.  Then in July 1663 John Yates was appointed rector.   One of his first jobs it was to record the location of the tombs in the chancel, prior to the floor being raised. Yates documented in detail every grave in the chancel,  on first inspection of this document John Hampden’s tomb is not mentioned.

Modern Transcript of John Yates Recording of the Chancel Tombs
Modern Transcript of John Yates Recording of the Chancel Tombs

The Parish Register records that John Hampden is in the church but his grave was never marked.  Yates recored the sites of the tombs and what he saw in the Chancel being unaware of the meaning of the Surcoat of Arms.

At the Entrance into the Chancel hang a Surcoat of Arms belonging to the Hampdens with a Mantle Helmet & Crest bet: 4 Penons One whereof is torn the other are as follows’.

The Surcoat of Arms displaying the Helmet and Crest represents Hampden and the four Penons (small flags) symbolise he is among friends. The torn Penon signifies that John Hampden has been ripped away from his friends. Three of the four Penons are described and below the Penons hangs a Shield thereon the Arms of Hampden depicting that from his grave John Hampden will protect his friends.

Yates recorded all his findings in a document titled Hampden Magna (click here for a full transcript)

Beneath the entrance to the chancel, directly as described above and in a shallow grave is an oak casket. This information was passed to Derek Lester by the Church Warden of St Mary Magdalene’s church. He was told that during the installation of underfloor heating the top of the oak casket was seen.  Only Lords of the Manor are buried in the chancel and from the John Yates Hampden Magna the siting of all the other graves within the chancel are known, so there is a good posibility that this oak casket is John Hampden’s coffin.

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