About Lord Hopton

Lord Hopton

1598 – 1652

RALPH LORD HOPTON, BARON OF STRATTON, FIELD MARSHALL OF HIS MAJESTY’S WESTERN FORCES

Ralph Hopton was born at Witham Friary, Somerset, in the second week of March 1596, and baptized on the 13th in the parish church of Evercreech. His parents Robert and Jane had two sons and four daughters, of which Ralph was the eldest. The family was comfortably off, and while they could be described as gentry, were certainly not rich. Grammar school educated (almost certainly King’s School, Bruton), he initially started a career in Law by joining the Middle Temple on 14th February 1614, also studying at Lincoln College Oxford. Very quickly it became evident that he was more interested in military affairs, and volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere’s expedition fighting for the Protestant cause in the Germanic wars. It was during his time on the continent that he made his famous friendship with William Waller, and also proved his bravery when he helped Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia escape from Prague. Hopton rose through the military ranks, and during periods at home became involved in the Trained Bands, the militia of the days. He married Elizabeth Lewin, widow of Sir Justian Lewin on 18th March 1623, and was made Knight of the Bath at King Charles’ coronation on 2nd February 1626 in recognition of his military service.

He settled at Evercreech Park near his parents, and served both as a J.P. and a Member of Parliament. A conscientious and thoughtful man, he could well have been described as a Puritan, and was in favour of many of the reforms that Parliament tried to impose upon the King. As the political unrest escalated, Hopton however would not be drawn past a certain point, and eventually came into conflict with the more radical elements at Westminster. He was adamant that due process of the law should be followed, and this culminated with him being imprisoned on the 4th March 1642 in the Tower of London for two weeks and named as a delinquent. It was almost certainly these acts that convinced Hopton that he had no wish to have any further involvement with the increasingly extremist elements in control of the House of Commons, and so the committed puritanical parliamentarian firmly strode into the King’s camp. The final political act passed against him was the seizure of his lands (October 1643), and his family became penniless until their return by order of the House of Lords in 1672, twenty years after his death.

On the King’s command Sir Ralph Hopton and other notables began recruiting in Somerset in July 1642, hoping to gather together the militia that Hopton had spent so long training. Before this task was completed his men met in conflict with Parliamentarians who had the same idea, and the first actions in the south were fought. A small skirmish at Marshall’s Elm (4th August) was followed by a short siege at Sherborne (6th – 10th August) where the Royalists held out, and a larger confrontation at Babylon Hill (11th) overlooking Yeovil where Hopton and his comrades again prevailed. Although successful, it became obvious that they were severely outnumbered, so the strategic decision was taken for the infantry to sail to Wales from Minehead with Henry Lunsford, while the cavalry rode for Cornwall.

Through the remainder of 1642 Hopton spent his time coming to grips with the problems of raising an effective army in Cornwall. Together with his close colleagues Sir Bevill Grenvile, Sir Nicholas Slanning and Sir John Berkeley he forged an effective force from the hundreds of volunteers, and they fought a series of skirmishes throughout the western peninsula.