Sir John Popham, MP

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John Popham, Lord Chief Justice

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Huntworth, Somerset, England
Death: Died in Wellington, Somerset, England
Place of Burial: Wellington, Somerset
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Alexander Popham, Kt., MP and Joan Popham
Husband of Amy Popham
Father of Penelope Hannam (Popham); Elinor Popham; Elizabeth Champernowne; Mary Popham; Katharine (Popham) and 2 others
Brother of Edward Popham, MP; Dorothy (Popham); Katherine Popham; William POPHAM; Robert POPHAM and 1 other

Occupation: Lord Chief Justice, Speaker of the House of Commons (1580-1583), Lord Chief Justice of England (June 2, 1592-June 1607)
Managed by: Jocelynn Elaine Oakes
Last Updated:

About John Popham, Lord Chief Justice

Sir John Popham (1531 – 10 June 1607) [1] was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1580 to 1583, Attorney General from 1 June 1581 to 1592 and Lord Chief Justice of England from 2 June 1592 to June 1607.

He was born in Huntworth, near North Petherton in Somerset in 1531 to Alexander Popham by his wife Jane Stradling, daughter of Sir Edward Stradling of St Donat's Castle, Glamorgan. [2] He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford where he read classics and divinity, and entered the Middle Temple before beginning his legal career as Recorder of Bridgwater and of Bristol.[3]

He served as an MP for Lyme Regis in 1558 and for Bristol in 1571 and 1572 and was a Justice of the Peace in Somerset. He was promoted to serjeant-at-law in 1578 and appointed solicitor-general in 1579. In 1581 he was elected speaker of the House of Commons and later that year appointed attorney-general. In 1592 he was appointed Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench on the death of Sir Christopher Wray, retaining the position until his death.


Popham is credited with maintaining the stability of the British State, and for being one of the "real colonisers" of the British Empire; hosting two Wabanaki tribesmen kidnapped on the Maine coast in 1605, subsequently funding and orchestrating the aborted Popham Colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River, Maine (1607–1608).


Popham became a very wealthy man, and amongst the many estates he owned was Publow in Somerset,[4] Littlecote in Wiltshire, and Hemyock Castle in Devon. In Peter Blundell's will[5] of 1599 Popham was asked to establish a free grammar school in the town of Tiverton, Devon, which resulted in his founding of Blundell's School which opened in 1604 and still exists to this day.

Popham presided over the trial of the Jesuit, Robert Southwell, in 1595 and passed sentence of death by hanging, drawing and quartering. He also presided over the trials of Mary, Queen of Scots (1587), Sir Walter Raleigh (1603) and the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot, including Guy Fawkes (1606). He sentenced Mary and Fawkes to death.


While working as the messenger to the Queen, Popham was imprisoned by the Earl of Essex with his henchman. Ever stoic, Popham replied that at his age, death would be “but cutting off a few years.” However, he was rescued and rowed to safety by Sir Ferdinando Gorges (1565–1647).


He was noted for his severity towards thieves and strict enforcement of the Penal Laws.

John Popham married Amy Games, daughter and heiress of Hugh Games of Caselton, Glamorganshire. Their progeny included the following:

  • Sir Francis Popham, his only son and heir. He married Anne Gardiner Dudley and was the father of Edward Popham, General-at-Sea, and of Colonel Alexander Popham (1605-1669), JP, MP, who fought for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War and had a garrison stationed at Littlecote House. Another of his descendants was Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762–1820), who developed the Signal Code adopted by the Navy in 1803.
  • Penelope Popham
  • Elinor Popham
  • Elizabeth Popham
  • Mary Popham
  • Amy Popham

His nephew was George Popham, founder of Popham Colony, of which John was one of the principal financial backers.

Popham died on 10 June 1607 at Wellington, Somerset. He was buried in the church of St John the Baptist, Wellington where exists his large free-standing monument under an elaborate canopy showing effigies of himself and his wife recumbent in the centre, with many little figures praying around the base representing his parents, his six daughters, three maidservants, his only son and his wife and their thirteen children. Inscribed on a stone tablet on the entablature supported by eight Corinthian columns is the following text: Sr John Popham Knighte and Lord Chief Justice of England and of the Honorable Privie Councell to Queene Elizabeth and after to King James, aged 76, died the 10th of June, 1607 and is here interred.[6]

His estate was held in Chancery after his death, and his descendants were prevented for unknown reasons from accessing this inheritance. One descendant is said to have changed his name to 'Smith' in a fit of rage, giving up on his inheritance.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Popham_(Lord_Chief_Justice)

  • ______________________
  • POPHAM, John (c.1532-1607), of Wellington, Som.
  • b. c.1532, 2nd s. of Alexander Popham† of Huntworth by Joan, da. of Sir Edward Stradling of St. Donat’s, Glam.; bro. of Edward. educ. Balliol, Oxf. and M. Temple, Autumn reader 1568, Lent reader 1573, treasurer 1580. m. Amy, da. and h. of Hugh Adams of Castleton, Glam., 1s. Sir Francis 6da. Kntd. 1592.
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/popham-john-1532-1607
  • _________________
  • POPHAM, John (1532/33-1607), of Wellington, Som. and London.
  • b. 1532/33, 2nd s. of Alexander Popham, and bro. of Edward. educ. Balliol, Oxf.; M. Temple. m. by Jan. 1549, Amy, da. and h. of Hugh Adams of Castleton, Glam., 1s. Francis† 6da. Kntd. 1592.1
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/popham-john-153233-1607
  • ______________
  • POPHAM, Sir Francis (c.1570-1644), of Wellington, Som. and Littlecote, Wilts.
  • b. c.1570, o.s. of John Popham by Amy, da. and h. of Hugh Adams of Castleton, Glam. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1588; M. Temple 1589. m. Anne, da. and h. of John Dudley I of Stoke Newington, Mdx., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 7da. Kntd. 1596; KB 1603; suc. fa. 1607.
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/popham-sir-francis-1570-1644
  • _______
  • POPHAM, Sir Francis (c.1573-1644), of Wellington, Som. and Littlecote, Wilts.; later of Houndstreet, Som. and Stoke Newington, Mdx.
  • b. c.1573, o.s. of Sir John Popham†, c.j.q.b. 1592, of Wellington, and Amy, da. and h. of Hugh Adams of Castleton, Glam.1 educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1588, aged 15; M. Temple 1589.2 m. (1) 1590,3 Anne, da. and h. of John Dudley I† of Stoke Newington, 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 8da.4 kntd. 27 June 1596;5 suc. fa. 10 June 1607.6 d. 28 July 1644.7 sig. Francis Popham.
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/popham-sir-francis-1573-1644
  • _______________
  • POPHAM, Edward (by 1530-86), of Huntworth, Som.
  • b. by 1530, 1st s. of Alexander Popham of Huntworth by Joan, da. of Sir Edward Stradling of St. Donat’s, Glam.; bro. of John. m. settlement 1 July 1551, Jane, da. of Richard Norton of Abbots Leigh, Bristol, Glos. 7s. inc. Alexander† 9da. suc. fa. 11 June 1556.1
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/popham-edward-1530-86
  • __________
  • POPHAM, Edward (by 1530-86), of Huntworth, Som.
  • b. by 1530, 1st s. of Alexander Popham† of Huntworth by Joan, da. of Sir Edward Stradling of St. Donat’s, Glam.; bro. of John. m. settlement 1 July 1551, Jane, da. of Richard Norton of Abbots Leigh, Bristol, 7s. inc. Alexander 9da. suc. fa. 11 June 1556.
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/popham-edward-1530-86
  • ______________
  • POPHAM, Alexander (by 1504-56), of Huntworth, Som.
  • b. by 1504, 1st s. of John Popham of Huntworth by Isabel, da. of Thomas Knolle. educ. ?M. Temple. m. by 1530, Joan, da. of Sir Edward Stradling (d.1535) of St. Donat’s, Glam., 4s. inc. Edward and John 3da. suc. fa. 17 Feb. 1536.2
  • From: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/popham-alexander-1504-56
  • __________

Jane Morris 1938, Adam Symes and His Descendants. Chief Justice

Popham.

Cynthia Sims Kirkland, 1 January 1996.

SIMS/SIMMS/...etc. Newsletter, April/May 1996.

Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of the King's Bench; was a financial backer of Jamestown, Virginia.

I.N. Hume 1998, The Virginia Adventure, Roanoke to James Towne: An Archaeological and Historical Odyssey, pp. 99, 108-110, 118, 120. Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, was co-author of an act of Parliament to authorize banishment overseas as the punishment for vagrancy. Popham was also instrumental in the effort to end the royal support of private adventuring (i.e., privateering) which had been the practice during the reign of Elizabeth, to make such arrangements more businesslike and a unified element of the national foreign policy. From this came the chartering of the London Branch of the Virginia Company to oversee a southern colony in America (James Towne) and the Plymouth Branch to undertake administration of a northern colony, when Popham succeeded in convincing King James I to grant two Virginia charters, one for a northern colony to be contemporary (circa 1607) with the James Towne colony. George Popham, a relative of John Popham, was among the four grantees of the Plymouth Branch of the Virginia Company as was Thomas Hannam, a grandson of John Popham. Sir Fernando Gorges was also a partner in this enterprise. In summer 1606 Popham financed the first ship the Richard to carry colonists to found a plantation (i.e., town) on the Sachadehoc River (a branch of the Kennebec River). This ship, however, was captured by the Spanish either off Graciosa Island in the Azores or in the vicinity of the Bahamas, depending upon sources, at a loss of 5000 pounds. In principle, England and Spain had been at peace since 1604, but the English and Spanish still differed on the question of whether the former had the right to free trade with Spanish America, thus a difficult international incident was created. A second ship, however, did successfully arrive in Maine and its colonists established their settlement. The Sagadahoc Colony, named Fort St. George, at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine was short lived; the last of the settlers returned to England in September 1608 ending the Plymouth Branch of the Virginia Company.

As Lord Chief Justice, it was Popham who pronounced the sentence of death upon Sir Walter Raleigh for alledgedly plotting the death of James I. Popham also presided over the trial of the conspirators who had planned to blow up Parliament in the abortive 1605 Gunpowder Plot, and ordered the torture of Guide Fawkes prior to his execution.

David Warren, RootsWeb's WorldConnect project, 1 March 2000.

Life dates 1531 - 10 June 1607.

Lisa Simms, The Sims Link to English Royalty,

http://people.ne.mediaone.net/lsimms/edward.html, 3 July 2000.

  • --------------------

Speaker of the House of Commons from 1580 to 1583, Attorney General from 1 Jun 1581 to 1592 and Lord Chief Justice of England from 2 Jun 1592 to Jun 1607.

He was born in Huntworth, near North Petherton in Somerset in 1531 to Alexander Popham and Jane Stradling. It is said he was kidnapped by gypsies when he was a child, and spent his childhood wandering with this lawless group of associates. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford where he read classics and divinity, and entered the Middle Temple before beginning his legal career. Various sources suggest he supported himself as a highwayman.

Popham is credited with maintaining the stability of the British State, and for being one of the "real colonisers" of the British Empire; hosting two Wabanaki tribesmen kidnapped on the Maine coast in 1605, subsequently funding and orchestrating the aborted Popham Colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River, Maine (1607-1608).

He served as an MP for Bristol in the 1570s and 1580s and was a Justice of the Peace in Somerset. Popham became a very wealthy man, and amongst the many estates he owned was Publow in Somerset, Littlecote in Wiltshire, and Hemyock Castle in Devon.

Popham presided over the trial of the Jesuit, Robert Southwell, in 1595 and passed sentence of death by hanging, drawing and quartering.

He also presided over the trials of Mary Queen of Scots (1587), Sir Walter Raleigh (1603) and Guy Fawkes (1606), sentencing Mary and Fawkes to death.

While working as the messenger to Queen Elizabeth, Popham was imprisoned by the Earl of Essex with his henchman. Ever stoic, Popham replied that at his age, death would be “but cutting off a few years”. However, he was rescued and rowed to safety by Sir Ferdinando Gorges.

Sir John Popham died 10 Jun 1607 at Wellington, Somerset. According to local legend, Popham was killed by being thrown from his horse into Popham's Pit, a deep local dell, dying horribly and descending to Hell.

He is named on his wife's grave stone in the nearby Wellington Church, but according to legend his body doesn't lie there. Every New Year's Eve his ghost is supposed to emerge from Popham's Pit and take one cock's step nearer to the grave. Until he has reached it, legend says that his soul will not rest in peace.

Popham's fortune was held in Chancery after his death, and his descendants were prevented for unknown reasons from accessing this inheritance. One story tells how one descendant changed his name to 'Smith' in a fit of rage, giving up on his inheritance.

His only son Francis married Anne Dudley and was the father of Colonel Alexander Popham JP, MP, 1605 - 1669, who fought on the side of the Parliamentarians during the Civil War and had a garrison stationed at Littlecote House.

His daughter Mary married Sir John Mallett of Enmore who was a Knight of the Bath (Knighted at the Coronation of James I) and High Sheriff of Somerset in 1601. Other of his daugthers, Amy, married Thomas Horner of Mells, member of Parliament and Sheriff of Somersetshire. Their son, Sir John Horner, was knighted and was the "Little Jack Horner" of nursery rhymes.

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Sir John Popham, MP's Timeline

1531
1531
Huntworth, Somerset, England
1549
1549
Age 18
Huntworth, Somerset, England
1551
1551
Age 20
Somerset, , England
1555
1555
Age 24
Huntworth, Somerset, , England
1557
1557
Age 26
Huntworth, Somerset, England, United Kingdom
1559
1559
Age 28
Huntworth, Somerset, , England
1560
1560
Age 29
Huntsworth, Somerset, , England
1560
Age 29
Somerset, England
1573
1573
Age 42
Littlecott, Wiltshire, England
1607
June 10, 1607
Age 76
Wellington, Somerset, England