William Compton, 1st Earl of Northampton

William Compton, 1st Earl of Northampton, KG (died 24 June 1630), known as 2nd Baron Compton from 1589 to 1618, was an English nobleman, peer, and politician.

Northampton was the son of Henry Compton, 1st Baron Compton, and Frances Hastings. His maternal grandparents were Francis Hastings, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon and Catherine Pole. Catherine was a daughter of Henry Pole, 11th Baron Montacute and Lady Jane Nevill. Jane was in turn a daughter of George Nevill, 4th Baron Bergavenny and his wife Margaret, daughter of Hugh Fenn.

In June 1590 he went to Edinburgh with Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester to congratulate James VI on his marriage to Anne of Denmark. Compton watched 'pastimes' on the sand on Leith.[1]

He notably served as Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire and of Gloucestershire and as Lord President of the Marches and of the Dominion of Wales. In 1618 he was created Earl of Northampton.


Lord Northampton married in 1599 or 1600 Elizabeth Spencer, a daughter of Sir John Spencer who had been Lord Mayor of London in 1594. Their children included:

In March 1610 Elizabeth's father died leaving a fortune, and a letter (purportedly) set outs her expectations from her husband. These included; £1,600 per year and £600 for charitable works; three horses of her own; two gentlewomen attendants and horses for them; six or eight gentlemen; two coaches one for herself another for her women each with a coachman and four horses, with carriages and carts for her things; twenty new gowns yearly; new furnishings in their houses including couches and canopies for her drawing chambers; he should finish building Castle Ashby House; and more signed "Eliza Compton".[2]

Prince Henry's tournament

William Compton was a participant in the Accession Day tilts or tournaments at the royal court from 1589. When Prince Henry was made Prince of Wales in 1610, William distinguished himself at the tournament. He dressed as a shepherd knight and sat in a specially constructed "mount" or bower to accept challenges. An eyewitness reported:

He builded himself a bower upon the top of the wall next to St. James's Park, made in the manner of a sheepcote, and there he sat in a gray russet cloak and had a sheep crook in one hand as though he had been a shepherd, and through the top of the bower there stood up the mast of a ship gilded with gold and upon the top a pan with fire burning in it, as some thought with pitch and an iron mark to mark sheep. ...
Afterward, my Lord Compton descended from his sheepcote and mounted himself on a lofty steed, his men also attending him on horseback, every one wearing a hat of straw and their faces painted as black as the devil.[3]

The shepherd's bower was designed by Inigo Jones. The historian Roy Strong identifies this performance as a revival of Elizabethan pastoral themes, related to the shepherd knight Phillisides of Philip Sydney's Arcadia[4]


  1. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 331.
  2. John S. Brewer, The court of King James the First, vol. 2 (London, 1839), pp. 127-132.
  3. Reports on various manuscripts: William Cleverly Alexander, vol.3, HMC (1904), pp.259–263, here spelling modernised and abbreviated.
  4. Strong, Roy, Henry Prince of Wales, Thames & Hudson (1986), p.159: The drawing by Jones is in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House.


  • Kidd, Charles, Williamson, David (editors). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (1990 edition). New York: St Martin's Press, 1990,
Political offices
Title last held by
The Earl of Warwick
Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Northampton
Preceded by
The Lord Chandos
Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire
Preceded by
The Lord Gerard
Lord President of Wales
Lord Lieutenant of Wales (less Glamorgan
and Monmouthshire), Herefordshire,
Shropshire and Worcestershire

Succeeded by
The Earl of Bridgewater
Preceded by
The Earl of Worcester
Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir John Lewis
Custos Rotulorum of Cardiganshire
Succeeded by
Lord Vaughan
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Northampton
5th creation
Succeeded by
Spencer Compton
Preceded by
Henry Compton
Baron Compton
(descended by acceleration)

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