John Culpeper (also spelled Colepeper and Culpepper; died 11 Jun 1660), was an English statesman and an influential counselor of Charles I during the Civil War and of Charles II in exile.
Elected member for Kent in the Long Parliament, he took the popular side, supporting the Earl of Strafford's attainder and receiving an appointment to the Parliamentary committee of defense in 1641. He separated, however, from the popular party on the church question, opposing the proposals to abolish episcopacy and for religious union with the Scots. In 1642 he joined the King's supporters, taking office as chancellor of the exchequer, but he disapproved of Charles's attempted arrest of five members of the Commons. In the Oxford Parliament he advised concessions to secure peace. He received a peerage in 1644.
Culpeper was sent with Edward Hyde (afterward earl of Clarendon) in charge of the Prince of Wales, after Charles's final defeat in 1645, to the Scilly Isles and thence to France (1646). In 1648 he accompanied the Prince on his unsuccessful naval expedition and returned with him to The Hague. After Charles I's execution he pressed upon Charles II the acceptance of the Scots' proposals. The treaty between Oliver Cromwell and Cardinal Mazarin in 1654 compelled Culpeper to leave France for Flanders. At the Restoration he returned to England but lived only a few weeks.
Source: Britannica On-Line
According to Clarendon he spent 'some years of his youth in foreign parts, and especially in armies, where he had seen good service and very well observed it, and might have made a very good officer.'2
Returning to England he married Philippa, daughter of Sir John Snelling3, and after his marriage, ‘betook himself to a country life, and studied the business of the country and the concernments of it, in which he was very well versed; and being a man of sharpness of parts and volubility of language, he was frequently made choice of to appear at the council board in those matters which related to the country, in the managing whereof his abilities were well taken notice of’4.
Having thus become popular, he was in 1640 elected to the Long parliament as second of the two members for Kent5. In the Long parliament on 9 Nov 1640, he distinguished himself by a great speech against monopolies6; was ordered on 12 Feb 1641 to impeach Judge Berkeley on behalf of the commons7; took part in the proceedings against Stafford, and spoke on behalf of the bill of attainder8. He was also a member of the committee of defense appointed by the commons on 14 Aug 16419.
Nevertheless, even during the first session, his divergence from the leaders of the popular party was considerable. He opposed the acceptance of the London petition against episcopacy (8 Feb) and the demands of the Scots for religious union. When the House of Commons went into committee to discuss the latter subject, Culpeper was placed in the chair in order to silence him in the debate (17 May). On 11 Jun he moved an important amendment to the Root and Branch Bill, and on 1 Sept. brought forward a resolution in defense of the prayer-book (ib. ix. 281, 377, x. 14). Thus it was specially on religious questions that Culpeper separated himself from the popular party. Clarendon thus explains his attitude: "In matters of religion he was in his judgment very indifferent, but more inclined to what was established, to avoid the accidents which commonly attend a change, without any motives from his conscience, which yet he kept to himself, and was well content to have it believed that the activity proceeded from thence." (Life, ii. 12).
In the second session he opposed the Grand Remonstrance, and attempted to enter his protest against its being printed. He also spoke against the Militia Bill and against the declaration proposed by Pym to refuse toleration to the Irish Catholics (Gardiner, x. 76, 96). So soon, therefore, as the king decided to confer office on the leaders of his party in the commons, Culpeper became a member of the privy council and chancellor of the exchequer (2 Jan 1642, ib. x. 127). The king's attempt to seize the five members was made without his privity, and, like Hyde and Falkland, he was 'much displeased and dejected' thereby (Clarendon, Rebellion, iv.158).
But it was in accordance with Culpeper's advice, although mainly owing to the influence of the queen, that the king gave his assent to the bill for the exclusion of the bishops from the House of, Lords (13 Feb 1642, Clarendon, Life, ii. 18). It was also by Culpeper's sole advice, given without the knowledge of Falkland or Hyde, that Charles formed the design of removing to the north of England with the object of obtaining possession of Hull (ib. ii. 17). After the king left London, Culpeper continued to meet Hyde and Falkland at Hyde's lodgings to prepare the king's answers to the messages of the parliament and concert plans for his service, in spite of the warning that the parliamentary leaders intended to send all three to the Tower (ib. ii. 38-9).
Escaping this fate by his precautions, he remained in London till about the end of May, and then joined the king at York. He was one of the councillors who signed their names to the declaration professing their belief that the king had no intention of making war on the parliament (15 June), and to the promise not to obey any order not warranted by the known laws of the land, or any ordinance concerning the militia not assented to by the king (13 June, Husbands, Exact Collection, 1643, 350, 367).
In company with the Earl of Southampton and two others, Culpeper was dispatched from Nottingham on 26 Aug 1642 to hear the king's last offer to negotiate before the war began. He was refused permission to address the house from his seat, and obliged to deliver his message from the bar. ' There standing bareheaded,' says D'Ewes, ‘he looked so dejectedly as if he had been a delinquent rather than a member of the house, or privy counselor, or a messenger from his majesty (Sanford, Studies and Illustrations, 529).
Culpeper was present at Edgehill, where he charged with Prince Rupert, and vehemently opposed those who urged the king to retreat under cover of the darkness instead of holding his ground (Clarendon, Rebellion, Appendix 2Y). In December following the post of master of the rolls be came vacant, and the king appointed Culpeper to fill it, intending Hyde to fill his place as chancellor of the exchequer. But Culpeper, though he professed much friendship, had no mind he should be upon the same level with him, and believed he would have too much credit in the council.'
Accordingly, although installed as master of the rolls on 28 Jan 1643 (Black Docquets of Letters Patent signed by Charles I at Oxford, 2), he delayed the surrender of the chancellorship of the exchequer as long as possible (22 Feb 1643), and even after it persuaded the king to infringe the prerogatives of that office by a grant to Mr. Ashburnham. Nevertheless, though this caused considerable cool ness between Hyde and Culpeper, ‘it never brake out or appeared to the disturbance or prejudice of the king's service’ (Clarendon, Life, ii. 77, iii. 31).
In the Oxford parliament Culpeper played a considerable part, being one of the two privy councillors who were included in it (Clarendon, Rebellion, Appendix 3Y). It was believed in London that he took up an attitude of opposition, moved that peace propositions should be sent to Westminster, and urged the sacrifice of Digby and other obnoxious councillors (Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, i. 351). His influence with the king in military affairs roused the hostility of the generals (Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 28-93).
He was particularly charged with advising the siege of Gloucester; ‘all conspired to lay the whole reproach upon the master of the rolls, who spake most in those debates, and was not at all gracious to the soldiers’ (ib. vii. 239). Rupert in consequence ‘crossed all he proposed,’ and Wilmot plotted a petition of officers that he might be excluded from all councils of war (ib. viii. 96, 168). Hence, when the king created the master of the rolls Lord Culpeper of Thoresway in Lincolnshire (21 Oct 1644, Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 472), ‘it did much dissatisfy both the court and army’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 170).
The parliament also, when Culpeper was appointed one of the commissioners for the Uxbridge treaty, refused to recognize his new dignity (Whitelocke, ff. 125-6).
In March 1645, Charles appointed Culpeper one of the council of the Prince of Wales, effected a reconciliation between him and Hyde, and dispatched both with the prince to the west of England. A large amount of his correspondence with Goring and other royalist commanders during the disastrous campaign of 1645 is preserved in the Clarendon Papers and the Tanner MSS.
In August the king sent for Culpeper to Brecon, and there commissioned him in case of danger to convey the prince to France, a destination which later letters altered to Denmark. The council, including Culpeper, remonstrated and urged the king to select Scilly or Jersey as a refuge for the prince when all hope of holding out in Cornwall was lost (Clarendon, Rebellion, 74,112, 116).
Culpeper himself hoped still to get aid from Scotland, and with that object procured the liberation of the Duke of Hamilton from his imprisonment (ib. Appendix 4 0).
He urged Ashburnham to ‘bend all his wits to advance the treaty with the Scots. It is the only way to save the crown and the three kingdoms; all other tricks will deceive you. All they can ask, or the king part with, is a trifle in respect of the price of a crown’ (Clarendon State Papers, n. 188).
A few days later (2 Mar 1646) he was forced to embark with the prince for Scilly, whence he was sent to France to inform the queen of her son's position and needs. The queen won over Culpeper to the view that the prince's removal to France was absolutely necessary and when the rest of the prince's council determined to remain in Jersey, he alone decided to accompany Prince Charles to France. Apart from distrust of France, the chief reason was that the policy of making religious concessions to gain the Scots, which was advocated by the queen and by Mazarin, commended itself to Culpeper while it was disapproved by Hyde and the others (Clarendon, Rebellion).
From St. Germain Culpeper, in joint letters with Jermyn and Ashburnham, continued to press this policy on the king (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 271).
"As for your advice," replied the king to one of these letters, "you speak my soul in everything but one; that is, the church" (ib. ii. 243).
And in an earlier letter to the queen, Charles wrote: "As for Culpeper, I confess never much to have esteemed him in religion, though in other things I reverenced his judgment" (Bruce, Letters of Charles I in 1646, 30).
They also urged the king to retain at all costs his right to the militia, and neither to suffer himself to be handed over to the parliament without security for his safety, nor to leave his own dominions (Clarendon State Papers, ii. 301). Sir John Berkeley's mission to England in the following year to promote an agreement between the king and the army was largely the work of Culpeper (Berkeley, Memoirs; Masères Tracts, 356).
On the revolt of a portion of the fleet in the summer of 1648, Culpeper accompanied the prince to sea, and was his principal adviser. The failure of this expedition to achieve anything was generally attributed to him, and some accused him of corruption.
Clarendon repels this charge: "He was not indeed to be wrought upon that way, but having some infirmities and a multitude of enemies, he was never absolved from anything of which any man accused him." (Rebellion, xi. 82).
Lord Hatton, however, writing to Nicholas, goes so far as to say: "I am sure I saw him plot and design against the relieving Pembroke and Colchester, and endeavor what in him lay to hinder any commission to the Duke of Buckingham unless he would be solely under the Earl of Holland and declare for the covenant and such popular ways" (Nicholas Papers, 96).
On the return of the prince to the Hague the old quarrel between Culpeper and Prince Rupert broke out again, and was industriously inflamed by Herbert, the attorney-general. On one occasion, when Rupert in the council nominated a certain Sir Robert Walsh as agent for the sale of prize goods, Culpeper, who opposed the appointment, concluded by offering to fight Rupert, but the intervention of Hyde and Cottington induced him to apologize a few days later (Clarendon, Rebellion, xi. 128).
Walsh, however, instigated by Herbert, violently assaulted Culpeper in the streets on 23 Oct 1648, and was for that offence forbidden to appear at court and banished from the Hague (Carte, Ormonde, vi. 592; Clarendon, xi. 130).
After the execution of the king, Culpeper was one of the chief supporters of the Scotch proposals to Charles II (June 1649; Nicholas Papers, 135).
When Charles II decided to go to Ireland instead of Scotland, Culpeper was sent to Russia to borrow money from the czar, and succeeded in obtaining a loan of twenty thousand rubles in corn and furs. An account of his reception at Moscow (May 1650) is printed in the Nicholas Papers (182-5).
Shortly after his return he was, by the influence of Lord Jermyn and the queen, to whose party he still belonged, sent to Holland as agent for Charles II, to the hope of obtaining armed support from the United Provinces, then (June 1650) at war with England (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 106).
It was also intended to despatch him to Scotland in 1654, but this mission came to nothing (ib. iii. 225).
By the treaty of August 1654 between Cromwell and Mazarin (Guizot, Cromwell, ii. 468) it was stipulated that Culpeper should be expelled from French territory, and he seems to have spent the rest of his exile in Flanders. From occasional notices in Clarendon's correspondence he appears to have been in more prosperous circumstances than most of the royalists.
On the death of Cromwell, Culpeper wrote a remarkable letter to Hyde (20 Sept. 1658) on the policy to be adopted by the royalist party (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 412).
He urged that the English royalists should be kept quiet until the divisions of the republicans brought the true season for activity; meanwhile he advised him to apply secretly to the discontented officers and statesmen, but especially to Monck.
"The person that my eye is chiefly on, as alone able to restore the king and not absolutely averse to it neither in his principles nor affections, is Monk;" and he went on to point out the way to deal with him, and to predict with astonishing foresight the probable course of events.
In September 1659, Culpeper followed the king to the south of France during the unsuccessful attempt of Charles to obtain some advantage from the treaty of the Pyrenees. Several letters written by Culpeper during this journey are among the Egerton MSS. (Eg. 2536). At the Restoration he returned to England, but died in the same summer (11 June 1660; Kennet, Register).
Culpeper’s character is described at length by Clarendon (I, ii. 10; Rebellion, iv. 122) and Sir Philip Warwick (Memoirs, 196). Both agree in praising his ability in debate and his fertility in counsel, and complain of a certain irresolution and changeableness which prevented him adhering to his first conclusions.
Both agree also in the statement that the uncertainty of his temper greatly diminished his usefulness. Clarendon in his correspondence frequently speaks of the difficulty of doing business with him. Nicholas echoes the same charge (Nicholas Papers, 315), and Warwick talks of his ‘eagerness and ferocity.’ This was largely the result of his education. When he came to court, says Clarendon, ‘he might very well be thought a man of no good breeding, having never sacrificed to the Muses or conversed to any polite company."
Culpeper's estates were restored by a private act passed after his death (Kennet, Register, 255). By his first wife he had one son, who died young, and a daughter, Pliilippa, who married Sir Thomas Herlackenden. By his second wife, Judith, daughter of Sir T. Culpeper of Hollingbourne, Kent, he had seven children, of whom Thomas, the eldest, became his successor in the title, which passed to his two younger brothers John and Cheney, and became extinct on the death of the last in 1725 (Hasted, Kent; Collins, Peerage, ix. 422).
Source: The Dictionary of National Biography. The Concise Dictionary. Part 1, From the beginnings to 1900. London: Oxford University Press, 1953
Last Updated: 02 Jan 2015