The Full Wiki

More info on John Popham (Lord Chief Justice)

John Popham (Lord Chief Justice): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir John Popham
Born 1531
Huntworth, nr North Petherton, Somerset
Died 10 June 1607 (aged 76)
Wellington, Somerset
Occupation Speaker of the House of Commons, Attorney General, Lord Chief Justice
Spouse(s) Amy Games
Parents Alexander and Jane Popham (née Stradling)

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.


Early life

He was born in Huntworth, near North Petherton in Somerset in 1531 to Alexander and Jane Popham (née 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, was a Justice of the Peace in Somerset, and ultimately became Lord Chief Justice to Queen Elizabeth I. Popham became a very wealthy man, and amongst the many estates he owned was Publow in Somerset,[2], Littlecote in Wiltshire, and Hemyock Castle in Devon.

In Peter Blundell's will[3] of 1599 Popham was asked to establish a free grammar school in the town of Tiverton, Devon. This he duly did. The school Blundell's was opened in 1604 and still exists to this day.

Famous trials

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 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).


According to local legend, Popham was killed in 1607 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.


John Popham married Amy Games, daughter and heiress of Robert or Hugh Games of Castleton, Glamorganshire, and wife. They had 8 children:

  • Sir Francis Popham
  • Katherine Popham
  • Penelope Popham
  • Elinor Popham
  • Elizabeth Popham
  • Katherine Popham
  • Mary Popham
  • Amy Popham

Sir John Popham died on 10 June 1607 at Wellington, Somerset.

His only son Francis married Anne Gardiner Dudley and was the father of Edward Popham, General-at-Sea, and 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.

A descendant of Sir John Popham is Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762-1820), a British admiral who developed the Signal Code adopted by the Navy in 1803.


  1. ^ " Person Page 19580" (genealogy), Darryl Lundy,, Wellington, NZ, 2006-09-16, webpage: TPcom-19580.
  2. ^ Janes, Rowland (2003) Pensford, Publow and Woollard: A Topographical History. Biografix. ISBN 0-9545125-0-2
  3. ^
  • Popham, Frederick William, “A West Country Family: The Pophams since 1150” (privately printed, 1976)

External links

Further reading

  • The Life And Achievements of Sir John Popham, 1531-1607, Douglas Walthew Rice - 2005 ISBN 0838640605
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Christopher Wray
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Fleming
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Amias Paulet
Custos Rotulorum of Somerset
bef. 1594–1607
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Phelips
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Robert Bell
Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Sir John Puckering


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address