Colonel Bampfield as Charles I's Agent

Colonel Joseph Bampfield (1622-1685) worked as an agent in turn for Charles I, John Thurloe of the Protectorate regime, ministers in the early Restoration period, and John de Witt, leader of the Dutch republic.

Due to Bampfield's later reputation, historians were reluctant to use Bampfield's own account, published many years later, but John Loftis and Paul H. Hardacre found it was factually accurate except in rare instances (John Loftis and Paul H. Hardacre ed., Colonel Joseph Bampfield's Apology "Written by Himself and Printed at His Desire" 1685). Let us see what Bampfield himself tells about his activity as Charles I's agent.

Bampfield became a colonel in the King's army when the Civil War broke out. In 1644, he was sent by the King to Exeter but, upon return, he found the Earl of Essex and General Waller before Oxford. According to his own account, he "was unwilling to be taken, having papers of importance and ciphers in my clothes and saddle" but he was taken prisoner before being released by virtue of the pass he possessed (Apology, Section 11). In the winter of 1645-46, he was sent by the King to London for the purpose of gathering information about parliamentary sects (ibid., Section 17). He secretly visited Oxford and privately reported his findings to the King with only Secretary of State Nicholas present (as an aside, he accounts that the twelve-year-old Duke of York came in for a moment to receive his father's benediction before his going to rest) (ibid., Sections 19,20). Then, the King sent him to London again with new instructions and "all things expedient for his service" (ibid., Section 21).

When the King sought refuge with the Scots and was taken to Newcastle in May 1646, he summoned Bampfield (ibid., Section 25). Apparently, the King and Bampfield used cipher in their correspondence. The King's letter received soon after this referred Bampfield to the bearer, saying "The particulars are too long and troublesome to be put in cipher and too important to be hazarded out of it."(ibid., Section 27).

When the King was handed over to the English parliamentarians in January 1647 and was closely watched at Holdenby (Holemby), Bampfield managed to deliver letters by the assistance of a barber who served the King every morning and evening (ibid., Section 40). Apparently, he provided the King with a cipher. The King's reply of 15 April 1647 began with an aknowledgement "I have received your cipher and your two letters". The King's letter of 27 April 1647 told him, after stating his terms for peace, "Let no man see the note in cipher, but do all you can possible in what it contains. The greatest of the enclosed is for my wife; the other for the Ambassador Bellièvre, to whom I have written [telling him] to acquaint you with what he has done, or hopes to do, with those of the Scotch commissioners which he believes he has influence upon, to the end you may write it to me in cipher." (ibid., Section 43).

Some of the King's letters wrote about trouble in ciphering and deciphering.

Make my excuse to the French ambassador, for what he has written to me in his last is of so little concernment that it is not worth the pains to answer it in cipher to himself.
Charles I to Bampfield, 16 May 1647

Correspondence continued after the King escaped from the Army's hand in November 1647, only to find himself prisoner in the Isle of Wight.

I have received yours of the 17 present, but have not as yet deciphered the other letters enclosed because I would first finish this dispatch to my wife, the earl of Lanark, and my Lord Willoughby.
Charles I to Bampfield, 24 January 1648

I have received yours of the 14 present, and being weary with deciphering it, I cannot answer to all its particulars, nor is it needful. I will only tell you in general that I approve what you have already done and what you propose for the saving of the Duke of York.
Charles I to Bampfield, 22 February 1648

In April 1648, Bampfield carried out the task of delivering the fourteen-year-old Duke of York from captivity of the parliamentarians and successfully took him to Holland (see another article).

After the death of Charles I in 1649, Bampfield fled to Holland. Although he worked for the royalist cause in Scotland, he could not win the confidence of the new King in exile. The King and Hyde repeatedly professed distrust of Bampfield in their correspondence (Calenter of Clarendon State Papers, ii, Internet Archive, in passim) but the party at the Louvre (those about Queen Mother Henrietta Maria) continued to trust him (Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, p.65). In the spring or early in the summer of 1654, he was dismissed from the King's service. In July 1654, when Charles II had to leave France because of an agreement between France and the Protectorate, he specifically named Bampfield as one not to be employed or trusted in his instructions for his brother, Duke of York (Clarendon State Papers. p.283, cf. p.340).

Bampfield managed to enter the service for John Thurloe, secretary of state for the Protectorate (Apology p.139, 169). Bampfield has been blamed for double dealing (e.g., Marshall, Alan, Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II, 1660-1685, pp.168-175) but Loftis (op. cit.) says his service for Thurloe was after he was dismissed by Charles II.

The cipher he used with Thurloe will be described in another article.

©2010 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 3 July 2010. Last modified on 27 January 2013.
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