Joseph Bampfield (fl. 1639-1685), was a royalist colonel greatly involved in the turbulence of the English Civil War period.
Bampfield was, according to Clarendon, an Irishman, his real name being Bamford; but the assertion is not corroborated by any other authority. Bampfield himself states that he began to serve Charles I at seventeen years of age, entering the army as ‘ancient’ under Lord Ashley in his first expedition against the Scots in 1639. At the end of the war he was promoted captain. He became colonel of a regiment shortly after the outbreak of the civil war, and served with special distinction under the Duke of Somerset in the west of England.
From an entry in Wood's 'Fasti' (ii. 33) it would appear that in 1642 he was created M.A. of Oxford University by virtue of the king's mandamus. In a short time his remarkable gifts for intrigue attracted the attention of the king, who, when he shut himself up in Oxford in 1644, sent him in disguise to London 'to penetrate the designs of the two parties in parliament.' He was also the agent employed by Charles in his ‘secret negotiations’ at Oxford and Newport, and in contriving the escape of the Duke of York from St. James's Palace in April 1648. To aid him in the latter plot, Bampfield secured the services of Anne Murray, afterwards Lady Halkett, whom he had greatly impressed by his 'serious, handsome, and pious discourse,' after a very slight acquaintance. In her autobiography she gives an interesting account of the manner in which she provided a female dress for the duke's disguise, and of the circumstances attending his escape. Bampfield's disbursements in connection with the exploit amounted to £19,559, and the receipts to £20,000. After accompanying the duke to Holland, Bampfield, at the special request of Charles, returned again to England. Remaining in concealment ‘beyond the Tower,’ he again opened up communications with Anne Murray. One day he took occasion to inform her that news had reached him of his wife's death, and shortly afterwards he made her an offer of marriage, stating that he had a promise of being one of his majesty's household, and that in any case their joint fortunes would amount to £800 per annum. She agreed to marry him as soon as convenient; but the story of his wife's death was a concoction in order to enable him for his own interests to win the complete devotion of the lady by appearing in the character of a lover.
After the death of Charles he remained in England, and he was preparing to follow his mistress to Scotland when he was arrested and secured in the Gatehouse at Westminster, but succeeded in escaping through a window and went to Holland. By this time it had come out that his wife was still alive; and as Sir Henry Newton, brother-in-law of Anne Murray, happened to cross over to Holland in the same ship with him, the two, as soon as they landed, fought a duel, with the result that Newton was severely wounded in the head. Bampfield failed to win the confidence of Charles II, and returned to England, but in August 1652 was brought before the council and commanded to leave the country. When Lord Balcarres, in 1653, began to put into operation a scheme for a rising in the Highlands, Bampfield made his way to Scotland and again sought out Anne Murray, who had always given him credit for believing that his wife was dead. So much did he commend himself to the Highland chiefs that during a temporary illness of Lord Balcarres he was entrusted with the supreme direction of the affair; but he was justly suspected by Charles II to be acting a double part, and in July 1654 he was finally dismissed from the service of the royalists.
In December of this year he had an interview in London with Anne Murray, who falsely informed him that she was already married to Sir James Halkett, upon which he took his leave, and 'she never saw him more'. In fact, he went to Paris, where, and afterwards at Frankfurt, he, as is abundantly proved by his letters in the Thurloe State Papers, acted as Cromwell's spy and agent in many ‘weighty affairs’. After the death of Cromwell, who compelled him always to remain abroad, he returned to England; but at the Restoration he was imprisoned in the Tower for more than a year. Finding that all hope of advancement in England was gone, he went to The Hague and entered the service of Holland, obtaining the command of an English regiment. Though now somewhat advanced in years, he still retained his 'gallantry' towards the other sex, and made use of it to aid him in his political intrigues. According to a letter in the State Papers, he had, in 1666, 'screwed himself into the Prince of Orange's favour;' but this he would appear to have afterwards lost, for in 1674 he had conceived a fancy for a 'hermit life' in the country. His health giving way under the ordeal, he returned, in 1679, to Leuwarden; but henceforth, according to his own account, he determined 'neither to discompose himself nor to give any umbrage to others by meddling with worldly affairs'. He did, however, trouble himself to write several letters to persons of influence in England, and in 1685 printed at the Hague an Apologie, narrating the main events of his career, and representing his whole political conduct in a very innocent light. The tract, which is now very rare, but of which there is a copy in the British Museum, is cleverly composed, and both it and his letters sufficiently support the statement of Clarendon that he was a man of 'wit and parts', although they scarcely bear out the opinion of Lady Halkett that the 'chiefest ornament he had was a devout life and conversation'.
- Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. .