HOPKINS, John (d.1615), of Bristol.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

?s. of William Hopkins, sheriff of Bristol 1577-8. m. Elizabeth, 1da.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Bristol 1586-7, alderman 1600, mayor 1600-1; master, Bristol Merchant Venturers 1605-6.1


Hopkins was a fishmonger whose business with Spain, Portugal, the Canaries and Madeira was hit by political conditions, and who thereupon turned to privateering. Sometimes he commanded his own ship, for example the John, which in 1589 took a Brazilman laden with sugar and brazilwood, worth £4,000. In 1596 he equipped and captained a ship which went on the Cadiz expedition. Returning, laden with plunder, he was given a triumphal reception. The citizens, it is recorded, lit ‘all their tallow candles and a great bonfire at the High Cross, very beautiful to behold’. Meanwhile, under cover of these celebrations, much of the loot was secretly unloaded.2

Hopkins was also something of a moneylender, frequently appearing as plaintiff in actions for debt in the staple court. In 1598 he and others proposed that trade with Venice and Turkey should be promoted instead of that with Spain and Portugal. When the Spanish Company received its charter of incorporation in May 1605, he was one of the four Bristol men appointed to be assistants. However, at a meeting held in December, the Bristol merchants decided to exempt themselves from the London company and to form their own company of Merchant Venturers. Hopkins became first master of the company, a post to which he had, in fact, been appointed several months earlier at a general court of the virtually moribund merchants’ gild. He was also one of three persons who supervised admissions to the new company. He displayed an interest in plans for the Virginia Company, and offered to subscribe £12 10s.3

During his mayoralty, he had to see to the transit of troops to Ireland. In October 1600, he supervised the embarkation of 400 soldiers and sent another 200 via Milford. He later received a warrant for £1,000 towards victualling, lodging and transporting 1,028 foot and 208 horse. Riots caused by the discontented soldiers were not uncommon, and even the mayor was not safe from attack. On one occasion, a running fight broke out with the citizens in which the troopers were worsted so badly that, it was said, they were glad to seek the safety of the ships and sail away to Ireland. During this period Hopkins frequently forwarded urgent dispatches to Cecil. Towards the end of his term of office he was elected to represent Bristol in Parliament, where he served on committees concerned with the order of business (3 Nov.) and silk weavers (10 Dec.).4

Evidently a man of great prosperity, possessed of a fair amount of property in the city, Hopkins was not unmindful of the need for charity. As executor of a Mrs. Synott of London, he delivered £10 to the Bristol Merchant Venturers, of which £4 had come out of his own pocket. This was to provide an annuity of 13s.4d. to the poor in the merchants’ almshouse.5

He died in December 1615. His will, made 8 Nov. of that year and proved 29 Jan. 1616, was chiefly concerned with making provision for his grandchildren. He asked that all his debts be paid, and appointed his widow and William Baldwin, sheriff of Bristol, executors.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.


  • 1. Merchants and Merchandise in 17th cent. Bristol, ed. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 2; a. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 296; Staple Court Bks. of Bristol, ed. Rich (Bristol Rec. Soc. v), 244, 246. These refer to him as alderman only after May 1600.
  • 2. J. Latimer, 16th Cent. Bristol, 110; J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the 17th cent. 15; K. Andrews, ‘The Economic Aspects of Elizabeth Privateering’ (London PhD thesis 1951), pp. 322-3, 326; Lansd. 41, f. 108; 145, f. 136; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 320; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 155; APC, xxvi. 136.
  • 3. Latimer, Annals, 16, 27; Lansd. 86, f. 26; Recs. Merchant Venturers of Bristol, ed. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 2-6, 54; J. Latimer, Hist. Merchant Venturers of Bristol, 64; Staple Court Bks. passim; the John Hopkins who was one of the King’s Merchants of the New Trade in 1615 was probably the person who traded to Spain in 1618 and 1622; Sel. Charters of Trading Cos. ed. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), p. 80; A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project and the Cloth Trade, 281 n.
  • 4. Latimer, Annals, 15; HMC Hatfield, x. 350-1; xi. 42, 142, 236, 341, 392; APC, xxxi. 168-9; xxxii. 172-3, 323; D’Ewes, 624, 676.
  • 5. Recs. Merchant Venturers (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 85; PCC 2 Cope.
  • 6. PCC 2 Cope.