Compton, Spencer Joshua Alwyne, second Marquis of Northampton 1790-1851, second son of Charles Compton, ninth earl and first marquis of Northampton, by Mary, only daughter of Joshua Smith, M.P. for Devizes, was born at Stoke Park, Wiltshire, one of the residences of his maternal grandfather, on 1 Jan. 1790. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated M.A. 1810, and was created Doctor of Law in 1835.
On 26 May 1812, soon after the assassination of Spencer Perceval, Compton was chosen to succeed him as the member for Northampton, and sat until his defeat at the general election in 1820.
His immediate relatives were all of high tory politics, but he soon showed an honest independence, and was often called impracticable and crotchety. He was in favour of direct rather than of indirect taxation, and incurred the unpopularity of opposing the repeal of the property tax in 1816. He soon after associated himself with Wilberforce and the band of men who devoted themselves to the cause of Africa. He was also connected with Sir James Mackintosh as a criminal law reformer, and his conduct on the case of Parga, on the Alien Act, and on the amendments which he proposed in the Seditious Meetings Act in 1819 showed how far he had advanced beyond the policy of his party. Lord Castlereagh charged him with turning his back on himself. On 24 July 1815 he married Miss Margaret Maclean Clephane, eldest daughter and heiress of Major-general Douglas Maclean Clephane. She was intimate with Sir Walter Scott. Though her poem Irene was printed for the sake of her family and friends, it was never given to the world, but her minor poems appeared in some of the Miscellanies. After 1820 Compton took up his residence in Italy, where his house became a centre of attraction, and his influence was exercised in favour of many of the unfortunate victims of despotic authority both in Lombardy and in Naples. On 24 May 1828 he succeeded his father as second marquis of Northampton, and two years afterwards, on the death of his wife at Rome, 2 April 1830, he returned to England.
In 1832 he proposed in parliament that the law in respect to vacating seats on acceptance of office should be abolished, but his bill on this matter, although favourably received, was not carried. His name will be chiefly remembered for his taste in literature and the fine arts, and for his devotion to science. He was one of the earliest presidents of the Geological Society, and also presided at the meeting of the British Association at Bristol in 1836, and at Swansea in 1848. On the retirement of the Duke of Sussex in 1838 he was chosen president of the Royal Society, which office he held until 1848. He took the liveliest interest in the Archæological Association, founded in 1844, and in presiding at the meeting at Winchester in 1845, after the rupture, he proposed that the designation should be altered to the Archæological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. He was not unknown as a poet, and he edited and published, for the benefit of the family of the Rev. Edward Smedley, a volume entitled The Tribute, which, in addition to his own verses, contained contributions from the majority of the best known poets of the day.
On the morning of 17 Jan. 1851 the marquis was discovered dead in his bed, and was buried at Castle Ashby on 25 Jan.
He was the author or editor of: 1. Irene, a poem, in six cantos. Miscellaneous poems, by Margaret, marchioness of Northampton, ed. by the Marquis of Northampton, 1833, not published. 2. Observations on the Motion of Sir R. Heron, respecting Vacating Seats in Parliament on the Acceptance of Office, 1835. 3. The Tribute, a collection of miscellaneous unpublished poems, by various authors, ed. by Lord Northampton, 1837.
Robinson's Vitruvius Britannicus (1841), pt. iii. pp. 1-24
Drummond's Noble British Families (1846), i. 12-16
Gent. Mag. April 1851, pp. 425-9
Times, 22 Jan. 1851, p. 5, said to be by Lord Monteagle
Illust. London News, 25 Jan. 1851, p. 59, with portrait
Doyle's Baronage (1886), ii. 631, with portrait.
Contributor: G. C. B. [George Clement Boase]