1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Henry Vane

Sir Henry Vane
English parliamentary leader
(1612-62)




SIR HENRY VANE (1612-1662), the younger, was the son of Sir Henry Vane and Frances Darcy. His father, of an ancient family in Durham, was secretary of state and comptroller of the household under Charles I. Henry was born in 1612 at Hadlow in Kent ; and after an education at Westminster, where he was noted for his high and reckless spirits, and at Magdalen, Oxford, where he neither matriculated nor took his degree, he was sent to France and Geneva. Here he no doubt acquired the strongly Puritan views for which he had been prepared by a re-markable change of mind when quite a boy. In spite of the personal efforts of Laud, who made the attempt at the king's request, he refused to give them up, and fell especially under the influence of Pym. In 1635 he emigrated to Massachusetts, where he was elected governor in 1636, though only twenty-four years of age. After two years of office, during which he showed striking adminis-trative ability, he was defeated by Winthrop, the former governor, chiefly on account of the protection he had given to Mrs Hutchinson in the religious controversies which she raised.
Vane returned to England in August 1637. Being elected to the Short Parliament for Kingston-upon-Hull, he speedily became a leader of the Independents and a marked man. In order to secure him for the court he was made joint-treasurer of the navy with Sir W. Bussell, and was knighted. In November 1640 he was again elected for Hull to the Long Parliament. Accidentally finding among his father's papers some notes of Strafford's advice to the king after the dissolution of the Short Parliament, in which Strafford justified the use of force, he handed them to Pym, and on 10th April 1641 was examined upon them by the House ; this disclosure was largely instrumental in bringing about Strafford's down-fall. He carried up the impeachment of Laud from the Commons, was a strong supporter, when on the com-mittee of religion, of the "Boot and Branch" bill, and in June 1641 put forward a scheme of church government-by which commissioners, half lay and half cleric, were to assume ecclesiastical jurisdiction in each diocese. He was, in fact, foremost in all the doings of the Long Parliament. When war broke out he surrendered his office of treasurer of the navy, but was replaced in it by the Parliament. Hereupon he gave a rare example of disinterestedness by relinquishing all the profits of the office, stated at £30,000 a year, stipulating only that ¿£1000 should be paid to a deputy. In August 1642 he was on the committee of defence. In 164.3 he was the leading man among the commissioners sent to treat for a league with the Scots. Vane, who was bitterly opposed to the tyranny of the Presbyterian system, was successful in two important points. The aim of the Scots was chiefly the propagation of their discipline in England and Wales, and for this they wanted only a " covenant." The English desired a political " league." Vane succeeded in getting the bond termed the Solemn League and Covenant,
and further in substituting the expression " according to the word of God and the example of the best Reformed churches "for the latter phrase alone. In the Westminster Assembly, too, he joined Cromwell in insisting upon full religious liberty, and in opposing the view that the taking of the Covenant should be necessary for ordination. In 1644 he was charged by Essex with holding communica-tion with the court, but explained that he had done so in order to acquire information of the Royalist plans, and was fully acquitted by the House of Lords. He was on the committee of two kingdoms, and was engaged in the negotiations with Charles at Uxbridge in 1645. He was, with Cromwell, a prime mover in the Self-Denying Ordin-ance and the New Model, and it was he who suggested the filling up of the vacant seats in parliament. His views of government at this time and throughout his life may be best studied in an important paper, the People's Case Stated, written shortly before his death. " The power which is directive, and states and ascertains the morality of the rule of obedience, is in the hand of God; but the original, from whence all just power arises, which is magistratical and coercitive, is from the will or free gift of the people, who may either keep the power in them-selves or give up their subjection and will in the hand of another." The king, then, having transgressed the condition, and having been conquered, the people were free to change their form of government and, if they pleased, resort to a republic. In 1646 Vane was one of the English commissioners for the preservation of peace with Scotland, and in 1648 was appointed with others to negotiate with Charles at the Isle of Wight. Radical as were his views, he refused all participation in Pride's "purge"—the point where he first broke with Cromwell—and remained in privacy at Raby Castle in Durham until after the king's death, a measure in which he took no part. In 1649, however, he returned to London and was placed on the council of state, though he refused to take the oath which expressed approbation of the king's execution. He was chairman of the committee appointed to consider the mode of election of future parliaments, and his proposals were brought forward in January 1650. He acknowledged the Commonwealth only so far as he found it " consonant to the principles which have given rise to the law and the monarchy itself in England," and he recognized in a parlia-ment, conforming in other respects to the ancient laws, the supreme authority of the state, whether there were a king at the head of it or not. He wished to reform the franchise on the property basis, to disfranchise some of the existing boroughs, and to give increased representation to the large towns; the sitting members, however, were to retain their seats. In this he was opposed by Cromwell, who desired an entirely new parliament and the supremacy of the army representation; and Vane stands henceforward as the champion of the doctrine of pure parliamentary govern-ment. His most useful qualities were exhibited, however, when in March 1653 he became the head of the commission for managing the army and navy. It was by his exertions in organization that Blake was fitted out with the fleet with which Van Tromp was defeated and the supremacy of England at sea assured. It was at this time that Milton's sonnet was addressed to him. On 20th April Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Long Parliament, when Vane especi-ally received from the Protector studied insult. He was, however, almost at once invited to rejoin the Government, " He answered the invitation by a letter extracted from the Apocalypse wherein the reign of the saints is men-tioned, which faith he believes will now begin." In his retirement at Raby he now wrote the Retired Man's Medi-tations. In 1656 he proposed in A Healing Questions, new form of government, insisting as before upon a Puritan

parliament supreme over the army. This he sent to Cromwell, and so alarmed was the Protector at the interest it excited that Vane was summoned on 12th August to the council in consequence. Refusing to give security not to disturb the public peace, he was on 9th September sent prisoner to Carisbrooke Castle, and there remained until 31st December. He had previously, according to his opponents, excited the jealousy of the Government by "going up and down among the Quakers, and endeavour-ing to withdraw them from their submission to the Government." After the death of Cromwell he stood for Kingston and Bristol successively, and was elected, but the court managers gave the certificate of election to the defeated candidates; finally, however, he was chosen for Whitchurch and took his seat on 27th January 1659, at the head of the small body of forty republicans. He was at once urgent in pressing that, before Bichard Cromwell, for whom he had a great contempt, was acknowledged pro-tector, the limitations of his power, and the full security of parliament and subjects, should be settled. Upon Richard's abdication he joined the army leaders in reviv-ing the Rump; and, when the breach occurred between it and the army, he adhered to the latter, accepting a com-mission from them. He was one of the committee of safety and also of the council of state appointed in May; he was, too, chairman of the army and navy commission, and soon afterwards of another special commission for the navy. In September he was made president of the council. He had, morever, in May, been appointed with Lambert and others to treat with the Dutch ambassador for freeing the commerce of the Baltic. When Monk arrived in London Vane was ordered to his seat in Lincolnshire, having been discharged from the parliament for espousing the cause of the army.
At the Bestoration Vane was imprisoned in the Tower
by the king's order. After several conferences between
the Houses of Parliament it was agreed that he should be
excepted from the indemnity bill, but that a petition should
be sent to Charles asking that his life might be spared.
The petition was granted. During the conferences he had
been moved from prison to prison, and was finally placed
in a castle in the Scilly Isles. In his captivity he wrote
the People's Case Stated, with many other political and
religious works of the highest eloquence and beauty. On
7th March 1662, the Convention Parliament being no longer
in existence, he was taken to London, and on 2d June put
upon his trial, which was conducted with a shameless
absence of equity. He was refused the assistance of counsel
and was not allowed to see the indictment before it was
read. In his own behalf he spoke courageously and well,
pleading the authority of the Long Parliament for his acts,
and maintaining that the House of Commons, " represent-
ing the whole body of the people in case of a difference
between the authority, royal and politic, possessed a just
power to defend the right of the people, and to authorize
the people of England and every one of them to defend
them." Charles, however, was determined that he should
die, and, in spite of his answer to the petition mentioned
above, wrote himself to Clarendon declaring that Vane
was "too dangerous a man to let live, if we can honestly
put him out of the way." He was therefore sentenced on
11th June to death. On the 14th he was taken out to
execution, and died with the serenity and courage which
had marked his life. (o. A.)







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