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Henry Vane Jr. (1613-1662)

A Member of the Westminster Assembly and Statesman
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“The sight and knowledge of Christ, as he is the Invisible and Holy One, from whom, as from the Head, all natural as well as spiritual good, doth flow.”

His Works:

  1. A healing question propounded and resolved (1656) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  2. A letter from Sir Henry Vane to Sir Arthur Hasilrig (1660) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  3. A needful corrective or ballance in popular government (1659) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  4. A pilgrimage into the land of promise, by the light of the vision of Jacobs ladder and faith (1664) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  5. An epistle general, to the mystical body of Christ on earth (1662) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  6. Sr. Henry Vane his speech in the House of Commons, at a committee for the bill against episcopall-government (1641) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  7. The cause of the people of England stated (1689) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  8. The proceeds of the Protector (so called) and his Councill against Sir Henry Vane, Knight (1656) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  9. The retired mans meditations (1655) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  10. The substance of what Sr. Henry Vane intended to have spoken upon the scaffold (1662) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  11. The tryal of Sir Henry Vane, Kt. at the Kings Bench, Westminster, June the 2d. and 6th. 1662 (1662) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  12. Two speeches (1643) by Henry Vane, Jr.
  13. Two treatises (1662) by Henry Vane, Jr.


Biography of Sir Henry Vane Jr.:

Henry Vane Jr. (1613-1662), English statesman and author, known as ” the younger ” to distinguish him from his father, Sir Henry Vane, was baptized on the 26th of May 1613, at Debden, Essex. After an education at Westminster, where he was noted for his high and reckless spirits, and at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he neither matriculated nor took his degree, he was attached to the embassy at Vienna and at Leiden and Geneva. He had already acquired strong Puritan views which, in spite of the personal efforts of Laud, who made the attempt at the king’s request, he refused to give up. In 1635, in order to obtain the free exercise of his religion, he emigrated to Massachusetts, where he was elected governor in 1636. After one year in office, during which he showed some administrative 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. He, however, never lost his interest in the colonies, and used his influence hereafter on several occasions in their support.

Vane returned to England in August 1637. He was made joint-treasurer of the navy with Sir W. Russell in January 1639, was elected for Hull in the Short and Long Parliaments, and was knighted on the 23rd of June 1640. Accidentally finding among his father’s papers some notes of Strafford’s speech iii the council of May 5, 1640, he allowed Pym to take a copy, and was thus instrumental in bringing about Strafford’s downfall. He carried up the impeachment of Laud from the Commons, was a strong supporter, when on the committee of religion, of the “Root 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. During the absence of Pym and Hampden from the House at the time of Charles’s attempted arrest of the five members, Vane led the parliamentary party, and was finally dismissed from his office in December 1641, being reinstated by the parliament in August 1642. The same month he was placed upon the committee of defence. In 1643 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 pro- pagation 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 whole expression ” according io the word of God and the example of the best Reformed churches ” for the latter part alone. He succeeded to the leadership of the party on Pym’s death. He promoted, and became a chief member of, the committee of both kingdoms established in February 1644, and was sent to York in the summer of the year to urge Fairfax and Manchester to march against Prince Rupert, and secretly to propose the king’s deposition. In 1645 he was one of the negotiators of the treaty of Uxbridge. He was, with Cromwell, a prime mover in the Self-Denying Ordinance and the New Model, and his adherence to the army party and to religious tolerance now caused a definite breach with the Scots. Vane had at the Westminster Assembly, writes Baillie indignantly, ” prolixly, earnestly and passionately reasoned for a full liberty of conscience to all religions,” a policy directly opposed to Presbyterianism, and his leadership terminated when the latter party obtained the supremacy in parliament in 1646. During the subsequent struggle he was one of the six com- missioners appointed to treat with the army by the parliament, and endeavoured to effect a compromise, but failed, being distrusted by both the Levellers and the Presbyterians. His views of government may be studied in The People’s Case Stakd, 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 themselves or give up their subjection and will in the hand of another.” King and people were bound by ” the fundamental constitution or compact,” which if the king violated, the people might return to their original right and freedom.

In spite, however, of these free opinions, Vane still desired the maintenance of the monarchy and the constitution. He voted for a declaration to this effect on the 28th of April 1648, and had consistently opposed the various votes of ” non- addresses.” Several communications had already been fruitlessly attempted with Vane from the king’s side, through the agency of Lord Lovelace in January 1644, and through that of John Ashburnham in March 1646. Vane now supported the renewal of negotiations, and was appointed on the 1st of September 1648 one of the commissioners for the treaty of Newport. He here showed a desire to come to terms on the foundation of toleration and a “moderate episcopacy,” of which Cromwell greatly disapproved, and opposed the shaking off of the conferences. He absented himself from parliament on the occasion of ” Pride’s Purge,” and remained in retirement until after the king’s death, a measure in which he took no part, though he continued to act as a member of the government. On the 14th of February 1649 he was placed on the council of state, though he refused to take the oath which expressed approbation of the king’s execution. Vane now showed himself an able administrator. He served on innumerable committees of importance, and was assiduous in his attendance. He furnished the supplies for Cromwell’s expedition to Scotland, and was one of the commissioners sent there subsequently to settle the government and negotiate a union between the two countries. He showed great energy in colonial and foreign affairs, was a leading member of the committee dealing with the latter, and in 1651 went on a secret mission to negotiate with Cardinal de Retz, who was much struck with his ability, while his knowledge of foreign policy, in which he inclined in favour of Holland, earned the praise also of Milton. To Vane, as chief com- missioner of the navy, belongs largely the credit of the victories obtained against Van Tramp.

In domestic politics Vane continued to urge his views of toleration and his opposition to a state church. On the 9th of January 1650 he brought forward as chairman the report of a committee on the regulation of elections. 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 to Cromwell, who desired an entirely new parliament and the supremacy of the army representation. On the 20th of April Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Long Parliament while in the act of passing Vane’s bill. On the latter’s protesting, ” This is not honest; yea, it is against morality and common honesty,” Cromwell fell a-railing at him, crying out with a loud voice, ” O Sir Henry Vane, Sir Henry Vane; the Lord deliver me from Sir Henry Vane!” (Ludlow, Mem. i. 353). Hitherto they had lived on intimate terms of friendship, but this incident created a permanent breach. In his seclusion at Raby he now wrote the Retired Man’s Meditations (1655). In’ 1656 he proposed in A Healing Question (reprinted in the ” Somers Tracts,” vol. vi. ed. Scott) a new form of government, insisting as before upon a Puritan parliament supreme over the army. The seditious movements of the Anabaptists were also attributed to his influence, and on the 29th of July 1656 he was summoned before the council. Refusing to give security not to disturb the public peace, he was on the 9th of September sent prisoner to Carisbrooke Castle, and there remained until the 31st of December. He ad- dressed a letter to Cromwell in which he repudiated the extra- parliamentary authority he had assumed. In the parliament of Richard Cromwell he was elected for Whitchurch, when he urged that the protector’s power should be strictly limited, and the negative voice of the new House of Lords disallowed.

Subsequently he allied himself with the officers in setting aside the protectorate and in restoring the Long Parliament, and on Richard Cromwell’s abdication he regained his former supremacy in the national counsels. He was a member of the committee of safety and of the council of state appointed in May, was commissioner for the navy and for the appointment of army officers, managed foreign affairs and superintended finance. He adhered to Lambert, remained a member of the government after the latter had turned out the Long Parliament, and endeavoured to maintain it by reconciling the disputing generals and by negotiating with the navy, which first deserted the cause. In consequence, at the restoration of the Long Parliament he was expelled the House and ordered to retire to Raby.

At the Restoration 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. On the meeting, however, of the new parliament of 1661, a vote was passed demanding his trial on the capital charge, and Vane was taken back to the Tower in April 1662 from the Scilly Isles, where he had been imprisoned. On the 2nd of June he appeared before the king’s bench to answer the charge of high treason, when he made a bold and skilful defence, asserting the sovereign power of parliament in justification of his conduct. He was, however, found guilty, and executed on Tower Hill oh the 14th of June 1662. He had married, in 1640, Frances, daughter of Sir Christopher Wray of Barlings, by whom he had a large family of sons and daughters. Of these Christopher, the fifth son, succeeded to his father’s estates and was created Baron Barnard by William III.

Vane’s great talents as an administrator and statesman have been universally acknowledged. He possessed, says Clarendon, “extraordinary parts, a pleasant wit, a great understanding, a temper not to be moved,” and in debate “a quick conception and a very sharp and weighty expression.” His patriotism and assiduity in the public service, and complete freedom from corruption, were equally admirable and conspicuous. His religious writings, apart from his constant devotion to toleration and dislike of a state church, are exceedingly obscure both in style and matter, while his enthusiasm and fanaticism in speculative doctrine combine curiously, but not perhaps incongruously, with exceptional sagacity and shrewdness in practical affairs. “He had an unusual aspect,” says Clarendon, “which . . . made men think there was something in him of the extraordinary; and his Whole life made good that imagination.” Besides the works already mentioned and several printed speeches, Vane wrote: A Brief Answer to a certain Declaration of John Winthrop (reprinted in the Hutchinson Papers, publ. by the Prince Society, 1865); A Needful Corrective or Balance in Popular Government … in answer to Harrington’s Oceana; Of Love of God and Union with God; two treatises, viz. (1) An Epistle General to the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth, (2) The Face of the Times: A Pilgrimage into the Land of Promise . . . (1664). The Trial of Sir Henry Vane, Knight (1662), contains, besides his last speech and details relating to the trial, The People’s Case Stated (reprinted in Forster’s Life of Vane), The Valley of Jehoshaphat, and Meditations concerning Man’s Life. A Letter from a True and Lawful Member of Parliament to one of the Lords of His Highness’s Council (1656), attributed to Vane, was written by Clarendon; and The Light Shining out of Darkness was probably by Henry Stubbe; while The Speech against Richard Cromwell is the composition of some contemporary pamphleteer.

[Bibliography.—Article by C. H. Firth in Dict, of Nat. Biog.; Life and Death of Sir Henry Vane, by G. Sikes, 1662 (a treatise on the “course of his hidden life”); and Lives by John Forster, in Lardner’s Cabinet Encyclopaedia: Eminent British Statesmen, vol. iv. (1838); by C. W. Upham in “Library of American Biography,” vol. iv. (1851); by J. K. Hosmer (1888); and by C. Dalton in Hist. of the Family of Wray (1881), ii. 93-137; also Wood’s Ath. Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 578, and Biographia Britannica. See especially S. R. Gardiner’s Hist. of England, his Great Civil War and his Commonwealth, and Clarendon’s Hist, of the Rebellion, and the contemporary memoirs and diaries; Hist. MSS. Comm. MSS. of duke of Buccleuch, ii. pt. ii. 756; Masson’s Life of Milton, iv. 442 and passim; the sonnet addressed by Milton to Vane; and W. W. Ireland, Life of Sir Henry Vane the Younger (1907).]


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