Sir Henry Vane (statesman)

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Sir Henry Vane, 1613–62, English statesman; son of Sir Henry Vane (1589–1655). Early converted to Puritanism, he went to New England in 1635 and became governor of Massachusetts in 1636. His religious tenets and his support of Anne Hutchinson embroiled him in political quarrels, especially with John Winthrop (1588–1649), and he returned to England in 1637. His governorship was notable chiefly for the founding of Harvard College and the start of the Pequot War.

Vane was made (1639) joint treasurer of the navy, sat in the Short Parliament (1640), and was knighted (1640). He allowed a paper of his father's to be copied by John Pym, who later used it in the prosecution of the earl of Strafford, and in the Long Parliament he was a leading advocate of the abolition of episcopacy. As a result Charles I dismissed him (1641) from his treasurership of the navy, but Parliament reappointed him as sole treasurer in 1642. During the English civil war, Vane was a consistent moderate and proved himself a very able administrator. Although he was largely responsible for securing (1643) the Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland, he opposed an established Presbyterian church.

An advocate of religious toleration and a constitutional monarchy, he was one of the committee that negotiated vainly (1648) with Charles I, and he refused to take part in the king's execution (1649). Nonetheless, he became (1649) a member of the council of state of the Commonwealth and remained very influential until he clashed with Oliver Cromwell over the latter's dissolution (1653) of the Rump Parliament. In 1656 he was imprisoned briefly for writing the pamphlet A Healing Question, in which he attacked arbitrary government.

Vane sat in Parliament under Richard Cromwell but, at the fall of Richard's government, argued for the restoration of the Long Parliament. Suspected, probably without reason, of conspiring with Gen. John Lambert to establish a dictatorship, he became generally unpopular. In 1662 he was convicted of treason by the Restoration government and executed. His numerous writings on religion and government include The Retired Man's Meditations (1655) and the pamphlets on The Trial of Sir Henry Vane, Kt. (1662).

See biography by J. H. Adamson and H. F. Folland (1973).

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Vane, Sir Henry the elder (1589–1655) and Sir Henry the younger (1613–62). Politicians of contrasted character. The father was a worldly minded courtier, adroit, thrusting, industrious, and bent on accumulating a great landed estate. The son was a radical puritan with mystical leanings, and in middle life a doctrinaire republican. What they shared was political skill—and some deviousness in exercising it.

Through purchase or patronage, the elder acquired a succession of posts in the royal household, won Charles I's confidence, and became a privy counsellor in 1630. Favoured also by the queen and the marquis of Hamilton, he rose in February 1640 to secretary of state. As such, he recorded Strafford's fatal words about using an Irish army ‘to reduce this kingdom’, which his son leaked to Pym. Gradually he aligned himself with the future parliamentarians, until Charles stripped him of all his offices. With his son, he sat on the Committee of Both Kingdoms and in the Rump.

The younger Vane sacrificed a promising career at court in 1635 for the religious liberty of Massachusetts, where within six months he was elected governor. But through supporting the unorthodox Anne Hutchinson he got deep into religious controversy, clashed seriously with the general court, resigned, and returned home in 1637. In the Long Parliament he rapidly became a leader of the war party, a close ally of Cromwell, and after Pym's death its most influential single member. But by 1648 he and Cromwell were parting company, and he held aloof from the king's trial. He was very active, however, in the government of the Commonwealth, and he regarded Cromwell's Protectorate as a betrayal of its republican principles. His subversive tract A Healing Question (1656) cost him four months' imprisonment, but he returned to prominence with the restored Rump in 1659. He was excepted from pardon at the Restoration, but Charles II granted the Convention's plea for his life. To the shame of the king and the Cavalier Parliament, he was nevertheless executed in 1662.

Austin Woolrych