Here to return to
THOMAS DUDLEY, whom Cotton's zeal had caused to be chosen as Winthrop's successor, was himself left out of the governorship at the election of May, 1635, and John Haynes elected in his stead. Then there arrived in Boston two men of very different character both of whom, however, were destined to make a deep mark in the history of their time and eventually to die on the scaffold for allegiance to the truth as they saw it. These two men were Hugh Peters and Sir Harry Vane. Peters had been the pastor of the English church in Rotterdam and had there been persecuted by the English ambassador. Vane was heir to Sir Harry Vane, Comptroller of the king's household, a man of great importance in the politics of the time. And his son has a personality of so much interest that I am resolved to trace his life from its bright beginning to its glorious end even if, in so doing, I run somewhat ahead of my narrative and carry my readers far away from Boston in New England. The fact is that one usually encounters only the Massachusetts segment of Vane's wonderful life and so is deprived of opportunity to judge his career in its wholeness and to realize that he, more than any other man, is the "link that binds together the severed divisions of the English-speaking race."
One American writer, Charles Wentworth Upham, has pointed out in the preface to his really capital "Life of Sir Harry Vane," that there is an interesting parallel between the career of this hero and that of Lafayette. Both were scions of an aristocratic house and might easily have passed their youth following the pleasures of court life and indulging in those enervating relaxations commonly associated with young aristocrats. Instead, however, both yearned towards America, Lafayette because he saw in the new land a chance to realize the vision of political freedom which illumined his young soul, Harry Vane because he thought to find here "freedom to worship God." Both paid dearly in youth and in middle life for their devotion to an ideal, and Vane finally suffered death upon the block. But because of them American history contains at least two highly romantic chapters and is more deeply inspiring than it could ever have been without them. For each served in his own era to point the truth that the only really great man is he who, with never a thought of self, unswervingly "follows the gleam" even when it leads to exile, prison and death.
Sir Harry Vane was born in 1612, one of a very numerous family of children. His father had been knighted by James I and though only in the early twenties at the time of the younger Harry's birth, was already on the way to eminence in the government of England. At the preparatory school in Westminster and while at Magdalen College in Oxford young Vane bade fair to follow a similar career along the line of least resistance. He was gay, addicted to pleasure and, as he himself says, fond of "good fellowship." But when he was about seventeen he began to interest himself in theology and, the fascination of this subject growing rapidly upon him, he pursued it further and further, at the same time alienating himself as a natural result from the form of worship and doctrine established by law. When the period of his matriculation arrived he declined to take the oath of allegiance and, leaving Oxford, passed over to Holland and France, finally settling down for some time in Geneva.
Residence in the stronghold
of Calvinism naturally strengthened the young man's bent towards
speculations and spiritual exercises and as it was never part of his
conceal his opinions, the king was soon being informed by his bishops
heir of an important family, closely connected with the throne, had
dislike for the discipline and ceremonies of the Church of
Whereupon, Laud was instructed to expostulate with the young
Puritan and wean
him back to the true faith. The young dissenter had learned
his new lesson
well, however, and he was much more than a match for Laud in
discussion. Perceiving which, the haughty prelate lost his temper and
threaten where he could not persuade. This naturally did not endear his
doctrines to Harry Vane, whose ardent soul was aflame with love for the
and gentle One Laud only professed to serve. Accordingly he
purpose of going to New England, where those who believed as he did
to give him a warm welcome and, although his father at first opposed
he soon assented to it, having found the king to be quite in
removing the aristocratic heretic.
The excitement occasioned by the coming to the colony of this brilliant youth, not yet twenty-three, who was heir to a title and a fine estate, whose hand had not yet been pledged in marriage and who was, besides, exceedingly handsome and distinguished-looking, can be better imagined than described. That he should at such an age, after visiting foreign capitals and witnessing all the splendours and enticements which the gay and brilliant world holds out to those of his rank and condition, voluntarily take up the self-denying uneventful life of the Boston of that day was held to mean, as indeed it did mean, deep desire to realize himself spiritually. Accordingly Winthrop and the rest gave him the right hand of fellowship without any of the usual delays and, within a month after his arrival young Vane found himself an honoured member of John Cotton's congregation.
A year later he was chosen governor of the colony, Winthrop, who was twice his age, being appointed his deputy. "Because he was son and heir to a Privy Councillor in England, the ships congratulated his election with a volley of great shot," comments the Journal. "But Vane deserved the salutes of the cannon on his own account as well as on his family." He was a remarkable youth. In the perplexing civil and religious Controversies which now came crowding thick and fast, he soon found scope, however, for all the tolerance and good judgment he could possibly command.
The most appealing of these controversies, from the point of view of those who care chiefly for the human side of history, was that which centred about Mrs. Hutchinson. A later chapter will discuss this matter in some detail, so we will here touch upon it only so far as it concerns the young governor, precipitated, at twenty-four, into disputes that would have made many an older head ache with their complexities. Like a youth he took the generous and what proved to be the wrong (?) side of the question. And this, added to the fact that his sudden elevation had nursed deep jealousies of him, proved his undoing in Massachusetts. Naught did it avail that he showed great sagacity in dealing with the Indians and extraordinary tact in smoothing the ruffled sensibilities of the older magistrates. The fact remained that he was too popular with the masses, too young, too handsome, too zealous for liberty of conscience to be acceptable to those who had borne the burden and heat of colonization and who saw their hard-won peace threatened by people with opinions subversive of theirs.
Even the noble Winthrop indulged, on at least one occasion, in jealousy of Vane's popularity. The case in point occurred after the elder man had again been elected governor and so would, in the natural order of things, have entertained all distinguished visitors from abroad. But Lord James Ley (afterwards the Earl of Marlborough) snubbed his advances. He was then only a youth of nineteen and he made no secret of preferring the society of the magnetic Vane to that of the dignified Winthrop. Vane had no house of his own for, upon arriving in Boston, he went to live with Mr. Cotton and there, or in an addition made to the parsonage, stayed throughout his sojourn in Boston. But if he could not entertain Lord Ley in his own mansion he could put him up at the inn of a friend, which he at once proceeded to do, Winthrop at the moment being away on a two-days' visit to Lynn and Salem. The inn in question was that of Mr. Cole1 and when the governor, upon his return, proffered hospitality to Lord Ley, the latter politely declined, saying he "came not to be troublesome to any and the house where he was, was so well governed that he could be as private here as elsewhere." That Winthrop deeply resented this and an incident that followed is shown by an entry in his Journal under date of July, 1637: "The differences grew so much here," he wrote, referring to the religious troubles, "as tended fast to a separation; so as Mr. Vane being among others, invited by the Governor to accompany the Lord Ley at dinner, not only refused to come, alleging by letter that his conscience withheld him, but also, at the same hour, he went over to Noddle's Island to dine with Mr. Maverick, and carried the Lord Ley with him." This happened at the end of Vane's stay in America, however, and we are only at the beginning.
The first act of his administration, accomplished within a week of his induction into office, was one at which no one could cavil. It was an amicable arrangement by which all inward-bound vessels agreed to come to anchor below the fort in the harbour and wait there for the governor's pass; further, the captains agreed to submit their invoices to the inspection of the government before discharging their cargoes; and, in addition, they gave their word that their crews should never be permitted to remain on shore after sunset except under urgent necessity. These measures, all of which made for the preservation of order in the community, were exceedingly important; but only a Vane could have carried them through, for they required the kind of handling no previous governor could give.
Soon, however, there arose a complication which no human creature could have solved to the satisfaction of everybody. A contumacious mate of the British vessel Hector, observing that the king's colours were not displayed at the fort, declared, on the deck of his vessel and in the presence of many of the townspeople then visiting her, that the colonists were all "traitors and rebels." Of course, the government had to take cognizance of this and, equally of course, the mate was made to apologize. But, after the dignity of the colony had been vindicated, the fact still remained that the king's colours were not flying at the fort and the British officers could not say that they were should news of the affair be wafted back to England and the king moved to ask questions about the matter. Would not the governor, then, be, so kind as to run up a flag, just to save their consciences? Now, on the surface, this seemed an exceedingly reasonable request for British officers to make of a colony which held a charter from. the crown and resented as an insult the imputation that they were "rebels." But the English flag displayed a "papal cross," an abomination no Puritan could bear! And on the board of magistrates who were requested to hoist this ensign sat John Endicott who, in a fit of insensate rage against the "emblem of papacy," had cut the red cross out of the flag! The issue was for a time deferred by the explanation that the whole colony contained not a single flag. But when the unsuspecting captains courteously offered to present a flag to be hoisted at the fort, the magistrates, unable longer to dodge the issue, had to explain how matters stood. But they promised to display the king's colours on the king's fort, though protesting that they were fully persuaded that the cross in those same colours seemed to them idolatrous. The matter being thus adjusted to the satisfaction of everybody, the conference was brought to a close.
the clergy, who had a finger in every pie, were
yet to be reckoned with, and when the case was submitted to them, that
in accordance with the practice of the government upon all
difficult questions, they gave it as their opinion that the
erred in saying that a flag bearing the badge of Romish superstition
displayed on any terms whatever over Puritan soil. Whereupon the poor
were ordered to appear next morning, the whole matter
was again threshed out
and the board voted, on reconsideration, not to display the flag.
Vane, though as conscientious a Puritan as any of them, could not
with such proceedings. They seemed to him not only inconsistent but
overscrupulous. Mr. Dudley agreed with him and, the
adhering to their last determination, the flag was displayed
authority of the government and upon the personal responsibility of Mr.
and Mr. Dudley. In this case, as in dozens of crises which came later
life, Sir Harry exhibited an admirable sense of proportion and
Milton's characterization of him as "Vane, young in year, but in sage
counsel old." For had he not taken the action which he did on this
occasion the colony would without doubt have been precipitated
difficulties with which it was in no position then to cope. But, of
had to pay the price of his diplomacy. Had he not begun his career by
the clergy? The attitude which he took in the Mrs. Hutchinson affair
did not help his cause. He believed with all his soul in religious
into the bargain, he admired Mrs. Hutchinson as a woman of
piety as well as talent. Moreover, he was fresh from Geneva, where the
of Calvin was still sharp and inclined all interested in intellectual
to a delight in fine-spun theological discussion.
The occasion of his break with the ruling powers was, however, a law passed after Winthrop was again governor to the effect that a heavy penalty should be imposed upon any person who should receive into his house a stranger coming with intent to reside, or let to such an one a lot or habitation, without, in every instance, obtaining particular permission of one of the standing council, or two of the assistant magistrates; and a large fine was also to be levied upon any person, which should without such permission, allow a stranger a residence. This law was aimed to prevent the reception into the colony of several friends of Rev. John Wheelwright, who would have joined the Hutchinson faction, but it was felt by many beside Harry Vane to be a violation of the rights of the people. So incensed were the inhabitants of Boston. that they refused to meet the governor, as was their custom, when he returned from the legislature. Vane's stand in the matter was the broad liberty-loving one of a man cosmopolitan by nature, Winthrop's that of a colonist bent, above everything else, upon preserving peace in the country for which he had given his all. Both were honest with themselves and right from their own standpoint, only Vane had the far view as against Winthrop's short sight. In all justice to the latter, however, it seems fair to remember that he had suffered much more than Vane for the peace he was bent upon securing. Nor could he sail away, as Vane soon did, to a glorious career elsewhere. It is good, in this connection, to be able to record that Vane never forgot the country to which he had dedicated his ardent youth, and that Winthrop has left to posterity this cordial eulogy of the man who, for a time, utterly eclipsed him in a community of which he was founder and patriarch: "Although he might have taken occasion against us for some dishonor, which he apprehended to have been unjustly put upon him here, yet he showed himself at all times a true friend to New England and a man of noble and generous mind."
Soon after returning to England Vane married, and for a time it seemed as though he would remain in retirement and lead the quiet happy life of an English country-gentleman. But in the spring of 1640 he was induced to enter Parliament and, soon after, he was made Treasurer of the Navy and knighted by King Charles. Almost immediately, as a result of this preferment, he was singled out for vengeance and insult by Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterward the Earl of Strafford. The means chosen by Wentworth to incense Sir Harry seems rather clumsy to us of to-day. The family seat of the Vanes was Raby Castle, and it was here that Sir Harry's father had been wont to entertain King Charles with such feudal splendour and princely pageantry as Scott has described for all time in "Kenilworth." To this castle the younger Sir Harry Vane would naturally fall heir, and so, purely out of contempt, as Wentworth's own biographer admits, the Earl of Strafford had his patent to the peerage made out with the style and title Baron Raby of Raby Castle,"an act of the most unnecessary provocation and one
For the elder Sir Harry Vane was not of a forgiving nature and, from. now on, he pursued Lord Strafford with a fixed and deadly hostility. His son, on the other hand, felt himself free of embarrassing loyalties to a king who would permit his father to be so insulted and he forthwith devoted himself openly to the advocacy of those principles of freedom for which he had always contended. When Charles dissolved Parliament because it had not voted him the supplies he had asked for our Sir Harry was immediately reelected. And as he was now in the Long Parliament (so called in consequence of an act which it passed early in its session, and which the king was infatuated enough to sign, by which the body was assured against its own dissolution, except by its consent in both houses), the young member for Kingston upon Hull was for quite a term of years in a position greatly to influence the England of his time.
Here, as in the Massachusetts colony, he soon came to be a leader. Ballam, in his Constitutional History of England, accounts for this fact thus: "He was not only incorrupt but disinterested, inflexible in conforming his public conduct to his principle, and averse to every sanguinary and oppressive measure; qualities not common in revolutionary chiefs." This very temperate dictum gives one rather a chill for the fact of the matter was that Vane was positively heroic in his contention for peace and liberty of conscience and abhorred every form of persecution and bigotry. Great as was his personal dislike for all that Papacy implied, he so exerted himself in the cause of Catholic emancipation as to bring down upon his head denunciations from Protestants whose cause he would have died for. Similarly, in the negotiations between Charles and the Parliament, he struggled with all his might for such terms as would assure to the people the rights which they had lost. And yet, when Colonel Pride forcibly ejected the members opposed to his views and principles he would not stay with "The Rump," preferring retirement to a triumph gained in so illegal a manner. Of all the republicans he alone refused to profit by power thus gained.
Consequently Sir Harry Vane cannot be held in the least degree responsible for the impeachment, trial and execution of King Charles. He heartily disapproved of the whole proceeding. And when Cromwell came to him in February, 1649, to urge the purity of his intentions as a reason for Vane's becoming a member of the Council Sir Harry only reluctantly agreed to accept the honour and would not take the oath of office until. the clause which approved of the trial and condemnation of Charles was struck out.
In the foreign wars which followed Vane bore a glorious part and when the people felt as too oppressive the taxes these struggles entailed he voluntarily relinquished the profits of his office as treasurer and commissioner for the navy. Later, when Cromwell followed the desperate determination which had insidiously taken possession of him and on April 20, 1653, grasped once for all the power with which he had been dallying, Vane was the first to leap to his feet in stinging rebuke of his treacherous course. We are not surprised to read in history that Oliver's retort to this was the exclamation, in a fit of unbounded passion, "Sir Harry Vane! Sir Harry Vane! Good Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane." After which he seized the records, snatched the bill from the hands of the clerk, drove the members out at the point of the bayonet, locked the doors, put the key in his pocket and returned to Whitehall to observe that the spirit of God had been too strong upon him longer to be resisted.
Tyranny once more having the upper hand in England there was nothing for Sir Harry Vane to do but again to retire to Raby Castle and pursue his philosophical and theological studies while awaiting a time when he could again serve the "good cause," as he termed it, of the people's rights and liberties. The occasion for which he longed came duly. Following his policy of giving a sanctimonious face to each new encroachment upon liberty the Protector, as a step in his plan to make himself king and settle upon his descendants forever the crown he had wrested from its rightful owner, published, on March 15, 1656, a declaration calling upon the people to observe a general fast to the end that counsel and direction might come to the government from Providence concerning the best ways of promoting peace and happiness in England.
To Cromwell's unbounded
surprise and indignation Sir Harry Vane took him at his word
and composed a
paper entitled "A Healing Question propounded and resolved, upon
of the late public and seasonable Call to Humiliation in order to Love
Union amongst the honest Party, and with a Desire to apply Balm to the
before it become incurable. By Henry Vane, Knight." With perfect good
faith he transmitted his paper privately to Cromwell before giving to
any hint of the advice therein contained. But when, after the lapse of
the manuscript was returned without comment Sir Harry
immediately issued it
from the press together with a Postscript in which allusion was made to
fact that it had been previously communicated to Cromwell.
Now, whether Cromwell had read the manuscript or not we shall never know, but he was furious at its publication and sent Vane a peremptory and harshly-worded summons to appear at once before the Council on the ground that his paper tended to the disturbance of the present government and the peace of the Commonwealth. Of course it did, for in this, one of the most remarkable documents ever penned by man, Vane had asserted, for the first time in history, the need of a written constitution or body of fundamental laws by which the government itself should be controlled! In answering the dictatorial summons of the Council Vane added fuel to the flames by remarking, "I cannot but observe, in this proceeding with me, how exactly they tread in the steps of the late king, whose design being to set the government free from all restraint of laws, as to our persons and estates, and to render the monarchy absolute, thought he could employ no better means to effect it, than by casting into obloquy and disgrace all those who desired to preserve the laws and liberties of the nation." His letter concludes: "It is no small grief to be lamented that the evil and wretched principles by which the late king aimed to work out his design, should now revive and spring up under the hands of men professing godliness." For this and the pamphlet which preceded it Vane was imprisoned in Carisbrook Castle on the Isle of Wight and, when Oliver feared longer to keel? him in durance, was hunted down on his own stamping-ground and unlawfully deprived of his estates.
Then, in the fall of 1658, Oliver went to meet a King whom he could not bully and Richard Cromwell assumed the Protectorate. This was more than even Sir Harry Vane could stand with patience. Oliver had at least been a foe worthy of his steel; but that the opportunity for a republic should be set aside in order that this feeble creature should hold office was too much for any man with high hopes of England to bear. Sir Harry again offered himself for parliament and, when he had been cheated out of two elections given him by the franchises of the people, he tried in a third district, that of Whitchurch in Hampshire, and was returned in spite of the machinations of his enemies. Then he made in Parliament what seems to me one of the best short speeches I have ever read:
"Mr. Speaker, Among all the people of the universe, I know none who have shown so much zeal for the liberty of their country, as the English at this time have done. They have, by the help of Divine Providence, overcome all obstacles and have made themselves free. We have driven away the hereditary tyranny of the house of Stuart, at the expense of much blood and treasure, in hopes of enjoying hereditary liberty, after having shaken off the yoke of kingship, and there is not a man amongst us who could have imagined that any person would be so bold as to dare attempt the ravishing from us that freedom which has cost us so much blood and so much labour.
"But so it happens, I know not by what misfortune, we are fallen into the error of those who poisoned the Emperor Titus to make room for Domitian, who made away Augustus that they might have Tiberius and changed Claudius for Nero. I am sensible these examples are foreign from my subject since the Romans in those days were buried in lewdness and luxury; whereas the people of England are now renowned all over the world for their great virtue and discipline, — and yet suffer an idiot without courage, without sense, nay, without ambition, to have dominion in a country of liberty.
"One could bear a little with Oliver Cromwell, though contrary to his oath of fidelity to the Parliament, contrary to his duty to the public, contrary to the respect he owed to that venerable body from whom he received his authority, he usurped the government. His merit was so extraordinary that our judgement and passions might be blinded by it. He made his way to empire by the most illustrious actions. He held under his command an army that had made him a conqueror and a people that had made him their general.
"But as for Richard Cromwell, his son, who is he? What are his titles? We have seen that he has a sword by his side, but did he ever draw it? And, what is of more importance in this case, is he fit to get obedience from a mighty nation who could never make a footman obey him? Yet, we must recognize this man as our king under the style of Protector — a man without birth, without courage, without conduct. For my part, I declare, sir, it shall never be said that I made such a man my master."
Following this remarkable, triumph of oratory Richard Cromwell was forced to resign, the famous Long Parliament was reassembled, and Sir Henry Vane was appointed one of the Committee of Safety, to whom the supreme and entire power of the country was entrusted until Parliament could make further arrangements. Later he was made President of the Council. And if General George Monk had not sold the army to Prince Charles for the title of a duke Vane's dream of a republican England would in all probability have been realized. As it was, Charles the Second was crowned and England given over to the scourge of an unbridled tyranny.
Of course Sir Harry Vane was among the first to fall a victim to the treachery of the army and of Parliament. He was imprisoned, first in his own castle and then on the island of Sicily, while the king waited until he should be strong enough to claim his life. Then he kept him for another season in the Tower. In the Declaration of Breda Charles had proclaimed amnesty to all not especially excepted by Parliament and as Sir Harry had not been one of his father's judges and was a well-known opponent of the action taken by the regicides, it had been supposed that he would be quite secure from the vengeance of the new monarch. Moreover, the two Houses of Parliament had been assured through the Lord Chancellor that, "If Vane were ever convicted, execution as to his life should be remitted." It was because this appeared to he sufficient that Sir Harry Vane's name was excepted from the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion which the Commons framed.
When a new Parliament came in, however, and, stimulated by desire, to get a share of Sir Harry's great estate; pushed matters vigorously against him, the king had either to redeem or break his pledge. Characteristically he shifted the burden of decision upon his Chancellor in the following letter which shows, as well as a whole volume of history could, the manner of man who now ruled England:
"Two in the afternoon.
"The relation that has
been made to me of Sir Henry Vane's carriage yesterday in the Hall, is
occasion of this letter; which, if I am rightly informed, was so
insolent as to
justify all he had done, acknowledging no supreme power in
England but a
Parliament, and many things to that purpose. You have had a true
account of all
and if he has given new occasion to be hanged, certainly he is too
man to let live, if we can honestly put him out of the way. Think of
give me some account of it to-morrow, till when I have no more to say
Sir Harry Vane's House, still standing in Hampstead, London
The end soon came. Sir Harry was by this time in the Tower and the king was thirsting, as he very well knew, for his blood. When it was suggested to Vane that he might save his life by making submission to Charles he answered simply, "If the king does not think himself more conserved for his honour and word than I am for my life let him take it." And indeed nothing could have availed. His trial was long but unfair from beginning to end and, even when he came to the block, looking very handsome in his black clothes and scarlet waistcoat, he was given none of the privileges usually accorded those about to die. Pepys, who was on hand for the execution as for most other interesting spectacles that happened during his lifetime, describes, with every mark of admiration, the bearing of the prisoner, adding further, loyalist though he was, that "the king lost more by that man's death than he will get again for a good while." Another loyalist exclaimed in admiration, as he watched the dignity of those last moments, "He dies like a prince." To which I can only add, after reading his wonderful prayer for those who had betrayed him, that he died like the Prince, — that Prince of Peace whose principles he had all his life advocated and whose sublime example he followed even in the hour of his death.
"Among Old New