Sir Henry Vane

Vane, Sir Henry, 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. He was made (1639) joint treasurer of the navy, sat in the Short Parliament (1640), and was knighted (1640). Vane 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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