John Verney  (1640-1717) by Susan Whyman

by Susan E. Whyman

Edmund Verney
Ralph Verney
John Verney

Verney, Sir Edmund (1590-1642), courtier and politician, was born on 1 January 1590 in Drury Lane, London, the second son of Sir Edmund Verney, knight of Penley, Hertfordshire by his third wife, Mary Blakeney. By the 1460s, Sir Edmund's first well-documented ancestor, Sir Ralph Verney, a mercer, was appointed Lord Mayor of London. The family had also acquired property in Buckinghamshire, including the manor of Middle Claydon. Sir Ralph's descendants became courtiers through marriage and political alliances, and in keeping with this tradition, Sir Edmund became knight-marshal and standard bearer to Charles I. In preparation for his career, he studied briefly at St. Alban Hall, Oxford , visited the French and Italian courts, and toured battle fields in the low countries. In 1611 he was knighted and sent to Madrid. He returned 'an accomplished gentleman' and joined his uncle Francis as a member of Prince Henry's household. After Henry's early, unexpected death, Sir Edmund, barely 23, was appointed a gentleman of the Privy Chamber in young Prince Charles's household. This boyhood connection with the future king engendered deep loyalty and would cause later divisions within the Verney family.

On 14 Dec 1612, Sir Edmund married Margaret Denton (1594-1611), receiving a L2,300 portion and 4 years room and board in return for a L400 jointure. The socially prominent Dentons of Hillesden lived near Middle Claydon, which at that time was leased to a tenant. Margaret and her 10 surviving children resided mainly at Hillesden, while Sir Edmund was attending Court. In 1622 he was made Lieutenant of Whaddon Chase and in 1623, he followed Prince Charles and Buckingham to Madrid where they were negotiating a Spanish match. Sir Edmund proved himself an ardent protestant by protecting a dying Englishman from a Catholic priest. In addition, he helped Prince Charles to extricate himself from the Spanish alliance, by providing him with a jewel paved with ten diamonds, which the prince used as a gift.

Sir Edmund's career as a courtier, however, did not produce the expected financial benefits. Never an astute business man, in 1620 he agreed to pay almost L4,000 to surrender the lease on his Middle Claydon estate, although it had only 15 years to run. Prince Charles promised to pay L1,000 per year for four years, but he appears to have made only one L1,000 payment in 1623. Sir Edmund now had a country seat but 'thereby', he 'became much in depte'. In 1624 Sir Edmund was elected MP for Buckingham borough, for Aylesbury in 1629, and for Chipping Wycombe in 1640 in the Short and Long Parliaments. When Charles became King Sir Edmund was appointed knight-marshal for life with a L200 pension and responsibility to preserve order within twelve miles of the court. He and his deputies were to 'continually ride, both in the day time and in the night, about our court' arresting anyone without proper credentials. He also had command of the Marshalsea Prison and its profits. Throughout the 1630s, he rode with the King on long journeys, which aggravated his sciatica and lameness, despite visits to Bath. In 1639, he delivered a message from the king to the Scot's army, which led to a peace treaty. But his court and political duties required him to be in or near London. Thus, in 1634 he established himself in a great double house in Covent Garden Piazza with an annual rent of L160.

His expenses, however, were far greater than the income paid to him by the king, and his attempts to make money from patents, investments, and grants of offices ended in failure. His ventures included patents for hackney coaches and inspecting tobacco, investing in drainage projects in the fens, and buying confiscated Irish estates. He paid L1,000 to the Court of Wards to marry his son Ralph to an heiress, and in 1640 he loaned the king another L1,000. He hoped to provide for his family through a L400 annuity raised from the aulnage, a tax on sealing woolen yarn. This source of income, however, proved disappointing. With only a life interest in his lands, he left his heir and executor Ralph saddled with debts. His three younger sons received only L40 annually and his six unmarried daughters were left with only L20 per year.

Sir Edmund's financial problems took place in the context of growing political unrest in Parliament and the Court. Sir Edmund's life clearly illustrates how families became divided during the Civil War and how individuals had to make painful choices between duties to family, religion, and king. Sir Edmund's younger sons, Henry, Edmund, and Thomas served in the royalist army, whose standard their father bore. At the same time, however, both Sir Edmund and his eldest son Ralph, were deeply committed Protestants, who disliked Laudian practices and desired simplicity in worship. They sat together in Parliament and wore their hair long, but they voted in opposition to Charles's wishes. 'The opinion, I see of the great ones most at the court', wrote second son Edmund to his brother Ralph', is that my father and you are all for the Parliament and not for the King. 'Indeed the world now account[s] it policy', wrote Sir Edmund's daughter Cary, 'for the father to be one side and the son the other'.

Sir Edmund admitted his predicament to a Royalist friend: 'I do not like the quarrel, and do heartily wish that the King would yield and consent to what they desire ... my conscience is only concerned in honour and in gratitude to follow my master. I have eaten his bread, and served him near thirty years, and will not do so base a thing as to forsake him; and choose rather to lose my life ... to preserve and defend those things which are against my conscience to preserve and defend'. In explaining his motives, Sir Edmund openly placed religious issues as the cause of his opposition to his King. 'I have no reverence for Bishops, he stated, 'for whom this quarrel subsists'.

When civil war came, Ralph sided with Parliament while his father Sir Edmund bore the Royalist standard at Nottingham in August 1642 and died in October on the battle field at Edgehill. Later, a family story arose of how the standard was found clutched in his dying hand, although the body was never found. Friends reported that he killed two men with his own hands and 'would neither put on armes or buff cote the day of battle', implying a desire to die. But if these tales were never confirmed, Sir Edmund was consistently described him as a man 'of great courage and ... confessedly valiant'. Contemporaries recorded the lack of Royalist organization at Edgehill, and Sir Edmund's regiment bore the brunt of the action. If he did not purposely expose himself to death, he stood his ground at the head of the army and died in the service of the king. His somber face can be seen at Claydon House in portraits by Van Dyke and others.

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Verney, Sir Ralph (1613-1696), landowner and politician, was born at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire to Sir Edmund Verney (1592-1640) and Margaret Denton (1594-1641). When Ralph was 15 years old, Sir Edmund paid L1,000 to the Court of Wards to obtain a decree that permitted Ralph's marriage to Mary (1616-1650), sole heiress of John Blacknall, a weathy Abingdon lawyer. Despite the protests of Mary's family, and the fact that at 13, she was not of legal age, she married Ralph on 31 May 1629. Attempts to get her to repudiate the marriage failed, and she brought the Verneys valuable estates including Abingdon and Wasing in Berkshire and Preston Crowmarsh and Fifield in Oxon. The couple lived apart until 1631, when Mary settled at the Verney's Buckinghamshire seat at Middle Claydon. During the following two years, Ralph spent college terms 20 miles away at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he formed ties with sons of important Puritan families, He studied astronomy, arts, and Latin, but apparently not Greek, and spent 3-4 hours a day on logic and divinity with his tutor John Crowther.

In contrast to the previous generation, the couple had only two surviving children, Edmund (1636-1688) and John (1640-1717). After 1634, Sir Ralph's family lived part of each year in Covent Garden, London with his father Sir Edmund. Yet Sir Ralph always felt 'more natural' giving country hospitality and he abhorred 'court compliment'. Sir Ralph also became immersed in business affairs at an early age. He managed the Verneys' estates and finances and acted as trustee for many friends.

Sir Ralph had deep feelings about his family's importance, and he saved every scrap of paper, founding perhaps the largest consecutive family correspondence for seventeenth-century England. His prudent, conscientious nature and attention to detail showed most clearly in his methodical preservation of his papers, which remain at Claydon House. An ardent bibliophile, he also amassed a huge collection of books and pamphlets, especially religious tracts. Sir Ralph was deeply interested in Anglican theology and practice, and his own faith was tinged with a puritanical piety expressed in strict outward observance. Thus, he refused to hire a gardener until he discovered whether he was 'married or popish or phanatical or takes tobacco'.

In 1640 Sir Ralph represented Aylesbury in the Short and Long Parliaments and was knighted in the following year. As he sat next to his father, he secretly recorded his impressions which may be read in "Notes of Proceedings in the Long Parliament". As a young man with Parliamentary sympathies, Sir Ralph was in a difficult position. His father was Knight-Marshal and Standard Bearer to Charles I who died at Edgehill fighting for the King. His younger brothers also served in the Royalist army. At first Sir Ralph supported the Parliamentary cause, which caused grief to his family. However, he soon became disenchanted with political and religious radicalism, and in 1643 he refused to sign the Covenant--a religious oath that made concessions to presbyterians. To make matters worse, the Verney estates were under financial strain and Claydon House was located in the midst of the military positions. Rising taxes, decreasing rents, and the disruption of war combined to make Sir Ralph's financial position extremely precarious.

He withdrew from Parliamentary work in the summer of 1643, and fled to France in November using the alias Ralph Smith. Prior to his flight, he had obtained letters of protection from both sides and placed his property in trust. In 1645, Sir Ralph was expelled from the House for absenting himself from his duties. It was, he confessed 'one of the greatest and most inexpressible afflictions that ever yet befel me, for which my soul shall mourn in secret.' Sir Ralph's voluntary exile in Rouen, and then Blois, was, punctuated with continental journeys. His decision to take flight was likely motivated by a combination of deep religious principles, loyalty to the traditional Anglican Church, his unstable finances, and the threat of sequestration. This indeed took place in October 1646, due to a flaw in one of the trust deeds. The sequestration was only lifted in 1648, when his wife Mary journeyed to England and lobbied friends in Parliament. She died soon after her successful intervention.

Sir Ralph returned to England in 1653 but he was briefly imprisoned as a royalist suspect in 1655 and was fined in 1656. He had inherited an estate worth L2,000 per year, but he had debts of about £11,000 and responsibility for nine brothers and sisters. Rebuilding the Verney estate became a life-long obsession. To obtain needed cash, he sold all but a tiny portion of his late wife's dower lands. But he doggedly kept his Claydon estate intact through frugal living and astute debt consolidation at low rates. He avoided the court, improved his estate, and cleared it of debts.

After the Restoration, Sir Ralph regained his county offices in the magistracy and lieutenancy and accepted a baronetcy in 1661. He resisted pressures, however, to stand for Parliament until the 1680s when he represented Buckingham in 1681,1685,1689. Sir Ralph's later religious and political views were grounded in his desire for peace and moderation after a life marred by sectarian feuding. The books that he gave to his sons reflected the mid-stream of religious thought: Jeremy Taylor's guides to living and dying and Allestree's The Whole Duty of Man. He also kept a stock of 'little prayer books' written by Dr Thomas Tenison to give as gifts to friends. Sir Ralph refused to take sides during the Exclusion Crisis. And only when the bishops and the Church were threatened, did he finally back the Glorious Revolution. Although he was a firm supporter of the Crown, he maintained a country independence and low-church sympathies.

His enemies called him 'a trimmer'. Yet Sir Ralph's trimming grew out of strength not weakness and he commanded immense local respect. During elections in the 1680s, he refused to treat the Buckingham populace, but he later contributed to their Town Hall. In 1686 he was removed from the county bench and in 1688 from the Lieutenancy, after he refused all three questions concerning the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act. In the Convention Parliament he voted for agreeing that the throne was not vacant and subsequently appeared on several black lists. In the 1690s, he spent the bulk of the year in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. He died in 1696 aged 83 leaving a healthy estate to his younger son John, a London merchant. His family pride is reflected in the monument he erected at Claydon with busts of his parents, his wife, and himself.

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Verney, John (1640-1717), overseas merchant, landowner, and politician, was born on 5 November 1640, the 2nd but 1st surviving son of Sir Ralph Verney, 1rst Baronet of Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire, and Mary Blacknall, heiress of John Blacknall of Abingdon, Berkshire. At age seven, John joined his family in Blois France, where they were in voluntary exile from the Civil War. Because Sir Ralph feared any taint of popery, John was taught by Protestant tutors. John was 'a very ready witted child', but his scholastic progress was slow and he never saw himself as a scholar. His life in France, however, exposed him to continental codes of civility and politeness. He penned beautiful letters under the tutelage of Claudius Mauger, later the author of epistolary manuals. He grew up to read Latin, French, and Italian and owned works by Descartes, Montaigne, and Cervantes, as well as classical and religious books. John also developed an intense interest in his lineage and spent countless hours annotating family letters and compiling volumes of genealogical material. With the help of the antiquarian, Browne Willis, he compiled a directory of baronets.

When the family returned to England in 1653, John studied at the Barn Elmes School with James Fleetwood, later Bishop of Worcester. After it was closed by the authorities, he entered Samuel Turberville's school outside of London. He reluctantly mastered writing, grammar, 'an indifferent Latin', and French, but he was mainly interested in business. 'One must have some living now a days', he wrote, and 'I do verily think that I am a great deal fitter to be [in] some trade than to be a lawyer'. In June 1659, Sir Ralph sent him to Mr. Rich's school where he received a commercial education and learned merchants accounts. 'I would willingly give up all I have', he wrote his father, 'to be bound out' as an apprentice.

On 31 December 1659. Sir Ralph paid £400 and signed a L1,000 bond to apprentice John to Sir Gabriel Roberts (1635-1715), an eminent Levant Company merchant. John hoped that his career would be 'no less satisfactory' to his father 'than if I had become an Inns of Court Gentleman'. I assure you (from my heart)', he wrote 'that I never delighted in ... anything else so much [as] this trade and also in hearing of business both inland and outland'. John now spent his days in Sir Gabriel's warehouse learning to weigh, strip, and measure silks.

Finally, on 31 April 1662, John sailed on the Dover Merchant to Scanderoon, the port of Aleppo. There he joined the Levant Company and lived with other English merchants in the great Khan. After six years of struggle wit little capital or connections, on 28 July 1668, he received the company's liberty to trade for his own account. He eventually amassed a fortune large enough to set himself up as a London merchant. In 1674 when he returned to England, he claimed a fortune of £6,000. In London, John obtained his freedom of the Levant Company on 15 Dec 1674 and of the Vintners' Company on 21 November 1674 where he rose to liveryman and junior warden, He never held office in the Corporation of London, but served on tax commissions and grand juries. He was a governor of the Bridewell and a governor of the Royal Africa Company from 1679-81, 1686-8, 1691-2, and 1696-7.

From 1674 to 1685, John sent English cloths to the Levant in return for silk and other imports, and invested in shipping and insurance. In 1680 John married Elizabeth, daughter of Ralph Palmer of Little Chelsea with whom he had four children: Elizabeth a spinster; Margaret, who married Sir Thomas Cave; Mary, who married Colonel John Lovett, and Ralph who married an heiress, Catherine Pachall of Great Baddow, Essex. His children's eighteenth-century alliances with landed families contrasted with Johns three seventeenth-century marriages to London women, whose fathers’ profited from business affairs. In 1692, John married secondly Mary Lawley, daughter of Sir Francis Lawley, baronet and in 1697 he wed Elizabeth Baker, daughter of Daniel Baker, a London haberdasher. Their three portions injected L9,500 into the family estate.

After his first marriage, John chose not to live with his City colleagues, and he moved outside the walls to Hatton Garden 'that being in the middle between the Exchange and Westminster'. He enjoyed a varied urban social life in the West End with his Verney relatives as well as with city friends at the Exchange. In the 1670s, he frequented coffee-houses from Tom's to Garraway's and sampled services at the French Church and a Presbyterian meeting house. He also enjoyed the sermons of Dr. John Tillotson and Dr. Edward Stillingfleet. During the Exclusion Crisis, he was present at Parliament and at anti-papist spectacles. At the time of the Popish Plot, he attended state trials and amassed a large pamphlet collection, now at Cambridge University Library. As the century waned, John shed his early sympathies toward dissent and became immersed in high church and Tory party politics.

In addition by 1690, the deaths of John's elder brother Edmund and his two young sons unexpectedly made John his father's heir. John continued to trade as late as 1692, but he was shifting more assets into new financial investment alternatives including £1,900 in government funds from 1690 to 1693 and £5,400 from 1696 to 1702. He also invested in the East India Company, the Million Bank, and traded Bank of England stock and Exchequer bills. From April to July 1705 alone, he collected £757 from London investments, which were only a small portion of his city assets.

In September 1696, John succeeded his father as 2nd Baronet. He immediately plunged into Buckinghamshire politics, standing for the county seat in 1696, 1698, and 1701, and for Buckingham in 1698. With little local support or know how, he failed in each attempt. However, his candidacy helped the tory leader, William Cheyne, with whom John formed a valuable alliance. While Cheyne was Lord Lieutenant, Queen Anne created John 1st Viscount Fermanagh and Baron Verney of Belturbet, Ireland on 16 June 1703.

From 1701 to 1709, John refused to meddle in Parliamentary elections, but built a strong local interest as a Justice of the Peace, deputy lieutenant, and tax commissioner. In 1710, Dr. John Cockman summarized John's transformation from London merchant to Tory politician: 'He lives now at an extravagant rate and gains ground in these parts'.

In 1710 at age 70, John stood for the county seat with Sir Henry Seymour against Whigs Sir Edmund Denton and Richard Hampden. He took first place with 2,161 votes and spent almost L800. Plagued by gout, stone, and deafness, his activity was restricted, but he attended most of his first session. A member of the October Club, he dined at the Fountain Tavern in the Strand in November. His name appeared on several lists as a Tory in 1710 and 1712. In 1713, with the help of his 3rd wife Elizabeth Baker, John again won the county seat with 2,018 votes, defeating both Whig opponents. In contrast to Sir Ralph's day, mobs of revellers filled Claydon House, sometimes with 400 people and 'everyday ... the noise of ... drums, trumpet, haut boy, pipes, or fiddles'. His expense were almost L500, and he also won a safe seat at Amersham. He was fairly inactive due to ill health and age but he continued to vote by proxies and recevie the 'votes'. It was 'a cordial to me', he declared, 'to see the Schism Bill passed'.

John's refusal to stand again in 1715 was one of the factors leading to a Whig/Tory Compromise in which one candidate from each party stood for the county. Although his excuse was old age, John 'did not think himself kindly us'd last time in relation to Amersham' which was not given to his son Ralph in 1713 as he had hoped. 'I, having been at above £100 charge', John fumed, 'I think a relation of mine might have been the person'.

In 1715 John stood for Amersham unopposed. Although his name appeared on a list of Jacobite supporters, John's Whig brother-in-law Daniel Baker considered him a loyal Tory: 'You have too good an estate and are too much a Protestant and lover of the country than to embark in any such wicked design as to bring in the Pretender'. One of John's last acts was to vote against the Septennial Bill and he died at Claydon on 23 June 1717. His son Ralph inherited a healthy estate and won back his father's Amersham seat. Thus it was a younger son and former Levant company merchant who enabled future generations to marry heiresses and buy land.

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