VERNEY, John, 1st Visct. Fermanagh [I] (1640-1717), of Middle Claydon, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Nov. 1640, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, of Middle Claydon by Mary, da. and h. of John Blacknall of Wasing and Abingdon, Berks. educ. at Blois in France 1648–53; schools at Barn Elms and Kensington 1653–8. m. (1) 27 May 1680, Elizabeth (d. 1686), da. of Ralph Palmer of Little Chelsea, Mdx., 1s. 3da.; (2) 10 July 1692 (with £3,000), Mary (d. 1694), da. of Sir Francis Lawley, 2nd Bt.†, of Spoonhill, Salop, 1s. d.v.p.; (3) 8 Apr. 1697, Elizabeth, da. of Daniel Baker of Hatton Gdns. London, s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 24 Sept. 1696; cr. Visct. Fermanagh of Belturbet [I] 16 June 1703.1
Freeman, Vintners’ Co. 1674; Member, Levant Co. 1674; asst. R. African Co. 1679–81, 1686–8, 1691–2, 1696–7.2
Gov. Bethlehem and Bedlam Hosp. c.1695–?9.3
After the first Civil War, Verney’s father, a Royalist, refused to sign the Covenant, had his estate sequestrated and went into exile. At first, Verney remained at Claydon, but later joined his parents at Blois in France, where he studied under a French Protestant minister. Another French tutor was dismissed for trying to instil into his mind ‘the poison of Popish doctrine’. On the family’s return to England, he was sent to the Rev. James Fleetwood (the post-Restoration bishop of Worcester), who kept a school at Barn Elms. When Fleetwood was prohibited from teaching in 1655, Verney was sent to another school at Kensington. In 1657, he pressed his father to bind him apprentice to ‘some very good tradesman’ in London and two years later – at a cost of £400, plus a bond of £1,000 – he was apprenticed for seven years to Gabriel Roberts (uncle of Gabriel Roberts†), one of the most eminent Levant merchants in London. He did not regret his decision, reporting to his father ‘I assure you that I never delighted in any play when I was at school as I do in this trade, and also in hearing of business both inland and outland’. Having learnt the basics of his trade in 1662 he left for the factory at Aleppo, where he remained for 12 years, although he also visited Mesopotamia, ‘the Holy Lands’ and Cyprus. After early difficulties due to lack of capital, he prospered, returned home in August 1674, and set up in business in London on his own account. His interests included the Levant Company, the African trade, the East India Company and later the Bank of England and other government funds.4
Resident in London, Verney exhibited a keen interest in parliamentary affairs, relaying news to his relatives in the country. However, the accidents of death were transforming his position: the death of his elder brother, Edmund, in 1688 and of his two nephews Ralph (d. 1686) and Edmund (d. 1690) left Verney as the heir to the ancestral estate at Claydon. His greater prospects were perhaps reflected in the negotiations for his second marriage which show that his bride’s jointure was to be secured on a mortgage of £3,450 he held on lands in Oxfordshire and a loan of £2,350 to the African Company. During the first half of the 1690s his activities continued to revolve around the City, as he attended meetings of the Levant and African Companies, served on the grand jury of Westminster and the board of Bethlehem Hospital. Nevertheless, shortly after succeeding his father he plunged into electoral politics, contesting the county by-election in December 1696 in the Tory interest. With little time to become known to his neighbours, and without a network of supporters, his bid was unsuccessful.5
Verney stood again for the county in 1698 and January 1701 and for the town of Buckingham at a by-election in 1698, but was unsuccessful on each occasion. After these repeated disappointments he adopted a position of studied neutrality. Verney may have become more optimistic about the political outlook on the accession of Queen Anne, and in 1703 he was given an Irish peerage, taking the title of Viscount Fermanagh. He still retained his interest in Parliament and in elections, not to mention the affairs of trading companies and government stock. In the 1704–5 session he thought legislation appropriate to ensure that army officers served with their men rather than ‘be suffered to loiter in England when the campaign is begun’, and in 1705–6 was concerned lest his son-in-law, Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, should secure an estate Act contrary to the interest of his infant grandson. In 1706 he declined to lend money to (Sir) Thomas Tipping* (1st Bt.) on the (specious) grounds that ‘I have already bought so much land and given portions to my daughters that I am disabled from being a lender, being now its reverse, a borrower’. He was also beginning to feel his age: a summons to the Irish parliament in 1709 evoked the response that he was 70 years of age and ‘afflicted with a multitude of ailments, as stone, gout, and colic, that I am never a week free from some of them’, and that having been confined to his house for three months he could not travel to Dublin.6
Despite these infirmities, Fermanagh decided to stand for the county in 1710 with the support of Lord Cheyne (Hon. William*), campaigned vigorously, and topped the poll. He was in London before the session opened on 25 Nov. and on the 27th attended a meeting of about 200 Tory Members at the Fountain in the Strand. By the 30th he was absent from Westminster with a cold. Classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’, he was a member of the October Club, and appears on the list of the ‘worthy patriots’ who detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. On 16 Dec. he attended the proceedings in the House on the Devizes election, but this merely brought on an attack of the colic which he still had on the 21st on the eve of his departure for his estate at Wasing, Berkshire. On his return he was still ill, but on 11 and 18 Jan. 1711 he reported on proceedings in the House. On 9 Feb. he received a request for his attendance at the elections committee on the Steyning contest, but on the 21st received leave of absence for a month. However, he was back in London by the middle of April and appears to have stayed until the end of the session.7
Fermanagh did not attend the following session of Parliament until after Christmas, having been caught ‘up to my breasts’ in a flood in Berkshire in November, ‘which gave me a great cold and a violent fit of the gout’. On 1 Jan. 1712 he informed Lord Cheyne he was too ill to attend, but his name appears on a canvassing list for the attack on the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) early in 1712, with Cheyne being given the task of approaching him, and he appears to have been in London by the second week in February. On 8 Mar. he reported that he had had the colic for the past five or six days and on the 20th was preparing to depart for the country, receiving leave of absence on the 24th, two days after being first-named to a second-reading committee on a bill relating to Gothurst rectory. He returned to London at the end of April when he presented the Buckinghamshire address urging that nothing should be allowed to hinder the conclusion of peace in Europe. He had left again before the end of May, but was again in the capital in mid-June.8
October 1712 saw Fermanagh revelling in the Tory-dominated quarter sessions. The following Christmas, he entertained lavishly at Claydon, providing ‘vast crowds’ with food, drink and ‘the noise of either drums, trumpets, hautboys, pipes or fiddles, some days 400 guests, very few under 100’. However, festive excess may have been responsible for his lament on 27 Jan. 1713 that gout had confined him to his chamber for three weeks. The delay in recalling Parliament allowed him sufficient time to recover and he was probably in London from around 24 Apr., although upon arrival he was still afflicted with gout. He was solicited in June to support the bill continuing the Quakers Affirmation Act, although his response is unknown, and although he intended to leave for Buckinghamshire at the end of June, ill-health delayed his journey until early July. He retained his county seat at the general election, although he cited poor health in October 1713 as a reason for his refusal of a request from the Tory candidates for his vote in the City election. He was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list and on two lists comparing the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. He was present in London in early March 1714, but planned to leave town on the 11th. He was certainly in the country at the end of the month when he solicited Simon Harcourt II to excuse his non-attendance if there was a call of the House, and on 27 May he was still at Claydon complaining of gout in the stomach and lameness. He eventually managed to come up to London in early July 1714 though there was ‘little probability of the House sitting much longer’.9
Much to the chagrin of the local Tory leadership Fermanagh declined to contest the county in 1715, thereby forcing the Tories to seek a compromise with the Whigs to divide the county representation. Fermanagh duly supported the agreement and took refuge at Amersham. He died on 23 June 1717, leaving £3,000 apiece to his three surviving daughters, and was succeeded in his title and estates by his son, Ralph†.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley
- 1. Verney Mems. 17th Cent. i. 219, 441, 478; ii. 89, 92, 366, 375, 450, 488–90; Verney Letters of 18th Cent. i. 19; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/45, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 16 Apr. 1692.
- 2. Info. from Dr Susan Whyman; K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 370.
- 3. Info. from Dr Whyman; Verney mss mic. 636/51, Verney to Bridewell Hosp., 7 July 1702.
- 4. Verney Mems. i. 478, 495; ii. 95, 97, 99, 102, 265–6, 268; Davies, 390; Add. 22185, f. 13; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694; Egerton 3359.
- 5. Verney Mems. i. 462 and ped.; Verney mss mic. 636/45, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 13 Apr. 1692; Bull. IHR, lvi. 197.
- 6. Verney mss 636/53, Cave to Ld. Fermanagh, 24 Nov., 6 Dec. 1705, Fermanagh to Tipping, 21 Sept. 1706; 636/54, same to Richard Freeman, 8 June 1709; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 108; Bull. IHR, xlviii. 71; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 128.
- 7. Verney mss mic. 636/54, Lady to Ld. Fermanagh, 23 [Nov.] 1710, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney, 21 Dec. 1710, 4, 11, 18 Jan. 1710–11, same to Capt. Thomas Butler, 12 Apr. 1711, Cave to Fermanagh, 2 June 1711; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 161.
- 8. Verney mss mic. 636/54, Fermanagh to Barnaby Backwell, 27 Dec. 1711, same to Cheyne, 1 Jan. 1711–12, same to Ralph Verney, 8 Mar. 1711[–12], 12 June 1712, Mary Lovett to same, 1 May 1712, Lady Lindsay to Fermanagh, 17 Feb. 1711[–12], Lady to Ld. Fermanagh, 28 Feb. 1711[–12], 20 Mar. 1711–12, Cave to same, 27 May 1712; Add. 70331, canvassing list; London Gazette, 25 Apr.–2 May 1712.
- 9. Verney mss mic. 636/54, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney, 16 Oct. 1712, 13, 27 Jan. 1712–13, 14, 24 Apr., 25 June, 2 July 1713, 9 Mar. 1713–14, 6, 20 July 1714, same to John Cass* and (Sir) George Newland*, 22 Oct. 1713, Ralph Palmer to Fermanagh, 11 June 1713, Harcourt to same, 31 Mar. 1714, Fermanagh to Harcourt, 27 May 1714; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 291.
- 10. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 317; PCC 134 Whitfield.