VERNEY, John (c.1652-1707), of Allexton, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. c.1652, 1st s. of Sir Richard Verney† by 1st w. Mary, da. of Sir John Pretyman, 1st Bt.†, of Loddington and Horninghold, Leics. educ. Jesus, Camb. adm. 4 July 1668, aged 16; M. Temple 1670, called 1677. m. lic. 13 July 1683, Christina (d. 1707), da. and h. of John Breton of Norton, Northants., 2s. d.v.p. Styled Hon. John Verney from 1696.1
During his years of parliamentary service for Leicestershire, Verney was said to have ‘acquired great honour, with the universal esteem and love of the county’. Though of firm Tory outlook, his views were often tempered with moderation, and are particularly well documented during this period in his correspondence with Viscount Hatton (Hon. Christopher†). Having qualified as a barrister in 1677, Verney became heir in 1683 to the extensive Verney estates centring on Compton Verney in Warwickshire. Upon his marriage in 1683 to a Northamptonshire heiress, his father transferred to him a large estate at Allexton in Leicestershire which carried additional land scattered over Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Although he had already served a term as knight of the shire for his adoptive county, the prospect of representing it in the Convention and again in 1690 appears to have held no appeal to him. Over the next few years he devoted much of his attention to the lengthy proceedings concerning his father’s claim to the Willoughby de Broke barony, of which Verney himself was largely the initiator. The Lords eventually gave a ruling against it on 10 Jan. 1695, but the case had the effect of reviving the much-pondered question of whether the surviving coheir of a barony by writ was entitled to a summons to Parliament, and after further deliberation the Lords affirmed the point on 19 Mar. His presence in London allowed him the opportunity to attend the joint Lords–Commons interrogations on the East India Company bribes in late April, perhaps as a matter of personal interest, as he had a modest holding in the Company recorded as £100 in 1689. He noted on 26 Apr. that ‘great art has been used to baffle their inquiry’, but was gratified by the honourable acquittal of Hatton’s son-in-law, the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), from any implication in the crimes.2
Verney re-entered Parliament as knight of the shire for Leicestershire in 1695 with backing from the Earl of Rutland (John Manners†). His Tory credentials were seen in glowing terms, one commentator describing him as ‘very honest’ while the corporation of Leicester praised ‘[his] eminency for loyalty to his Majesty’s firmness to the Church established by law, love of his country, undaunted courage to oppose his single self against a hydra of faction, and other great qualifications for a Member of Parliament’. With attention in the new Parliament focusing upon the coinage crisis, Verney found the proceedings in December perplexing and inconclusive: ‘I think the remedies that have hitherto been attempted have made the matter ten times worse than it was before . . . The confusion that is here by the coin is not to be expressed and I believe all counties feel the bad effect of it.’ Evidence of his adherence to ‘Country’ attitudes was apparent in January 1696 when he was forecast as a likely opponent of the Court on the proposed council of trade. On renewal of his father’s peerage claim, a favourable judgment was made on 13 Feb. To Lord Hatton, Verney confessed, ‘I am very glad this business is over because I have given a great deal of trouble to others as well as endured some myself.’ A week afterwards, on 25 Feb., he signed the Association without demur. In the Commons ‘it was passed and opposed with more heat and fire I ever saw there before’, and he noted that when the opposers were in the House they considered it ‘unparliamentary’, but out of doors ‘they termed it a trick’. He told Hatton on 4 Apr. that the continuing animosities generated by the Assassination Plot offered a ‘melancholy sight’ and felt that the tense situation could only result in severe penalties against Catholics, non-jurors, and any who refused to sign the Association. With harsh new laws such as were intended by the bill for imposing the Association ‘it will be very difficult for anybody to live in England and not comply with the government in the manner that it directs’. In November he resigned himself to the passage of the bill for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† which he thought only a ‘very full House’ could obstruct; in the division on 25 Nov. Verney voted against it. He doubted the efficacy of the resolution taken on 20 Nov. that the supply for 1697 should be raised and met within the year, commenting: ‘if they can but pay in the country as fast and freely as we vote all will be well’. In mid-January 1697 he was reporting the slow progress of the capitation bill in committee and believed it found favour with no more than ten Members.3
On 14 Apr. 1698 Verney was granted leave of absence, but was back at Westminster the following month and informing Hatton of the introduction of a bill to tax crown grants and offices for life, which he was at first convinced would pass on the assumption that recipients would find ‘it will be very well worth giving a sixth part to have their grants confirmed by Act of Parl[iamen]t’. But by the end of May he found that the bill no longer held any interest. He was returned again in the 1698 election, and in October he and his half blood brother-in-law, Sir Charles Shuckburgh, 2nd Bt., Member for Warwickshire, organized a wrestling contest at Market Harborough, Leicestershire, between their respective counties. Held on 22 Oct. and attracting a ‘great appearance of gentry’, the event was won by Leicestershire. He was classed as belonging to the ‘Country’ party in an analysis of the parties drawn up around September 1698, and was subsequently included in an estimate of Country party support on the standing army question in January 1699. He was granted ten days’ leave on 28 Feb. Another ten days was accorded him in the following session on 1 Feb. 1700.4
Following his return in the January 1701 election, Verney reported approvingly to Hatton on 13 Feb. that the numerous stories of electoral bribery and corruption then in circulation had ‘awakened’ the House ‘to proceed with all extremities that the law will allow of’ against the guilty. A week later, on 20 Feb., he was gratified to see the House in ‘solemn’ unanimity as agreement was given to the Dutch ambassador’s memorial to the King requesting military assistance against French aggression: ‘whatever the consequence be, it is easy to be discerned that we have pleased the King and everybody else here who seems to be in our sentiments as to the matter’. He was listed in February as a supporter of the Court, probably in connexion with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. He was apprehensive, however, that the proceedings on the succession which opened on 1 Mar. would dispel the current spirit of unanimity, and was relieved that the two crucial votes, one settling the crown on the next Protestant line, the other for a guarantee of individual rights, were not disputed and passed ‘with great calmness in less than two hours’. In a letter of 11 Mar. it was clear that Verney’s initial enthusiasm for a new war with France had melted into a pragmatic appraisal of circumstances: ‘we are in a very bad condition to begin such an undertaking and I fancy the king of France has at this time his hands so full that he will not provoke a new enemy if he can possibly avoid it’. Not surprisingly, he was included in the subsequently published list of those opposed to confrontation with the French. A month later, in the midst of the attack on Lord Somers (Sir John*), he lamented to Hatton over the disintegration of ‘all our fair ideas that arose from the unanimity of the House’ and the emergence ‘of divisions and parties as near equal in number as they are in rage, one against another’.5
As a result of a deterioration in relations with his Whiggish electoral patron Lord Rutland, Verney was forced to relinquish his seat in favour of one of Rutland’s nominees in the second 1701 election. He did so with considerable ill-grace, especially since it was acknowledged in some quarters that ‘his interest is here much better than ever’. Soon after William III’s death Verney made a point of informing Rutland of his decision to stand, as he ‘was engaged to do’, and in the ensuing contest he and John Wilkins* defeated the pro-Rutland candidates Lord Roos (John Manners*) and Lord Sherard (Bennet*). When the new Parliament opened on 22 Oct., he was much impressed by the Queen’s first speech, and was led to eulogize on the comfortable prospects he saw about him for the new reign:
We are all doubly charmed with the Queen’s speech, our minds with the matter of it, and our ears with the music of the voice and the manner of the expression in which the Queen has a peculiar felicity and since she is absolute over our hearts she is by consequence over the purses of those we represent. The admirable order the Treasury is now put in makes everybody more willing to consent to taxes which one is assured will be disposed to the ends they are designed for. And to speak truth the whole management in the government do[e]s give all the promising hopes that can be of happy times during the Queen’s reign.
On 16 Dec., when the House resolved to inform the Queen of their non-compliance with her request for a grant of crown lands or a pension to the newly created Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), Verney made an objection to the suggested insertion of an extra clause specifically mentioning the ‘extraordinary pensions’ meted out by Charles II and James II, and was a teller against when the question was put to a division. During December and January he oversaw a private bill for selling off part of the manor of Loddington, Leicestershire, which belonged to the Morris family but which had originally been possessed by Verney’s maternal grandfather, Sir John Pretyman, 1st Bt. On 13 Feb. 1703 he voted against agreeing with the Whig Lords’ amendments to the abjuration bill.6
On 14 Dec. 1703 in the next session, Verney demonstrated his support for the occasional conformity bill by joining the 200-strong procession of MPs who attended the bill ‘in great state’ to the Lords. A week later he was ‘transported with joy’ at the vindication of Lord Nottingham’s honour in his handling of the Scotch Plot, and was later noted by Nottingham as a likely supporter when the possibility of a further attack on him emerged in mid-March 1704. Despite Verney’s previous support for the occasional conformity bill, he voted against the proposal to ‘tack’ the measure in the division on 28 Nov., and in consequence was designated as ‘Low Church’ in a list produced following the election of 1705. At about this time his continuing membership is noted of a recently revived drinking and dining club known as the ‘Honourable Order of Little Bedlam’ of which the clientele was exclusively Tory. Returned in the 1705 election, he voted against the Court’s candidate for the Speakership on 25 Oct. From October 1705 to February 1706 he was engaged in the management of two private bills, one for selling part of a Leicestershire manor, the other being the estate bill for Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, which reached the Commons from the Lords in mid-January. On 9 Jan. 1707 he was named one of the sponsors of the proposed bill to confirm the Duke of Marlborough’s pension of £5,000 p.a., a sign that he had spoken in support of the proposal.7
Verney died v.p. 31 Oct. 1707 after falling ill of ‘a high fever’, having ‘not long survived his wife’, and was buried at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. A list of 1708 classed him posthumously as a Tory. On his father’s death in 1711, the barony about which he had been so eager passed to his brother, Hon. George Verney, prebendary and later dean of Windsor.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 234.
- 2. Nichols, Leics. iii. 10; Egerton 2988, f. 102; Add. 29565, ff. 290, 417, 518, 528, 545; 22185, f. 13.
- 3. Bodl. Eng. hist. c.478, f. 244; Ballard 25, f. 20; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, John Pares to Ld. Rutland, 4 Dec. 1695; Add. 29565, f. 377; 29566, ff. 146, 154, 174, 324, 352; HMC Rutland, ii. 159.
- 4. Add. 29567, ff. 54, 66; Post Man, 13–15 Oct., 29 Oct.–1 Nov. 1698.
- 5. Add. 29568, ff. 3, 7, 11, 13.
- 6. Rutland mss, Sir Ambrose Phillipps to Rutland, 18 Nov. 1701; BL, Lothian mss, Verney to Rutland (copy), 20 Nov., Henry Tate to Thomas Coke, 25 Nov., Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*, to Robert Hardinge, 26 Nov. 1701; HMC Rutland, ii. 169; HMC Cowper, iii. 3; Add. 29568, f. 95; Nichols, iv. 401.
- 7. Add. 29568, ff. 151, 153, 166; HMC 5th Rep. 399.
- 8. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 234.