Fiennes, Nathaniel (DNB00)
|←Fiennes, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 18
FIENNES, NATHANIEL (1608?–1669), parliamentarian, second son of William, first viscount Saye and Sele, was born about 1608 at Broughton in Oxfordshire, and educated at Winchester and at New College, Oxford. As founder's kin he was admitted perpetual fellow of New College on entering in 1624, and continued there about five years, but never took a degree (Wood, Athenæ Oxonienses, iii. 877). He then travelled, and, according to Clarendon, ‘spent his time abroad in Geneva and amongst the cantons of Switzerland, where he improved his disinclination to the church, with which milk he had been nursed’ (Rebellion, ed. Macray, iii. 33). He returned home in 1639 through Scotland, in order to establish communication between the discontented in England and the covenanters (Clarendon, Rebellion, i. 166 n.) In the parliament called in April 1640, and again in the Long parliament, Fiennes sat as member for Banbury. From the opening of the latter he became prominent in its debates, especially in those on ecclesiastical subjects. On 14 Dec. 1640 he made a long speech against the illegal canons recently imposed by convocation, and on 8 Feb. 1641, on the question of the reception of the London petition, he made a speech against episcopacy, which became famous (Rushworth, iv. 105, 174). He argued in favour of the complete abolition of episcopacy on the ground that the arbitrary power exercised by the bishops was a danger alike to the political constitution of the realm and the religious welfare of the people. His speech was so well received that he was added the next day to the committee appointed for the consideration of church affairs. Fiennes was again conspicuous in the investigation of the army plot, and presented, 8 June 1641, the report of the committee concerning it (Old Parliamentary History, ix. 333; Diurnal Occurrences, 1641, p. 153). At the close of the first session Fiennes was appointed one of the commissioners to attend the king in his visit to Scotland (20 Aug. 1641), and his nomination as one of the committee of safety (4 July 1642) is a further sign of the high position which he had attained in the parliamentary party. He commanded a troop of horse in the army of the Earl of Essex, and was one of the first to take the field. He was engaged in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Earl of Northampton from carrying off the guns sent by Lord Brooke to Banbury (6–8 Aug. 1642), and took part with Hampden in the relief of Coventry, 23 Aug. (The Proceedings at Banbury since the Ordnance went down, 4to, 1642; Old Parliamentary History, xi. 397). He shared in the action before Worcester (23 Sept. 1642), and, according to Vicars, distinguished himself by his personal courage in that defeat (Jehovah-jireh, p. 164). Fiennes also served at Edgehill in the regiment of Sir William Balfour. He wrote accounts of these two battles, viz. ‘True and Exact Relation of both the Battles fought by his Ex. Robert, E. of Essex, and his Forces against the Bloody Cavaliers. The one of the 23rd of Oct. last near Keynton … the other at Worcester,’ 4to, 1642. ‘A Narrative of the Late Battle before Worcester taken by a Gentleman of the Inns of Court from the Mouth of Master Fiennes,’ 4to, 1642. In February 1643 the condition of Bristol and the misconduct of the governor, Colonel Essex, demanded immediate action, and Fiennes was ordered to Bristol to prevent his evil designs. Immediately after his arrival he arrested Essex, and disarmed the disaffected among the citizens. On 7 March a rising was to have taken place in the city, and the gates were to have been opened to Prince Rupert, but Fiennes arrested the conspirators two or three hours before the time fixed. The heads of the plot, Robert Yeomans and George Bourchier, were executed by sentence of a court-martial, in spite of the efforts of Rupert to save them (May, Long Parliament, ed. 1854, pp. 281–3; Meyer, Memoirs of Bristol, pp. 322–400). Fiennes received a commission as governor of Bristol from the Earl of Essex on 1 May 1643. His letters to Essex and to Lord Saye during the spring of 1643 are full of complaints of the necessities of the garrison. He had neither sufficient men to man the walls, nor sufficient money to pay those he had; he wanted officers of experience, and the fortifications of the city were incomplete. When Prince Rupert appeared before Bristol (22 July) the garrison consisted of between two and three thousand men, many of whom were hastily raised volunteers. On 26 July the city was assaulted, a weak point in the fortifications was entered, and Fiennes decided to capitulate rather than expose the city to the risks of street-fighting. He might, no doubt, have held out a few days longer, but the town was entered, the castle was untenable, and relief was hopeless. By the terms of the capitulation the garrison were allowed to march out with the partial loss of their arms. On 5 Aug. 1643 Fiennes delivered to parliament a narrative of the siege and surrender, ‘A Relation made in the House of Commons by Col. N. Fiennes concerning the Surrender of the City and Castle of Bristol … together with the Transcripts and Extracts of certain Letters wherein his care for the Preservation of the City doth appear,’ 4to, 1643. This was at once answered by William Prynne and Clement Walker, who charged Fiennes with treachery and cowardice. Fiennes published an angry reply: ‘Col. Fiennes his Reply to a Pamphlet entitled an Answer to Col. Nat. Fiennes' Relation concerning his Surrender of the City of Bristol, by Clement Walker,’ and begged the House of Commons that the matter might be remitted to the judgment of the general and council of war. The trial took place at St. Albans (14–23 Dec. 1643), and concluded with the condemnation of Fiennes (29 Dec.), who was sentenced to death (State Trials, iv. 105; Prynne, True and Full Narrative of the Prosecution, &c., of Col. Fiennes by William Prynne and Clement Walker, Esquires, 4to, 1644). He was, however, condemned simply on the ground of improper surrender, and thus tacitly exonerated from the charges of treachery and cowardice. Fiennes was pardoned, but his military career came to an end, and he seems for a time to have left England. The ease with which the new model captured Bristol produced a change of feeling in his favour. Cromwell, Fairfax, and other chief officers, ‘upon a view of the place, comparing the present strength of it with what it was when he delivered it, and other circumstances, freely expressed themselves as men abundantly satisfied concerning the hard misfortune that befell that noble gentleman’ (Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva, p. 129). They proceeded to sign a certificate exonerating him from all blame (The Scots' Design discovered, pp. 61–3).
Fiennes did not reappear in public life till the autumn of 1647. On 23 Sept. 1647 he was added to the committee of the army in place of Glynne, and on 3 Jan. 1648 became a member of the committee of safety, which succeeded the defunct committee of both kingdoms (Rushworth, vii. 819, 953). According to Ludlow, the declaration of the House of Commons showing the grounds of that resolution to make no further addresses to the king (11 Feb. 1648) was drawn up by Fiennes (Memoirs, ed. 1751, p. 91). This seems hardly probable, for Fiennes was prominent, in the debates of December following, among those who argued that the king's concessions in the treaty of Newport were sufficient ground for a peace (Old Parliamentary History, xviii. 286; Mercurius Pragmaticus, 5–12 Dec. 1648). In consequence of this he was one of the members excluded from the house by Pride's Purge, and did not again play any part in politics till after the foundation of the protectorate. On 26 April 1654 he was admitted a member of Cromwell's council of state, and in June 1655 became one of the keepers of the great seal (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1654, p. 119; Whitelocke, iv. 206, ed. 1853). His appointment was approved by parliament on 10 Oct. 1656 (Old Parliamentary History, xxi. 41). He sat as member for Oxford county in 1654, and for the university in 1656, and was summoned to Cromwell's House of Lords in January 1658 (ib. xxi. 12, 167). Fiennes was one of the committee appointed to argue Cromwell into the acceptance of the crown (ib. xxi. 65, 83, 103), and made several speeches for that object. At the opening of the second session of Cromwell's last parliament (20 Jan. 1658), and on 2 Jan. 1659, at the opening of Richard Cromwell's parliament, Fiennes, as chief of the commissioners of the great seal, and mouthpiece of the government, delivered important addresses. They are marked by deep religious feeling and special insistence on the religious features of Cromwell's domestic and foreign policy (ib. xxi. 175, 269). It was evidently sympathy with this aspect of the protectorate which made Fiennes so staunch a Cromwellian, and this is a sufficient defence against the charge of time-serving which Foss and Noble bring against him. Fiennes appears to have been one of those who counselled Richard Cromwell to dissolve parliament, and to him the Protector's commission for that purpose was addressed (22 April 1659; Whitelocke, iv. 343; BURTON, Diary, iv. 482). The restored Long parliament appointed new commissioners of the great seal (Whitelocke, iv. 346, 351), and the public career of Fiennes came thus to an end. He seems to have taken no part either in forwarding or hindering the Restoration, and escaped unnoticed at the king's return. He died at Newton Tony in Wiltshire, in the sixty-second year of his age, on 16 Dec. 1669, and was buried in the church there (Hoare, Modern Wilts., ‘Ambresbury,’ p. 105). He married, first, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir John Eliot (she was born in 1616), by whom he had a son, William, who became third Viscount Saye and Sele in 1674; secondly, Frances, daughter of Richard Whitehead of Tuderley, Hampshire, who died 17 Oct. 1691, aged 70, by whom he had three daughters (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, vii. 22, 24).
In addition to the speeches and pamphlets above mentioned Fiennes was the author of 1. ‘Speech concerning the proffer of the City of London to disburse 60,000l. towards the suppression of the Rebellion in Ireland,’ 1641. 2. ‘Unparalleled Reasons for Abolishing Episcopacy,’ 4to, 1642; this is a reprint of his speech of 8 Feb. 1641 against episcopacy. 3. Walker attributes to Fiennes the compilation of Sprigge's ‘Anglia Rediviva,’ but gives no proof (History of Independency, i. 32). 4. Wood attributes to Fiennes ‘Monarchy Asserted,’ 1660. An account of the conferences of Cromwell and the committee which urged him to accept the crown, reprinted in the ‘Somers Tracts,’ ed. Scott, vi. 346. A portrait is in the possession of Lord Saye at Broughton Castle, and is engraved in vol. ii. of Lord Nugent's ‘Memorials of Hampden.[Lives of Fiennes appear in Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, iii. 877; Noble's House of Cromwell, i. 371; Foss's Judges of England. Pedigrees of the family of Fiennes are to be found in Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, vol. vii., and Lipscombe's Hist. of Buckinghamshire, ii. 470. For the events connected with the government of Bristol by Fiennes, see Seyer's Memoirs of Bristol, especially the catalogue of pamphlets in ii. 296–9. His character is elaborately sketched by Sanford in his Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, p. 391. A pamphlet entitled ‘The Scots' Design discovered,’ 1654, contains a vindication of his military career, and was probably written by his father.]