Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 58.djvu/285
VERNON, JAMES (1646–1727), secretary of state, younger son of Francis Vernon of London (a scion of the Vernons of Haslington, Cheshire, and Hanbury, Worcestershire), by his wife, Anne Welby, widow, daughter of George Smithes, a London goldsmith, was born in 1646. Like his elder brother Francis [q. v.], he was an alumnus of Oxford, where he matriculated from Christ Church on 19 July 1662, graduated B.A. in 1666, and proceeded M.A. in 1669. In 1676 he was incorporated at Cambridge, which university he represented in the parliament of 1678–9.
Vernon was employed by Sir Joseph Williamson [q. v.] to collect news in Holland in March 1671–2, and in the following June attended Halifax on his mission to Louis XIV [see Savile, George, Marquis of Halifax]. On his return he became secretary to the Duke of Monmouth—he it was that erased the obnoxious adjective ‘natural’ from the patent conferring the command-in-chief upon the duke in 1674—but left his service in 1678. He then entered the secretary of state's office as clerk and gazetteer, i.e. editor of the ‘London Gazette’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. ii. 253, 12th Rep. App. vii. 204). These duties he exchanged on the revolution for the post of private secretary to Shrewsbury [see Talbot, Charles, Duke of Shrewsbury]. On Shrewsbury's resignation, Vernon served in the same capacity Sir John Trenchard [q. v.], by whom he was employed in Flanders in the summer of 1692 to furnish reports of the movements of the army to Sir William Dutton Colt, British minister at Celle (see his despatches in Addit. MS. 34096). In 1693 he was appointed to a commissionership of prizes, which he held until 1705. On 30 Oct. 1695 he was returned to parliament for Penryn, Cornwall, and on 22 July 1698 for Westminster, which seat he continued to hold until the dissolution of 2 July 1702. He again represented Penryn in the parliaments of 1705–7 and 1708–10. On Shrewsbury's return to power (March 1693–4) Vernon resumed in name his former relations with him. Shrewsbury's ill-health, however, and the course of events soon thrust Vernon into prominence, and during the king's absences on the continent he acted as secretary to the lords justices. On him fell the main burden of investigating the assassination plot, and of hushing up the charges brought by Sir John Fenwick (1645–1697) [q. v.] against Godolphin, Shrewsbury, Marlborough, and Russell. In support of the bill for Fenwick's attainder he made on 25 Nov. 1696 the only important speech which he is recorded to have delivered throughout his parliamentary career. The dexterity which he displayed in this affair, and Shrewsbury's virtual retirement, enhanced his consequence, and at Sunderland's suggestion he received the seals on the resignation of Sir William Trumbull [q. v.], and was sworn of the privy council (5 Dec. 1697). Though he did not formally succeed to Shrewsbury's department on his resignation, 12 Dec. 1698, he was thenceforth virtually secretary for both departments until the delivery of the southern seals to Jersey, 14 May 1699 [see Villiers, Edward, Earl of Jersey].
By the king Vernon was treated rather as a clerk than as a minister. He was hardly more than cognisant of the negotiations for the peace of Ryswick, and of the partition treaty he knew nothing until the draft was placed in his hands for transmission to Somers [see Somers, John, Lord Somers]. He went down to Tunbridge Wells with a mind made up against the treaty, and, though he drafted the blank commission and transmitted it to Holland, he fully approved, if he did not inspire, the letter with which Somers accompanied it (28 Aug. 1698). When the treaty was signed he drafted the necessary forms of ratification and procured their authentication by Somers under the great seal. With Somers alone of the ministers in England, he shared the secret of the separate articles. When the treaty came before the notice of parliament, Portland, who bore the first brunt of the attack, sought to share his responsibility with Vernon, whom he represented as cognisant of and concurring in the negotiation from the outset. Vernon cleared himself from this charge by producing with the king's leave the relevant correspondence, and, though no less responsible than Somers for the course taken at Tunbridge Wells, he was omitted from the articles of impeachment and was continued in office (The statement of Evelyn, Diary, 24 April 1700, that he was ‘put out’ merely records a rumour; cf. Pepys, Corresp. C. orig. 1 July 1700). He was, in fact, sole secretary during the interval, 2 May–5 Nov. 1700, between Jersey's resignation and the appointment of Sir Charles Hedges [q. v.], and retained the seals when Hedges gave place to Manchester, 4 Jan. 1701–2 [see Montagu, Charles, first Duke of Manchester].
A staunch whig, Vernon viewed with undisguised alarm the death of the Duke of Gloucester (30 July 1700), and proposed that the king should again marry and the succession be settled, in default of issue, in the Hanoverian line, thus passing