Verney, Francis (DNB00)
VERNEY, Sir FRANCIS (1584–1615), buccaneer, born in 1584, was eldest son of Sir Edmund Verney of Penley, Hertfordshire, and Claydon, Buckinghamshire (d. 1599), by his second wife Audrey Gardner, widow of Sir Peter Carew. Sir Edmund Verney (1590–1642) [q. v.] was his half-brother. His misfortunes began young; his masterful stepmother (Mary Blakeney) married him as a boy to her daughter by a former marriage, Ursula St. Barbe; and persuaded his father to divide with her son Edmund the property settled wholly upon Francis by his uncle's will. The will was superseded, and the fresh settlement was confirmed by act of parliament (39 Eliz.) in 1597.
Francis was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, matriculating on 19 Sept. 1600. He had all the advantages that a fine face and figure, great personal courage, and a magnificent taste in dress could bestow. His father died in 1599. He was knighted at the Tower on 14 March 1603–4. As soon as he was of age he turned fiercely upon Dame Mary Verney, and appealed to the House of Commons to upset the family arrangement which they had previously sanctioned as unjustly depriving him of his rights during his minority. Famous counsel were employed on each side; Sir Francis lost his case, sold his estates (1607–8), escaped from his wife's sharp tongue, and went abroad, leaving no address. He reached Jerusalem in his wanderings, and is mentioned as attending service at the English embassy in Paris on his return. He was a great traveller, ‘fought several duellos,’ and squandered his large fortune. At this time Captain Philip Giffard, a connection of the Verneys, commanded two hundred Englishmen, mostly gentlemen volunteers, in the service of Muley Sidan, who claimed to be emperor of Morocco. Sidan's father, Muley Hamet, had received from Queen Elizabeth ‘extraordinary favours of good value;’ therefore it was not impossible for Englishmen to help Sidan against other aspirants to the throne. But after his defeat in 1607 some of these wild spirits took up a less honourable form of warfare. Philip Giffard was captain of the Fortune, in what was practically a pirate fleet, and Sir Francis Verney is mentioned among his associates, ‘making havoc of his own countrymen, and carrying into Algiers prizes belonging to the merchants of Poole and Plymouth’ (Gardiner).
There is a tradition that he ‘turned Turk,’ and, being taken prisoner by Sicilians, served them as a galley-slave for two years. William Lithgow [q. v.] found ‘the some time great English gallant Sir Francis Verney’ in ‘extremest calamity and sickness’ in the hospital of St. Mary of Pity at Messina in 1615, where he died on 6 Sept. An English merchant, John Watchin, obtained a formal certificate of his death, which he forwarded with his effects to Claydon, where they are still preserved. The rich stuffs of which his clothes are made, his finely enamelled ring, and his staff inlaid with crosses belie the story told by Lithgow that he became a beggar and a renegado.
A portrait (full length in oils), in the style of the Spanish school, is at Claydon House.
[Verney Papers, ed. Bruce (Camd. Soc.), 1853; Verney Memoirs, vol. i.; Gardiner's Hist. of Engl. iii. 65, 67; manuscripts at Claydon House.]