Verney, Ralph (1613-1696) (DNB00)

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VERNEY, Sir RALPH (1613–1696), first baronet and politician, was the eldest son of Sir Edmund Verney (1590–1642) [q. v.] and Sir Edmund Verney (1616–1649) [q. v.] was his younger brother. A methodical and studious youth, Ralph was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and married, while still an undergraduate, Mary, daughter and heiress of John Blacknall of Abingdon. His public life began young; he represented Aylesbury in both the Short and the Long parliaments of 1640. Verney was knighted on 8 March 1640–1. His ‘Notes of Proceedings in the Long Parliament’ were edited by Mr. Bruce for the Camden Society (1845). He was present when the king entered the house to arrest the five members; sat on Strafford's trial, and kept ‘very careful notes of the theological revelations and profound arguments’ heard in the committee which considered ‘the petition and remonstrance’ (Carlyle, Cromwell, i. 150). He was strongly opposed to Laud, and joined with his father in bringing over Archbishop Ussher to preach in London, collecting subscriptions among his friends for his support. He took as careful notes of Ussher's sermons as he did of the debates. Not being fettered, as his father was, by the close personal ties that bound him to the king, Sir Ralph took the parlia- ment side in the great struggle. ‘Peace and our liberties are the only things we aim at,’ he wrote; ‘till we have peace, we can enjoy no liberties, and without our liberties I shall not heartily desire peace.’ Sincerely attached to the church of England, he went into exile in 1643 rather than sign the covenant. His estates were sequestrated in 1646. His wife, after many weary journeys and much soliciting of parliament, got the sequestration taken off, ‘as Sir Ralph's delinquency consisted of mere absence from the house’ (Gardiner, Hist. of the Great Civil War, iii. 312); but when her painful exertions were crowned with success, she died, after rejoining her husband at Blois, in her thirty-fourth year. Sir Ralph mourned her with unalterable devotion for his remaining forty-six years of life. He travelled in France, Italy, and the Low Countries, and was everywhere a generous friend to the exiled English clergy, whom he found living in great poverty in Paris, Brussels, and The Hague. He ventured back to England in 1653.

Sir Ralph, with his instinctive caution, moderation, and love of fair play, was destined to be champion of struggling causes. A triumphant majority soon lost his sympathies; he returned to find his former associates in power, and he suffered severely at their hands. He was imprisoned by Cromwell in 1655 for a supposed share in the royalist plots which he abhorred, and was fined in 1656 by the court of major-generals at Aylesbury. He had abhorrence of military rule, but he refused to act against the Protector. After Richard Cromwell's fall he would not invite Monck to Claydon nor wait upon him during his progress to London, as most of his county neighbours were doing. He reconciled himself, however, to the Restoration when it was accomplished, attended Charles II's coronation, and accepted from him a baronetcy.

Sir Ralph avoided the court, and devoted himself to his county duties as a magistrate and to the improvement of his estate at Claydon. He was ready to stand up against the encroachments of the crown as stoutly as of old. He served for Buckingham in the parliament of 1680, ‘among the very few whigs who found their way there.’ On the accession of James II he was one of the most ardent supporters of the freeholders of Buckinghamshire against the savage attacks of Judge Jeffreys upon their electoral rights, and in the famous election of 1685 (Macaulay, Hist. of England, i. 479) he helped to save the county seat, and kept his own in the borough of Buckingham. He was put out of the magistracy by James II, and served in the Convention parliament which welcomed William and Mary.

Sir Ralph died in 1696, in his eighty-fourth year, ‘loved and honoured by all the country round.’ His voluminous correspondence, arranged and docketed by himself with minute care, is preserved at Claydon House. He outlived his eldest son Edmund and three other children, and was succeeded by his only surviving son, John, who became Viscount Fermanagh in the peerage of Ireland on 16 June 1703, and was father of Ralph Verney (created Earl Verney on 22 March 1742).

A portrait of Sir Ralph as a youth by Cornelius Janssen, in oils, and a three-quarter-length in oils by Sir Peter Lely are at Claydon House. A bust, taken at Rome in 1652, is in Middle Claydon church.

[Verney Memoirs, 4 vols. by F. P. and M. M. Verney, published in 1892–9; Verney Papers and Verney's Notes of the Long Parliament, ed. Bruce (Camden Soc.), 1845, 1853; Gardiner's Hist. of the Great Civil War; manuscripts at Claydon House.]

M. M. V.