Fiennes, William (DNB00)

FIENNES, WILLIAM, first Viscount Saye and Sele (1582–1662), son of Richard Fiennes, lord Saye and Sele, and Constance, daughter of Sir William Kingsmill, was born 28 May 1582, entered at New College as a fellow-commoner in 1596, was admitted a fellow in 1600, and succeeded his father in April 1613 (Doyle, Official Baronage, iii. 271; Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 546). Clarendon characterises Saye as ‘a man of a close and reserved nature, of a mean and narrow fortune, of great parts and of the highest ambition, but whose ambition would not be satisfied with offices and preferment without some condescensions and alterations in ecclesiastical matters’ (Rebellion, iii. 26). During the latter part of James I's reign Saye was one of the most prominent opponents of the court. In 1621 he was active against Bacon, and urged that he should be degraded from the peerage (Gardiner, Hist. of England, iv. 102). In 1622 he opposed the benevolence levied by the king, saying that he knew no law besides parliament to persuade men to give away their own goods (Court and Times of James I, ii. 312). For this offence he was imprisoned for six months in the Fleet, and confined for some time afterwards to his own house (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 487, ib. 1623–5, pp. 31, 168). When Buckingham returned from Spain and proposed to make himself popular by breaking the Spanish match, ‘he resolved to embrace the friendship of the Lord Saye, who was as solicitous to climb by that ladder’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 409). The promotion of Saye to the rank of viscount (6 July 1624) may be regarded as the fruit of this temporary friendship. It also helps to account for the extreme bitterness with which Saye prosecuted the attack on Cranfield, urging, for instance, that he should be fined 80,000l., the highest sum suggested during the discussion (Lords' Debates during 1624 and 1626, Camden Society, pp. 81–90). In the parliament of 1626 Saye was again in opposition; he defended the privileges of the peerage against the king in the cases of Bristol and Arundel, and intervened on behalf of Digges when Buckingham accused him of speaking treason (ib. pp. 127, 135, 139, 197). In the autumn of the same year he was among those who refused to pay the forced loan (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625–6, p. 485). In the parliament of 1628, during the discussions on the king's claim to commit to prison without showing cause, he proved himself an able debater and skilful tactician, suggesting before the division ‘that all of them that would so ignobly stand against the most legal and ancient liberty of the subject should, together with their name, subscribe their reason to the vote, to remain upon record unto posterity, which motion daunted them all with a lively sense of their ignominy’ (Court and Times of Charles I, i. 349). He employed with great success the right of peers to protest, the value of which as a weapon of parliamentary warfare he seems to have been the first to discover. In the debates on the Petition of Right he opposed the reservations and amendments by which the court party sought to nullify it (Gardiner, Hist. of England). During the eleven years' intermission of parliaments Saye devoted his energies to schemes of colonisation partly to better his fortunes, but mainly from religious and political motives. In 1630 he established, in conjunction with Lord Brooke [see Greville, Robert], John Pym, and other puritan notables, a company for the colonisation of Providence Island in the Caribbean Sea (Calendar of State Papers, Col. 1574–1660, pp. xxv, 123). In association again with Lord Brooke and ten others he obtained from Lord Warwick and the New England Company a patent for a large tract of land on the Connecticut River (19 March 1631–2). They appointed John Winthrop the younger to act as governor, established a fort at the mouth of the river, to which they gave the name of Sayebrook, and sent over a shipload of colonists (Doyle, English in America; the Puritan Colonies, i. 205, 211; Winthrop, Hist. of New England, ed. 1853, i. 115). In 1633 Saye and Brooke also purchased from some Bristol merchants a plantation at Cocheco or Dover, in what is now New Hampshire (Doyle, i. 277). They both contemplated settling in New England, but demanded as a preliminary the establishment of an hereditary aristocracy, consisting of themselves ‘and such other gentlemen of approved sincerity and worth as they, before their personal remove, shall take into their number.’ From the ranks of this body alone the governors were hereafter to be chosen. These propositions and the answer of the Massachusetts government are printed in Hutchinson's ‘History of Massachusetts’ (ed. 1795, i. 430). Displeased by this reception of his offer, and discouraged by the difficulties of American colonisation, Saye concentrated his energies on the settlement of Providence Island. To obtain colonists he and his partners were obliged, says Winthrop, ‘to condescend to articles somewhat more suitable to our form of government, although they had formerly declared themselves against it and for a mere aristocracy’ (i. § 333). In his eagerness to attract emigrants to Providence Island Saye spread disparaging reports about New England, which brought upon him the reproofs of Winthrop. In his defence Saye not only complained that the climate of New England was cold and the soil barren, but attacked the whole organisation of the colony, both as to church and state. ‘No wise man would be so foolish as to live where every man is a master and masters must not correct their servants, where wise men propose and fools deliberate.’ Their liberty was not ‘the desirable liberty such as wise men would wish to enjoy and live under’ (Massachusetts Historical Collection, i. 297). With these views it is not surprising that Saye abandoned his enterprises in New England and surrendered his rights there. In 1641 the New Hampshire settlements were made over to Massachusetts, and three years later Seabrook (as Sayebrook is usually termed in American documents) was sold to Connecticut (Doyle, Puritan Colonies, i. 285, 381). On account of this connection with colonisation Saye was one of the commissioners for the government of the plantations appointed on 2 Nov. 1643 (Husband, Ordinances, 1646, p. 378).

After the king's death Saye took no part in public affairs. Tradition represents him as living in retirement in the island of Lundy, which had been held for the king during the war, but was recovered by its owner in 1647 (A brief Declaration of the Treaty concerning Lundy, 4to, 1647). He was there in 1651, as a curious letter to him from a royalist privateer who had captured one of his ships proves (Mercurius Politicus, 26 June to 3 July 1651, p. 888). About two years later Dorothy Osborne writes to Temple that she is told that Lord Saye ‘has writ a romance since his retirement in the Isle of Lundy’ (Letters of Dorothy Osborne, p. 162, 1st ed.) The references in his pamphlets prove that he lived at Broughton during the latter part of the protectorate. He published two tracts against the quakers entitled:

1. ‘Folly and Madness made Manifest: or some things written to show how contrary to the Word of God, &c., the Doctrines and Practices of the Quakers are,’ Oxford, 1659.
2. ‘The Quaker's Reply Manifested to be Railing;’ this is appended to the former.

A royalist agent describes Saye in 1658 as favourable to the king, but demanding the confirmation of the articles agreed on at the treaty of Newport (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 392). Saye took his seat in the House of Lords at the opening of the Convention parliament on 25 April 1660, was appointed a member of the privy council in June 1660, and, according to Collins, lord privy seal (Peerage, vii. 22). He was also one of the council of the colonies, appointed 1 Dec. 1660, and on 10 July 1661 wrote to the governor of Massachusetts expressing his affection for the colony, and saying that he had used his influence both with king and council to advance their interest. ‘I was loth to omit writing because it may be my last, my glass being almost run out, and I returning home’ (Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts, 3rd edit., i. 202). Saye died on 14 April 1662, and was buried at Broughton. He married, about 1602, Elizabeth, daughter of John Temple of Stow, Buckinghamshire, who died in 1648 (Doyle, iii. 272; Beesley, History of Banbury, p. 475).

Clarendon gives two long characters of Saye (Rebellion, iii. 26, vi. 409); one by Arthur Wilson is contained in his ‘History of James I,’ 1653, p. 161, and a panegyric in verse is printed in W. Mercer's ‘Angliæ Speculum,’ 1646. His usual nickname was ‘Old Subtlety,’ which well expresses his astuteness as a parliamentary tactician and his ability in council.

A portrait of Saye is preserved at Broughton, and numerous engravings are contained in the Sutherland ‘Clarendon’ in the Bodleian (Catalogue of the Sutherland Collection, 1837, ii. 90). Wood attributes either to Saye or to Nathaniel Fiennes a pamphlet published in 1654, entitled ‘The Scots' Design discovered,’ or ‘Vindiciæ Veritatis.’ It contains a statement of the case of the parliament against the Scots, written about 1647, and a vindication of the conduct of Nathaniel Fiennes during the war.

[Doyle's Official Baronage, iii. 271; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, vii. 22; Wood's Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss, iii. 546; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, iii. 69; Lloyd's State Worthies, 1670, p. 972; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion, ed. Macray.]

C. H. F.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.122
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

 Page Col. Line 434 i 3-4 Fiennes, William, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele: for the island of New Providence in the Caribbean Sea read Providence Island, in north latitude 12° 26f.e. 19f.e. ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ ﻿for New Providence read Providence Island