Verney, Edmund (1590-1642) (DNB00)

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VERNEY, Sir EDMUND (1590–1642), knight-marshal and standard-bearer to Charles I, born in 1590, was the second son of Sir Edmund Verney, knt., of Penley, Hertfordshire, and Claydon, Buckinghamshire (d. 1599), by his third wife, Mary Blakeney, widow, first, of Geoffrey Turville; secondly, of William St. Barbe. His father was a prominent country gentleman of Elizabeth's time, strongly protestant and patriotic, high sheriff for Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and one of the five captains commanding the Hertfordshire musters levied to oppose the Great Armada. His elder son, Sir Francis Verney [q. v.], dissipated his portion of the estates.

The second Edmund, who inherited Claydon, had ‘his mind accomplished in all active, useful, and manly knowledge.’ He matriculated from St. Alban Hall, Oxford, on 9 March 1603–4, but left the university without a degree (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) ‘When education had made him a compleat man, he bethought himself that he was born to labour. After some time spent with my Lord Goring to see the Low Country wars, and some sallies out with my Lord Herbert and Sir Henry Wotton to see the Courts of France and Italy, he returned so well accomplished as to be recommended to the service of Prince Henry’ (Lloyd, Memorials). Sir Thomas Chaloner, his neighbour at Steeple Claydon, was the prince's governor, and his uncle, Francis Verney, his falconer. Edmund Verney was knighted on 7 Jan. 1610–11, and was sent to Madrid, where Lord Digby was ambassador. Prince Henry's death was one of the great sorrows of his life; he shared his master's protestant principles and his love for simplicity of worship. In 1613 he was appointed to the household of Prince Charles, and in 1622 the Duke of Buckingham made him lieutenant of Whaddon Chase, and he began to take his share in the serious business of the county. In 1623 Sir Edmund was among the gentlemen sent by King James to follow Prince Charles and Buckingham to Spain, and he was one of the few who reached Madrid. There he gave offence to the Spaniards by defending the deathbed of Washington, the prince's page, against the proselytising zeal of a Roman catholic priest; ‘they fell from words to blows;’ the king of Spain demanded the dismissal of all Charles's protestant attendants, but Gondomar interfered. Sir Edmund remained with the prince till they all left Madrid, when he parted with a fine family jewel, ‘a cross of ten thick table-diamonds,’ to his master, to furnish him with another farewell present, in addition to the great store he had brought from England. He was returned as member for Buckingham in February 1624, for Aylesbury in 1628, for Chipping Wycombe in 1640, for the Short and the Long parliaments.

Charles I gave Sir Edmund a pension of 200l., and appointed him in 1626 for life knight-marshal of the king's palace, which gave him a general supervision of the palace; he was to take cognisance of all causes in the king's household and within twelve miles of the court, to preserve order and prevent the access of improper persons to court; he had a deputy and some half-dozen officers or vergers (Bruce, Verney Papers, p. 123). He kept up the Marshalsea prison, and repaid himself by the profits of his court and the fines imposed on prisoners. During the last years of his life he lost heavily on the Marshalsea and on all his public offices; and the money Charles borrowed from him was repaid with promises and a couple of fine Van Dycks, the king's portrait and Sir Edmund's. Sir Edmund's last loan to the king of 1,000l., which he borrowed from his wife's aunt, Elizabeth Isham, was secured to him on the aulnage (the duty paid to the crown on cloth goods), and his family were involved for years in endeavouring to recover this sum and the arrears of pension due to him for his younger children's fortunes. Other financial ventures turned out badly; he lost money in the Earl of Bedford's scheme for draining the fens, and he was forced to surrender a valuable patent for inspecting tobacco, as Lord Goring and some other courtiers started a fresh company to enrich themselves with this revenue; the patent for restraining the number of hackney coaches for hire in London, in which he had an interest, proved difficult of enforcement. He was the most sanguine of men in financial speculations, a generous friend and liberal landlord. He was ‘a reddy and compleat man for the pleasures of ladies,’ and his family was said by the king to be ‘the model he would propose to gentlemen.’ In parliament ‘his dislike of Laudian practices had led both him and his eldest son, Sir Ralph, to vote steadily as members of the House of Commons in opposition to Charles's wishes’ (Gardiner, Hist. Civil War, i. 4), and greatly against his personal interest, as his younger sons found when they wanted promotion in the army. Much as he disapproved of the king's arbitrary measures, his personal loyalty was unshaken; he accompanied him to the Scottish war in 1639, having made his will. When the army was disbanded a quarrel ensued between Lord Newcastle and Lord Holland; the former chose Sir Edmund as his second, but the duel was prevented.

When the civil war broke out, Sir Edmund and his eldest son, Ralph, found themselves on opposite sides. The royal standard was committed at Nottingham to Sir Edmund's keeping on 22 Aug. 1642; he said, as he accepted the charge, ‘that by the grace of God (his word always) they that would wrest that standard from his hand must first wrest his soul from his body.’ He entered the war with a heavy heart. ‘You,’ he said to Hyde, in explaining the motives by which he had been influenced, ‘have satisfaction in your conscience that you are in the right, that the king ought not to grant what is required of him. … But for my part I do not like the quarrel, and do heartily wish that the king would yield and consent to what they desire, so that my conscience is only concerned in honour and in gratitude to follow my master. I have eaten his bread and served him near thirty years, and will not do so base a thing as to forsake him; and choose rather to lose my life—which I am sure to do—to preserve and defend those things, which are against my conscience to preserve and defend: for I will deal freely with you—I have no reverence for bishops for whom this quarrel subsists’ (Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 4).

On the morning before Edgehill (23 Oct. 1642) Sir Edmund attended the king for the last time at breakfast in a solitary little inn overlooking the field. The struggle round the standard during the battle was furious ‘in the extream,’ according to Lloyd; ‘Sir Edmund adventured with it’ among the enemy in order that ‘the soldiers might be engaged to follow him. He was offered his life by a throng of his enemies, if he would deliver the standard; he answered that his life was his own, but the standard was his and their sovereign's, and he would not deliver it while he lived, and he hoped it would be rescued when he was dead, selling it and his life at the rate of sixteen gentlemen which fell that day by his sword;’ ‘he broke the point of his standard at push of pike before he fell,’ writes Sir Edward Sydenham in sending the news to Sir Ralph. The hand, faithful in death, was found still grasping the standard, but the body was never recovered.

A portrait in oils, painted in Spain, and another in oils by Van Dyck, are at Claydon House; a marble bust is on a monument in Middle Claydon church.

Verney married, in 1612, Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Denton of Hillesden, by whom he had six sons, of whom Sir Ralph (1613–1696) [q. v.] and Sir Edmund (1616–1649) [q. v.] are separately noticed, and six daughters. She died in 1641, and was buried at Claydon.

[Gardiner's Hist. of England and Hist. of the Great Civil War; Verney Memoirs by F. P. and M. M. Verney, vols. i. and ii.; Verney Papers, ed. Bruce (Camd. Soc.); Lloyd's Memorials; Clarendon's Hist. of the Great Rebellion and Clarendon's Life; manuscripts at Claydon House.]

M. M. V.