Vernon, James (DNB00)

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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 over Anne. This proposition rendered him so odious to the tories that, soon after the accession of Anne, he was dismissed and replaced by Nottingham [see Finch, Daniel, second Earl of Nottingham]. By way of pension he was provided (29 June 1702) with the sinecure office of teller in the exchequer, of which he was deprived on the decisive victory of the tories in 1710. He was one of the commissioners to whom, on 28 Aug. 1716, the privy seal was entrusted during Sunderland's absence on the continent, but held no other office during the reign of George I. His last days were spent in retirement at Watford, Hertfordshire, where he died on 31 Jan. 1726–7. His remains were interred in Watford parish church.

Vernon married, by license dated 6 April 1675, Mary (d. 12 Oct. 1715), daughter of Sir John Buck, bart. He had issue by her two sons, James and Edward Vernon (1684–1757) [q. v.] the admiral, and two daughters. The elder son, James Vernon (d. 1756), was appointed in September 1698 groom of the bedchamber to the Duke of Gloucester, and sworn clerk of the council in extraordinary in 1701. He was accredited in January 1701–2 envoy extraordinary to the court of Copenhagen, at which he resided until 1706. He represented Cricklade, Wiltshire, in the parliament of 1708–10, was appointed in the latter year commissioner of excise (20 Oct.), and on the accession of George I was sworn (26 June 1715) clerk of the council in ordinary. He was one of the associates of Dr. Thomas Bray [q. v.] in the administration of the parochial library trust (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 119). He retained both the excise office and the clerkship to the council until his death on 15 April 1756. His remains were interred in the parish church of Hundon, Suffolk, adjoining Great Thurlow, in which he had his seat. Francis Vernon, his younger son by his wife Arethusa, daughter of Charles Boyle, styled Lord Clifford, was created, 8 Feb. 1777, Earl Shipbrook of Newry in the peerage of Ireland.

Secretary Vernon was an able and upright servant of the crown, who under a less arbitrary régime might have developed into a statesman. To his knowledge of affairs and indefatigable industry his correspondence, printed and unprinted, bears abundant testimony (see ‘Lexington Papers,’ ed. Sutton, ‘Shrewsbury Correspondence,’ ed. Coxe, ‘Letters of William III and Louis XIV and their ministers,’ ed. Grimblot, ‘Letters illustrative of the Reign of William III,’ to Shrewsbury, collected rather than edited by G. P. R. James, 3 vols. 8vo; ‘Clarendon and Rochester Correspondence,’ ed. Singer; and ‘Memoirs from the Courts in Europe from 1697 to 1708,’ ed. Cole, with which cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. ii., Manchester's ‘Court and Society from Elizabeth to Anne,’ ii. 48, 49, and ‘Archives de la Bastille,’ ed. Ravaisson, x. 85–7, 99–130). Letters from Vernon to William Blathwayte (1693–1705) are in Egerton MS. 920 and Addit. MS. 34348; to John Ellis [q. v.] (1695–1700) in Addit. MSS. 28879–81, 28890, 28894, 28895, 28900; to Lord Hatton (1697–9) in Addit. MSS. 29566–7; and to other correspondents in Addit. MSS. 21551 f. 10, 22852, 28882, 28943, and Stowe MS. 222; besides letters to him from Sir Paul Methuen (1707) in Addit. MS. 21491, from Sir Joseph Williamson and Portland (1698) in Addit. MS. 29592, and from other correspondents in Egerton MS. 918, Addit. MSS. 15572 and 34348 (cf. Bodleian Library Rawl. MSS. A. 450, 451, C. 936. See also Hist. MSS. Comm. Reps. i–iv., vii–viii., xii–xiii., Appendices; letters of James Vernon the younger are preserved in Addit. MSS. 21551 and 28911–28913).

[Ormerod's Cheshire, ed. Helsby, iii. 317; Shaw's Staffordshire, i. 88; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Roberts's Life of Monmouth, i. 37; Dalrymple's Memoirs, i. 175; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1671 pp. 209, 609, and 1689–90; Sidney's Diary, ed. Blencowe; Chester's London Marr. Lic.; Letters to Sir Joseph Williamson (Camden Soc.); Burnet's Own Time; Prior's Own Time; Coxe's Memoirs of Marlborough, ed. Wade (1847), i. 59; Marlborough's Letters and Despatches, ed. Murray, i. 58, ii. 376, iv. 503; Kingston's True History of the several Designs and Conspiracies, &c., p. 47; Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs; Members of Parliament (Official lists); Parl. Hist. v. 1153; Addit. MSS. 17677 Q.Q. ff. 123, 149 et seq., 592 et seq., ib. R. R. ff. 184 et seq., 245 et seq., ib. S. S. ff. 211, 332, 407; Memoirs of Thomas, Earl of Ailesbury (Roxburghe Club); Wentworth Papers, ed. Cartwright; Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, 1714–16 p. 62, 1727 p. 9; Chamberlayne's Angliæ et Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia, 1694–1755; Gent. Mag. 1756, p. 206; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, i. 251, 266; Macky's Memoirs (Roxburghe Club); Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. iv. 131, 12th Rep. App. ii. 439, 13th Rep. App. ii. 59, App. vi. 27, 40, 44, 14th Rep. App. ix. 491, 15th Rep. App. ii. 71; Klopp's Fall des Hauses Stuart, Bde. vi–x.]

J. M. R.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.270
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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277 i 4-5 Vernon, James: for Staffordshire read Worcestershire