Monday, 14 June 2010

Henry Vane The Younger

Continuing the occasional series of anniversaries of  slightly more obscure characters and events from the English Civil Wars:

Today is the anniversary of the execution in 1662 of Sir Henry Vane the Younger. To be honest it's not so much his life as his death that  I find most admirable:

He certainly doesn't really belong in the radical-pantheon of proto-democrats and socialists. In the Leveller disputes  he definitely took  the side of the men of property. He should be categorized as a patrician-republican in a similar vein to Arthur Hesilredge. Characterized by his belief in religious tolerance and the supremacy of parliament over the army, he belonged to  neither the Presbyterian  nor Army factions.  Consequently he followed a precariously independent path during the Republic and Protectorate.

With the restoration of the monarchy he was not initially targeted for retribution like so many leading parliamentarians. Essentially a 'moderate', Vane had actually refused to take part in the king's trial and  sentencing, but even so, the 'not-so merry monarch'  Charles II simply  deemed him 'too dangerous a man to be allowed to live'. 

At his execution he was noted for his calmness in delivering a long speech justifying his actions and those of the Republic. He also warned the axe-man to take care not to inflame the pain he was experiencing from a particularly large boil on his neck.

Vane is also thought to have probably had the distinction of coining the phrase 'The Good Old Cause' -  the rallying call for generations of radicals evoking the memory of the heady days of the English Republic.

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