Sir Henry Vane
d.14 Jun 1662 Tower Hill, Greater London, England
Facts and Events
Sir Henry Vane (baptised 26 March 1613 – 14 June 1662), son of Henry Vane the Elder (often referred to as Harry Vane to distinguish him from his father), was an English politician, statesman, and colonial governor. He was briefly present in North America, serving one term as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and supported the creation of Roger Williams' Rhode Island Colony and Harvard College. A proponent of religious tolerance, he returned to England in 1637 following the Antinomian controversy that led to the banning of Anne Hutchinson from Massachusetts.
He was a leading Parliamentarian during the English Civil War and worked closely with Oliver Cromwell. He played no part in the execution of King Charles I, and refused to take oaths that expressed approval of the act. Vane served on the Council of State that functioned as the government executive during the Interregnum, but split with Cromwell over issues of governance and removed himself from power when Cromwell dissolved Parliament in 1653. He returned to power during the short-lived Commonwealth period in 1659–1660, and was arrested under orders from King Charles II following his restoration to the throne. After long debate, Vane was exempted from the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, and was thus denied amnesty granted to most people for their roles in the Civil War and Interregnum.
Although he was formally granted clemency by Charles II, he was charged with high treason by Parliament in 1662. In a court proceeding in which he was denied counsel and the opportunity to properly prepare a defence, he was convicted by a partisan jury. Charles withdrew his earlier clemency, and Vane was beheaded on Tower Hill on 14 June 1662.
Vane was recognised by his political peers as a competent administrator and a wily and persuasive negotiator and politician. His politics was driven by a desire for religious tolerance in an era when governments were used to establish official churches and suppress dissenting views. Although his views were in a small minority, he was able to successfully build coalitions to advance his agenda. His actions were often ultimately divisive, and contributed to both the rise and downfall of the English Commonwealth. His books and pamphlets written on political and religious subjects are still analyzed today, and Vane is remembered in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as an early champion of religious freedom.