Sir Henry Vane, an English statesman, governor of the colony of Massachusetts, born in 1612, executed on Tower Hill, London, June 14, 1662. He was the son of Sir Henry Vane the elder, who filled some of the highest state offices during the reigns of James I. and Charles I. He was educated at Westminster school, and was entered at Magdalen college, Oxford; but before matricufation he became alienated from the church of England, and refused to take the oath of allegiance. He visited Holland, France, and Geneva, and then resolved to join the Puritans in Massachusetts. He reached Boston in 1635, and in 1636 was elected governor; but he gave offence by taking part in a bitter religious controversy. He avowed friendship for the principles of civil and religious liberty, and objected to the attacks on Mrs. Hutchinson, many of whose opinions he adopted. An opposition under the lead of Winthrop was organized against him, and in the annual election in 1637 he was defeated; but he was immediately chosen a representative to the general court. The majority of that body declared the election of Vane and his associates void, and they were returned a second time on the next day.
In order to put down the Hutchinsonian heresy, a law was passed by the general court that no strangers should be received within the jurisdiction of the colony except by permission of a magistrate. This created such public discontent that Governor Winthrop felt obliged to put forward a "Defence," to which Vane replied in a pamphlet. In August, 1637, he returned to England. In 1640 he was elected a member of parliament from Kingston-upon-Hull, and received in conjunction with Sir William Russell the office of treasurer of the navy. In June of this year he was also knighted. After the dissolution of parliament he was reelected from the same place to the long parliament. He was a zealous opponent of the royalist party, and after war had broken out between the king and parliament he gave up to the latter the fees of his office of treasurer of the navy, amounting to £30,000 a year. In June, 1643, he was sent to Scotland as one of the commissioners to negotiate an alliance, and by his persuasion the "Solemn League and Covenant" was adopted. During the progress of the war Vane was placed on all commissions empowered to treat with the king, and was also one of the parliament's committee which occasionally accompanied the army.
When in 1648 the house of commons discussed the terms of settlement offered by the king, he led the minority which favored their rejection. Disapproving of the "purge" of the parliament which Cromwell effected, he retired to private life. In February, 1649, he became a member of the council of state, and in this position had almost the exclusive direction of the navy and the conduct of foreign wars. He was also at the head of a committee which reported a bill for parliamentary reform, and it was at this period that Milton wrote in his praise one of the finest of his sonnets. The forcible dissolution of the long parliament by Cromwell in April, 1653, brought him into open conflict with that leader. He retired to his estate at Raby castle, and employed himself in writing a theological work, "The Retired Man's Meditations, or the Mysterie and Power of Godliness" (4to, 1655). He also published a political work in the form of a letter to one of the protector's council, and on the occasion of the fast declared by Cromwell in March, 1656, wrote a tract entitled "A Healing Question propounded and resolved." This was adjudged seditious, and for it and his opposition to the course of the protector he was arrested, but was speedily released.
While in prison he published a political letter to Harrington, and a work entitled " Of the Love of God, and Union with God." Subsequently efforts were made to induce him to support the protector, but he remained an inflexible republican. After the death of Cromwell he was elected to the parliament of 1659, and was there the leader of the republican party. When the long parliament was again assembled Vane was appointed one of the committee of safety, and subsequently president of the council of state. On the restoration of the Stuarts he was arrested and sent to the tower, and was one of the 20 excepted out of the act of general pardon and oblivion. After an insurrection of the fifth monarchy men he was removed from one prison to another, and at last confined in a castle on one of the Scilly isles, where he remained for two years, spending his time in writing, chiefly on theology. In August, 1660, the lords and commons unitedly petitioned that " if he were attainted, yet execution as to his life might be remitted." But in July, 1661, the commons ordered proceedings against him according to law. He was consequently removed to the tower of London, and on June 2, 1662, arraigned before the court of king's bench.
He was brought in guilty, but according to the king's promise the sentence was. to be remitted. The courageous bearing of the prisoner alarmed Charles, and after the trial he wrote a letter to the chancellor, saying that if Vane had given new occasion to be hanged, he was certainly too dangerous a man to let live, if he could be honestly put out of the way. Vane suffered the following week; but instead of being hanged, he was beheaded. His bearing was dignified and manly; and in order to prevent him from exciting sympathy, trumpeters were employed to drown his dying speech. It was through his influence that the charter for the Rhode Island colony was procured, and Roger Williams declared that his name ought ever to be held in honored remembrance by her people. Vane's only son was knighted by Charles II. - His life has been written by C. W. Upham, in Sparks's " American Biography".