Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > The Verney Letters
  The Fairfax Correspondence Correspondence of the Family of Hatton  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VIII. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 9. The Verney Letters.

The Letters and Papers of the Verney Family down to the end of the year 1639 were first printed in 1833. They are documents of a family history which goes back to the reign of king John, covers the wars of the Roses and the Tudor reigns, and relates the story of the journey into Spain of Charles prince of Wales, on whom Edward Verney attended. But the collection ends with the Scottish expedition of king Charles, when his standard-bearer, Sir Edmund Verney, was again in his train, in 1639. Here, the tale was taken up by pious hands and carried on through three series of Memoirs of the Verney Family during the civil war, during the commonwealth and from the restoration to the year 1696. The story, like the stately and hospitable English house which forms its centre, is full of portraits; but, in their book, the tact of the editresses has allowed these to be mainly self-painted. The Verneys, before and during the seventeenth century, were, in the words of the elder lady Verney,
an ordinary gentleman’s family of the higher class, mixing a good deal in the politics of their times, with considerable country and local influence; Members of Parliament, sheriffs, magistrates, soldiers—never place-men—marrying in their own degree, with no splendid talents or positions to boast of, no crimes, either noble or ignoble, to make them notorious, and, for that very reason, good average specimens of hundreds of men or women of their age.
They were, at the same time, a family that cherished, in prosperity and in adversity alike, the principles of conduct in both public and private life to the observation of which the greatness and the freedom of England are deeply indebted; and, in their case, the principles in question were practised notless constantly by the women than by the men. Sir Edmund Verney, ultimus Angliae Bannerettus, who, with many misgivings as to the policy of Charles I, had loyally adhered to his cause, fell at Edgehill, his right hand, with the royal standard in its grasp, being severed from his arm; the responsibilities of the headship of the family descended to his son Ralph and remained with him for nearly half a century. While Sir Edmund was described as “one of the strictness of a Puritan, of the charity of a papist, of the civility of an Englishman,” Sir Ralph is an admirable example of the best class of country gentleman of his or any day, gentle and courteous, the mainstay of his brothers and sisters and kinsmen and kinswomen of every degree, a thorough man of business, sober in his religious views, and, in his political, loyal to his convictions, but with a self-reliant loyalty unintelligible either to courts or to mobs. Though he had taken the side of the parliament during the civil war, he went into exile rather than accept the covenant, and remained there for several years—even after the sequestration of his estates had been removed, thanks to the self-sacrificing exertions of his wife Mary, the heroine par excellence of the Verney records—“Mischief,” as Sir Ralph fondly called her and, in person, another Henrietta Maria,  23  though not in the benefits which her services brought to her husband. After its chief had quitted house and country, the remainder of the family seemed to fall to pieces—the brave Sir Edmund Verney the younger, slain at Drogheda; Tom, the black sheep of the family, a most “unfortunate traveller” by land and sea, and the rest of them. But Sir Ralph survived his beloved wife for nearly half a century, and, in the days of Charles II and James II, again sat in parliament, and was again found on the side of civil and religious liberty. The history of the times, public as well as private, is spread out before us in this family correspondence, as it had been in no previous collection since the Paston letters. It may, perhaps, be added that the influence of literature or learning upon the Verney family is not perceptibly important, though some of them had been partly educated at Oxford. The education of ladies in the seventeenth century was, undoubtedly, inferior to that of some of their Elizabethan predecessors;  24  their penmanship is execrable, and their spelling purely phonetic.

Note 23. There is a prima facie resemblance between the portraits of the two ladies, both of whom were small in stature. [ back ]
Note 24. This does not specially apply to Anne and Mary Fitton, passages from whose letters have been published under the title Gossip from a Muniment Room (by lady Newdigate-Newdegate, 1897), and carry us back to the years 1574–1618. Mary played only too conspicuous a part at queen Elizabeth’s court. Anne may be regarded as one of the worthies of Warwickshire. Their letters contain more of the prose than of the poetry of women’s experience. [ back ]

  The Fairfax Correspondence Correspondence of the Family of Hatton  

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