MARVELL, Andrew (1621-78), of Highgate Hill, Mdx. and Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, Westminster.
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Family and Education
b. 31 Mar. 1621, o. surv. s. of Andrew Marvell, lecturer at Holy Trinity, Hull, and master of Hull g.s. 1624-41, by 1st w. Anne, da. of one Pease of Hull. educ. Hull g.s.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1633-41, BA 1639; travelled abroad (Holland, France, Italy, Spain) c.1643-7. unm. suc. fa. 1641.1
Jt. Latin sec. 1657-?Feb. 1660; sec. of embassy to Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle 1663-5.
Commr. for assessment, Hull 1661-2, 1666-d.; elder bro. Trinity House 1674, junior warden 1678; commr. for recusants, Yorks. (E. Riding) 1675.2
Marvell’s grandfather, a Cambridgeshire yeoman, left his native village rather than pay the forced loan of 1627; his father, a ‘conformable’ clergyman was drowned in the Humber just before the Civil War, leaving him a ‘small patrimony’ and a more valuable connexion among the Hull bourgeoisie. On going down from Cambridge, Marvell probably took up private tuition, his pupils including the daughter of Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax, subsequently Duchess of Buckingham. His best poetry was written at this time. He entered the service of the Protectorate in 1657, defeating the republican Sir Henry Vane at Hull at the general election of 1659, and retaining the seat till his death.3
Marvell was a moderately active Member of the Convention, which he was named to twelve committees. He was marked as a friend by Lord Wharton, and acted with the Opposition throughout. He was appointed to consider the petition of the intruded dons at Oxford on 25 June and the publication of Anglican propaganda. In the grand committee on religion he opposed separating the discussion of doctrine and discipline. With the university Members he was ordered on 23 July to prepare a Latin reply from the House to a letter from the Elector Palatine. In the second session he was named to the committees for the militia and marriage bills, and presented two reports from the committee for the endowment of vicarages out of impropriate rectories. He was teller for the unsuccessful motion in favour of a bill to give effect to the Worcester House declaration for modified episcopacy. On 17 Dec. he complained of the fees exacted from Milton by the serjeant-at-arms, but was silenced by Heneage Finch with a veiled but intelligible allusion to his own record during the Interregnum.4
Marvell was again moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament. He was appointed to 120 committees, acted as teller in eight divisions, and made 14 speeches. Wharton again listed him as a friend. His wages were paid regularly by the corporation, to whom he as regularly dispatched bulletins of singularly colourless parliamentary news. He took no part in important legislation during Clarendon’s administration, but on 29 June 1661 he brought in a bill to make Hull a separate parish, reserving the advowson for the corporation. On 17 Feb. 1662 he was teller for a proviso to the poor bill on behalf of garrison towns, which was lost. In the following month he came to blows in the House with Thomas Clifford; the Speaker found that Marvell had provoked Clifford into striking him, and extorted a reluctant apology. Shortly afterwards Marvell undertook a mysterious mission to Holland; it is possible that Sir George Downing may have hoped to use him to trepan some of the English exiles there. His absence was sufficiently prolonged for the governor of Hull to suggest that his seat should be declared vacant; he returned to Westminster on 2 Apr. 1663, only to be engaged three months later by Lord Carlisle, Downing’s brother-in-law, on a diplomatic mission to the northern powers. In his absence he was noted as a court dependant. He attended the Oxford session, and the excise debate in 1666 gave him material for the mock-heroic description of the House in Last Instructions to a Painter. For the rest of his life he poured out a flood of brilliant and forceful propaganda against the Church and those politicians most closely associated with it. Although Clarendon was one of his earliest victims he opposed the impeachment, on the grounds that ‘the raising and destroying of favourites and creatures is the sport of kings, not to be meddled with by us’. He was appointed to the committee to inquire into the miscarriages of the war and the sale of Dunkirk. On 29 Oct. 1667, in a remarkably unfortunate speech, he again spoke against a sudden impeachment, ‘Lord Clarendon not being likely to ride away post’. Two days later he defended Peter Pett, perhaps in the ironic vein he used so successfully in Last Instructions. When Edward Seymour charged the fallen chancellor with describing the King as unfit for government, Marvell’s demand for the name of his informant threw the anti-Clarendonians into confusion. On 25 Nov. he was appointed to the committee to consider the case of the French merchants. ‘Somewhat transportedly’ on 15 Feb. 1668 he declared that Secretary Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) enjoyed a place ill-gotten with £10,000 and a barony. He refused to explain his words, saying that ‘the thing was so plain, it needed it not’. Two days later, however, he was the first Member to propose consideration of the speech from the throne, probably because it adumbrated toleration. On 22 Feb. he said that the navy board might be able to clear themselves from responsibility for the disasters of the war, but they could and must inform the House where the blame lay. He twice spoke against the renewal of the Conventicles Act, on the second occasion without support.5
Marvell’s attitude to the navy had been sufficiently helpful for Sir Thomas Osborne to note him as one of the Members who might be engaged for the Court by the Duke of York and his friends. His intimate correspondence, however, shows that he was increasingly disturbed by the trend of politics at this time. The conventicles bill he described as ‘the quintessence of arbitrary malice’. On 14 Apr. 1670 he wrote:
In this session the Lords sent down to us a proviso for the King, that would have restored him to all civil or ecclesiastical prerogatives which his ancestors had enjoyed at any time since the Conquest. There was never so compendious a piece of absolute universal tyranny ... We are all venal cowards, except some few.
The use of the first person pronoun in the last sentence was not accidental; a slightly later letter reveals that Marvell was hoping for ‘an honest fair employment in Ireland’, which never materialized. Apart from a brief intervention in favour of the dissenter Hayes in the debate of 21 Nov. 1670, he appears to have remained silent in the House from the end of the 1668 session till 1677. He continued, nevertheless, to watch his constituents’ interests, serving on two committees in 1670 which had before them bills intended to revive the rival port of Boston. On 22 Mar. 1671, presumably for tactical reasons, he acted as teller against a proviso to the conventicles bill reducing the penalties to which offenders were liable. He took little part in the sessions of 1673, though he defended the Declaration of Indulgence in a pamphlet. It is probable that he was recruited to du Moulin’s organization towards the end of the third Dutch war, and heavily disguised under the name of ‘Mr George’ paid a flying visit to William of Orange shortly before 3 Feb. 1674, when, for the only time in his parliamentary career, he was appointed to draw up reasons for a conference with the Lords about an address for peace.6
On 22 Apr. 1675 Marvell acted as teller for the bill disqualifying officials from sitting in the House. His is the first name of the Members to whom the bill for the suppression of hawkers was committed. In the autumn session he served on the committee for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament. His attitude towards the administration of Lord Danby (as Osborne had now become) was coloured by the misfortunes of the London banking house controlled by two of his cousins, in which, it has been suggested, he may have invested his modest savings. The principal partners, Richard Thompson (a brother of his friend Edward Thompson) and Edward Nelthorpe, were active members of the common council of London and closely associated with Sir Thomas Player. A mixture of political and commercial motives induced their attempt to break the exuberantly loyalist goldsmith, Sir Robert Viner, whose credit had been shaken by the Stop of the Exchequer. Marvell joined in the attack with gusto, both in verse and prose, so far as to forget his usual caution in his letters to the Hull corporation, in which he dwelt on Viner’s attempt to marry his step-daughter to Danby’s son (Peregrine Osborne) regardless of the trifling difficulty that she had another husband still living. But Thompson and Nelthorpe had greatly over-estimated their strength; by the end of the year they were in serious difficulties, and on 11 Mar. 1676 they went bankrupt. Unable to compound with their creditors, they were forced to go into hiding, and Marvell took lodgings for them in Great Russell Street.7
In 1677 Marvell, perhaps mindful of his early poem, served on the committee to consider a petition against the Bermudas Company. On 27 Mar. the Lords sent down a bill providing for the education of children of the royal family in the Protestant religion. The country party sat silent till Marvell, stung by the taunts from the government benches, rose to oppose it in a rambling speech:
To whom even God shall dispose the kingdom, tis entire to the King ... Whatever prince God gives us, we must trust him ... Whether this bill will prevent Popery or not, this will secure the promotion of the bishops; ’twill make them certain. He is not used to speak here, and therefore speaks with abruptness.
Marvell was named to the committee, but it is clear that his speech was ill-received. In committee next day the Speaker (Edward Seymour) ‘cast a severe reflection’ on its mocking comparison of the bishops with the Royal College of Physicians; and on 29 Mar., this time in the chair, he reported to the House a playful bout of fisticuffs between Marvell and his friend Sir Philip Harcourt. Marvell, obviously under stress, instead of apologizing to the House, demanded that Seymour keep himself in order. ‘A strange confidence, if not an impudence’, commented Samuel Sandys I, and eventually Marvell offered to ‘sacrifice himself to the censure of the House ... and so the thing passed over’. It was Marvell’s oratorical swan-song, but despite his vagaries, he was marked ‘thrice worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list.8
On 12 Feb. 1678 a bill was introduced for the better discovery of Thompson’s and Nelthorpe’s estates, probably in their own interests, and Marvell was named to the committee. His last important business in the House was to help draw up a summary of England’s foreign commitments. He contracted an ague in the course of a hurried visit to his constituency during the recess, and was ‘killed, strictly in accordance with the rules of medicine, by an old-fashioned physician’. He died in Thompson’s former lodgings in Great Russell Street on 16 Aug., and was buried at St. Giles in the Fields. ‘Some suspect that he was poisoned by the Jesuits,’ wrote Aubrey, ‘but I cannot be positive.’9
English poetry lost a distinguished practitioner when Marvell turned from the distant contemplation of political strife, which had provided one source of his inspiration, to an active role in Parliament. The talent was still there, as occasional passages in the satires prove, but the balanced judgment and the distinctive voice found no scope. It cannot be said that literature’s loss was Parliament’s gain. Marvell was ineffective as a Member, partly because he was unable to control his temper, but chiefly because ‘he had no general acquaintance’ and was usually out of step with the real leaders of the country party. To oppose the royal prerogative in 1670, when it was about to be used to the benefit of the dissenters, and to uphold it in 1677, when even the dissenters feared its use to the benefit of the Roman Catholics, was worse than inconsistent. Marvell’s best services to his party and his cause were rendered out of Parliament, and he was of course unlucky in dying before the Popish Plot, which would have afforded such splendid material for his pen.10
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris
This biography is based on P. Legouis, Andrew Marvell (1968).
- 1. N. and Q. cciv. 204.
- 2. Trinity House ed. Chaplin, 56.
- 3. N. and Q. cciii. 399-400.
- 4. Bowman diary, f. 81v; CJ, viii. 98, 184; Old Parl. Hist. xxiii. 54.
- 5. Legouis, 125, 139; EHR, lxvi. 39-41; Milward, 108, 197, 225, 238, 328; Grey, i. 14, 36, 70-71, 294; vi. 257.
- 6. Marvell ed. Margoliouth, ii. 301, 303, 309; Lego