VERNON, James II (1677-1756), of Westminster, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 15 June 1677, 1st s. of James Vernon I*; bro. of Edward Vernon†. educ. Utrecht 1690, 1696–7, Rotterdam 1690–2. m. 1713, Arethusa (d. 1728), da. of Charles Boyle, Ld. Clifford of Lanesborough, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 1 da. suc. fa. 1727.
Serjt. of the chandlery 1691; clerk of PC, extraord. 1697–?1715, in ordinary 1715–d.; groom of bedchamber to Duke of Gloucester 1698–1700, to Prince of Denmark 1702–8; commr. privy seal 1701–2, 1716, excise 1710–26, 1728–d.; envoy extraordinary to Denmark 1702–6.1
Emulating his father’s career, Vernon found greatest advancement at court, rather than in Parliament, ‘where I was not conscious of my being furnished with talents which could make me useful to the public’. His progress was considerably eased by his father’s connexions, prominent among whom figured Lord Sunderland, godfather to the young James. He had barely reached his teens when his father obtained a place for him in the royal household as serjeant of the chandlery, but he was not admitted to office until two years later, having returned from study abroad. This post evidently did not tax his time, for he spent most of the 1690s overseas, making a tour of northern Europe in 1695 in the company of Sir Fulwar Skipwith, 2nd Bt.*, and attending Richard Hill, envoy extraordinary to Brussels, the following year. However, ‘being disgusted with my reception’ in Flanders, he returned to Utrecht to continue his studies. Still keen for him to embark upon a career in Whitehall, his father lobbied for a clerkship of the council in the summer of 1697, informing the Duke of Shrewsbury of young Vernon’s progress: ‘he has been of some time studying the civil law at Utrecht, and hath made as a good a proficiency in that and other parts of learning as perhaps anyone of 20 years of age, besides being master of French and Dutch, and not ignorant of Italian’. Largely through the intercession of Lord Portland, he did gain the post, and was reported to have joined the elder Vernon at the southern department later that year. Soon afterwards he opted to accompany Lord Portland’s embassy to Paris, and remained in the French capital the following summer to serve as an assistant to Matthew Prior*, another of his father’s contacts.2
At the general election of 1698 interest was made to procure Vernon a seat at Penryn, where the corporation had shown willingness to elect his father. The elder Vernon elected to sit for Westminster, thereby clearing the way for his son to fight the by-election at Penryn, but he was defeated by Alexander Pendarves. Although unsuccessful in the parliamentary arena, Vernon had continued to rise at court through the patronage of Lord Albemarle, who in September 1698 gained him appointment as a gentleman of the bedchamber to the Duke of Gloucester. In that capacity, he was given the melancholy duty of transmitting news of the Duke’s death to the King less than two years later. Such was his close attendance on the Duke that he contracted the same illness, and took several months to recover. This sickness had a profound influence on him, ‘giving a more serious turn to my way of thinking’, and prompting him to mix with ‘serious people’ such as the philanthropists Thomas Bray and Sir John Philipps, 4th Bt.* The influence of such company is clear from his active support of the SPG and the SPCK.3
At the general election of November 1701, both Vernon and his father contested St. Mawes, but were unable to overcome the entrenched interest of the Tredenhams. Vernon was then appointed as envoy extraordinary to Denmark, which ‘was thought of [my] having some relation to the Danish family, as a servant to the late Duke of Gloucester’. Soon after his departure for Denmark he received further recognition when chosen to be a groom of the bedchamber to Prince George, which he again attributed to his connexions with the Danish royal household. Although abroad for the next four years, he did make a brief visit home in 1704, when he paid his respects to the Prince, and was sworn a clerk of the Council, actions which his father thought ‘of use to him under our uncertainties’. At Copenhagen he helped to restore good relations between Denmark and Hanover, but by the summer of 1706 was most anxious to come home, fed up with his ‘tedious employment’, and with ‘domestic considerations’ uppermost in mind. En route back to England he visited the Hanoverian court, and later claimed that on his return he had declined an offer from Secretary Robert Harley* to serve as envoy to Hanover. He certainly had not ruled out another diplomatic posting, for later in the year he unsuccessfully sought an envoyship to Vienna. This disappointment reflected the ‘cool reception’ that had greeted him at court, which he ascribed to the influence of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). The death of Prince George in October 1708 brought an abrupt end to his service there, and he then faced the opposition of the Duchess of Marlborough over his compensation for loss of office. The Queen had agreed to continue the salaries of the Prince’s servants during her lifetime, but this would have made Vernon a pensioner, thereby debarring him from the seat which he had won at the recent general election. Unfortunately for Vernon, Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) shared the Duchess’s lack of compassion, observing that his clerkship of the council ‘had been thought a very good provision heretofore for one of his age’, and thus Vernon had to rest content with that employment and his place at Westminster.4
Vernon’s entry into Parliament came after standing on the Whig interest at Cricklade. The presence of the elder Vernon in the House makes it impossible to assess his activity therein, but he appears to have adhered to his father’s political principles, having been identified as a Whig by an analyst of the election returns. Furthermore, in early 1709 he supported the naturalization of the Palatines, and a year later voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, although subsequently airing his dismay that Whig leaders had caused such a furore over ‘a factious preacher much below their notice’. The Tory revival of 1710 did not undermine Vernon’s position, however, for in the wake of the ministerial revolution he was appointed an excise commissioner in recompense for his father’s dismissal as teller of the Exchequer. He later complained that Harley had denied him a place on the Board of Trade, but appeared content with a post of £800 a year. Although Vernon’s supporters at Cricklade canvassed in his name in July, he did not contest the poll in October, since by that time his new post had rendered him ineligible to sit in the House. By his own confession a reluctant MP, he chose to serve the Tory administration rather than embroil himself in politics. At the accession of George I his Whig pedigree was recognized, for he not only kept his commission but was also appointed a clerk in ordinary to the council, an office which he held for the rest of his life.5
Under Hanoverian rule Vernon gained prominence for charitable works rather than political activities. However, although generally content to serve the ministry of the day, he clashed in 1726 with Walpole (Robert II*) who suspected him of colluding with William Pulteney*. Vernon lost his excise post, but was reconciled to Walpole two years later, thanks to the intercession of the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish*). Thereafter he channelled his energies into religious projects, most notably as a sponsor of the foundation of Georgia and as trustee to Bray’s charity. Among his close friends was Lord Egmont (John Perceval†), who described Vernon as ‘a man of great honour and sense of religion, and employs all the time he can spare from his public offices . . . in promoting the cause of Christianity both at home and abroad’. Although his governmental duties kept him in the metropolis, by 1733 he had bought an estate in Great Thurlow, Suffolk, at a cost of some £15,000. He subsequently provided workhouses for several Suffolk parishes, and after his death on 15 or 17 Apr. 1756, was buried at Great Thurlow. Well before his death, his second son Francis† had emulated his success by becoming a clerk in extraordinary to the Privy Council, and later capped a successful career by elevation to the Irish peerage.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on Vernon's autobiographical memoir, Add. 40794, ff. 1-61.
- 1. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvi. 300; xxx. 513.
- 2. E. O. Keller, ‘Career of James Vernon’ (Manchester Univ. MA thesis, 1977), 41; Bodl. Carte 79, ff. 364, 430–1; Add. 40791, f. 24; 40771, f. 16; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/119, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 17 June 1697; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1466, Vernon to Portland, 16 July 1697; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 301, 320–1; HMC Bath, iii. 197, 217.
- 3. Bodl. Rawl. lett. 51, ff. 160–1; Add. 40772, ff. 49–50, 102, 112; 30000 D, f. 242; CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 357–8; Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. ed. McClure, 3, 118.
- 4. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 260–1, 369; Add. 40776, ff. 1, 15, 21, 85–86; 7068, f. 100; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1155.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 84; Dorset RO, Fox-Strangways mss, Richard Painter to Charles Fox*, 22 July 1710.
- 6. Add. 40776, ff. 75–82; HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 41; Gent. Mag. 1756, p. 206; London Mag. 1756, p. 196.