VERNON, James (1646-1727), of Frith Street, Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701

Family and Education

bap. 1 Apr. 1646, 2nd s. of Francis Vernon (d.1647) of Covent Garden, Westminster by Anne, da. of George Smithies, goldsmith of London, wid. of William Welby of Gedney, Lincs. educ. Charterhouse; Christ Church, Oxf. 1662, BA 1666, MA 1669. m. lic. 6 Apr. 1675, Mary (d. 12 Oct. 1715), da. of Sir John Buck, 1st Bt., of Hamby Grange, Lincs., 2s. 2da. suc. bro. 1677.1

Offices Held

Sec. to the Duke of Monmouth 1673-9, to the Prince of Orange Dec. 1688-Feb. 1689; dep. sec. at war 1678-9; gazetteer by Oct.-Dec. 1688; under-sec. of state 1689-190, 1693-7; sec. of embassy to William Harbord 1691-2; sec. of state 1697-1702; PC 5 Dec. 1697-d.; teller of the receipt, Exchequer 1702-10; commr. for privy seal 1716.2

J.p. Westminster 1689-d., Mdx. by 1701-?d., commr. for assessment, Westminster 1689-90.3


Vernon’s father, in the course of a varied but apparently successful career, acquired the rank of captain, probably at sea. He was a naval victualler in 1628 and secretary to Lord Hamilton during his campaign in (Germany. On 1 Sept. 1642 he was appointed deputy to Sir Gilbert Gerard as parliamentary treasurer at war, and held office at least until 1645. Vernon’s brother inherited an independent income, but acted as secretary to Ralph Montagu* at Paris, until he retired to satisfy a taste for more extensive travelling; but before doing so he procured for Vernon a recommendation to Montagu’s successor, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, to whose friendship, according to his son, he ‘owed the rise of all his good fortune in life’. But it was Joseph Williamson who sent Vernon on a mission to the Continent in 1672. On his return he was appointed private secretary to the young Duke of Monmouth, for whom a household had just been formed, and granted a pension of £300, in addition to which his brother’s death left him master of sufficient private means to patronize Kneller on his arrival in England, and to introduce him to court circles. When the King appointed Monmouth captain-general, Vernon is said to have razed from the commission the adjective in the phrase ‘natural son’. As field deputy to the secretary at war he must be credited with the logistical success of the expedition to Flanders in 1678. He owed his seat in the first Exclusion Parliament to his employer’s interest as chancellor of Cambridge University. Shaftesbury marked him ‘base’, no doubt because of his court connexions. He was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges, spoke twice in the debate on disbandment on 29 Mar. 1679 to deny that the army had taken free quarter or transgressed the Petition of Right, and voted for the exclusion bill.4

Vernon accompanied Monmouth on his campaign against the Scottish Covenanters, but was not re-elected. His employer had renounced his interest at Cambridge, and he was twice unsuccessful at Penryn. His pension was paid up to midsummer 1680, but he continued in the same service till Monmouth went into exile, though by July 1681 he was expressing the wish that the Duke ‘would leave his party and return to the King’. A warrant was issued for his arrest during the rebellion in 1685; but in 1688 he became a Whig collaborator and was employed in the production of the London Gazette. On 27 Dec. he entered the service of William of Orange, who at first distrusted him, but soon formed a better opinion of him. He became undersecretary of state to Lord Shrewsbury, and advanced £1,500 to the new regime. At Sunderland’s suggestion he was made secretary of state in 1697. He remained a Whig, losing office at the accession of Anne and his sinecure at the Exchequer on the formation of the Tory ministry in 1710. He died on 31 Jan. 1727 and was buried with his wife at Watford. Both his sons sat in Parliament; the elder was also a government official, while the younger, the well-known admiral, sat for Penryn from 1722 to 1734 and later for other constituiencies.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Survey of London, xxiii. 152; Westminster City Lib., St. Martin in the Fields par. reg.; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1386; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 4), iv. 174; PCC 206 Fines, 53 Farrant.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1673, pp. 465-6; 1689-90, p. 28; Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 329; ix. 1001, 1366, 1910; x. 335; xiv. 67; xvii. 47; xxiv. 461; LS13/231/8.
  • 3. Mdx. RO, WJP/CP3.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 128; 1644-5, p. 229; 1679-80, pp. 55, 181, 197; 1685, p. 231; PCC 206 Fines, 56 Hale; HMC Coke, i. 344-5; HMC Hamilton, 185; LJ, v. 334; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 294; HMC Buccleuch, i. 425; Kenyon, Sunderland, 13, 180, 293-4; J. Beresford, Godfather of Downing Street, 243; Add. 40794, f. 1; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 75, 82; J. Childs, Army of Charles II, 188, 195; M. Rex, Univ. Rep. 261-6; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 497; Grey, vii. 64, 65.
  • 5. HMC Johnstone, 63; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 765; ix. 1976; EHR, xl. 256; HMC Le Fleming, 204; Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 251, 266.