The Story of Harry Vane
About this time there came to Massachusetts a handsome young adventurer named Sir Harry Vane. His face “was comely and fair,” and his thick brown hair curly and long, so that he looked more like a Cavalier than a Puritan. He was in fact the eldest son of a Cavalier, one of the King’s chosen councilors. But in spite of his birth and upbringing, in spite even of his looks, Harry Vane was a Puritan. And he gave up all the splendour of life at court, he left father and mother and fortune, and came to New England for conscience’ sake.
“Sir Henry Vane hath as good as lost his eldest son who is gone to New England for conscience’ sake,” wrote a friend. “He likes not the discipline of the Church of England. None of our ministers would give him the Sacrament standing: no persuasions of our Bishops nor authority of his parents could prevail with him. Let him go.”
As soon as Harry Vane arrived in Massachusetts he began to take an interest in the affairs of the colony. And perhaps because of his great name as much as his fair face, grey-haired men who had far more experience listened to, his youthful advice and bowed to his judgment. And before six months were passed he, although a mere lad of twenty-three, was chosen as Governor. A new Governor, you remember, was chosen every year.
At home Harry Vane had been accustomed to the pomp and splendour of courts and now he began to keep far greater state as Governor than any one had done before him. Because he was son and heir to a Privy Councilor in England the ships in the harbour fired a salute when he was elected, and when he went to church or court of justice a bodyguard of four soldiers marched before him wearing steel corslet and cap, and carrying halberds. He made, too, a sort of royal progress through his little domain, visiting all the settlements.
But although begun with such pomp Vane’s year of office was by no means a peaceful one. He was young and inexperienced, and he was not strong enough to deal with questions which even the oldest among the settlers found hard to settle. Yet with boyish presumption he set himself to the task. And although he failed, he left his mark on the life of the colony. His was one more voice raised in the cause of freedom. His was one more hand pointing the way to toleration. But he was too tempestuous, too careless of tact, too eager to hurry to the good end. So instead of keeping the colony with him he created dissension. People took sides, some eagerly supporting the young Governor, but a far larger party as eagerly opposing him.
So after nine months of office Harry Vane saw that where he had meant to create fair order his hand created only disorder. And utterly disheartened he begged the Council to relieve him of the governorship and allow him to go home to England.
But when one of his friends stood up and spoke in moving terms of the great loss he would be, Harry Vane burst into tears and declared he would stay, only he could not bear all the squabbling that had been going on, nor to hear it constantly said that he was the cause of it.
Then, when the Council declared that if that was the only reason he had for going they could not give him leave, he repented of what he had said, and declared he must go for reasons of private business, and that anything else he had said was only said in temper. Whereupon the court consented in silence to his going.
All this was not very dignified for the Governor of a state, but hardly surprising from a passionate youth who had undertaken a task too difficult for him, and felt himself a failure. However Vane did not go. He stayed on to the end of his time, and even sought to be re-elected.
But feeling against him was by this time far too keen. He was rejected as Governor, and not even chosen as one of the Council. This hurt him deeply, he sulked in a somewhat undignified manner, and at length in August sailed home, never to return.
He had flashed like a brilliant meteor across the dull life of the colony. He made strife at the time, but afterwards there was no bitterness. When the colonists were in difficulties they were ever ready to ask help from Harry Vane, and he as readily gave it. Even his enemies had to acknowledge his uprightness and generosity. “At all times,” wrote his great-hearted adversary, Winthrop, “he showed himself a true friend to New England, and a man of noble and generous mind.”
He took a great part in the troublous times which now came upon England, and more than twenty years later he died bravely on the scaffold for the cause to which he had given his life.