FERNE, Henry (1602-62)

FERNE (FEARNE), Henry (1602–62)

cons. 9 Feb. 1662 bp. of CHESTER

First sat 18 Feb. 1662; last sat 7 Mar. 1662

b. 1602, 8th and yst s. of Sir John Fern (d.1609), writer on heraldry and administrator, of Temple Belwood, Yorks. and Elizabeth, da. of John Needham of Wymondley, Herts. educ. Free Sch., Uppingham, Rutland; St Mary Hall, Oxf. 1618–20; Trinity, Camb. matric. 1620, BA 1623, fell. 1624, MA 1626, BD 1632, DD 1641; incorp. Oxf. 15 June 1643. d. 16 Mar. 1662; will 9 Aug. 1659, pr. 30 May 1663.1

Chap. to Charles I, 1643.

Chap. to Thomas Morton, bp. Durham c.1632, to lords commrs. at Uxbridge 1645; vic. Masham, Yorks. 1638–9; rect. Medbourne, Leics. 1639–46 (ejected); adn. Leicester 1641–61; dean, Ely 1661–2; prolocutor, lower house, Convocation 1661.

Master, Trinity, Camb. 1660–2; v.-chan. Camb. 1660–1.

When Henry Ferne, the son of an Elizabethan courtier, died suddenly in 1662 after a parliamentary career of only three weeks, the ‘loyal party’ mourned a man of whom they had expected great things.2 During the 1640s Ferne’s writings condemning armed resistance to the crown were among the most influential royalist polemics. His first work in support of the crown, The Resolving of Conscience, published in the summer of 1642, resulted in an order by the Commons for his arrest as a delinquent.3 He joined the king at Oxford and continued to articulate a royalist political theology, preaching at the Oxford Parliament in April 1644.4

Ferne was one of the clerical commissioners for the king at the Uxbridge negotiations in early 1645.5 In November 1648 he was one of the clergymen given leave to attend Charles I in the Isle of Wight, the publication of his sermon on that occasion later contributing to the burgeoning mythology of royal martyrdom.6 During the Interregnum Ferne apparently lived in Yorkshire, writing against the Roman Catholic Church and its attempts to label the Church of England as schismatical, and becoming exasperated with the failure of the hierarchy to provide effective leadership.7

The planning lists drawn up in exile by Edward Hyde, later earl of Clarendon, indicate that Ferne was being considered for the vacant bishopric of Bristol. Bristol however was a very poor see and went instead to Gilbert Ironside, a man (unlike Ferne) of independent means.8 Instead, despite some initial difficulties, he slotted back into academic life at Cambridge as master of Trinity College, and was made dean of Ely, an advancement on which Brian Walton, bishop of Chester, congratulated him, remarking that ‘it was not due to ‘want of merit, but your own modesty that you have not moved in a higher orb’.9 As vice-chancellor, he secured the election of Sir Richard Fanshawto the Cavalier Parliament, and was in contact with Sir Edward Nicholas on university matters (particularly the irritating practice of distributing honorary doctorates on the king’s recommendation).10 When Convocation assembled in May 1661 he was named as prolocutor of the lower house.11 As such he was also a keen observer of the debates at the Savoy conference, sending a detailed account in July to Sir Thomas Osborne, later earl of Danby, suggesting that the Presbyterians, particularly Richard Baxter, were obstructive and negotiating in bad faith.12

Elevated to Chester in February 1662 (with a dispensation to continue to hold the mastership in commendam for another year), Ferne attended the House of Lords for only 11 days before his death.13 His health had suffered permanent damage from the ‘constant fastings’ that were attributed by his contemporaries to his extreme piety. Emaciated, he was taken ill and died on 16 Mar. 1662 at the age of 59.14 He was buried on 25 Mar. in Westminster Abbey. Ferne had made his will three years previously. Plagued by doubts of his efficiency at Trinity College, he bequeathed £10 to its governors ‘by way of restitution’. His modest estate, of less than £200, was distributed among his extended family, though a legal dispute prevented the proving of his will until May 1663.15 In November 1664, Ferne’s executor, his stepbrother Thomas Nevill, was excused payment of the gifts customarily given to the king by a bishop of Chester.16


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/310; PROB 11/311.
  • 2 Kennett, Register and Chronicle, i. 644.
  • 3 CJ ii. 900.
  • 4 Ferne, A sermon preached at the publique fast (1644).
  • 5 Salmon, Lives, 379.
  • 6 CJ vi. 68; Ferne, A Sermon Preached before His Majesty at Newport (1649).
  • 7 Bosher, Restoration Settlement, 22-3, 24, 25, 38.
  • 8 Eg. 2542, ff. 266, 269.
  • 9 Bodl. Tanner 49, f. 51.
  • 10 HP Commons, 1660-90, i. 149; Eg. 2537, ff. 271, 185.
  • 11 Stoughton, Ecclesiastical History, i. 175.
  • 12 Add. 28053, f. 1; Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. 336.
  • 13 CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 242, 306.
  • 14 Salmon, Lives, 380.
  • 15 TNA, PROB 11/310; PROB 11/311.
  • 16 CSP Dom. 1664–5, p. 98.