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Kent church honours 'Local lad' Sir Harry Vane

28 July 2016

Follower of conscience: Sir Harry Vane, portrait by Peter Lely

Follower of conscience: Sir Harry Vane, portrait by Peter Lely

MEMBERS of the congregation of a church in Kent are to gather on Sunday morning for a service to honour a “local lad”, Sir Harry Vane, whose career spanned the English Civil War and its aftermath.

Sir Harry, whose views on religious freedom brought him into conflict first with Charles I, then with Oliver Cromwell, is buried in the crypt of St Giles’s, Shipbourne, near Tonbridge. The church is now part of a united benefice with the parish church of the neighbouring village of Plaxtol.

“Harry Vane was a local lad, and is very closely associated with the two churches in this benefice,” Rodney Crouch, a churchwarden at Plaxtol, where the service will be held said. “Plaxtol Church was originally just a chapel of ease, but, when the villagers wanted a proper church, Harry Vane raised the issue in Parliament.

“They agreed, but it was a time of Puritan values; so, when it was built in 1649, the building was extremely simple, as a sort of political statement: just a rectangle with plain glass windows. But around three years later, Sir Harry funded the addition of a tower, and he made other donations.

“Our church is pretty rare — only about three churches were built during the Commonwealth. It was never dedicated to a saint, as in Puritan times that was not allowed.”

Sir Harry’s father was secretary of state to King Charles I, and he was expected to follow him to court or the diplomatic service. But in his mid-teens he had a religious experience which led him to follow the dictates of his conscience in all matters.

So, despite a career which included working as an aide to the English ambassador in Vienna, becoming the Governor of Massachusetts at just 25, sitting as an MP in the Long Parliament of 1649, and joining Cromwell’s Counsel of State during the Commonwealth, he frequently came into conflict with the authorities. Charles II had him beheaded in 1662, two years after the Restoration

His position on religious toleration and the separation of Church and State were acknowledged in a sonnet written in 1652 by Milton, but political sensitivity delayed its publication until long after the poet’s death.

Sunday’s service will follow the usual pattern of morning worship, but will include a presentation on Sir Harry’s life by the Plaxtol Local History Group. “Our Rector [the Revd Andrew Procter] thought the service could pay tribute to his part in benefiting Plaxtol and Shipbourne,” Mr Crouch said.

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