Nathaniel Fiennes

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Nathaniel Fiennes
Personal details
Bornc. 1608
Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire
Died16 December 1669(1669-12-16) (aged 61)
Resting placeNewton Tony, Wiltshire
  • Elizabeth Eliot
    (m. 1636)
  • Frances Whitehead
    (m. 1650)

Nathaniel Fiennes (c. 1608 – 16 December 1669) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1640 and 1659. He was an officer in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War and an active supporter of the republican cause during the Interregnum.


Fiennes was the second son of William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele, by Elizabeth, daughter of John Temple, of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. He was born in 1607 or 1608, and educated at Winchester and at New College, Oxford, where, as founder's kin, he was admitted a perpetual fellow in 1624.[1]

After about five years residence he left Oxford without taking a degree, travelled abroad, and in Switzerland strengthened his hostility to the Laudian church which would be the chief motive in his future political career. He returned to Scotland in 1639, and established communications with the Covenanters and the Opposition in England. As Member of Parliament for Banbury in both the Short and Long Parliaments he took a prominent part in the attacks upon the church.[1]

He spoke against the illegal canons[clarification needed] on 14 December 1640, and again on 9 February 1641 on the occasion of the reception of the Root and Branch petition, when he argued against episcopacy as constituting a political as well as a religious danger and made an impression on the House of Commons, his name being added immediately to the committee appointed to deal with church affairs.[1]

He took a leading part in the examination into the army plot; was one of the commissioners appointed to attend the king to Scotland in August 1641; and was nominated one of the committee of safety[clarification needed] in July 1642. On the outbreak of hostilities he took arms immediately, commanded a troop of horse in the army of Lord Essex, was present at the relief of Coventry in August, and at the fight at Powick Bridge, Worcester in September, where he distinguished himself, and subsequently at Edgehill. Of the last two engagements he wrote accounts, viz. True and Exact Relation of both the Battles fought by ... Earl of Essex against the Bloudy Cavaliers (1642). (See also A Narrative of the Late Battle before Worcester taken by a Gentleman of the Inns of Court from the mouth of Master Fiennes, 1642).[1]

In February 1643, Fiennes was sent down to Bristol,[2] arrested Colonel Thomas Essex the governor, executed the two leaders of a plot (Robert Yeamans and George Bouchier) to deliver up the city, and received a commission himself as governor on 1 May 1643. On the arrival, however, of Prince Rupert on 22 July, although the place was in no condition to resist an attack, Fiennes held out until Rupert's troops had forced an entry into the city and further resistance was both hopeless and a waste of life. He addressed to Essex a letter in his defence (Thomason Tracts E. 65, 26), drew up for the parliament a Relation concerning the Surrender ... (1643), answered by William Prynne and Clement Walker accusing him of treachery and cowardice, to which he opposed Col. Fiennes his Reply[clarification needed] ....[1]

He was tried at St Albans by the council of war in December, was pronounced guilty of having surrendered the place improperly, and sentenced to death. He was, however, pardoned,[3] and the facility with which Bristol subsequently capitulated to the parliamentary army induced Cromwell and the generals to exonerate him completely. His military career nevertheless came to an end. He went abroad, and it was some time before he reappeared on the political scene.[1]

There has been debate over the legitimacy of the indictments brought against him by Walker and Prynne. Both had lost considerable amounts of money and property in the fall of Bristol and both were politically opposed to Fiennes and his family. Many of the witnesses at the trial could possibly have been politically motivated and there is some evidence that Fiennes was the victim of a wider political campaign against his family's political faction.[1]

In September 1647, he was included in the army committee, and on 3 January he became a member of the committee of safety. He was, however, in favour of accepting the King's terms at Newport in December, and in consequence was excluded from the House by Pride's Purge. An opponent of church government in any form, he was opposed to the Presbyterianism of the day, and inclined to Independency and Cromwell's party. He was a member of the council of state in 1654, and in June 1655 he received the appointment of commissioner for the custody of the great seal, for which he was poorly suited.[1]

In the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 he was returned for Oxfordshire and in the Second Protectorate Parliament of 1656 for Oxford University. In January 1658 he was included in Cromwell's House of Lords. He was in favour of the Protector's assumption of the royal title and urged his acceptance of it on several occasions. His public career closes with addresses delivered in his capacity as chief commissioner of the great seal at the beginning of the sessions of 20 January 1658, and 2 January 1659, in which the religious basis of Cromwell's government is especially insisted upon, the feature to which Fiennes throughout his career had attached most value.[1] He lived at No. 1 Great Piazza, Covent Garden from 1657 to 1659.

On the reassembling of the Long Parliament he was superseded; he took no part in the Restoration, and died at Newton Tony in Wiltshire on 16 December 1669.[1]


Fiennes married:

  1. on 11 August 1636 at Haynes, Bedfordshire, to Elizabeth Eliot (born 1616), daughter of the parliamentarian Sir John Eliot,[1] by whom he had four children, including two sons, William and Nathaniel, who reached maturity
  2. about 1650 at Broughton Castle, to Frances Whitehead, daughter of Richard Whitehead of Tuderley, Hants,[1] by whom he had four daughters, Anne, Frances, Mary and Celia.

His son William succeeded to the title 3rd Viscount Saye and Sele on the death of Fiennes' brother James.

His younger son Nathaniel was elected (for Banbury) to the Third Protectorate Parliament.[4] He married Elizabeth Williams in Lincolnshire in 1671, but is believed to have died shortly after.[5]


Besides the pamphlets already cited, a number of his speeches and other political tracts were published (see Gen. Catalogue, British Museum). Wood also attributed to him Monarchy Asserted (1660) (reprinted in Somers Tracts, vi. 346 ), but there seems no reason to ascribe to him with Clement Walker the authorship of Joshua Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Chisholm 1911, p. 328
  2. ^ Firth & Rait 1911, pp. 84–5.
  3. ^ Salmon 1730, p. 794. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFSalmon1730 (help)
  4. ^ Beesley, Alfred (1841). The History of Banbury. London: Nicholls and Son. p. 450.
  5. ^[bare URL]


  • Firth, C.H.; Rait, R.S., eds. (1911). "February 1643: Ordinance for Mr. Fiennes to raise a Regiment of Horse in Gloucestershire, &c., to seize Delinquents' Horses there". Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660. pp. 84–5. Retrieved 13 April 2007.
  • Salmon, Thomas (1730). "Chapter XL. The Trial of Colonel Nathanael Fiennes before a Council of War at St. Albans, for cowardly surrendring the City and Castle of Bristol, the 14th of December 1643. 19 Car. I. Taken out of the Account given thereof by Mr, Prynn and Mr. Walker.". In Emlyn, Sollom (ed.). A complete collection of state-trials, and proceedings for high-treason, and other crimes and misdemeanours: from the reign of King Richard II. to the end of the reign of King George I. With two alphabetical tables to the whole. 1 (2 ed.). J. Walthoe senior. p. 745–794.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fiennes, Nathaniel". Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 328.

Further reading[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Banbury
Succeeded by
Not represented in Rump Parliament
Preceded by
Sir Charles Wolseley
William Draper
Dr Jonathan Goddard
Member of Parliament for Oxfordshire
With: Robert Jenkinson
Charles Fleetwood
Colonel James Whitelocke
William Lenthall
Succeeded by
Robert Jenkinson
Lord Deputy Charles Fleetwood
William Lenthall
Miles Fleetwood
Sir Francis Norreys
Preceded by
Dr John Owen
Member of Parliament for Oxford University
Succeeded by
Matthew Hale
John Mylles