Born c.1608 Died 1669
Nathaniel Fiennes second son of William, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele, by Elizabeth, daughter of John Temple, of Stow in Buckinghamshire, 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. After about five years' residence he left without taking a degree, travelled abroad, and in Switzerland imbibed or strengthened those religious principles and that hostility to the Laudian church which were to 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, and as member for Banbury in both the Short and Long Parliaments he took a prominent part in the attacks upon the church. He spoke against the illegal canons on the 14th of December 1640, and again on the 9th of February 1641 on the occasion of the reception of the London petition, when he argued against episcopacy as constituting a political as well as a religious danger and made a great impression on the House, his name being added immediately to the committee appointed to deal with church affairs. 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 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 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 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). In February 1643 Fiennes was sent down to Bristol, arrested Colonel Essex the governor, executed the two leaders of a plot to deliver up the city, and received a commission himself as governor on the 1st of May 1643. On the arrival, however, of Prince Rupert on the 22nd of July the place was in no condition to resist an attack, and Fiennes capitulated. 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 Prynne and Clement Walker accusing him of treachery and cowardice, to which he opposed Col. Fiennes his Reply.
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, 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 now came to an end. He went abroad, and it was some time before he reappeared on the political scene.
In September 1647 he was included in the army committee, and on the 3rd of January 1648 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 no friend to the rigid and tyrannical 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 strange appointment of commissioner for the custody of the great seal, for which he was certainly in no way fitted. In the parliament of 1654 he was returned for Oxford county and in that of 1656 for the university, while 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 January 20, 1658, and January 2, 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. 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 the 16th of December 1669. Fiennes married (1), Elizabeth, daughter of the famous parliamentarian Sir John Eliot, by whom he had one son, afterwards 3rd Viscount Saye and Sele; and (2), Frances, daughter of Richard Whitehead of Tuderley, Hants, by whom he had three daughters.
Besides the pamphlets already cited, a number of his speeches and other political tracts were published (see General Catalogue, British Museum). Wood also attributed to him Monarchy Asserted (1660) (reprinted in Somers Tracts, vi. 346 ed. Scott), but there seems no reason to ascribe to him with Clement Walker the authorship of Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva.
Being the entry for FIENNES, NATHANIEL in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.