William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye-and-Sele, 1582-1662

An early opponent of King Charles' policies, he later tried to find a moderate settlement between King and Parliament.

Portrait of Lord Saye and SeleWilliam Fiennes succeeded as eighth Baron Saye-and-Sele in 1613 and was created first Viscount in 1624. He was a staunch Puritan and emerged during the 1630s as one of the leading opponents to the religious policy of Archbishop Laud. King Charles nicknamed him "Old Subtlety" because of his cunning in court politics. During the period of the King's Personal Rule, Saye's home at Broughton Castle near Banbury in Oxfordshire became a meeting place for dissidents—including the Earl of Warwick, Lord Brooke and John Hampden—where opposition to the King's policies was orchestrated.

In 1637, Saye attempted to force a test case over the non-payment of ship-money, but the King chose to prosecute John Hampden instead. The Broughton Castle circle also engaged in colonial ventures and financed the establishment of Puritan settlements at Providence Island in the West Indies and Saybrook in modern Connecticut.

Like Lord Brooke, Saye sympathised with the Scottish Covenanters and refused to support the King in his prosecution of the Bishops' Wars — for which both peers were briefly imprisoned. Saye consistently supported Pym's activities in the House of Commons and remained a determined opposition leader in the House of Lords. Appointed to the Committee of Safety in 1642, Saye raised a regiment of foot to fight for Parliament, which was commanded in the field by the veteran Sir John Meldrum. Saye was also instrumental in forming the Committee for Both Kingdoms in 1644. He was one of only four peers in the House of Lords who supported the Self-Denying Ordinance in 1645, which led to the formation of the New Model Army.

After the King's defeat in the First Civil War, Saye was associated with the "Middle Group" in Parliament, which sought to bridge the conflicting policies of the Independent and Presbyterian factions. He supported Henry Ireton's Heads of the Proposals as a basis for a settlement with King Charles over the more severe Newcastle Propositions and tried to persuade the King to come to terms with Parliament. After the Second Civil War in 1648, Saye pleaded with the King to accept the Treaty of Newport, correctly foreseeing that the alternative to an agreement was rule by the Army and the destruction of both the monarchy and the peerage. Saye continued to press for a negotiated settlement until his hopes were finally dashed by Pride's Purge in December 1648 and the King's trial the following month.

Disheartened by the regicide in 1649, Lord Saye retired from public life. He spent much of his time during the Commonwealth and Protectorate years on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, which he owned. He accepted the Restoration in 1660 and was appointed a privy councillor to King Charles II, who was anxious to gain the support of former opponents of the Crown. Lord Saye died at Broughton Castle in April 1662.


D.L. Smith, William Fiennes, first Viscount Saye and Sele, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Underdown, Pride's Purge (Oxford 1971)


Broughton Castle