Open main menu

Vennar, Richard (DNB00)


VENNAR or VENNARD, RICHARD (d. 1615?), author, was the younger son of John Vennar of Salisbury, a commissioner of the peace. He was educated by Adam Hill [q. v.], prebendary and succentor of Salisbury Cathedral, proceeding about 1572 to Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied for two years as a fellow commoner. He crossed to France towards the close of 1574, visited the court of Henri III, and procured letters of commendation to the emperor, Maximilian II. After some stay in Germany he returned home, and became a member of Barnard's Inn. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn on 10 June 1581, receiving the privileges of a special admission on 25 July 1587 (Records of Lincoln's Inn, 1896, i. 93). On the death of his father he found himself involved in a lawsuit with the husband of his elder brother's widow for the possession of his patrimonial estates, and was ultimately compelled to take a younger brother's portion. In 1600 he proceeded to Scotland, and injudiciously solicited the intervention of James VI with the lords of the council. He had a favourable reception, and composed a thanksgiving for the delivery of James from the Gowrie conspiracy, which was presented to the king. His good reception aroused Elizabeth's anger, and on his return to England he was promptly arrested and imprisoned for a short time ‘as a dangerous member to the state.’ In 1601 appeared ‘The Right Way to Heaven: and the true testimonie of a faithfull and loyall subject. Compiled by Richard Vennard of Lincolnes Inne. Printed by Thomas Este,’ London, 4to, a work of a religious character, but abounding in adulation of Queen Elizabeth. The first part was reprinted in the following year with several alterations and additions, with the title, ‘The Right Way to Heauen, and a good presedent for Lawyers and all other good Christians.’ It was reprinted in Nichols's ‘Progresses of Queen Elizabeth’ (iii. 532–43). An undated reprint of the second part, ‘The True Testimonie,’ is preserved in the Bridgwater Library. It is prefaced by a dedication to James I, and contains a thanksgiving for the deliverance of the kingdom from the gunpowder plot (Collier, Cat. of Bridgwater Libr. p. 321). Not realising much by the sale, Vennar, who had in contemplation a second journey to Scotland, proclaimed his intention of representing England's triumphs over Spain in a masque entitled ‘Englands Ioy.’ The broadside of the plot is in possession of the Society of Antiquaries, and has been reprinted in their ‘Miscellanies’ (x. 196). He announced that it would be represented at the Swan on 6 Nov. 1602, and a large company, including many noblemen, assembled to witness it. After taking the entrance money, however, Vennar disappeared, and the audience revenged themselves by breaking up the furniture. Vennar himself states that he was arrested by bailiffs when the masque was about to begin, but Chamberlain relates that he fled on horseback, was pursued, captured, and brought before Sir John Popham, who treated the affair as a jest, and bound him over in five pounds to appear at the sessions (Chamberlain, Letters, Camden Soc. p. 163; Hazlitt, Shakespeare Jest Books, 1864, i. 145). The episode caused much amusement. Vennar was universally regarded as an impostor and dubbed ‘England's Joy,’ a name which gave him peculiar annoyance. In 1614 he wrote a vehement protest, entitled ‘An Apology: written by Richard Vennar of Lincolnes Inne, abusively called Englands Joy. To represse the contagious ruptures of the infected multitude. … London. Printed by Nicholas Okes.’ The work is divided into two parts, of which the first is autobiographical, and the second relates Vennar's exertions to obtain the abolition of imprisonment for debt in England. The only perfect copy extant is in the British Museum Library, but it has been reprinted in Collier's ‘Illustrations of Old English Literature’ (vol. iii.). Collier inaccurately claims that it is the ‘oldest piece of prose autobiography’ in English. Several allusions to ‘England's Joy’ occur in contemporary literature, particularly in Ben Jonson's ‘Love Restored’ (1610–11), in his ‘Masque of Augures’ (1622), and in Sir John Suckling's comedy, ‘The Goblins’ (1646). A poem entitled ‘Englands Joy,’ commemorating the defeat of the Irish in 1600 under Hugh O'Neill, second earl of Tyrone [q. v.], by R. V., published without date, place, or printer's name, is sometimes attributed to Vennar, but may quite as well be the work of Richard Rowlands alias Verstegen [q. v.]

In 1606 Vennar was arrested on suspicion of an intention to defraud Sir John Spencer of 500l. on pretence of preparing a masque under the patronage of Sir John Watts [q. v.], the lord mayor. After that he avoided London, and lived chiefly in Essex and Kent. In spite of the exertions on behalf of debtors of which he speaks in his ‘Apology,’ Vennar himself perished before 1617 in ‘the black hole’ of Wood Street counter, in the most abject misery, the victim of his keeper's resentment (Fennor, Compters Commonwealth, 1617, p. 64). Taylor in his ‘Cast over the Water. … Given gratis to William Fennor, the Rimer,’ 1615, accused one Fennor of passing off as his own some manuscripts in reality written by

    Poor old Vennor, that plaine dealing man,
    Who acted Englands Ioy first at the Swan.

Fennor's theft was probably committed while Vennar was confined in Wood Street counter. [Vennar's Works; Corser's Collectanea (Chetham Soc.), v. 323–32; Fleay's English Drama, ii. 265; Ritson's Bibliogr. Poetica, p. 380; Collier's Hist. of Dram. Poetry, iii. 321, 405; Collier's Bibliogr. Catalogue, ii. 466–9; Nichols's Progr. of James I, ii. 398, iii. 139; Dodsley's Collection of Old Plays, 1780, x. 72; Hazlitt's Handbook; Hazlitt's Collections and Notes, 1st ser.; Manningham's Diary (Camden Soc.), pp. 82, 93.]

E. I. C.