William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele

William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele (28 June 1582 – 14 April 1662) was an English nobleman and politician, known also for his involvement in several companies for setting up overseas colonies.[1]

The Viscount Saye and Sele
Engraving of Lord Saye by Wenceslas Hollar, mid-seventeenth century.
Born28 June 1582
Died14 April 1662
Burial placeBroughton, Oxfordshire
Spouse(s)Dorothy Waldegrave
ChildrenJames Fiennes, 2nd Viscount Saye and Sele
Nathaniel Fiennes
Parent(s)Richard Fiennes, 7th Baron Saye and Sele, Constance Kingsmill

Early life

He was born at the family home of Broughton Castle near Banbury, in Oxfordshire, the only son of Richard Fiennes, 7th Baron Saye and Sele, and his wife Constance, daughter of Sir William Kingsmill.[2] He was educated at New College, Oxford. He was a descendant and heir of the sister of William of Wykeham, the college's founder. Fiennes succeeded to his father's barony in 1613.[3]


During the latter part of James I's reign Saye was one of the most prominent opponents of the court. In 1621 he was active against Francis Bacon, and urged that he should be degraded from the peerage. In 1622 he opposed the benevolence levied by the king, saying that he knew no law besides parliament to persuade men to give away their own goods; he spent six months in the Fleet Prison, and then had a period of house arrest. When George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham returned from Spain and proposed to break the Spanish match, the duke and baron became temporary allies; and Saye became Viscount Saye and Sele in 1624.[4] He pressed home the attack on Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex.[2]

In the parliament of 1626 Saye was back in opposition; he defended the privileges of the peerage against the new king Charles I in the cases of John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol and Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, and intervened on behalf of Dudley Digges when Buckingham accused him of speaking treason. In the autumn of the same year he was among those who refused to pay the forced loan. In the parliament of 1628, he employed with success the right of peers to protest. In the debates on the Petition of Right he opposed the reservations and amendments of the court party.[2]


During the personal rule of Charles I, Saye devoted time and money to schemes of colonisation: his motives were in part financial, but also religious and political.[2]

Providence Island

In 1630 he established, in conjunction with Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke, John Pym, and others from the group of Puritan entrepreneurs, a company for the settlement of the Providence Island colony on what is now Isla de Providencia in the Caribbean Sea, part of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, a department of Colombia.[2]

New England

Saye obtained a patent for a large tract of land on the Connecticut River on 19 March 1632 from Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick and the New England Company, in association again with Lord Brooke and ten others. They appointed John Winthrop the younger to act as governor and established a fort at the mouth of the river, to which they gave the name of "Sayebrook;" they then sent over a shipload of colonists. In 1633, Saye and Brooke also purchased a plantation at Cocheco or Dover, in what is now New Hampshire, from some Bristol merchants. They both contemplated settling in New England, but they demanded the establishment of an emigrant hereditary aristocracy as a preliminary, from which the governors were to be chosen. After a hostile reception to Saye's constitutional ideas, the partners in the colony compromised to obtain colonists.[2]


Saye concentrated his energies on the settlement of Providence Island, while spreading disparaging reports about New England, including its climate and land. He soon abandoned his enterprises there and surrendered his rights. The New Hampshire settlements were made over to Massachusetts in 1641, and Sayebrook was sold to Connecticut three years later.[2]

Saye was one of the commissioners for the government from Westminster of the plantations appointed on 2 November 1643.[2]

Old Saybrook, Connecticut is named after Viscount Saye and Lord Brooke.

1630s politics

Leading puritans, including John Pym, who were members of the Providence Island Company met Saye at Broughton Castle to coordinate their opposition to the King. On several occasions Saye outwitted the advisers of Charles I by his strict compliance with legal forms earning him the nickname "old subtlety".

Although Saye resisted the levy of ship money, he accompanied Charles on his march against the Scots in 1639; but, with only one other peer, he refused to take the oath binding him to fight for the king "to the utmost of my power and hazard of my life". Then Charles I sought to win his favour by making him a Privy Councillor and Master of the Court of Wards.

Civil War and Restoration

When the Civil War broke out, however, Saye was on the committee of safety, was made Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Cheshire, and raised a regiment that occupied Oxford. He was a member of the committee of both kingdoms; was mainly responsible for passing the self-denying ordinance through the House of Lords; and in 1647 stood up for the army in its struggle with the parliament.

In 1648, both at the treaty of Newport and elsewhere, Saye was anxious that Charles should come to terms, and he retired into private life after the execution of the king, becoming a privy counsellor again upon the restoration of Charles II. He died at Broughton Castle on 14 April 1662.


Fiennes married Elizabeth, daughter of John Temple of Stowe, in 1600. Their eldest son James (c. 1603–1674) succeeded him as 2nd viscount; other sons were the Parliamentarians Nathaniel Fiennes and John Fiennes. His daughter Bridget married her remote cousin Theophilus Clinton Fiennes, 4th Earl of Lincoln, son of the 3rd Earl of Lincoln.

The viscounty of Saye and Sele became extinct in 1781, and the barony is now held by the descendants of John Twisleton (d. 1682) and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1674), a daughter of the 2nd viscount.[5]



  1. John Burke, A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire, Volume 2 (H. Colburn and R. Bentley, 1832), 402.
  2. "Fiennes, William" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  3. Arthur Collins and Sir Egerton Brydges, Peerage of England: genealogical, biographical, and historical (F.C. and J. Rivington, 1812), 31-32.
  4. The Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland: The peerage of Scotland (W. Owen [and 2 others], 1790), 296.
  5. Arthur Collins and Sir Egerton Brydges, Peerage of England: genealogical, biographical, and historical (F.C. and J. Rivington, 1812), 32.



Peerage of England
New creation Viscount Saye and Sele
1st creation
Succeeded by
James Fiennes
Preceded by
Richard Fiennes
Baron Saye and Sele
1st creation
Succeeded by
James Fiennes
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