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Sir Francis Patrick Fletcher Vane, Bt.

An unfinished biography

The Shields Papers

Among the uncatalogued material at the WCML is a number of boxes labelled 'Shields' Papers'. The bequest was left to the library in 1992 after his widow's death. All that we currently know about Edward C. Shields is that in 1954 he was a member of the cultural group of the East Ham Communist Party, and was involved with the Workers' Music Association.

In 1965 Edward Shields began research on a songbook to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin.

While working on the songbook he read about the events surrounding the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington by a British officer Sergeant Bowen-Colthurst. He became interested in the British officer who did most to bring Bowen-Colthurst to trial. His name was Major Sir Francis Fletcher Vane.

In the late 1960s Ted Shields started work on a biography of Francis Vane. The project was never completed and the notes, typescripts and correspondence, make up the bulk of his papers.

The rest of the papers include his work on the Irish songbook and notes towards a biography of Patrick Pearse.

Francis Fletcher Vane

Francis Fletcher Vane in uniformAn hereditary peer may seem an odd subject for this website, but Francis Vane was an odd character, with wide ranging and seemingly contradictory passions and interests. A democratic aristocrat with socialist and republican sympathies, a career officer who spoke on antiwar platforms, a loyal imperialist who challenged jingoism and the demonising of the enemy, he was finally sacked from the army ("relegated to unemployment") for attempting to prevent a cover up of a number of military murders in Dublin during the Easter Rebellion in 1916.

He was not the first Vane to champion human liberties. His ancestor, Sir Henry Vane the younger, was the civilian leader of the Commonwealth bloc in Parliament during the English Civil War. In 1656 he published a tract entitled A Healing Question, affirming the doctrines of civil and religious liberty, and proposing a convention to create a constitution. He retired from politics rather than acknowledge Cromwell as Lord Protector. After the Restoration (of the Stuart monarchy) he was tried for treason and executed in 1662.

The life of Sir Francis Fletcher Vane

1861 Born in Dublin to an Irish mother and an English father. Grew up in Sidmouth, Devon.

1876 Oxford Military College
1883-1888 Army - Worcester Militia and Scots Guards and a stint in the Submarine Mining Regiment
1886 Resident at Toynbee Hall in East London. Founded a 'Working Boys Cadet Corps'
1888 Captain in the 26th Middlesex Cyclists

1899-1902 Served in South Africa through most of second Boer War
1902 became a magistrate but was sacked for being 'pro-Boer'
1903 The War and One Year After - pamphlet attacking British war methods published by South African Newspaper Company
1902 - 1904 Correspondent in South Africa for Daily News, Manchester Guardian, Westminster and Truth.
1904-5 Wrote Pax Britannica in South Africa, an expansion of the earlier pamphlet

1906 Liberal candidate for Burton on Trent in General Election
1907-1912 Active in antiwar and suffragette campaigns
1908 Published Walks and Peoples in Tuscany
1909 On Certain Fundamentals published - airing his political and philosophical outlooks which ranged from the eminently sensible to the utterly bizarre. Some of  the articles were originally  published in The New Age

1909 London Commissioner of Scouts in Baden Powell's organisation. Sacked for taking policy initiatives instead of just being an inspector. Vane also objected to the growing number of militarists in positions of authority.
Vane became President of the British Boy Scouts, merged them with the Boys Life Brigade to form the National Peace Scouts
1910 Founded the Italian Scout movement - the Little Scouts of Peace.
1914 The Other Illusions published by the National Labour Press, three weeks before the start of the First World War. Title suggested by Norman Angell in reference to his book The Illusions of War which dealt with the economic aspects. Vane's concerns were the romantic and philosophical justifications.

1916 In charge of defence at Portobello Barracks in Dublin during the Easter Uprising.
He tried to have Sergeant Bowen-Colthurst arrested for murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Arrest occurred only after Vane took leave and went to London and reported directly to the War Office. As a result of his actions Vane was sacked from the army.
1916-1917 Principles of Military Art published
1917 Wrote a book on the 1916 rebellion - The Easter Rising . Proof copies were produced before publication was prevented by the Army Censor. Manuscript long lost. Also wrote a book War Stories, incidents from South Africa, the First World War and the Easter uprising. This too was suppressed by the Censor.
1918 General election. Vane chaired meetings for Labour and Liberal candidates

1918 - 1927 Resident in Italy, active in support of Scout movement. Left Italy after Fascist suppression of the scout movement.
1924 Tox, Or Everyboy written for his wife as she was dying. Privately published privately in Italy.
1930 The autobiographical Agin The Governments - Memories and Adventures of Sir Francis Fletcher Vane published.
1934 Died aged 73.

For a guide to the archive contents look in our catalogue

Activists: Introduction