Capel (Capell), Sir Henry (1638–96), Baron Capel of Tewkesbury , chief governor, was baptised 6 March 1638, second son of Arthur, Baron Capel of Hadham, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Charles Morrison of Cassiobridge, Hertfordshire, England. He was elected to the English parliament for Tewkesbury (1660–81, 1690–92) and Cockermouth (1689–90). Stimulated into an active parliamentary role by the apparent drift towards catholicism during the restoration, Capel first became involved in Irish affairs with the appointment of his elder brother, Arthur Capel (qv), earl of Essex, as lord lieutenant of Ireland (1672). In March 1673 Capel helped to draw up an address on the condition of Ireland. The following month he was appointed to the Irish privy council, remaining a member till February 1685. Strongly anti-catholic, Capel was active in promoting allegations of a ‘popish plot’, and on 6 January 1681 he reaffirmed his belief in the ‘Irish plot’. He supported the exclusion of James, duke of York (qv) from the succession to the throne.
Capel's involvement in Irish affairs became more significant after the war of 1689–91. After the débâcle of the 1692 parliament, a change of government was implemented (June 1693) by removing the unpopular Henry Sidney (qv) and replacing him with three lords justices: Capel, Sir Cyril Wyche (qv), and William Duncombe (d. 1704). They had the arduous task of seeking ways to reconcile the executive with a future parliament, as the need for a successful session – in order to vote essential financial supplies – was paramount. Capel's anti-catholic views and whig credentials put him in good stead with many of the Irish members who had so successfully obstructed the previous Williamite administration, and from an early stage in the lords justices’ government he began to build strong connections with them. By mid 1694 Capel had progressed so far that he differed from his fellow lords justices in their official report to Whitehall on whether a parliament would be successful in Ireland. The rise of a whig ‘junto’ in England, the desperate need for money, and Capel's positive report on calling a parliament, ensured that – despite William III's (qv) personal dislike of Capel – the king eventually decided (early 1695) to recall Wyche and Duncombe and appoint Capel lord deputy. His appointment (May 1695) was perceived as part of the compromise negotiated (1694–5) with the leading members of the 1692 opposition, as were subsequent major changes in the privy council and judiciary on Capel's recommendation, and the preparation of two penal bills: for disarming and dismounting catholics, and prohibiting foreign education. In return, the opposition agreed to give up their claim to a sole right to initiate money bills in the commons, by accepting one money bill from the government and then preparing the heads of whatever further money bills were deemed necessary. As the Whitehall and Dublin governments had advocated policies for disarming catholics and prohibiting foreign education since the early 1690s, and the arrangement over money bills satisfied both the king's prerogative and the commons’ sense of independence, Capel's endeavours had secured the maximum benefit for the government with the minimum of concessions. The court party created out of the opposition of 1692 proved successful enough during the 1695 parliamentary session to ensure that money supplies were voted, and despite attempted impeachments by both sides of the political divide, the sessions ended (14 December 1695) with all important government business completed.
The heats that had been avoided during the session spilled over into the government. The ongoing conflict between Capel and the lord chancellor, Sir Charles Porter (qv), soured the final months of Capel's short but significant tenure. Disputes over appointments of legal officers, and of lords justices to act while Capel was indisposed or (as was to happen) in case of his death, overshadowed the significance of the government's achievement in 1695. The compromise over money bills, and the use of parliamentary managers to ‘undertake’ the government's business as part of a more defined court party of powerful Irish politicians, initiated in 1695, continued as the pattern of executive–legislature relations in Ireland for the greater part of the eighteenth century.
After illness Capel died 30 May 1696 at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. He married (1659) Dorothy, daughter of Richard Bennet of Kew Green, Surrey; she died 7 June 1721 at Kew. They had no children.