Taaffe, Theobald (c.1603–1677), 1st earl of Carlingford , soldier, was son and heir of Sir John Taaffe (d. 1642) and his wife Anne, daughter of Theobald, 1st Viscount Dillon (qv) of Costello-Gallen. Sir John, a catholic and ‘principal gentleman of an ancient English family’ (G.E.C., Peerage), was created baron of Ballymote and Viscount Taaffe of Corren in August 1628, and sat in the house of lords in 1634–5. Theobald attended the following parliament in 1640, representing Co. Sligo in the commons, but his primary interests lay in military affairs. He served as a lieutenant-colonel under Sir Charles Coote (qv), in the mainly catholic army created by the lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth (qv), earl of Strafford. In 1640 he was created a freeman of Belfast with other officers of Coote's regiment, and the following year received a royal grant to export a regiment of catholic soldiers to Spain. While they were en route to Galway (October 1641) to rendezvous with the transport ships, the Ulster Irish revolt began. Taaffe's recruits deserted to the rebel cause, but both he and his father remained loyal to the king. He attended an emergency session of the Irish parliament (November), supporting efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with the Ulster leaders.
Taaffe succeeded to the viscountcy in January 1642 and played a central role in Irish affairs for the next two decades. He travelled to England shortly afterwards with his cousin Thomas, 4th Viscount Dillon (qv), to intercede with the king on behalf of the catholic lords, but was detained on the orders of the English parliament. He returned to Ireland after escaping from confinement, and formed a close alliance with the royalist lord lieutenant, James Butler (qv), marquess of Ormond, undertaking a number of diplomatic missions on his behalf. In May 1643 Taaffe travelled to the confederate general assembly in Kilkenny with Col. John Barry (qv) and arranged a cease-fire, enabling talks for a more permanent peace to begin. After the cessation agreement in September 1643, Taaffe began to recruit troops to fight in England, visiting Oxford for talks with the king. From 1644 onwards he worked closely with Ulick Burke (qv), marquess of Clanricard, to halt incursions into Connacht by Scots covenanters based in Ulster, who had already burnt the Taaffe ancestral home at Ballymote, Co. Sligo. In 1645 Taaffe assumed command of a joint royalist–confederate force in Connacht, and seized Tulsk, Elphin, Castle Coote, and Jamestown. His army, however, suffered a major reverse outside Sligo (October) after Taaffe had returned to Dublin to consult with Ormond, leaving his brother Luke in command.
Taaffe supported the Ormond peace treaty of 1646, and attempted to exploit confederate divisions on the issue by negotiating secretly with Thomas Preston (qv), the confederate commander in Leinster. He returned to Kilkenny (February 1647) to negotiate a new one-month cease-fire with the confederates, while at the same time intriguing with the representatives of the French court to export catholic soldiers to the Continent. Arrested by parliamentarian troops in July 1647 after an abortive attempt to seize Dublin castle, he fled the city shortly afterwards. Taaffe finally took the confederate oath after Ormond's departure from Dublin, and he succeeded Donough MacCarthy (qv), Viscount Muskerry, as commander of the confederate forces in Munster. Throughout the autumn of 1647 he remained inactive, despite an offensive in Tipperary by the parliamentarian Murrough O'Brien (qv), Lord Inchiquin, fuelling suspicions in Kilkenny that he wanted to preserve his forces in order to export them to France. It seems more likely that Taaffe was plotting with elements of the confederate peace faction to seize control of Kilkenny. Whatever the truth of the matter, the confederate supreme council, frustrated by his lacklustre performance, demanded action against Inchiquin.
On 13 November 1647 the two armies finally clashed at Knocknanuss, near Mallow, Co. Cork. Despite the initial success achieved by Alasdair MacColla MacDonnell (qv) on the confederate right wing, Inchiquin scored a stunning victory, scattering the Munster forces. Accounts of confederate losses vary widely, but thousands were almost certainly killed, including MacColla, one of the most talented military commanders of the era. Hostile reports blamed Taaffe for the fiasco, but a leading confederate, Richard Bellings (qv), claimed that the viscount made every effort to rally his troops on the battlefield. It was this defeat at Knocknanuss that prompted the cessation agreement with Inchiquin the following May, and finally split the confederate association. Taaffe sided with the peace faction in opposing the papal nuncio, GianBattista Rinuccini (qv). During the summer of 1648 he led his forces against the nuncio's principal ally, Owen Roe O'Neill (qv), assisting Clanricard in seizing the vital fortress of Athlone. The final confederate general assembly (September 1648) appointed Taaffe as one of the commissioners of treaty to negotiate a new treaty with the royalists. The second Ormond peace was signed in January 1649, and Taaffe immediately sought permission to start exporting troops abroad, but confederate opposition to the scheme prevented any progress on this front. Instead Taaffe accepted a command in the royalist army as master of the ordnance, and he fought against Cromwell's forces for the next two years. He provided troops for the siege of Dublin in July 1649, but was not present at the disastrous defeat at Rathmines (2 August). In 1650 Ormond sent him to Brussels to seek military assistance from the duke of Lorraine. Taaffe suspected the duke's motives for intervening in Ireland, and after arduous negotiations he opposed the agreement signed on behalf of Irish catholics by Geoffrey Browne (qv) and Nicholas Plunkett (qv). Exempted from pardon by the Cromwellians, he did not return to Ireland but joined the royal court in exile.
A ‘well-spoken man of both art and delivery’ (quoted in Bagwell, ii, 156–7), he became a firm favourite of Charles Stuart. After the restoration, Charles II rewarded Taaffe's friendship and loyalty by making him earl of Carlingford, restoring the family estates in Sligo, and granting him new lands in Leinster. Taaffe used his influence with the king to secure the release of Randal MacDonnell (qv), marquis of Antrim, providing security for his good behaviour. He also wrote favourable reports for other catholics such as George King of Clontarf. Taaffe continued to attend the court in London and in 1665 was sent on his final mission to seek assistance from Emperor Leopold and the prince-bishop of Münster against the Dutch republic. After his return from the Continent in 1667, he spent another couple of years in England before retiring to concentrate on managing his estates in Sligo, and to develop a number of inventions, including a type of ice-house. He died 31 December 1677 at Ballymote. Taaffe married first Mary, daughter of Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip; then Ann, daughter of Sir William Pershill of Suggenshill, who after Taaffe's death married Randal Plunkett, Lord Dunsany. William, styled Viscount Taaffe, the first son and heir by Mary, died unmarried before 1673. The third son, Nicholas, 2nd earl of Carlingford, died at the head of a regiment of foot at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Another son, Francis (qv), became 3rd earl of Carlingford. He was exempted from attainder by the Irish parliament, but lived most of his life on the Continent.