Wandesforde, Christopher (1592–1640), lord deputy of Ireland, was born 24 September 1592 near Beverley in Yorkshire, the eldest son of Sir George Wandesforde of Kirklington, Yorkshire, and of Catherine, daughter of Ralph Hensby. He began his education at the free school of Well near Kirklington before entering Clare College, Cambridge, in 1607. After matriculating in 1610, he decided to take holy orders in 1611. Given that he was an eldest son, this was a surprising decision which reflected his deep religiosity. However, his father's death in 1612 soon compelled him to abandon his vocation. Sir George had mismanaged the family estates, saddling his son with debts of £800. On 1 November 1612 Christopher became a member of Gray's Inn, London, but his deteriorating finances soon forced his return to Kirklington, where he continued to study law. The first step towards resolving his financial problems was to find a wealthy wife. Accordingly, in September 1614, he married Alice, daughter of Sir Hewitt Osborne, securing a marriage portion of £2,000. Thereafter, he paid off his debts by frugal money management, by directly managing part of his estates in order to provide for his household needs and by gradually raising rents.
From 1621 he was able to focus on building a political career, playing a key role in the successful campaign by Sir Thomas Wentworth (qv) that year to be elected MP for Yorkshire. In return, Wentworth used his influence to have Wandesforde returned as MP for the borough of Aldborough. Wentworth was a hugely ambitious local landowner with the industry and talent to match it. Wandesforde would be his principal ally during the turbulent parliaments of the 1620s, sitting as MP for Richmond in the parliaments of 1625 and 1626 and as MP for Thirsk in 1628. Both men favoured a pacific foreign policy and were among the foremost critics of the royal favourite George Villiers, duke of Buckingham and the architect of war with Spain from 1625 onwards.
Wandesforde played a particularly prominent role in the 1626 parliament as Wentworth had been prevented from standing for election. In his mentor's absence, Wandesforde led the attack on Buckingham at Westminster, heading a committee that investigated the corruption and incompetence of the duke. On 28 April 1626, he accused Buckingham of the manslaughter of James I, a very dangerous and extreme charge to make. Following the dissolution of the 1626 parliament, he was dismissed from his post of commissioner of the peace. By August 1628 Buckingham's political position had weakened considerably and he was forced to accommodate Wentworth who became president of the north of England in September. On assuming this post, Wentworth immediately restored Wandesforde to the commission of the peace. In 1630 he became deputy bailiff of Richmondshire and deputy constable of Middleham castle, and he was appointed to the royal commission to investigate fees and new offices. He declined the post of ambassador to Spain, claiming his anti-catholic views made him unsuitable for such a role.
Following Wentworth's appointment as lord deputy of Ireland, Wandesforde was made master of the rolls in Ireland on 17 May 1633, and he was sworn a member of the Irish privy council on 25 July, on arriving in Ireland. Wentworth was bent on pursuing radical reform and, trusting none of the existing members of the Irish government, he advanced his own supporters from Yorkshire into positions of power in Ireland. Wandesforde and Sir George Radcliffe (qv), as friends and political allies of long standing, were his closest confidants. Wandesforde discharged his duties as master of the rolls efficiently, capably and somewhat too impartially for the powerful nobles who appeared before him. He extracted large fees from those who had the means to pay and appears to have prospered from Irish public office. In stark contrast to his financial position in the 1610s, he was able to plough large sums of money into developing his Irish lands and invested £1,500 in the Irish tobacco monopoly. He acted as one of the lords justices during Wentworth's absences in England in 1636 and 1639.
When he was in Dublin, he lived in a house on Dame Street. He resided initially in Co. Kildare where he sat as MP for the shire in 1634–35 and in 1640–41. In 1635 he bought the house and manor of Kildare, but later sold this to Wentworth. Wandesforde turned instead to the territory of Idough in Co. Carlow. This land was then occupied by the O'Brennans, but James Butler (qv), earl of Ormond, held a nominal claim to the territory. Ormond, deeply in debt and desperate to remain on good terms with the government, was eager to sell his claim for whatever price he could get. In May 1635 a royal commission that included Wandesforde arrived in Idough and quickly declared that the territory belonged to the crown. The existing holders were held to be dispossessed on the grounds that their ancestors had illegally intruded on lands granted nearly 500 years earlier to Strongbow (Richard de Clare (qv)). In 1636 Idough was created the manor of Castlecomer and granted to Wandesforde, who subsequently paid Ormond £2,000 and Wentworth £1,000 in return.
Meanwhile, the O'Brennans resisted all attempts to clear them from Idough. The government was forced to send troops there in May 1635, in July 1636 and in the summer of 1637. About 100 families were expelled at gunpoint from their homes. In December 1636 Wandesforde's own court of chancery had twenty-five to thirty of the leading resisters arrested and kept them imprisoned until the following October, before putting them on trial. He often visited them in prison, offering to free them if they accepted him as their landlord. Their defiant responses were sufficiently coarse to scandalise Wandesforde, who combined the cynical abuse of power with a rather prim officiousness. The O'Brennans’ trial was presided over by Wentworth, who unsurprisingly found them guilty of disturbing the peace. Evicting and imprisoning Gaelic Irish was relatively uncontroversial, but Wandesforde's seizure of Idough also provoked a more politically influential figure, whose machinations would prove deeply embarrassing to Wentworth.
The 1635 commission had declared that Idough had been granted to Strongbow. Unfortunately for Wandesforde, Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, premier nobleman of England and close friend to the king, was also a descendent of Strongbow and concluded that Idough was rightfully his. Wentworth and Wandesforde initially gave the impression that they would assist Arundel in making good this claim. However, Arundel soon realised he had been duped and determined to have his revenge. He dispatched agents into Idough to stiffen resistance there and to collect evidence against Wandesforde. Repeated attempts by Wandesforde to appease Arundel came to naught. Only in the summer of 1637 did Wandesforde succeed in gaining possession of Idough. However, legal proceedings in London instigated by Arundel loomed large. In the event, Arundel was foiled. First, he was distracted by his appointment as head of the army raised to crush a Scottish rebellion in 1638. Then, his failure to do so led to his loss of favour and to Wentworth's promotion in his stead in 1639.
Between 1638 and 1640 Wandesforde busied himself developing Castlecomer. He owned the ironworks situated there, which manufactured iron pots used in making army ordnance. As he was assured of a contract for supplying the Irish army with ordnance, he anticipated large profits. He also encouraged English tenants to settle in Castlecomer with promises of cheap rents, and established a market. Arundel's inability to defeat the Scots provided Wandesforde with some breathing space, but the consequent political instability presented a more fundamental threat to his gains. His correspondence during the late 1630s demonstrates his growing unease over the manner in which the Scots’ successful defiance was encouraging resistance to the crown in England and would doubtless do so in Ireland also.
On 1 April 1640, with Wentworth in England organising another invasion of Scotland, Wandesforde was made lord deputy of Ireland. He accepted this promotion with great trepidation. Indeed, such was his lack of confidence that he refused the king's offer to make him a viscount. It is also possible that his presence was deemed essential in the house of commons. The Irish parliament had assembled earlier in the spring and had voted subsidies for the payment of an army raised in Ireland that would be used to invade Scotland. Hitherto, Wentworth had dominated the Irish parliament by a mixture of threats, deceit, and manipulation of the rivalry between catholic and protestant MPs. However, when parliament reassembled on 1 June, news was reaching Ireland that the English parliament had refused to vote subsidies to help the king defeat the Scots. Emboldened, the catholic and protestant MPs momentarily sank their differences and united in opposition to Wentworth and his cronies. Wandesforde immediately lost control of the commons, which demanded that writs be issued for seven boroughs that had been deprived of their right to representation in parliament, effectively killed proposals for a plantation of Connaught and most seriously of all ordered that the subsidies previously voted be valued at a much lower rate. He had little choice but to prorogue parliament on 17 June.
However, he could not govern Ireland without parliament. The government did not have enough money to pay for the army of 9,000 that was stationed in Ulster. Far from assisting in the invasion of Scotland, the Irish army, being primarily catholic, seemed as likely to turn against its ineffectual paymaster. The authority of the government collapsed and many simply refused to pay the subsidies, whether sanctioned by parliament or not. From England, Wentworth exhorted his friend to show greater ruthlessness, but Wandesforde's political position was untenable.
Parliament met again in early October and the commons resumed its attack, being moved neither by Wandesforde's pleas for money and support nor by his transparently empty threats to take by force what would not be voluntarily given. The commons proceeded to assert its right to initiate legislation on 13 October, inserted detailed instructions into the house journal stipulating that the subsidies be collected at a much lower rate on 20 October, and presented a document known as the remonstrance to Wandesforde on 7 November. The remonstrance was a comprehensive condemnation of the arbitrary manner in which Wentworth had ruled Ireland. Wandesforde did not escape criticism either. The Idough affair was raised in parliament and Arundel stirred trouble in England. Wandesforde's decision to change his will on 2 October to provide some limited compensation to the dispossessed landholders of Idough reflected more an appreciation of his own extreme vulnerability rather than any stirrings of his conscience. He prorogued parliament again on 12 November. Eight days later, on the advice of Wentworth, he summoned those MPs remaining in Dublin to his presence and tore out the pages of the journal of the house of commons where the instructions regarding the collection of subsidies had been inserted. This futile piece of political theatre proved his last contribution to history. He fell ill soon afterwards, and died in Dublin on 3 December 1640. According to one report, he collapsed and never recovered on hearing of the English parliament's impeachment of Wentworth. This is probably too melodramatic to be true, but there can be no doubt that he died a broken man. He was buried at Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, on 10 December. He and Alice had four sons and three daughters, the youngest of whom, as Alice Thornton (1626–1707), was the author of an informative and evocative autobiography.
The controversy over Idough/Castlecomer survived Wandesforde's death. The issue was raised in Wentworth's trial for treason in the spring of 1641 and, by the summer of 1641, the Irish parliament clearly intended to dispossess Wandesforde's heirs of Castlecomer. The dispossession was carried out that November, but not in the anticipated manner. Following the eruption of a massive catholic rebellion, various Butlers and O'Brennans murdered or chased away Wandesforde's English tenants and reclaimed their lands. His family managed to escape prior to the rebels' investment of Castlecomer, which fell after an 18-week siege. Somewhat surprisingly, given Wandersforde's role as a leading member of the Caroline regime, Oliver Cromwell (qv) restored his son and heir Christopher to the Castlecomer estate in the 1650s. Thereafter, the O'Brennans resumed their feud with the Wandesfordes by occasionally raiding their property and by taking legal action based on the compensatory provisions of Wandesforde's 1640 will. The issue was finally resolved in 1695 when the O'Brennans' claim to Castlecomer was held to have been voided by their support for the Jacobite cause. Christopher's descendants were created Viscounts of Castlecomer and continued as leading landowners in Co. Kilkenny during the 18th and 19th centuries.