Wentworth, Sir Thomas (1593–1641), earl of Strafford, lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born 13 April 1593 in Chancery Lane, London, second but eldest surviving son of William Wentworth of Wentworth House, West Riding, Yorkshire, and his wife Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Atkinson of Stowell, Gloucestershire. He entered the Inner Temple (November 1607) in London and matriculated (Easter 1609) at St John's, Cambridge, before marrying (October 1611) Margaret, eldest daughter of Francis Clifford, earl of Cumberland. After being knighted by the king (6 December 1611) at Royston, Hertfordshire, he left England for a tour of France, becoming fluent in French and acquiring some Italian and Spanish.
Early career Following his father's death (1614), he inherited estates yielding an annual income of £4,000 and took part in local government, becoming keeper of the records for the West Riding of Yorkshire (November 1615) and a member of the council of the North (1619). He also sat in parliament as MP for Yorkshire in 1614, 1621, 1625, and 1628 and for Pontefract in 1624. Often in London, he developed contacts at the royal court and gained the patronage of Lionel Cranfield, lord treasurer of England. However, his ascent was halted by illness during 1622–4 and by Cranfield's fall from power in 1624. Cranfield's dismissal consolidated the hegemony of the royal favourite George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, whose corrupt mismanagement of government and reckless plunge towards war (with both Spain and France) appalled Wentworth.
He associated with Buckingham's enemies, among them John Holles, earl of Clare, whose daughter Arabella he married on 24 February 1624, his first wife having died in 1622. Regarding him as politically disaffected, King Charles I appointed him sheriff of Yorkshire (1625) in order to prevent him from sitting in the 1626 parliament, and dismissed him as keeper of the records (1626). In May 1627 he was imprisoned after refusing to pay an unpopular forced loan that the king was levying to finance his wars. After his release that December, he was fêted in Yorkshire for his stance and played a leading role in the first session of the 1628–9 parliament. Under his leadership the house of commons forced the king in June 1628 to make a number of concessions regarding forced loans, arbitrary arrests, and the billeting of soldiers on civilians.
Despite his prominence as an opposition figure, he had always cast himself as a moderate critic of the government and maintained links within the royal administration, including the lord treasurer, Sir Richard Weston, who mediated his entry into royal favour on 22 July 1628 when he was created Baron Wentworth. Buckingham's death in August and Weston's ensuing emergence as the king's chief minister facilitated Wentworth's creation as Viscount Wentworth (13 December), appointment as president of the council of the North (25 December), and elevation to the English privy council (10 November 1629). He was widely regarded as a turncoat by his former parliamentarian allies, and his relationship with his father-in-law, the earl of Clare, became strained and then collapsed completely after the death of his second wife in October 1631. Within a year, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Godfrey Rodes of Great Houghton, Yorkshire. With his second wife he had had a son and two daughters who survived infancy; his third marriage produced another daughter.
As president he engaged in unpopular revenue-collecting measures, designed to further the king's strategy of governing without parliament. This embroiled him in a number of controversies, and he vindictively harassed those who crossed him. Meanwhile, he quickly fell out with Weston over the lord treasurer's perceived temporising, indolence, and corruption. In his critiques of Weston, he elaborated the concept of ‘Thorough’, a phrase that conveys the manner in which he sought to enforce government policy – in a systematic, impartial, honest, and rigid fashion, putting administrative efficiency before political and even constitutional considerations. His mid 1620s period in the political wilderness aside, the progress of his career strengthened his conviction that the king's obligation to preserve order outweighed his requirement to respect his subjects’ traditional liberties.
Lord deputy of Ireland In summer 1631 the king offered Wentworth the position of lord deputy of Ireland, apparently at Weston's suggestion. Despite recognising this as a form of administrative exile, he readily accepted. Having realised that his short temper, bluff manner, and inability to get on with his colleagues had offended the king's decorous sensibilities, Wentworth judged that a distant but important posting would enable him to prove his worth without interference from other royal ministers and courtiers. Moreover, he knew that both Weston and the king regarded Ireland, for long a drain on crown finances, as a potential cash cow and had a strong stake in his success. A royal commission established in 1622 had proposed a number of as-yet-unimplemented revenue-enhancing reforms, designed to make the Dublin administration financially self-supporting. While these recommendations provided him with his policy blueprint, Wentworth was totally out of sympathy with the 1622 commissioners’ proposals to subject the Dublin administration to constitutional checks and to make it accountable to supervision from London. Determined to preserve the broad discretionary powers vested in the office of lord deputy, he extracted assurances from the king that he would enjoy complete control over the distribution of royal patronage and office in Ireland, and that no appeals against his decisions would be countenanced in London.
Although his promotion was formally announced in January 1632, he did not travel to Dublin till summer 1633, due to his desire to consolidate his standing in the north of England, where he retained his presidency. In the meantime, taxes paid by the Irish landowners to maintain the royal army in Ireland were due to expire in December 1632, and the lord justice of Ireland, Richard Boyle (qv), 1st earl of Cork, sought to make good the impending shortfall in revenues by fining catholics for recusancy. Wentworth rejected this policy, as it would render him dependent on the protestant interest and prevent his intended strategy of manipulating the rivalry between planter and native in Ireland. Instead he tried through intermediaries to induce the catholic landowners in Ireland to continue voluntarily their contributions towards the army for another year. Despite Cork's attempts to sabotage these talks, such an offer was forthcoming in November, after which the protestant landowners grudgingly agreed to contribute also.
Once in Dublin, he continued to court catholic opinion, and stamped his authority on the government by cold-shouldering Cork and his allies, while favouring Cork's bitter enemies, the vice-treasurer, Lord Mountnorris (qv) and the lord chancellor of Ireland, Adam Loftus (qv), Viscount Ely, both of whom advocated moderation towards catholicism. However, he kept even Loftus and Mountnorris at arm's length. Viewing the established royal officials in Ireland as corrupt, he relied on members of his personal entourage who had accompanied him from Yorkshire. Foremost among these were Christopher Wandesforde (qv), who became master of the rolls, and the lawyer George Radcliffe (qv). In the background were more shadowy figures such as Joshua Carpenter, George Carr, Thomas Little, and Guildford Slingsby. These men wielded great power due to their closeness to Wentworth, not necessarily because they held important positions. Indeed, Radcliffe, although a privy counsellor and Wentworth's right-hand man, never held a great office of state. It was impracticable to effect a systematic purge of unsatisfactory or unreliable government officials, army captains, or bishops. Instead, Wentworth dependants and young, ambitious types were installed in ostensibly subordinate positions, either to supervise their supposed superiors or to supplant them in the effective discharge of their office.
He also sought to minimise interference from London. Weston's meddling enraged Wentworth, but the lord treasurer's death in spring 1635 removed the possibility of further ministerial interventions from London. In 1635 he banned travel to England without his permission, which was designed to prevent complains against him in London and to facilitate his control of the flow of information between Ireland and England. Although he usually brusquely dismissed suits for revenues and lands in Ireland by London-based ministers and courtiers, he cultivated a select few about the king, who in return assiduously propogated Wentworth's partisan version of events in Ireland.
The first great success of his lord deputyship was the eradication of piracy, which – together with the more efficient administration of the customs – led to a boom in Irish customs receipts. Previously Spanish privateers had preyed on Irish shipping, but improved relations between England and Spain from 1630 led to a marked reduction in these depredations. Wentworth played his part by providing logistical support to the navy in its attempts to combat piracy and by allowing the recruitment of the Irish for service in the Spanish army. During 1632–4, 6,000 Irish emigrated to Spanish Flanders, and this process continued till 1636, thereby removing large numbers of potential troublemakers from Ireland while also serving to cement good relations with Spain, which was a priority for Wentworth. Realising that the Stuart regime needed to consolidate itself domestically, he consistently advocated a pacific foreign policy and friendship with Spain.
The 1634–5 Irish parliament Soon after assuming office Wentworth announced his intention to call the Irish parliament, which was widely interpreted as indicating that he would govern in a consensual fashion. The carefully managed 1634 elections produced a narrow protestant majority in the house of commons, facilitating his ‘divide and conquer’ tactics. In his opening address to parliament (July 1634) he gave the strong impression that in return for parliament's voting of subsidies, he would support the passing of the ‘graces’ into law. These were a number of constitutional and legal concessions to catholic grievances, which had been promised by the king in 1628 but had not been ratified. This tacit pledge assured Wentworth of the catholic party's support in parliament. The protestant members were reluctant to appear less loyal than their catholic adversaries; due to their concerns over the new administration's intentions, they had already developed a belated appreciation of the constitutional protections provided by the ‘graces’. Accordingly, the Irish parliament unanimously voted six subsidies to the government.
During the recess between the end of the first session of parliament in August and the start of the second session in November, Wentworth announced that the most fervently desired grace, guaranteeing security to property for holders who were over sixty years in possession, would not be granted, and that most of the rest would be allowed solely at the government's discretion. This breathtaking duplicity outraged the catholic representatives and led to the government's temporary loss of control of the house of commons during the second session. Although he portrayed this opposition as being exclusively catholic, many protestant MPs and peers also either voted against government bills or abstained. In his speech to parliament on 27 November he categorically ruled out legislation protecting title to property, and all but announced his intention to proceed with a plantation of the overwhelmingly catholic province of Connacht. Crucially he stated that the title to plantation land in Ulster would be guaranteed, and this tactical concession to the protestant interest, combined with his arrest of his more vociferous parliamentary critics, enabled him to regain control of the lower house.
As a result, the parliament continued into a third and final session (January–April 1635) in which he secured the passage of virtually his entire legislative programme, including modifications to the laws governing property ownership and inheritance that made it harder for landowners to avoid their feudal and financial obligations to the crown. Even when a bill regulating the sale of gunpowder was defeated, his privy council promptly issued an act of state to the same effect, which he claimed had the same force of law as parliamentary statute. Wentworth had no qualms about overriding the legislative process, but unlike the king – who was almost physically averse to parliaments – he appreciated that parliamentary approval conferred invaluable legitimacy upon government initiatives. Parliament was to be neutered, not abolished.
He also wrested control of the levying of subsidies from parliament, exploiting this authority to ensure that the six subsidies produced revenues totalling £250,000, that counties of predominately catholic landownership paid more, and that powerful landowners no longer evaded paying their share. These subsidies gave Wentworth the freedom to govern Ireland without recourse to the kingdom's social elite, and dramatically raised his standing in the king's eyes. However, he had permanently alienated the catholics, who felt they had been double-crossed. Conversely, the protestant representatives had eventually rallied behind Wentworth in parliament, believing that he would now be obliged to favour them. They too were deceived.
Renewing the Church of Ireland His closest ally in London was William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, who, as the king's chief ecclesiastical adviser, controversially sought to introduce anti-puritan, high-church reforms within the Church of England. In his private devotions Wentworth was conventionally and austerely puritan, but was not wedded to the ecclesiological and liturgical views normally associated with puritanism, and utterly opposed its populist political manifestations. This enabled him to embrace, somewhat opportunistically, the Laudian project. To be fair, Laud's initiatives tended towards centralising ecclesiastical power on the king, which accorded with Wentworth's core belief that the church should function as an arm of the state; he regarded doctrinal matters as of secondary importance.
He summoned a clerical convocation at the same time as parliament (1634), which he pressed to introduce church articles and canons used in the Church of England. The Church of Ireland encompassed a broad spectrum of protestant opinion united mainly by its anti-catholicism, but Wentworth's proposals would define it far more narrowly along Laudian lines. These measures were resisted by the Church of Ireland clergy, many of whom were puritan in sympathy and had accordingly benefited from the vagueness of the church's theology. In autumn 1634 he browbeat the convocation into adopting the English articles, although the preexisting Irish articles were not formally repudiated. However, in early 1635 continued opposition led him to desist from attempting the wholesale imposition of the English canons on the Church of Ireland. The result was a compromise that made some concessions to the clergy's puritanism and desire to maintain the limited distinctiveness of the Church of Ireland from its English mother church. Nonetheless, the fact that Irish church canons had been promulgated for the first time gave Wentworth and his ecclesiastical lieutenants a set of standards with which to enforce a more unified system of church government. Indeed, in some respects his reforms were in advance of those achieved by Laud in England.
The only open opposition to the new ecclesiastical dispensation came from a group of mainly Scottish clergy based in east Ulster who espoused advanced presbyterian or congregationalist views, but they were removed from office and forced to flee to Scotland. In Christ Church cathedral, high-church innovations were introduced into the liturgy, but it is likely that divine services in most churches continued as before. The solution to this passive disobedience was to promote sympathetic English clerics to church office in Ireland. During 1632–5 all but one member of Christ Church's cathedral chapter was removed to make way for these newcomers, most of whom went on to further promotions within the Church of Ireland. Similarly, TCD had previously been a puritan seminary, but Wentworth advanced Laudian divines within the college's academic establishment, and in 1637 imposed a new charter and set of college statutes drafted by Laud. Wentworth's church policies were executed by his former chaplain John Bramhall (qv), who became bishop of Derry in 1634. Bramhall acted as effective head of the Church of Ireland, marginalising the primate James Ussher (qv), archbishop of Armagh, who discreetly (and therefore ineffectually) opposed Wentworth's ecclesiastical reforms.
Ussher initially welcomed Wentworth's appointment in the expectation that he would remedy the church's impoverishment, and he delivered in this respect. Legislation was enacted in parliament preventing lay landowners from appropriating church revenues nominally held by absentee clergy, and restraining clergy from leasing church land for more than twenty-one years. These new leases were more favourable to the church, enabling energetic bishops to renegotiate their existing leases and charge higher rents. Wentworth encouraged both this and petitions by clergy to the court of castle chamber – essentially Wentworth and his chief ministers acting as a court – for redress regarding church property withheld by landowners. When the court speedily settled a handful of high-profile cases in favour of the clergy, this induced a flood of private settlements by fearful landowners. Complementing the activities of castle chamber was the reconstituted court of high commission, which was staffed by high-ranking clergy. Formerly preoccupied with prosecuting recusants, during the 1630s it dealt primarily with cases relating to the recovery of church property and revenues, although its punishment of nonconforming protestants earned it a certain notoriety.
Overall, the campaign to reendow the church enjoyed its greatest success in Ulster, where title to property was weakest. In 1638 Bramhall claimed to have increased church revenues in the ecclesiastical province of Armagh by over £14,000 a year. Elsewhere progress was much slower, because landowners could offer more effective legal resistance. Given that the church's finances had already been more robust in Ulster than in the other provinces, this meant that the burden of supporting the church was increased where it was heaviest. The gratitude felt by the clergy towards Wentworth for his endeavours on their behalf was offset by their unease at the resulting upsurge in anti-clericalism among the protestant laity. Wentworth believed that a prosperous and Laudian-inclined church would sanctify the state. Instead, his ecclesiastical policies dangerously politicised the church.
Catholicism and the plantation policy Widespread protestant unease regarding Wentworth's clericalism, anti-puritanism and promotion of a more elevated and sacrament-oriented form of worship was further heightened by his government's unofficial toleration of catholicism. Soon after assuming office he ordered the ecclesiastical and civil courts to stop prosecuting catholics for adhering to their faith, and also met with the catholic archbishop of Dublin, assuring him that no action would be taken against the catholic clergy if they stayed out of politics. However, far from harbouring sympathies towards catholicism he was committed to its destruction, but believed that the reform of the Church of Ireland and of Irish society was first required.
Instead of moving against the catholic clergy he assaulted their patrons, the catholic landowners. During the 1634–5 parliament he goaded the catholic representatives into opposing him because he hoped their apparent obstreperousness would convince the king to back his radical plantation policies, designed to break the economic power of the landed catholics. Ultimately, he envisaged, the property of all catholic landowners in Ireland would be subject to plantation, whereby they would forfeit one-quarter of their holdings and pay much higher rents to the crown on the rest. The forfeited lands would be granted to English-based aristocrats who would be compelled to adhere to conditions requiring heavy investment and the leasing of land to English tenants only. He regarded previous plantations as flawed due to the corrupt manner in which they were implemented and to their settling of large numbers of politically unreliable Scots in Ulster. Nonetheless, he did not propose dispossessing established British colonists, and exempted protestant landowners from plantation proceedings.
The projected plantation of Connacht represented a crucial test of strength, and he travelled in person to the province (summer 1635) to preside over inquisitions designed to prove the king's title. Juries in the counties of Roscommon, Mayo, and Sligo found for the crown, but Co. Galway was a different proposition due to the power of the dominant magnate there, Richard Burke (qv), 4th earl of Clanricard. Although a catholic, Clanricard was well connected with both the English nobility and the royal court. Fortified by their patron, the Galway jury declined to recognise the crown's claim to their county; for this, they were imprisoned and fined for perverting the course of justice. The Galway landowners immediately dispatched agents to London to protest at Wentworth's conduct.
Political crisis: 1635–6 As well as declaring war on catholic property holders, Wentworth sought to crush two prominent members of the planter elite: in autumn 1634 castle chamber prosecuted Cork for committing forgery to acquire church property at Youghal, while from spring 1635 Wentworth began to clash with his former ally Mountnorris. As the custodian of the crown's finances in Ireland, Mountnorris controlled the cash balances of the Irish exchequer and refused to allow Wentworth to borrow these sums for his private use. The two men also fell out over the management of the Irish customs farm, in which Wentworth had a one-quarter and Mountnorris a one-eighth share of the profits. By spring 1635 Wentworth was seeking to press Mountnorris into resigning from both the customs farm and office. Instead, Mountnorris defiantly circulated accusations in London that Wentworth had profited from the customs farm at the king's expense.
This charge was dangerous because by then Wentworth had alienated virtually every vested interest in Ireland, as well as leading figures in the royal court, with his radical policies. The Youghal case against Cork was reaching its climax, as was the struggle with Clanricard over the plantation of Galway. In November 1635 Clanricard died just after the agents for the Galway landowners had presented their case against Wentworth. The king declared his support for the plantation project and ordered these representatives back to Ireland. However, many members of the royal court sympathised with the 4th earl's son and successor, Ulick Burke (qv), 5th earl of Clanricard, who blamed Wentworth for hastening his father's demise. Among these was the French catholic queen of England, Henrietta Maria, whom Wentworth had already antagonised by refusing to assist her courtiers in their requests for grants of land and revenues in Ireland. As a result, the complaints of Cork, Clanricard, and Mountnorris were disseminated at court by the earl of Holland, a prominent member of the queen's entourage.
Undaunted, Wentworth resorted to extreme measures. While dining with friends in spring 1635, Mountnorris had made intemperate comments regarding Wentworth. On hearing of this, Wentworth wrote to the king arguing that as Mountnorris was a captain in the royal army, these remarks were disrespectful to a superior officer (Wentworth was commander of the Irish army) and therefore punishable by court martial. In July 1635 the king authorised him to proceed as such, but Charles probably assumed that Wentworth would inflict a minor punishment. His lord deputy had other ideas, but held this power in reserve for a time in the hope that Mountnorris would go quietly. Having been disappointed in this, on 12 December 1635 he court-martialled Mountnorris for insubordination and sentenced him to death. He immediately pardoned the vice-treasurer but used this conviction to justify removing him from office. Faced with the prospect of otherwise irreparably damaging the political credibility of his impressively performing Irish administration, the king sanctioned Mountnorris's dismissal and replacement by Wentworth's preferred candidate, Sir Adam Loftus. Nonetheless, Wentworth's heavy-handedness caused outrage; and the Galway agent Patrick Darcy (qv), who remained in London, took up Mountnorris's criticisms regarding the customs farm. It was widely believed that Wentworth had gone too far and would be recalled.
However, in June 1636 Wentworth travelled to London and vindicated his actions to the king, much to the amazement and dismay of his enemies. Charles also consented to a renegotiation of the customs farm, whereby the crown would receive a larger share of all profits; Wentworth retained his stake, Mountnorris did not. In Ireland opposition to Wentworth's rule collapsed. The Galway jurors who had remained defiant throughout 1635–6 submitted in December and formally acknowledged the crown's title (February 1637). A vengeful Wentworth imprisoned Clanricard's agents on their return from London; intended enacting a much harsher plantation settlement in Galway; and, alongside that of Connacht, proceeded with further plantations in the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond in Co. Tipperary, in Co. Clare, in the barony of Idough (Ida) in Co. Kilkenny, and in Co. Wicklow. His only setback occurred in spring 1636 when the king allowed Cork to retain his Youghal property in return for a fine of £15,000. However, Wentworth quickly resumed hounding Cork through the courts for the recovery of former church property in the diocese of Waterford and Lismore.
An absolutist regime in Ireland Having routed his enemies, Wentworth proceeded to govern Ireland with an iron fist. One of the key instruments of his rule was the court of castle chamber, which he regularly used to prosecute leading opponents of his government, its proceedings being swifter, more inquisitorial, and more subject to his control than the common law courts. Though it was normally confined to dealing with matters of public order and sedition, Wentworth received dispensation from the king to use castle chamber to determine cases between private individuals, enabling him to transform it into a body that could consider petitions of complaint on virtually any legal issue. Thereafter, the court was employed as a more equitable alternative to the common law courts for those who sought redress from the oppressions of powerful private individuals. Much of its business was delegated to special-purpose tribunals. This use of castle chamber reflected his dissatisfaction with the common law courts, which he believed unacceptably restricted the state's power.
As well as radically expanding the jurisdiction of the prerogative courts, he also launched a systematic assault on property rights through the commission for defective titles, which had been invested with statutory authority by the Irish parliament in 1634 to provide security of property on a case-by-case basis. However, in return for granting title to land, the commission imposed much higher crown rents on landowners and converted the tenure on which lands were held from common socage to knight's service, thereby exposing the occupier to onerous feudal obligations, which were enforced with unprecedented rigour by the court of wards. Although the commission's grants protected property holders from private challenges, they did not guarantee security from plantation proceedings; indeed, a surrender-and-regrant from the commission could be construed as proving the crown's title. The commission pursued its work with relentless efficiency from 1636, precipitating a collapse in property values. On balance, catholic landowners probably suffered more, but the protestant planters were accustomed to preferential treatment from the crown and were outraged at the manner in which Wentworth had turned the machinery of government against them.
Along with the parliamentary subsidies, rise in customs receipts, and imposition of an unpopular tobacco monopoly, the depredations of the court of wards and of the commission for defective titles contributed to a spectacular improvement in the crown's finances. In 1633 the Irish government had debts of £94,000 and ordinary revenues of £40,000 a year. By 1636 the public debt had been eliminated, while by 1640 ordinary revenues amounted to £84,000, enabling Wentworth to forward £50,000 to the English treasury that year. However, it was not just the king who benefited.
Personal wealth, viceregal pomp Initially, Wentworth had probably hoped to secure a speedy promotion back to England, but he soon realised that the lord deputyship provided him with more enticing prospects of political and especially financial advancement. Indeed, a catholic critic noted bitterly that he gained more in three years than his predecessors had acquired in the previous twenty. During 1635–40 Wentworth's investment within the customs farm proved immensely lucrative, netting him profits of c.£35,000. In 1637 he secured the licence for the tobacco monopoly, and in 1638 the farm of the taxes levied on wines imported into Ireland. The former was a monumental undertaking, producing revenues of £79,000 and expenses of £86,000 between 1637 and 1640, and, while initially loss-making, promised huge profits. He procured a warrant from the king to borrow up to £40,000 from the Irish exchequer in order to accumulate tobacco stock, eventually taking £24,000, which he repaid when he came under political pressure in late 1640. This warrant merely formalised his practice (post-Mountnorris) of treating the Irish exchequer as his personal bank.
He acquired a large estate in Co. Wicklow as part of the plantation of the O'Byrnes’ territory, which was enacted in 1640 after convoluted negotiations between various interested parties. The O'Byrnes subsequently declared their grievances at their treatment, and it is likely they were intimidated into agreeing to their loss of land. Certainly this was the case with Wentworth's acquisition in 1637 of most of the O'Connor Sligo estate in Co. Sligo, the owner of which was warned that if he did not sell, the land would be seized in the impending plantation of Connacht, while the rights of another (to whom the estate had been mortgaged) were ignored. He also bought land in Kildare and the manors of Cosha (1637) and Shillelagh (1638) in Co. Wicklow, eventually amassing an Irish estate of some 70,000 acres.
Furthermore, he exploited his regulatory powers to benefit his own business enterprises. Shillelagh had been the site of a timber export business, which he had been able to acquire cheaply after his ban on the export of timber bankrupted the previous owner. However, once in situ at Shillelagh he procured a licence to export timber from the region and his exemption from the normal customs duties. The imposition of strict regulations on the sale of yarn were designed to benefit a linen factory he had established at Chapelizod in Dublin, but had the effect of nearly destroying the linen trade in Ireland before they were hastily rescinded. Neither did it do much good to his linen factory, which (along with an iron works in which he had also invested) proved a heavy loss-maker and was wound up.
While his income increased, so too did his outgoings as he spent heavily on property, financial investments, and business enterprises. On his large estate near Naas, Co. Kildare, he began constructing from 1635 a residence at Jigginstown, which if completed would have been the largest private residence in the three kingdoms. By 1640 he had spent at least £35,000 on land and £22,000 on property development, and was heavily indebted despite enjoying an annual income of about £25,000 (this figure includes his government salary of £2,000 a year but does not include the bribes he accepted). Most of the methods by which he pursued his self-aggrandisement were officially tolerated but hardly encouraged, and certainly not on the scale practised by Wentworth. Such rapacity sat uneasily alongside his self-righteous denunciations of government colleagues and landowners for neglecting the public interest to benefit themselves, leaving him exposed to charges of hypocrisy.
It is true that Wentworth was solicitous for the gain of the state as well as for himself and that he undertook to pay what were potentially unprofitably high rents to the crown for his estates in Wicklow and for the tobacco monopoly. However, this apparent altruism needs to be considered in the light of his dependence on state coffers to lubricate his personal finances and of his private stake in the administration of Ireland, which was of such an extent that the government of the kingdom had virtually become a joint partnership between him and the king. Reflecting his proprietary attitude towards the government of Ireland, Wentworth went to great lengths to highlight his status as someone to whom his king had delegated quasi-monarchical authority. This attitude was exemplified in 1639 when he objected that a critic had ‘traduced his person and in him his majesty, whose character and image he was’ (Perceval-Maxwell, ‘Ireland and the monarchy’ (1991)).
Testifying to his success in concentrating sovereign authority in Ireland on his person, those eager for government preferment were obliged to attend on him in Dublin instead of going to London. This development enabled him to establish a viceregal court for which he laid down an elaborate set of procedural rules; he even kept a jester. On one occasion he boasted of being followed by an entourage of 200 people while hunting outside Dublin. He also revelled in his role as a military commander, being accompanied on all public occasions by a personal guard of about 100 soldiers. The presence of more nobles, soldiers, office-seekers, and petitioners in Dublin caused the city to grow rapidly during the late 1630s. He contributed to this by renovating Dublin castle and Christ Church cathedral, and by beginning the construction of a building for the Irish mint. The previously sleepy settlement was being refashioned into a suitably impressive royal capital that attested to the greater reach and power of both the state and its governor.
In August 1637 he went on a triumphal progress through Leinster and Munster, where he was greeted with adulatory civic receptions in various towns. In reality these were carefully choreographed events designed to disguise the reality of a country simmering with rage. During the mid to late 1630s, plantation proceedings and the collection of parliamentary subsidies led to violent resistance among the catholic population, particularly in south Leinster, Tipperary, Clare, and much of Connacht. Popular discontent was intensified by a run of bad harvests during the late 1630s, the adverse economic impact of which was aggravated by Wentworth's high taxes, heavy-handed regulation of trade, and disregard of property rights. However, these scattered and localised eruptions of violence were easily suppressed by the 3,400-strong standing army, which he frequently relied on to collect taxes and enforce government policy generally.
The main danger to Wentworth came from his guileless royal master, who in early 1637 nearly went to war with Spain. Wentworth was horrified at this prospect, realising that the demands occasioned by the intended conflict would render Ireland ungovernable without a broader and firmer support-base than his regime could muster and that consequently Charles was likely to dispense with him in order to appease popular opinion should the war go badly. Despite all his successes, Wentworth never gained the full confidence of the king, who was irritated by his lord deputy's willingness to engage in a succession of high-profile and polarising controversies. More annoying still were Wentworth's constant strictures on the need for greater professionalism and thoroughness in the administration of England. Accordingly, the king ignored his advice on non-Irish affairs and repeatedly turned down his requests to be made an earl.
The Scottish foreshock While war with Spain was narrowly averted, another threat emerged in 1637 when the king's Scottish subjects successfully rebelled against attempts to impose Laudian reforms on their Kirk. Wentworth was fiercely anti-Scottish and urged the king to take a hard line. However, Charles excluded him from any say in Scottish affairs, relying instead on Wentworth's enemies, the earls of Arundell and Holland, and the duke of Hamilton, who exploited their influence to undermine Wentworth at every turn. Arundell in particular nursed a powerful sense of grievance against Wentworth, as the lord deputy had promised to support his claim to the territory of Idough, Co. Kilkenny, only to settle this property on his crony Christopher Wandesforde in 1636.
For all the controversy surrounding Wentworth's plantation schemes, those of Idough and Wicklow were the only plantations he actually implemented. The progress of the Connacht plantation was painfully slow after 1636 due to the passive resistance of the catholic landowners and to the sheer scale of the enterprise, while the well advertised harshness of Wentworth's rule dissuaded potential English colonists from settling in Ireland as tenants. Moreover, the mounting sense of crisis that beset the Stuart regime due to its Scottish difficulties proved a major distraction and ensured that the plantations of Connacht, Tipperary, and Clare remained a dead letter.
It also encouraged unrest in Ireland, particularly in Ulster, where many of the Scottish settlers took the covenant, thereby swearing to uphold a presbyterian form of church government. Wentworth was restrained from taking immediate action by the king, who was then engaged in negotiations with the Scottish rebels. He also had to contend with the meddling of Hamilton, who championed the scheme of the catholic peer Randal MacDonnell (qv), 2nd earl of Antrim, to attack Scotland on behalf of the king with a private army drawn from his clansmen in Antrim and western Scotland. Infuriated at not being consulted on this matter, Wentworth raised a host of objections to this project (particularly the dangers attendant on arming catholics) and hindered Antrim's efforts to mobilise and equip his forces.
While he awaited his opportunity he readied the Irish army and set about reasserting his authority in Ulster in early 1639, by which time negotiations with the Scots had collapsed. In April 1639 he dispatched commissioners into Ulster to administer to all adult Scots there an oath declaring their loyalty to the king and abjuring the covenant. These commissioners were seconded by the quartering of 1,500 soldiers on the province. Although there was no open resistance to this oath, many staunch covenanters fled for Scotland. Despite these largely successful repressive measures, Wentworth's stock at court reached a nadir in the first half of 1639 due to his unhelpfulness towards Antrim and to the fallout from his suspending from office and imprisoning (May 1638) the lord chancellor, Loftus, after blatantly rigged proceedings in the court of castle chamber. Wentworth's hostility towards the lord chancellor was partly motivated by Loftus's failure to provide financial maintenance for his estranged daughter-in-law Eleanor Loftus, who was widely believed to be the lord deputy's mistress. These rumours of personal impropriety were damaging, and Charles plainly disbelieved Wentworth's protests that his prosecution of Loftus was motivated by a simple desire to see justice done. In spring 1639 the king dismayed Wentworth by agreeing to hear Loftus's appeal against his treatment in London, and by exempting Clanricard's lands from the plantation of Connacht.
Lord lieutenant of Ireland and chief royal adviser However, the dismal failure of the king's invasion of Scotland (summer 1639) discredited Wentworth's rivals and led the king to invite him to London in July to become his chief adviser. Charles's sudden about-turn indicates how serious the threat to his regime had become. Wentworth was in England by September, and his eminence was borne out that autumn by the failure of Loftus's appeal, and in January 1640 by his elevation to the more prestigious title of lord lieutenant of Ireland and his creation as earl of Strafford. He appointed Wandesforde as lord deputy to govern Ireland in his name.
He believed that the covenanters had to be crushed and that the only means of raising the money to do so was by calling the English parliament. Ireland was to play a key supporting role in this strategy: with the benefit of subsidies granted by the Irish parliament, the Irish army would be expanded by 8,000 foot to take part in the invasion of Scotland. Most of these recruits were catholic, which would alter the composition of the previously protestant army, although (unlike Antrim's army) nearly all the officers were protestants. The prospect of a predominately Irish catholic army being used to suppress Scottish protestants was disturbing for many English. Fatally, Wentworth failed to appreciate the depths of this disquiet because he regarded the genuine – albeit often paranoid and hysterical – anti-catholicism of his compatriots as camouflage for demagoguery and subversion, not as a powerful political impulse in itself.
He deployed all the instruments of state control at his disposal in 1640 to ensure a favourable Irish parliament and to reduce sharply the number of catholic MPs returned to the house of commons. Meanwhile in the upper house a number of peers were discouraged from attending or stayed away in silent protest. He returned to Dublin on 18 March to preside over the first session of parliament, which had commenced two days previously. There was some opposition in parliament but it was relatively muted, due to the representatives’ fear of the lord lieutenant and to the pro-government stance adopted by dependants of Cork and Clanricard, both of whom had entered into uneasy and short-lived alliances with Wentworth. As a result, parliament granted four subsidies worth £180,000 in total on 23 March, assured the crown of a further £90,000 if needed, and consented to a declaration that eulogised Wentworth's government of the kingdom in the most craven terms. He left Ireland for good in early April.
However, his successful management of the Irish parliament backfired, as it convinced the king that he was not necessarily dependent on financial support from the Westminster parliament. A political impasse quickly ensued when the more intractable English parliament met in April and demanded major concessions in return for subsidies. The prospect of pursuing war without English subsidies was unwelcome to Wentworth, but he failed to persuade the king to moderate sufficiently his terms. Nonetheless, following the dissolution of parliament (5 May) he successfully urged Charles to continue his military preparations, arguing that enough money could be scraped together to finance a short campaign against the Scots, which he affirmed would achieve victory. His desperate resolve surely owed much to the delicate state of his personal finances. In time, his prodigious investment in his Irish interests would make him fantastically wealthy, but currently he remained mired in debt, and his fall from power would guarantee his financial ruin.
Reports of the English parliament's denial of subsidies, and of the serious illnesses that struck him down for much of the summer, demoralised Wentworth's allies in Dublin and encouraged opposition when the Irish parliament reassembled in June. Dissident catholic and protestant MPs sank their differences and, after wresting control of the house of commons from the hapless Wandesforde, reasserted the right of parliament to supervise the levying of three of the subsidies voted for in March. The threatened dilution of these subsidies undermined one of the financial pillars on which the dismayed king had hoped to build his war effort, and shook his confidence in Wentworth. By August the Irish army was at Carrickfergus awaiting shipment to England, but the beleaguered, near-bankrupt English administration did not have the time and resources to transport and maintain this force. Wentworth had gambled on negotiating a £300,000 loan (really a subsidy) from the Spanish government in return for the right to recruit 3,000 men in Ireland for service in the Spanish army and a military alliance with England against the Dutch republic. However, the eruption in June of a rebellion in Catalonia frustrated this scheme and heralded Wentworth's downfall.
Meanwhile, Scottish forces invaded England on 17 August, occupying Newcastle on 30 August. Wentworth went to York to command the royal army there, but proved unable to rally the demoralised, poorly equipped, and mutinous soldiers, being hampered by his own military inexperience and by a lack of funds and popular support. In late August he was forced to call off the campaign, after which the threat of an imminent rebellion in England led Charles to sue for peace with the Scots and call a new English parliament for November. However, Wentworth continued as his chief adviser, much to the alarm of the opposition. Despite being advised to flee the country, Wentworth went to London where, fearing that he intended to launch a royalist coup, parliament impeached him for treason on 11 November. He was arrested that day and committed to the Tower of London on 25 November. As a prelude to his impeachment, the Irish parliament presented a remonstrance to Wandesforde on 7 November, condemning Wentworth's rule of Ireland. Thereafter, the Dublin assembly set about dismantling the apparatus of his regime, impeaching his leading ministers, and seizing his Irish property.
Trial, attainder, execution and aftermath When his trial began on 22 March 1641, sixteen of the twenty-eight charges against him related to his rule of Ireland. However, Wentworth defended himself with skill and eloquence, cited precedent for his actions, and argued compellingly that English standards of legality did not apply in Ireland. The prosecution hoped that providing numerous instances of his arbitrary governorship would discredit him, but Wentworth contended that even if true these were misdemeanours, not treason. His foes then fell back on the charge that on 5 May 1640 Wentworth had advised the king to use the Irish army to suppress his English subjects. However, only one witness could be found to affirm (rather unconvincingly) this charge, leaving the prosecution in disarray.
Although the trial limped on, it was overshadowed by the decision of the house of commons to initiate a bill of attainder against him on 10 April, which if passed would condemn him to death. The crudely political nature of these proceedings exposed the desperation of Wentworth's enemies, whose credibility had been tarnished by their failure to prove his guilt conclusively by course of law. By then his fate had driven a wedge between moderates and radicals within parliament, and a compromise whereby he was barred from public office, but not executed, was all but finalised. However, he was undone by the sudden death of the moderate parliamentarian leader, the earl of Bedford, and by the king's political ineptitude and botched coup attempt of 2 May. Regarding Wentworth as too formidable to be permitted to live in the context of a possible civil war, and aided by the intimidation of MPs and peers by the London crowds, the parliamentarian hardliners forced the bill of attainder through the house of commons on 21 April and the house of lords on 7 May.
With a threatening multitude clamouring for Wentworth's head outside an undefended Whitehall palace, the king capitulated and signed his death warrant on 10 May, inspiring the condemned man's possibly apocryphal and certainly justifiable outburst, ‘Put not your trust in princes’ (Wedgwood, Strafford, 380). His final hours were largely spent in prayer with the archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, who – despite his past differences with Wentworth – was moved by his exemplary piety and humility. He went calmly to his death on 12 May, being beheaded in front of a large and hostile crowd at Tower Hill after making a dignified speech on the scaffold. His body was later buried at Wentworth Woodhouse.
The widespread jubilation that greeted his death in England and Ireland was misplaced: it made a civil war in England more likely, as Charles never forgave his enemies for compelling him to sacrifice his most able and devoted servant. In Ireland the consequences of his execution were more immediately pernicious, as it effectively terminated an ongoing alliance of convenience between the catholic and protestant elites against Wentworth's regime. Within months a ferocious catholic uprising had consumed the country. To an extent, Wentworth was culpable in this as he had further alienated catholic Ireland, but his administration would have maintained order had it not been undermined by political upheaval on the other side of the Irish Sea. At his death, his estate was at least £107,000 in debt, most of which had been incurred in 1640 when he had borrowed heavily to sustain the flagging royalist war effort. Normally, the property of attainted individuals was confiscated, but this punishment was not enforced, to general disgruntlement in Ireland. During the 1630s he was the subject of three famous portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, one of which is at Petworth House, Sussex; the other two are held in the private collection of the trustees of the Rt Hon. Olive, Countess Fitzwilliam's Chattels Settlement, and Lady Juliet De Chair.
Conclusion A number of factors coalesced to make possible Wentworth's experiment in absolutist rule in Ireland. The crown had finally consolidated its grip on the country sufficiently to make good its sovereign claims, while the immigration of large numbers of British protestants had created a relatively even sectarian balance of power that he could exploit. Meanwhile, in England an unpopular king, desperately in need of additional sources of revenue, was willing to countenance drastic courses. The final ingredients lay in Wentworth's industry, determination, and audacity: through sheer force of personality he bent a kingdom to his will.
Controversy has raged as to whether his policies as viceroy represent an established colonial mindset particular to the rule of Ireland (albeit taken to extremes) or a novel ideological commitment to a form of absolutism that had wider application. He frequently distinguished between Ireland, which as a conquered country had always been governed in an arbitrary fashion, and England, where the prevailing legal and constitutional norms commanded respect. Nonetheless he believed some aspects of his rule of Ireland were appropriate for England, particularly with regard to the church, the role of the prerogative courts within the legal system and the management of parliament. Few of his methods were innovatory: previous colonial governors of Ireland had confiscated property, manipulated parliamentary and judicial proceedings, and relied on the army to crush dissent, while royal administrators in England had also resorted to dubious expedients in times of emergency. It is also true that many of Wentworth's actions were not the product of a grand strategy but responses to circumstances beyond his control. However, no other contemporary English statesmen would have proceeded with such singular ruthlessness and disregard for elite and popular sentiment. He embodied a pessimistic current in European political thought that recoiled from the intellectual, social, and religious ferment inspired by the Renaissance during the sixteenth century, and upheld the princely state – authoritarian, militarised, and centralised – as the indispensable guarantor of order.