Thomas Wentworth was an interesting fellow. The more that I read up on him, the more I felt like… he deserves his own post, rather than sharing the space with a few other wonderfully noteworthy individuals related to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. So, stay turned for next week’s post where I’ll write a little bit more broadly about some of the other individuals in the W3K.
Today, though, let’s look at Good Old Tommy. No one called him that. Least of all the Irish. However, he was effective in whatever he did – the ODNB (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) has a beautiful piece on him, which, if you get the chance, you should read.
However, it’s really long (which makes sense, as there are many extant letters and other primary sources which pertain to Wentworth’s life), and there are lots of contexts which may not necessarily make sense to someone who has not read much in the historiography of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, so my hope in this post is to give you a general overview of his life and why he’s important enough to include into the game.
He is, perhaps with the exception of Charles I, the most important historical individual to our game. Of course, the player is just as important, but you, as a player, must be informed by the events of the world in which your character inhabits, and Wentworth would have been incredibly important in politics in Ireland in the 1630s.
Just as a note, I’ll be referring to him by his given and family names, Thomas Wentworth. While it is common for historians, especially those who study the nobility and royalty, to use titles, I think it will be far clearer to an intelligent layreader (such as yourself) to have one form of address for him, rather than “Strafford” or “Lord Deputy” or “Lord Lieutenant” variously. While just calling him Wentworth would probably have upset his sense of honor greatly, that’s exactly what we’re going to do (he was big on titles).
To begin – Little Thomas Wentworth was born in London to a decently wealthy family of landed gentry. He was born in the twilight years of Elizabeth’s reign, and was a royalist through and through. As he grew up, he was educated by eminent scholars of the day and eventually made his way to Cambridge. He was elected to Parliament and was a good speaker. While he ostensibly supported the Crown, he did not agree with how James or Charles were being advised, especially by the hungry-for-war-with-Spain Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers. However, it’s hard to disagree with the royal favorite and come out on top, and Wentworth was appointed High Sheriff in Yorkshire, which made him unable to be re-elected to Parliament again during his tenure.
After Buckingham’s murder in 1628, Wentworth’s path in life altered drastically. He was appointed President of the Council of the North, and had a hand in governing. After Charles dismissed Parliament and began his Personal Rule (1629-1640), Wentworth was one of Charles’ closest advisors (the other being Archbishop William Laud). Whether Charles intended to promote Wentworth or was trying to get rid of him, Wentworth was appointed the Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632. This meant that he was in charge of Ireland – he needed to bring order to this (in the eyes of the English crown) lawless country. He also was tasked with fundraising for the Crown on the backs of the Irish.
Before Wentworth decided to take the post, he gave his King a small list of “conditions, to which he asked the king to agree to before he accepted the new office: he should be allowed to return to England and attend the court whenever he saw fit to do so; no grant relating to Ireland was to be made without his knowledge or consent; and the king was to not allow any appeals against his decisions unless a manifest perversion of justice could be demonstrated.”
His goals, then, in Ireland, were to fix up the army, the church, and re-establish crown powers. He set to the army and navy first, negotiating with the Old English/Catholic peerage to get them to agree to the supply bills, where the wealthy (Catholic and Protestant) agreed to fund Ireland’s army. He led the Catholics to believe that he would push forth the Graces in his second Irish Parliament session, which would have given the Old English/Catholic peers some protections against the anti-Catholic legislations and would allow the loyal Catholics security in their titles, lands, and incomes. However, Wentworth did NOT give the Old English/Catholics their graces. He actually worked, in the coming years, to take away the lands of the Old English in Connacht to create a new Plantation.
This, quite understandably, made the Old English cross with the Lord Deputy.
When the Scottish Bishops’ Wars began in 1639, Wentworth was recalled to London to work more closely with Charles. Wentworth was created the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and had a deputy on the ground of the Emerald Isle while he worked with Charles in England. Due to many political factors, connections, and religious differences, after the Long Parliament was called in 1640, the Puritan led-assembly had Wentworth impeached, and when they could not get the charge of treason to stick, they passed a bill of attainder. When the King signed the bill, Wentworth’s titles, funds, and life were forfeit to the Crown. Charles did not want to sign the bill, but was afraid for the safety of his position and the physical safety of his family. So, he signed, and in May of 1641, Thomas Wentworth was executed by beheading, instead of the usual traitor’s execution (hanging and then drawing and quartering).
In another post, we’ll get into what exactly Wentworth did in Ireland, as well as give backgrounds on the various groups that I’ve mentioned here (Old English/Catholics, New English/Plantationers, and the Gaelic).
Much of the information here came from the brilliant post on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, cited here:
Asch, Ronald G. “Wentworth, Thomas, first earl of Strafford (1593–1641), lord lieutenant of Ireland.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 10 Apr. 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com.libproxy.unl.edu/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29056.