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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is beheaded on Tower Hill near the Tower of London on May 12, 1641.

Wentworth, is born in London on April 13, 1593, the eldest surviving son of Sir William Wentworth, a Yorkshire landowner. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and at the Inner Temple, he is knighted by James I in 1611. His marriage to Lady Margaret Clifford, daughter of the impoverished Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland, establishes a link with an ancient and noble family still influential in the north.

Wentworth represents Yorkshire in the parliaments of 1614 and 1621 and Pontefract in 1624. His wife dies childless in 1622, and in February 1625 he marries Arabella Holles, daughter of John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare, a peer out of favour at court who brings Wentworth into touch with the critics of the King’s expensive and inefficient policy of war against Spain and, from 1627, against France. Along with other critics of the court he is prevented from sitting in the Parliament of 1626, and later in the year he refuses to subscribe to the forced loan imposed to pay for the war, and is for some time under arrest. Despite his record of opposition to the King’s policy, he is approached by the crown — anxious to strengthen its position in the north — with the offer of a barony in 1628. He is appointed lord president of the Council of the North and in 1629 is given a seat on the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

Wentworth’s return to the service of the court, coming so soon after his vehement opposition to it in Parliament, startles even some of his closest friends. His conduct is no doubt partly inspired by personal ambition, though he has logical reasons for his change of front since in the summer of 1628 the King gradually abandons his war policy.

On the Privy Council Wentworth seems to advocate the paternalist government that distinguishes the early years of the King’s personal rule. As President of the Council of the North he quells all defiance of his authority and makes many enemies by his insistence on the honour due to him as the King’s representative, but his administration is on the whole just and efficient. In 1631 he is deeply distressed by the death of his much-loved wife, though he provokes scandalous rumours not long afterward by secretly marrying Elizabeth Rodes, the young daughter of a neighbouring squire, in October 1632.

The King meanwhile has appointed Wentworth Lord Deputy of Ireland. Taking up his office in the summer of 1633, he immediately sets himself to consolidate the royal authority, break the power of the dominant clique of “new English” landowners, extend English settlement, improve methods of agriculture, increase the productivity of the land, and stimulate industry and trade. His ultimate goal is to assimilate Irish law and customs to the English system and to make a prosperous Protestant Ireland into a source of revenue to the English crown.

Wentworth continues his effective and firm-handed administration of Ireland until 1639, when he is recalled to England by King Charles I. The King needs advice and support in handling a Scottish revolt precipitated by an ill-conceived attempt to enforce episcopacy on the Scots. He is created Earl of Strafford in 1640 and is expected to resolve the crisis. But his policy of making war on Scotland proves disastrous for both himself and the King. The English Parliament, called especially to vote money for the war, prove recalcitrant, and Strafford, in command of the English army, fails to prevent the Scots from overrunning the northern counties. The King, unable to pay his own troops or to buy off the Scots, is compelled by joint English and Scottish action to call a new Parliament in November 1640.

Wentworth is the chief target of attack from both nations. He is advised to leave the country, but the King relies on his help and assures him that he should not suffer in life or fortune. Detained by illness, he reaches Westminster on November 10 with the intention of impeaching the King’s opponents in Parliament for treasonable correspondence with the Scots. The leader of the House of Commons, John Pym, acts first by impeaching Wentworth before he can take his seat in the House of Lords.

Wentworth’s trial begins in March 1641. The basic accusation is that of subverting the laws and is supported by a charge that he had offered to bring over the Irish army to subdue the King’s opponents in England. More detailed charges rest on his administration in Ireland and the north. He conducts his defense with great skill, and it looks at one point as though he might be acquitted. Pym therefore introduces a bill of attainder. The Commons passes it by a large majority. The Lords, intimidated by popular rioting, pass it as well, but by a much smaller majority.

While an angry mob surges around Whitehall, Wentworth writes to the King releasing him from his promise of protection, and Charles, afraid for the safety of the Queen, gives his consent to the bill. He is executed before a crowd estimated, probably with some exaggeration, at 300,000 on May 12, 1641 (as this number is roughly the population of London at the time, the crowd is likely to have been a good deal smaller). In his last speech he once more professes his faith in “the joint and individual prosperity of the king and his people,” for which, in his view, he has always worked.

Wentworth remains an enigmatic figure in English history: ambitious, greedy for power and wealth, ruthless, and sometimes dishonest, but with a vision of benevolent authoritarian government and efficient administration to which he often gave persuasive expression. He made innumerable enemies, but his few close friends were deeply attached to him. In the last weeks of his life his dignity, eloquence, and loyalty to the King made a deep impression even on some of his enemies.


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Birth of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde

James Butler, 12th Earl and 1st Duke of Ormonde, is born at Clerkenwell, London on October 19, 1610. An Anglo-Irish Protestant, he is the leading agent of English royal authority in Ireland during much of the period from the beginning of the English Civil War (1642–1651) to the Glorious Revolution (1688–1689).

Butler is born into the prominent Butler family, the eldest child of Thomas Butler and his wife Elizabeth Poyntz. He grows up in England and succeeds to the earldom of Ormonde in 1633. That same year he begins his active career in Ireland by offering his services to Lord Deputy of Ireland Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford. Upon the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in Ireland, he is appointed a lieutenant general in the English army. He defeats the rebels of the Catholic confederacy at Kilrush, Munster on April 15, 1642 and at New Ross, Leinster on March 18, 1643. Those triumphs, however, do not prevent the confederates from overrunning most of the country.

Butlers’s attempts to conclude a peace are blocked by a Catholic faction that advocates complete independence for Ireland. The situation deteriorates further and, in July 1647, he departs from Ireland, leaving the Protestant cause in the hands of the parliamentarians, who had defeated King Charles I in the first English Civil War (1642–1646).

Returning to Ireland in September 1648, Butler concludes a peace with the confederacy in January 1649. He then rallies Protestant royalists and Catholic confederates in support of Charles II, son and successor of Charles I. For several months most of Ireland is under his control. But the parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell lands at Dublin in August 1649 and swiftly conquers the country for Parliament. Butler flees to France and becomes one of Charles II’s closest advisers at his court-in-exile in Paris.

When Charles II returns to England in the Restoration of 1660, Butler, who had urged constitutional rather than military rule, is made commissioner for the treasury and the navy. Appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1662, he makes vigorous attempts to encourage Irish commerce and industry. Nevertheless, his enemies at court persuade Charles to dismiss him in 1669. He is restored to royal favour in 1677 and is again appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Although he is created a duke in the English peerage in 1682, he is recalled from Ireland in 1684 as a result of new intrigues at Charles’s court and because of the determination of James, Duke of York, to strengthen his supporters in Ireland.

Butler dies on July 21, 1688 at Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. He is buried in Westminster Abbey on August 4, 1688. His eldest son, Thomas, 6th Earl of Ossory, predeceases him, but Ossory’s eldest son James succeeds as 2nd Duke of Ormonde (1665–1745).

(Pictured: “James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde,” oil on canvas by William Wissing, National Portrait Gallery)


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Death of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork

richard-boyle-1st-earl-of-corkRichard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, English-born politician who serves as Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland and is also known as the Great Earl of Cork, dies on September 15, 1643 in Youghal, County Cork. He is an important figure in the continuing English colonisation of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, as he acquires large tracts of land in plantations in Munster in southern Ireland.

Boyle is born at Canterbury, Kent, England on October 3, 1566, the second son of Roger Boyle, a descendant of an ancient landed Herefordshire family, and of Joan, daughter of John Naylor. He goes to The King’s School, Canterbury, at the same time as Christopher Marlowe. His university education begins at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, in 1583. After this he studies law at the Middle Temple in London and becomes a clerk to Sir Roger Manwood, who is then Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

Boyle goes to Ireland in 1588. He becomes deputy Escheator under Ireland’s Escheator General John Crofton and uses his office to enrich himself, only to lose his property in the Munster rebellion in 1598. Returning to England, he is imprisoned on charges of embezzlement arising from his activities in Ireland. He is acquitted by a royal court, however, and in 1600 Elizabeth I of England appoints him clerk of the council of Munster.

Two years later, Boyle purchases Sir Walter Raleigh’s estates in the Irish counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary. By employing settlers imported from England, he develops his lands and founds ironworks and other industries. The enormous wealth he accumulates brings him honours and political influence. Created Earl of Cork in 1620, he is appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1629 and Lord High Treasurer in 1631. Nevertheless, soon after Sir Thomas Wentworth (afterward Earl of Strafford) goes to Ireland as lord deputy in 1633, Boyle is fined heavily for possessing defective titles to some of his estates. Thereafter his political influence declines.

Boyle dies at Youghal on September 15, 1643, having been chased off his lands in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. His sons, however, recover the family estates after the suppression of the rebellion.

Boyle’s first wife, Joan Apsley, the daughter and co-heiress of William Apsley of Limerick, whom he marries on November 6, 1595, dies at Mallow, County Cork on December 14, 1599 during childbirth. By his second wife, Catherine Fenton, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, he has eight daughters and seven sons, including the renowned chemist Robert Boyle and the statesman-dramatist Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery.