Thomas Wentworth 1st earl of Strafford

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Thomas Wentworth Strafford, 1st earl of, 1593–1641, English statesman. Regularly elected to Parliament from 1614 on, he became one of the critics of George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, and of the war with Spain. Charles I made him sheriff of Yorkshire in order to exclude him from the Parliament of 1626, but Wentworth continued his opposition and was imprisoned (1627) for refusing to pay the forced loan. In the Parliament of 1628 he advocated a moderate version of the Petition of Right, but when Sir John Eliot and Sir Edward Coke succeeded in carrying their more severe form of the petition, he lost influence. At this point Charles sought his adherence by creating him baron and viscount and president of the council of the north (1628), and Wentworth realigned himself as a firm supporter of royal prerogative. With William Laud, Wentworth evolved the policy known as "Thorough" to achieve an absolutist but just and efficient regime. As lord deputy of Ireland (1632–40) he systematically applied this policy. He cleared the sea of pirates, bolstered trade and industry (always with an eye to England's interest), began a reorganization of the church in Ireland, and enforced reforms in financial administration that doubled the state's revenue. However, his methods were ruthlessly despotic, and he aroused even more fear and hatred. After Charles I's humiliation by the Scots in the first Bishops' War, Wentworth was recalled (1639) to England to become the king's chief adviser. Created earl of Strafford in 1640, he obtained money from the Irish Parliament to raise Irish troops to fight the Scots, but he was unable to get a similar grant of supplies from the Short Parliament (summoned on his advice) in England. An English army of sorts was mustered and placed under Strafford's command, but it was easily defeated by the Scots in a second war. When the Long Parliament assembled (1640), it suspected that Strafford had intended to use Irish troops against the king's English opponents (although in fact the Irish army had never materialized). Impeachment proceedings were begun, but Strafford defended himself so ably that the opposition changed its tactics and introduced a legislative enactment of guilt, a bill of attainder, against him. The bill was finally passed in the panic following the discovery of the so-called army plot, by which the king had hoped to rescue Strafford and dissolve the Parliament. After anguished hesitation, Charles signed the bill, and Strafford was beheaded.

See biography by C. V. Wedgwood (1961); H. F. Kearney, Strafford in Ireland (1989).

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Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, 1st earl of (1593–1641). Wentworth made his name as a champion of constitutional rule by opposing the forced loan of 1626. However, in the 1628 Parliament he suggested the compromise which culminated in Charles I's acceptance of the petition of right. This opened the way to a career in government, and in 1633 the king sent him to rule Ireland. Strafford did so in such a despotic manner that he aroused fear and hatred in England, and when Charles, after the disastrous Bishops' wars, called Strafford to his side and made him an earl, he promised that he would not ‘suffer in his person, honour, or fortune’. Although Strafford advised Charles to summon Parliament, he planned to intimidate it by charging its leaders with treason for abetting the king's Scottish enemies. However, Pym struck first by impeaching Strafford for the greater treason of alienating the king from his subjects. At his trial, in March 1641, Strafford defended himself so ably that acquittal seemed likely. The Commons therefore changed tack, passing a bill of attainder, which simply declared Strafford's guilt and sentenced him to death. Despite the pressure from angry mobs baying for the blood of ‘black Tom the tyrant’, the king delayed his response until Strafford urged him to give his assent, ‘for prevention of evils which may happen by your refusal’. A few days later, Strafford was executed on Tower Hill. Charles subsequently realized that his consent had been a blunder, morally and politically.

Roger Lockyer

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Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of (1593–1641) English minister of Charles I. Strafford became the King's chief adviser after the death of the Duke of Buckingham and proved an extremely capable administrator as Lord President of the North (1628–33) and Lord Deputy of Ireland (1633–39). In 1639, Charles made him an Earl, but he failed to quell a Scottish rebellion (1640). Strafford was impeached by the Long Parliament and he was executed.