Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, 1st earl of

Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, 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. His methods, however, 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 (1959, repr. 1989).

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