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Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford 1593 - 1641

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

Coming round to the King's point of view was a change which would cost him his life.

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Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford - rhs Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

A former opponent of Crown policy, Strafford became Charles' leading supporter and ally throughout the 1630s. Recalled from Ireland to serve as the King's chief adviser, Strafford became a scapegoat for Royal policy and, ultimately, paid with his life.

For someone so closely identified with Crown policy, Strafford first emerged as an opponent of the Crown, initially under James, and then under Charles. Elected to the House in 1614, Strafford criticised the Duke of Buckingham and opposed the war with Spain. This opposition continued into the new reign and Charles tried to exclude him from Parliament by appointing him Sheriff of Yorkshire. In 1627, Strafford was jailed when he refused to pay the forced loan.

However, in 1628, Charles and Strafford effected a rapprochement, and, from that point onwards, Strafford was closely associated with Royal policy, serving as President of the Council of the North.

Lord Deputy of Ireland between 1632 and 1640, Strafford helped implement the policy of 'thorough'-the efficient management of Crown assets and the ruthless squeezing of revenue from Royal resources. During his time in Ireland, Strafford doubled the revenue accruing to the crown.

By 1639, Charles was embroiled in religious controversy with the Scots and had been humiliated in the First Bishops War. Turning to Strafford for advice, the newly elevated Earl recommended the recall of Parliament to provide the resources needed to fund a proper army, and it was at this point that Royal policy began to unravel. After eleven years of personal rule, the opposition was desperate for an opportunity to air its grievances and Parliament provided the perfect forum. They were also deeply suspicious of Charles and Strafford's long term motives, fearing that any army raised to crush the Scots could also be used against opposition at home. After three quarrelsome weeks, the Short Parliament was dissolved.

When the Second Bishops War ended in further humiliation, Charles called the Long Parliament and the Crown's opponents focused their anger on key architects of Royal policy, such as Strafford and Laud. Within a week of the new Parliament, Strafford was impeached on charges of treason and Archbishop Laud soon joined him in the Tower. When Strafford repudiated the charges brought against him, his critics responded by introducing a bill of attainder, effectively a legislative enactment of guilt. In an atmosphere awash with rumours and paranoia, the Commons and Lords finally passed the bill and, desperate to safeguard his own position, Charles abandoned the chief adviser he had once promised to protect and signed the death warrant.

Strafford was executed on Tower Hill on 12th May, 1641 in front of a crowd of 100,000.

English Civil War: The Key Players

 

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