MoboReader > Literature > The Story of Ireland

   Chapter 34 STRAFFORD.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 8487

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

In 1632, Wentworth--better known as Strafford--arrived in Ireland, prepared to carry out his motto of "Thorough." Only three years before, he had been one of the foremost orators in the struggle for the Petition of Right. The dagger of Fenton had turned him from an impassioned patriot and constitutionalist into a vehement upholder of absolutism. His revolt had been little more than a mask for his hostility to the hated favourite Buckingham, and when Buckingham's murder cleared the path to his ambition, Wentworth passed, apparently without a struggle, from the zealous champion of liberty to the yet more zealous champion of despotic rule.

He arrived in Ireland as to a conquered country, and proceeded promptly to act upon that understanding. His chief aim was to show that a parliament, properly managed, could be made not a menace, but a tool in the hand of the king. With this end he summoned an Irish one immediately upon his arrival, and so managed the elections that Protestants and Catholics should nearly equally balance one another. Upon its assembling, he ordered


peremptorily that a subsidy of £100,000, to cover the debts to the Crown, should be voted. There would, he announced, be a second session, during which certain long-deferred "graces" and other demands would be considered. The sum was obediently voted, but the second session never came. The parliament was abruptly dissolved by the deputy, and did not meet again for nearly four years.

The Connaught landlords were the next whom he took in hand. We have seen in the last chapter that they had recently paid a large sum to the Crown, in order to ward off the dangers of a plantation. This did not satisfy Wentworth. Their titles were again called into question. He swept down in person into the province, with the commissioners of plantations at his heels; discovered, to his own complete satisfaction, that all the titles of all the five western counties were defective, and that, as a natural consequence, all lapsed to the Crown. The juries of Mayo, Sligo, and Roscommon were overawed into submission, but the Galway jury were obstinate, and refused to dispossess the proprietors. Wentworth thereupon took them back with him to Dublin, summoned them before the Court of the Castle Chamber, where they were sentenced to pay a fine of £4,000 each, and the sheriff £1000, and to remain in prison until they had done so. The unfortunate sheriff died in prison. Lord Clanricarde, the principal Galway landlord, died also shortly afterwards, of anxiety and mortification. The others submitted, and were let off by the triumphant deputy with the surrender, in some cases, of large portions of their estates, in others of heavy fines.

By these means, and others too long to enter into here, he contrived to raise the annual Irish revenue to a surplus of £60,000, with part of which he proceeded to set on foot and equip an army for the king of 10,000 foot and 1,000 horse, ready to be marched at a moment's notice. This part of the programme was intended as a menace less against Ireland than England. Charles was to be absolute in both islands, and, to be so, his Irish subjects were to help him to coerce his English ones.

Let us, however, be just. Strafford was a born tyrant--worse, he was the champion of an absolutism of the most odious type conceivable, one which, if successful, would have been a death-blow to English liberty. But he was also a born ruler. No petty tyrants flourished under his sway. His hand was like iron upon the plunderers, the pluralists, the fraudulent officials, gorged with their ill-gotten booty. What he did, too, he did well. If he struck, he could also protect. He ruthlessly suppressed the infant woollen trade, believing that it might in time come to be a rival to the English one, but he was the founder of the linen trade, and imported Flemish weavers to teach it, and the best flax-seed to sow in the fields. He cleared the sea of the pirates who swarmed along the coasts, and had recently burnt the houses and carried off the inhabitants of several villages. The king's authority once secured he was anxious to secure to the mass of the people, Catholic as well as

Protestant, a just and impartial administration of the law. No one in Ireland, he was resolved, should tyrannize except himself.


He and Laud, the primate, were close allies, and both were bent upon bringing the Church of Ireland to an absolute uniformity with that of England, and, with this object, Wentworth set a Court of High Commission to work to root out the Presbyterian ministers and to suppress, as far as possible, dissent. The Irish bishops and episcopalian clergy were, with hardly an exception, Low Churchmen, with a leaning to Calvinism, and, upon these also his hand was heavy. His regard for the Church by no means stood in his way either in his dealings with individual churchmen. He treated the Primate Ussher--one of the most venerated names in all Irish history--with marked contempt; he rated the Bishop of Killaloe upon one occasion like a dog, and told him that "he deserved to have his rochet pulled over his ears;" boasting afterwards, to his correspondent, of how effectually he had "warmed his old sides."

In another letter to Laud, we get a graphic and rather entertaining account of his dealings with Convocation. The Lower House, it seems, had appointed a select committee, which had drawn up a book of canons upon the lines of what were known as the "Nine Articles of Lambeth." Wentworth was furious. "Instantly," he says, "I sent for Dean Andrews, that reverend clerk, who sat, forsooth, in the chair at this committee, and required him to bring along the aforesaid book of canons; this he obeyed, ... but when I came to open the book, I confess I was not so much moved since I came into Ireland. I told him certainly not a Dean of Limerick, but an Ananias had sat in the chair at that committee, and sure I was that Ananias had been there in spirit if not in body[10]."

[10] Earl of Stratford's "Letters and Despatches," vol. i. p. 342.

The unhappy Ananias naturally submitted at once to the terrible deputy, and, although Archbishop Ussher and most of the bishops defended the attacked canons, Wentworth carried his point by a sheer exercise of power. Throwing the list of canons already drawn out aside, he drew up another of his own composition, and forced the Convocation to accept it. "There were some hot spirits, sons of thunder, amongst them," he tells Laud boastfully, "who moved that they should petition me for a free synod, but, in fine, they could not agree among themselves who should put the bell about the cat's neck, and so this likewise vanished[11]." The cat, in truth, was a terrible one to bell!

[11] Ibid.

But the career of the master of Ireland was nearing its end. By the beginning of 1640 the Scotch were up in arms, and about to descend in force upon England. The English Puritans, too, were assuming a hostile attitude. Civil war was upon the point of breaking out. Charles summoned Wentworth over in hot haste from Ireland, and it was decided between them that the newly-organized Irish forces were to be promptly employed against the Scotch rebels. With this purpose Wentworth--now with the long-desired titles of Earl of Strafford and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland--hurried back to make the final arrangements. Fresh subsidies were obtained from the ever-subservient Irish parliament; more recruits were hastily summoned, and came in readily; the army was put under the command of the young Earl of Ormond, and Stratford once more returned to England. He did so only to find all his calculations upset. A treaty had been made in his absence with the Scots; the Long Parliament had assembled, and the fast-gathering storm was about to break in thunder over his own head. He was impeached. Witness after witness poured over from Ireland, all eager to give their evidence. Representatives even of the much-aggrieved Connaught landlords--though their wrongs did not perhaps count for much in the great total--were there to swell the tide. He was tried for high treason, condemned and executed. In England the collapse of so great and so menacing a figure was a momentous event. In Ireland it must have seemed as the very fall of Lucifer himself!


* * *

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top