Sir Thomas Wentworth, created the Earl of Strafford in 1640, was the great grand uncle of Lady Anne Conolly of Castletown House. Wentworth, a powerful and controversial figure in Irish history, was the Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1632 to 1640 and one of Charles I chief advisers. Two pictures of Wentworth hang at Castletown House. It is traditionally believed that Lady Anne Conolly brought one of these portraits, an after Van Dyck, to Castletown following her marriage to William James Conolly in 1733.
Thomas Wentworth was born in Yorkshire on the 13 April 1593 to Sir William and Anne Wentworth. Educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, Wentworth went on to study law at the Inner Temple in 1607. In 1611, he married Margaret Clifford and entered parliament for Yorkshire in 1614. This parliament, known as the ‘Addled Parliament’ sat from April to June 1614, passed no bills and was quickly dissolved by an impatient James I.
Parliament did not sit for the next seven years. In 1621, James I was forced to call a parliament in order to gain support for a military expedition with Spain. Wentworth entered parliament for the second time and in the debates that followed, allied with those seeking to curtail James I push for war and attempting to stem the influence of James favourite, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. This parliament, like the Addled Parliament, was short lived and dissolved in 1622.
Wentworth suffered personal tragedy that year, losing his wife Margaret to a short illness. In 1625, he met and married his second wife, Arabella Holles, daughter of the Earl of Clare. While his personal prospects brightened, Wentworth’s political career was fraught with struggle due to his rivalry with the Duke of Buckingham. In allying himself with those seeking to advocate for the rights of parliament, Wentworth made a powerful political enemy. With Charles I accession to the throne in 1625, Wentworth’s position weakened further. He refused to support the king’s campaign to raise money for war aboard. His political woes or struggles with Buckingham continued to dominate much of the late 1620s. By early 1628, Wentworth was dismissed from his political positions (he held a justiceship of the peace post and the office of custo rotulorum for Yorkshire). Imprisoned for his refusal to contribute funds for the king’s war campaign, Wentworth became one of the most vocal supporters of the Petition of Right.
This Petition sought to curb the power of the king and it took much political manoeuvring before Charles I finally, with much fanfare across the country, accepted the Petition of Right. Shortly after its passing, the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers was assassinated. Again, the king’s relationship with parliament came under strain with the 1629 parliamentary session ending in a breach between parliament and the king. On this occasion, Wentworth sided with the king.
Wentworth’s support for the king earned him criticism among his peers, many of whom now distrusted his motives. Wentworth’s apparent defection to and support for the Crown certainly elevated his political prospects, a point not lost on his detractors. Appointed as a Privy Counsellor, Wentworth became a close advisor to the king and in 1632 became the Lord Deputy of Ireland. Before his arrival in Ireland, Arabella, Wentworth’s second wife, died in childbirth.
His departure to Ireland was further delayed by piracy, with Wentworth losing all his personal belongings to pirates operating between Ireland and England. Finally, on the 23 July 1633, Wentworth landed in Dublin. By the time of his arrival, Wentworth had married for the third time, a marriage he failed to declare publicly. Thus, his initial months in Ireland were marred by rumours, gossip and indications of scandal. Indeed, the matter became a pressing one, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, writing to Wentworth for further clarity on the matter.
While, Wentworth’s personal life attracted a great deal of gossip, he needed all his political acumen to address the situation in Ireland. Wentworth’s chief concern was raising money and to do so effectively he needed the good will of parliament. The House of Lords and for a brief period, the House of Commons, was dominated by Catholic MPs. They supported Wentworth’s initial dealings in parliament on the basis that he would approve ‘The Graces’. The ‘Graces’, a campaign led by Catholic MPs, sought equality for Catholics. All went well until the 27 November, when Wentworth refused to approve two of the 51 Graces (related to firstly, the English statute of limitations and secondly approving the current landholding titles in Connacht, the majority of whom were Catholic).
Wentworth’s actions effectively alienated Catholic MPs, making parliamentary support for Wentworth’s policies increasingly difficult. His refusal to grant these Graces was hardly surprising in light of his subsequent policies. Wentworth, using a fourteenth century obsolete title and land grant, laid claim to land for the Crown in Connaught. Charles I had previously given Catholic landowners his personal guarantee of their safety, thus, Wentworth’s policy seemed to act contrary to that of the Crown. Nevertheless, Charles was slow to act and Wentworth pressed on with his efforts to claim land for the Crown earning him powerful enemies in Ireland, notably the new Earl of Clanricarde, Ulrick Burke. Burke utilised his many English connections and petitioned the king to save his lands. Eventually Charles I agreed to exempt Burke’s land from Wentworth’s schemes.
This was a blow to Wentworth who was fast making enemies in Ireland, among them Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork. Wentworth had insulted Boyle humiliating him on two separate occasions, firstly charging him with misappropriation of funds and secondly, ordering him to take down a tomb of his wife in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. While the Earl of Cork was indeed a powerful enemy, he was just one on a growing list. Secure in the king’s favour Wentworth appeared unperturbed. Indeed, it seemed Wentworth’s standing in the eyes of the king could hardly have been greater. Summoned to England in 1639, Wentworth was created the Earl of Strafford becoming principal advisor to Charles. An even greater challenge faced Wentworth in England namely, war with Scottish Covenanters. Wentworth endeavoured to raise money by encouraging Charles to call a parliament. He also sought support for the Crown in Ireland, levying an army in Ireland.
In England, however, Charles I became increasingly reluctant to make concessions with parliament, dissolving it abruptly in May 1640. Further problems, however, forced Charles to call a new parliament which met in November 1640. One of the first actions of this parliament, later known as the ‘Long Parliament’ was to seek Wentworth’s impeachment. As principle advisor to the king and a reputation as ‘Black Tom Tyrant’, Wentworth appeared in person to defend himself. Arrested and imprisoned in the tower, Wentworth’s fall from grace was both quick and complete… he now faced charges of high treason. Though loyal to the Crown, Wentworth had made implacable enemies, enemies determined to, and who succeeded in, securing his conviction. Charles I, having given his word to Wentworth guaranteeing his safety, made an inept attempt to gain the upper hand with parliament. This effort proved inadequate, adding more disgrace to an already impossible situation. In danger of losing his grip of the kingdom, Charles I, reluctantly gave royal assent to Wentworth’s execution. Thus, in early May 1641, Wentworth, an absolute servant to an absolute monarch, lost his head for high treason.
Relationship with the Conollys of Castletown
As already mentioned, Wentworth was the great grand uncle of Lady Anne Conolly (nee Wentworth). Wentworth’s only surviving son, William, died in 1695 without issue. The title of Earl of Stratford did not pass on. In 1711 the title was re-created for Wentworth’s grand- nephew, another Sir Thomas Wentworth. His daughter, Lady Anne, married William James Conolly of Castletown. Thus, linking the Conollys of Castletown to a rather illustrious figure in both English and Irish history.