Wentworth – the land settlements and religion.
Wentworth was not devoid of helping himself either to revenues or from land acquisitions, sometimes for himself, and at other times for his favourites. In his defence is has to be said that such wheeling and dealing was the custom and practice of the day, and to his credit he never went to the extremes that many others in government routinely did. Over land ownership, he was of the opinion that
` predatory early settlers had cheated the king and then perpetuated a fraud under cover of the common law. He intended to prevent the lawyers from interpreting the common law in a way that was harmful to the rights of the Crown.`
[ Thomas Wentworth , A revaluation, C V Wedgwood,1998]
His land policy in practice was essentially a `new English` system – of planting Protestant settlers who would be loyal to the King, and moving on the Irish to the periphery, or to other counties, or Province. In particular he intended to have a plantation in Connaught that was at least as big as that in Ulster. Generally, any land for which ownership could not be proved was escheated to the Crown and disposed at will. This offered enormous scope for enrichment of both King and Wentworth himself.
Ireland had belonged to the English Crown since the reign of King Henry II (r.1154-1189), but the descendants of the Norman families who had then crossed over had in many ways assimilated themselves into the indigenous Irish majority. They had intermarried with them, and their leading nobility had often acquired some of the characteristics of the chiefs of Celtic clans. The Earl of Clanricarde (de Burgh) and the Earl of Ormonde (Butler), of Norman descent, both enjoyed much the same prestige and much the same power with their people as, for instance, such ancient Irish chieftains as the Earl of Inchiquin (O’Brien) or the Earl of Antrim (Macdonnell). Moreover the Norman-Irish, or the ‘Old English’ as they were often called, like the native Irish, had remained Roman Catholic A relative peace was broken when settlement began with the Plantation in 1610. With this the trouble between England and Ireland entered a new and bitter phase mainly over land allotments. The English/Scots colonial expansion was accompanied by rejection of the official religion of the English (Protestant episcopacy) and attempts to force the Anglicised Church of Ireland on everybody. Difficulties inevitably followed.
Inexorably linked with the land issues was the Church, whose vast acreages were at the heart of the matter. The Earl of Cork, for example, had appropriated four hundred livings and rented out to a family member the Bishopric of Waterford for forty shillings a year. He then sub let the vicarages at a huge profit. Others had done similarly on a lesser scale, often browbeating clerics into submission or paying them a pittance while they creamed off the better part of the living and tithes. This left the Church in a dreadful state. The buildings were decayed and falling down , the country clerics were basically crude, lewd and rude and failing in their duties in all respects. Some of the bigger churches were leased out as stables, and ale houses, while St Patricks, Dublin was often flooded with the overflow from nearby slaughter houses. It is small wonder that there was little respect for the official Church and only encouraged the people generally to keep to their cherished religion, be it Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or other non conformist beliefs.
Wentworth planned for uniform and properly conducted Anglican worship throughout Ireland. But he had the sagacity to caution Archbishop Laud not to proceed too quickly, and counseled not to attack the Catholic Church until its position and strength were better understood. Because the Presbyterians had their own church government and rejected the King as its ruler, he saw this as gross disloyalty and determined to crush it wherever found. The changes began by enforcing, by diktat to a favourite (Henry Leslie, Prolocutor or Chairman of the Convocation and later Bishop of Down), who railroaded through the Convocation in 1635, a requirement to adopt the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England. This overrode the accommodation that had been given by Archbishop Ussher in 1615 and made life difficult for the non conformists. From this stemmed the disagreements with the likes of
Blair and Livingstone, the attempt to go to America on the “Eagle
wing”, and the departure of several prominent Presbyterian ministers from Ulster. It also created resentment among the bulk of the Ulster Protestants. Every Province of Ireland now had enemies. In Connaught he had the opposition of Lord Clanricarde seeking return of lands in Galway, and the enmity of the de Burgh and Burke clans. In Munster the unforgiving Earl of Cork waited his chance. In Leinster he had the enmity of the Old English because he had increased their share of the subsidy paid to the Crown for the `Graces`.
In 1637 he added to his list of enemies the Irish Chancellor, Lord Loftus, whom he had removed from office, but refused to accept the decision. This case dragged on into the autumn1639 before the elderly and stubborn Loftus capitulated. At Westminster the new Earl of Clanricarde ( also Earl of St Albans) managed to get the King to return the Galway lands that had been seized. Very annoyed at the King`s decision, Wentworth foolishly delayed the return of the lands for several months and only added to the friction and his growing adverse reputation at Court, particularly with the Queen`s party who were related to the Earl of Clanricarde/St Alban`s. With Scotland in the picture Wentworth was also hostile and suspicious of the Marquess of Hamilton, the King`s Commissioner in Scotland and an adviser on the Ulster Plantation, who was hoping to take over lands previously held by the Corporation of London in Londonderry. As things worsened in Scotland with the Covenanters and the
Bishop’s Wars so the influence of Hamilton grew. It was he who influenced the King to grant (secretly) authority to the Earl of Antrim to claim the ancient lands of Kintyre , (held by the Earl of Argyll), and wage a private war. This led to inflated claims for financial support from Antrim that Wentworth declined – and left
in its wake another resentful nobleman.
The Black Oath requirement to swear loyalty to the king in all matters (including headship of the church) culminated in the substantial list of leading figures identified for removal to Munster. There followed the zealous prosecution of Presbyterians which was continued in Wentworth`s absence when he was called to Westminster in August 1639.
The policies, although well intended and generally successful, were nevertheless the feeding ground for resentment. The `down side` of the
policies, the unwelcome aspects, were used to load the guns that now pointed at Wentworth in England. They would ensure his downfall.
Wentworth – Impeachment, Bill of
Attainder and execution.