Wentworth in Ireland
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
For the first few years of his government without parliament Charles was indebted to the ingenious financial management of his Treasurer, Weston, who discovered fresh legal devices for procuring funds, and successfully prevented the king from plunging into impossible expenditure. Weston was the useful man of business who found the supplies for carrying on the king's government; the government itself was carried on mainly by Wentworth and Laud.
The Council of the North had been established in the time of Henry VIII to replace the old system of government of the Border Counties — in other words, of England north of the Humber. Its institution had been the outcome of the Pilgrimage of Grace. It had been endowed with large arbitrary powers, and the sway of its president was now almost despotic. Wentworth was a despot who ruled without fear or favour, but crushed all opposition with an iron hand.
As between subjects, he enforced law untouched by considerations of the wealth, power, or influence of the persons concerned. As between the Crown and the subject, he enforced the will of the government without any respect to law at all. Between subjects, stern impartial justice was to be dealt out; between Crown and the subject, justice was not in question; all that the subject received by grace of the Crown. In the north of England, however, Wentworth's rule was brief; in 1633 he was transferred to Ireland.
In Ireland Wentworth played the despot very much to the benefit of the country in which he ruled. Comparative peace had indeed descended on the land since the stormy days of Elizabeth; but it was an ill ordered peace. In Wentworth's view, what the country needed was a ruler with an iron will and an efficient army to enforce that will.
Resistance was to be paralysed and justice was to be dealt out on the lines already described. Disorder and violence, except violence in the king's service or by the king's servants, was to be sharply repressed and punished. Magnates were to find no favour merely because they were magnates. The great lesson to be inculcated was that of obedience to the supreme authority.
Wentworth could not dispense with the Irish Parliament, but he could make it subservient. He got from it the money which enabled him to muster and train a disciplined army. Competent men were appointed to administrative offices; under the Deputy's fostering care industry and commerce began to flourish as they had never flourished before; in particular the Irish linen manufacture began to achieve that preeminence which it has maintained ever since.
But the fatal flaw in Wentworth's system lay in his principle that neither law nor promises were binding on the Crown, What Wentworth thought good to do, that he did, though it might involve the breaking of solemn pledges. The general result was that Wentworth made himself absolute master in Ireland, and had in his own hands probably the most efficient military force in the three kingdoms. The Ireland over which he ruled was rapidly achieving a material prosperity for which there was no precedent; but it was an Ireland which felt itself to be enslaved, and the greater part of Ireland preferred its accustomed anarchy to a prosperous slavery.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.