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SPEECH W H E N IMPEACHED FOR HIGH T REASON

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THOMAS WENTWORTH, EARL OF STRAFFORD
1593–1641

This man had a romantic and picturesque .. and, as a representative of the royalists of the Stuart epoch, who honestly believed in the divine right of kings, and in the necessity to political prosperity of the dominance of the nobility over the common people, he has received the sympathy of posterity; though it is not likely that he would have survived in men's memories had it not been for the tragedy that attended his end. Thomas Wentworth was born in London on April 13, 1593, and he entered Parliament at the age of one and twenty, in 1614. He was handsome in person and courtly and winning in manner; and his intellectual ability was far beyond the average. At the outset of his career his generous nature prompted him to array himself against the policy of James; and, during the first years of Charles's reign, he remained in the opposition. ğa. recognized his powers, however, and determined to win his support; in 1628 he appointed him to the Council of the North, having first raised him to the peerage; made him of the *:::: council in 1629, and, in 1632, lord deputy of Ireland. He went to reland the following year, and became the chief adviser of his sovereign. The lord lieutenancy of Ireland followed in 1640, and he was created Earl of Strafford. The war in Scotland had then broken out; and he commanded the King's forces against the Scotch. It was at this juncture that Parliament began the course of action which terminated in his destruction. A bill of attainder was brought in against the earl, É."; twenty-eight counts. These concerned his conduct towards England, Ireland, and Scotland. The main accusation was that he had aroused the hostility of the King against Parliament by leading him to believe that certain members of it “had denied to supply him; and that His Majesty having tried the affections of his people, and been refused, he was absolved from all rules of government, and that he had an army in Ireland which he might employ to reduce this kingdom.” . Such is the arraignment as it stands in the record of the state trials of England. A paper found by Sir Harry Vane, supporting the evidence given by his father on this charge, was not, admitted as evidence by the House of Lords; upon which pretext the bill of attainder was found. The trial excited immense interest; and this was brought to a culmination by the eloquent speech in which Strafford sought to defend himself against his accusers. But the effort was vain; and his royal master was too cowardly and too politic to adopt heroic measures to save him; the earl was convicted, and he was beheaded in London on May 12, 1641. . His fate was an omen of that which was to befall Charles himself eight years afterwards.

SPEECH WHEN IMPEACHED FOR HIGH TREASON

Delivered before the House of Lords, April 13, 1641

Y LORDS: This day I stand before you charged with high treason." The burden of the charge is heavy, yet far the more so because it hath borrowed the authority of the House of Commons. If they were not interested, I might expect a no less easy, than I do a safe, issue. But let neither my weakness plead my innocence, nor their power my guilt. If your Lordships will conceive of my defences, as they are in themselves, without reference to either party—and I shall endeavor so to present them—I hope to go hence as clearly justified by you, as I now am in the testimony of a good conscience by myself. My Lords, I have all along, during this charge, watched to see that poisoned arrow of treason, which some men would fain have feathered in my heart; but, in truth, it hath not been my quickness to discover any such evil yet within my breast, though now, perhaps, by sinister information, sticking to my clothes. They tell me of a two-fold treason, one against the statute, another by the common law; this direct, that consecutive; this individual, that accumulative; this in itself, that by way of construction. As to this charge of treason, I must and do acknowledge, that if I had the least suspicion of my own guilt I would save your Lordships the pains. I would cast the first stone. I would pass the first sentence of condemnation against myself. And whether it be so or not, I now refer to your Lordships' judgment and deliberation. You, and you only, under the care and protection of my gracious master, are my judges. Under favor, none of the Commons are my peers, nor can they be my judges. I shall ever celebrate the providence and wisdom of your noble ancestors, who have put the keys of life and death, so far as concerns you and your posterity, into your own hands. None but your own selves, my Lords, know the rate of your noble blood: none but yourselves must hold the balance in disposing of the same.” I shall now proceed in repeating my defences as they are reducible to the two main points of treason. And, I. For treason against the statute, which is the only treason in effect, there is nothing alleged for that but the fifteenth, twentysecond, and twenty-seventh articles. [Here the earl brought forward the replies which he had previously made to these articles, which contained all the charges of individual acts of treason. The fifteenth article affirmed that he had “inverted the ordinary course of justice in Ireland, and given immediate sentence upon the lands and goods of the king's subjects, under pretence of disobedience; had used a military way for redressing the contempt, and laid soldiers upon the lands and goods of the King's subjects, to their utter ruin.” There was a deficiency of proofs as to the facts alleged. The earl declared that “the customs of England differed exceedingly from those of Ireland; and therefore, though cessing of men might seem strange here, it was not so there; ” and that “nothing was more common there than for the governors to appoint soldiers to put all manner of sentences into execution,” as he proved by the testimony of Lord Dillon, Sir Adam Loftus, and Sir Arthur Teringham. The twenty-seventh article charged him with having, as lieutenant-general, charged on the county of York eightpence a day for supporting the train-bands of said county during one month, when called out; and having issued his warrants without legal authority for the collection of the same. The earl replied that “this money was freely and voluntarily offered by them of Yorkshire, in a petition; and that he had done nothing but on the *Strafford had no chance of acquittal ex; force. He reverts to the same topic in his cept by inducing the Lords, from a regard peroration, assuring them, with the deepest to their dignity and safety, to rise above earnestness and solemnity (and, as the the influence of the Commons as his prose- event showed, with perfect truth), that if cutors, and so who surrounded they gave him up, they must expect to Westminster Hasl by thousands, demand- perish with him in the general ruin of the

1 There are in the “Parliamentary His- passages which are not contained in the tory” two reports of this speech, one by other, they are here combined by a slight Whitlocke and the other by some unknown modification of language, in order to give friend of Strafford. As each has important more completeness to this masterly defence. ing his condemnation. In this view, his peerage. exordium has admirable dexterity and

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