In the time of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1593 – 1641

Just before the turn of the 17th century in 1593, Thomas Wentworth was born in London, into fortune, property and prestige. Queen Elizabeth I still reigned, and the bloody Nine Years War raged on in Ireland.


Thomas Wentworth by Sir Anthony van Dyck

By 1614 when his father died, Wentworth inherited the great Wentworth Woodhouse of Yorkshire—by the 18th century the largest of England’s country houses—plus two other estates and vast business holdings to keep things running. In addition to income, such land ownership commanded power and respect. Truly, Wentworth already had everything and more than most people might desire in life.

But he sought more than anything what he did not have: a royal title. An earldom. It would come at the greatest cost.

His ambition led him to politics. He started law school in 1607, and in 1611 he was knighted. He married an earl’s daughter. As a principal landowner he quickly became Yorkshire’s representative in the English Parliament.

In 1625, Charles I ascended to the throne. The following year Wentworth became High Sheriff of Yorkshire, and in 1628 he returned to Parliament to become one of the most vocal supporters of the Petition of Right, which attempted to curb Charles’s non-Parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers in people’s homes, imprisonment without cause, and the use of martial law.

Wentworth showed himself to be smart, reasoning and persuasive, with strong leadership abilities. He became President of the Council of the North. He joined Parliament’s dispute with King Charles I over subsidies to support the Thirty Years War effort, and stood against the king even to the point of imprisonment for refusing to pay his “forced loans.”


King Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck

But here is where he made his first dangerous turn. The king invited Wentworth to join the Privy Council: to sit at the king’s table with titled courtiers and advise the king on decisions to run the commonwealth. It fed Wentworth’s deepest ambition. It was an offer he could not refuse. But it branded him as a turncoat to his fellow Parliamentary members. He had been seduced by power.

Wentworth turned from fighting the king’s arbitrary use of power to being a staunch supporter of the Divine Right of Kings. Charles had picked up his father King James I’s torch for this the long-held belief that monarchs were chosen by God, had a direct connection to God’s word, and therefore should always be trusted to do God’s will and make decisions for the highest good, guided by God’s hand.

At this time in history, however, people had seen many rulers supposed to be God’s designees on Earth who made very poor decisions. They had recognized greater access to their own religion through Calvinism and could read the Bible themselves. The printing press, nearly 200 years old, was demonstrating the considerable powers of mass communication. And the Divine Right was under fire.

By 1629, Charles grew tired of arguing with Parliament for what he wanted, and having to ask for his subsidies. He decided he no longer needed Parliament at all. He adopted “self rule,” which became known later as the Eleven Years’ Tyranny.

In 1632, the king appointed Thomas Wentworth to be the new Lord Deputy of Ireland. Although distant from the king’s court, it was a very powerful position in a time of sweeping change.

Ireland had been settled by the Anglo-Normans since the time of King Henry II in the 12th century, and from that time great and powerful clans had developed and intermarried with the Irish, such that they became accepted “Irish” clans. Until the time of Henry VIII, they ruled their realms autonomously.

The Desmond Rebellions of the 16th century began when Henry named himself king of Ireland, and tried to exert his authority over all the clans, starting first with plantations in fertile Munster. They ended with Irish defeat just before Elizabeth I died in 1603. Several clan leaders remained loyal to the king, yet Ireland remained resistant and challenging to oppressive English rule. To English adventurers, Ireland seemed like a plum that waited to be picked.

If Wentworth’s appointment to Ireland had been orchestrated by other courtiers eager to get him out of the running for the lucrative job as the king’s treasurer, no matter. Wentworth saw great opportunity, and planned to be the most effective viceroy the king had ever seen.

At this point his first and second wives had died. Wentworth had secretly married the 18-year-old daughter of a Yorkshire neighbor, and sent her ahead to Ireland to start preparing their home. Meanwhile he studied and learned, preparing for a long-term and “thorough” effort to make Ireland a profitable venture for the king. He did not set foot on Irish soil himself until July of 1633, with a huge retinue including 30 coaches of six.

And the first task on his list, after losing to pirates the £500 worth of wardrobe that he had shipped ahead, was to get control of the Irish Sea and secure Ireland for trade.

(c) Dulwich Picture Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Laureys a Castro – A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs. Wikimedia Commons, public domain

More than half of the king’s subjects made their livings from the sea, whether collecting fish, oysters, pearls, eels, gulls—anything they could eat or sell—or operating small craft and large merchant ships for moving passengers and goods. At the same time, Algerian pirates were notorious for robbing ships of their cargo, and robbing or abducting passengers and crew for ransom or to sell as slaves. Wentworth quickly took control by installing trusted captains to patrol the Irish Sea, and by rooting out corrupt officials who took bribes from the pirates and pocketed money intended for their crew’s provisions.

Once installed in Dublin Castle, Wentworth began a mission of “thorough,” intending not only to establish law and order for common people, but to root out corruption among the nobles, such as the Great Earl of Cork who’d been enjoying a healthy portion of the tithes from the church at Youghal. He would support the growth of Protestant religion while limiting the political power of Catholics. He would invest in new industries like the wine trade, linen and tobacco. And he would continue in the king’s interest the spread of English plantations.

Wentworth saw plantation as a benefit to Ireland, believing native Irish did not understand how to wring the greatest productivity from their lands, and more industrious English (Protestant) settlers would demonstrate the most efficient and lucrative practices. But it was met with great resistance, and the underlying goal was far from altruistic.

Wentworth devised a plan by which, instead of the crown just taking lands, the existing landowners would happily surrender their lands to the king in order to have them returned with clear and legal titles—minus, of course, the 25 percent of the best lands that Charles would keep for himself. The goal was to shift, over time, the majority of land ownership from Catholic to Protestant. The result of this process was considerable unrest, as the nobles lost income and Irish families were turned out of traditional homelands.

Over several ensuing years, Wentworth methodically and relentlessly carried out his plans, implementing the king’s divine right, arrogantly establishing absolute rule, and enriching himself along the way. His tactics and lack of political finesse made him many powerful enemies in all corners of his life. By the time of the Bishops Wars (1639-40) against Scotland—the king’s attempt to enforce his own religious practices upon the Puritan Scots—Wentworth became the king’s primary advisor and received his coveted earldom. He was named Earl of Strafford in 1640.

And then, when the wars were lost, he became the king’s scapegoat.


Wentworth receives final blessing from imprisoned Archbishop Laud, by Paul Delaroche, 1835 Wikimedia commons, public domain

Parliament was called because money was needed to pay the Scots army under terms of the treaty. Parliament then impeached Wentworth—fueled by his enemies in Ireland. And when, angered over the country’s bankruptcy, the members were unable to prove treason against him, they dusted off an ancient, unused but still available tool, the Bill of Attainder, which required no need of proof to execute a man accused of high treason. King Charles, in his classic, two-faced, self-serving behavior, signed the death warrant for his most loyal servant.

Wentworth, having achieved his goal and reached his zenith of wealth and power, was beheaded by Parliament in May of 1641.

TPOG_Cover2017Nancy Blanton writes award-winning novels set primarily in 17th century Ireland. Her third book, The Earl in Black Armor, set in the time of Thomas Wentworth, is scheduled for publication in late 2018. Visit her at




Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.


King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.


Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.


Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.


James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

For other books and more information please visit my website at, and while you are there please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of my upcoming book, The Earl in Black Armor.


Royal Branding: King Charles I


Charles I in ceremonial robes

For personal branding, where other monarchs have provided lessons for success, King Charles I of England provides more of a cautionary tale. Had he hired a personal branding coach in his time, he probably would have ignored the person’s warnings.

Like Henry VIII, Charles was a second son who became heir to the throne when his older brother died from disease. His father, King James I, was king of Scotland, and heir to Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, James ascended to the throne and united the two kingdoms.

King James is best known for being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Elizabeth I; for formalizing the Royal Mail service that maintained communication between London and Edinburgh; and for creating the famous King James Bible, an English translation for the Church of England that was completed in 1611.

His son Charles was a sickly youth and diminutive, only 5’4” compared to the blustering King Henry VIII at 6’2”. Still, Charles would have no trouble distinguishing his reign from his father’s, or leaving an unforgettable legacy.

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King James I

When James arrived in London to take his throne, he brought with him the lifestyle and beliefs he’d acquired in Scotland, which, at the end of the Elizabethan period, were far more crude, coarse, debauched and extravagant. He had strange notions and lacked the polish one might expect of a king. Some accounts say he never washed his hands but only rubbed his fingertips on a wet napkin; he had a passion for fruit and gorged himself on it; he was always hiccupping, belching, scratching himself and fiddling with his codpiece. In his rather squalid court, young men drank heavily and frolicked about, trying to get the king’s attention and favor.


But Charles, having visited the court of King Phillip in Spain, had very different notions. His court would be “decorous, orderly, elegant and ceremonial…with minute regard to drill-like and unchanging custom.” He would allow his beloved wife her Catholic faith and all the pageants and parties she desired. And, he would become one of the most famous art collectors of all time.

“Every day the King’s table…was provided with twenty-eight dishes, brought in to a fanfare of trumpets that temporarily stilled the less strident notes of his private orchestra.”

~ Christopher Hibbert, Charles I

CharlesinblueShared values provide the basis for a strong personal brand. In Charles’s case, his values centered around one core belief: that the king ruled by divine right—meaning that he was royal by blood, and had come to the throne by God’s will. His motto, “Dieu et mon droit” – God and My Right – came down from Henry V and Henry VII. Therefore, it was his right to rule by his own conscience and his direct contact to God. He did not need Parliament to tell him what to do. This belief was his strength, and ultimately his downfall.

The imagery of his brand supports this core belief:

  • His portraiture showed usually shows calm facial expression and the unconcerned, perhaps sad eyes of a scholarly, wise man.
  • His clothing is stylish to the times; the heavens hover above his head; servants look up to him as if to a heavenly being.
  • Family imagery indicates opulence, beauty, and sound structure: the royal lineage is secure.


Charles loved art, music, his wife Henrietta Maria, their children, and his solitude—values that others could appreciate. But Charles did not use them to advantage. Instead of connecting with his subjects on common ground, he created barriers. He collected art with great extravagance even when the royal purse was nearly empty. He taxed people without their consent and dissolved Parliament rather than working with the members to gain their support and votes for funding. While allowing the queen to maintain her Catholic faith, he imposed the use of a common prayer book that infuriated the Presbyterian Scots. He expanded the plantation system in Ireland, taking fertile lands and displacing Irish clans.

He surrounded himself with loyal advisors and administrators who supported Divine Right and who were widely unpopular. His favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, and his chief administrator, the Earl of Strafford, was executed by Parliament.

Long story short, after a bloody civil war King Charles I also was executed, on a scaffold outside of his own Banqueting House where he’d decorated the ceiling with magnificent paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. His death not only ended his 24-year reign, but also temporarily ended the monarchy, as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell stepped into the role of Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

Gems from the Crown

  • King Charles’s legacy is reflected in the danger of arrogance and ignoring public opinion.
  • His values could have helped him connect in a personal way with his subjects, to ameliorate conflict.
  • Things in life that are rigid are either dying or dead. With flexibility and collaboration, Charles might have been able to address the concerns of his realm, but he remained inflexible on the core issue of Divine Right, which led to his demise.
Thanks to Christopher Hibbert, Charles I; Pauline Gregg, King Charles I; Wikipedia; Creative Commons public domain images.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropNancy Blanton is the award-winning author of historical novels and the personal branding book, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, based on lessons learned from ancient royalty and today’s corporate practices. Find her and all of her books at


How the 17th century rocks your world

In reading last year’s historical fiction reader survey by M.K. Tod, I was shocked to learn that the 17th century ranks 7th among time periods readers are most likely to choose. Shocked, I say! Because the 17th century is just so fascinating.

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

See what I mean? Just little things like these happened in the 17th century. But wait, there’s more!


Enter a caption. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and others, all struggled to maintain and extend colonies and trading-posts in distant corners of the globe, with profound and permanent consequences for the whole world,” Somerville wrote.

It was a time of tremendous turmoil and brilliant discovery:

  • The little ice age was particularly cold, creating chaos and famine
  • The Thirty Years War raged across Europe from 1618 to 1648
  • England’s bloody civil war defeated a monarchy
  • Science trumped religion for the first time to influence society
  • Agricultural and commercial changes paved the way for the Industrial Revolution

And there were sweeping changes that affect our lives even today:

Architecture. Inigo Jones (the Banqueting Hall) and Christopher Wren (St Paul’s Cathedral) introduced magnificent architectural designs in London and throughout England that remain beautiful and influential.

Banking. In England, instead of depositing gold in the king’s mint for safety — where he might confiscate it (as Charles I did in 1640) — London merchants deposited money with goldsmiths who gave them receipts and promised to pay on demand.

Food. People started eating with forks for the first time. England discovered bananas, pineapples, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Furniture. Chests of drawers became common, and Grandfather clocks popular, followed by a new arrival: the bookcase.

Medicine. Doctors learned how blood circulates around the body, and how to treat malaria with bark from the cinchona tree.

And of course, there were the scandals:

  • John_Wilmot

    John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.And of course, how can we forget the scandal

    The murder of Buckingham

  • The execution of Charles I
  • The attempted assassination of Cromwell
  • The numerous mistresses of King Charles II
  • The indecent antics of the Earl of Rochester

Personally, I am digging deeply, fascinated by the greed, intrigue, rebellion, atrocities and resilience that took place in Ireland. Fascinating stories abound.

Yes, I am shocked that anyone might find another century more alluring. Not me.


SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history — 17th century, that is, with Sharavogue, and my upcoming novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. Available on,, and iBooks. Find out more at


A King’s Demise

Bust of King Charles I in the British Museum, London

Bust of King Charles I in the British Museum, London

Three hundred and sixty-four years ago this month, England’s King Charles I was beheaded by direction of Parliament, with General Oliver Cromwell leading the formalities. King Charles was charged with treason, having just lost a bloody civil war and continuing to plot with is pesky royalist friends.

Charles I was considered a bad king. He signed away business monopolies to his favorites without regard to the consequences, taxed greedily and without consent of Parliament, and spent lavishly on his grand art collection. He thought he had the right: the God-given King’s Prerogative, to which Parliament did not subscribe. Plus, his wife was Catholic when the country most definitely had gone Protestant and Puritan.

In her book, Rebels and Traitors, Lindsey Davis does a nice job of describing the dramatic scene:

The King knelt before the block. He spoke a few words to himself, with his eyes uplifted. Stooping down, he laid his head upon the block, with the executioner again tidying his hair. Thinking the man was about to strike, Charles warned, ‘Stay for the sign!’

‘Yes, I will,’ returned the executioner, still patient. ‘And it please Your Majesty.’

There was a short pause. The King stretched out his hands. With one blow of the axe the executioner cut off the King’s head.

The assistant held up the head by its hair, show the people, exclaiming the traditional words: ‘Here is the head of a traitor!’ The body was hurriedly removed and laid in a velvet-lined coffin indoors. As was normal at executions, the public were allowed to aproach the scaffold and, on paying a fee, to soak handkerchiefs in the dripping blood, either as trophies of their enemy, or in superstition that the King’s blood would heal illness.

Kings had been killed before, of course, but most typically in battle by an opposing army, or they were murdered by some ursurper using a blade or a poison. But this was the first time a nation’s government had executed a king. Would God allow that? Apparently so, and it sent a shockwave throughout Europe’s monarchies.

It also freed Oliver Cromwell to begin the episode for which he is most hated and remembered — especially by the Irish. A rebellion against the English plantation of Ireland had begun eight years earlier. With the civil war won and the king dead, Cromwell was now free to descend with Parliament’s army upon Ireland to crush the rebels. And that he did. This is where the term “decimated” comes from: It refers to Cromwell’s order for his soldiers to execute every 10th Irish rebel, and the rest were shipped to the West Indies to work as slaves or die. This is where my story begins, in Sharavogue.