Sir Thomas Wentworth, a great Yorkshire landowner and one of the representatives of his county, had stood during the Parliament of 1628 among the more prominent members of the popular party in the Commons. But from the first moment of his appearance in public his passionate desire had been to find employment in the service of the Crown. At the close of the preceding reign he was already connected with the Court, he had secured a seat in Yorkshire for one of the royal ministers, and was believed to be on the high road to a peerage. But the consciousness of political ability which spurred his ambition roused the jealousy of Buckingham; and the haughty pride of Wentworth was flung by repeated slights into an attitude of opposition, which his eloquence - grander in its sudden outbursts, though less earnest and sustained, than that of Eliot - soon rendered formidable. His intrigues at Court roused Buckingham to crush by a signal insult the rival whose genius he instinctively dreaded. While sitting in his court as sheriff of Yorkshire, Wentworth received the announcement of his dismissal from office, and of the gift of his post to Sir John Savile, his rival in the county. "Since they will thus weakly breathe on me a seeming disgrace in the public face of my country," he said with a characteristic outburst of contemptuous pride, " I shall crave leave to wipe it away as openly, as easily!" His whole conception of a strong and able rule revolted against the miserable government of the favourite.
Went-worth's aim was to force on the King, not such a freedom as Eliot longed for, but such a system as the Tudors had clung to, where a large and noble policy placed the sovereign naturally at the head of the people, and where Parliaments sank into mere aids to the Crown. But before this could be, Buckingham must be cleared away. It was with this end that Wentworth sprang to the front of the Commons in urging the Petition of Right. Whether in that crisis of Wentworth's life some nobler impulse, some true passion for the freedom he was to trample under foot mingled with his thirst for revenge, it is hard to tell. But his words were words of fire. " If he did not faithfully insist for the common liberty of the subject to be preserved whole and entire," it was thus he closed one of his speeches on the Petition, "it was his desire that he might be set as a beacon on a hill for all men else to wonder at".
It is as such a beacon that his stood from that time to this. The death of Buckingham had no sooner removed the obstacle that stood between his ambition and the end at which it had aimed throughout, than the cloak of patriotism was flung by. Wentworth was admitted to the royal Council, and he took his seat at the board determined, to use his own phrase, to "vindicate the Monarchy for ever from the conditions and restraints of subjects." So great was the faith in his zeal and power which he knew how to breathe into his royal master that he was at once raised to the peerage, and placed with Laud in the first rank of the King's councillors. Charles had good ground for this rapid confidence in his new minister. In Wentworth, or as he is known from the title he assumed at the close of his life, in the Earl of Strafford, the very genius of tyranny was embodied. If he shared his master's belief that the arbitrary power which Charles was wielding formed part of the old constitution of the country, and that the Commons had gone out of their "ancient bounds" in limiting the royal prerogative, he was clear-sighted enough to see that the only way of permanently establishing absolute rule in England was not by reasoning, or by the force of custom, but by the force of fear.
His system was the expression of his own inner temper; and the dark gloomy countenance, the full heavy eye, which meet us in Strafford's portrait are the best commentary on his policy of " Thorough." It was by the sheer strength of his genius, by the terror his violence inspired amid the meaner men whom Buckingham had left, by the general sense of his power, that he had forced himself upon the Court. He had none of the small arts of a courtier. His air was that of a silent, proud, passionate man; when he first appeared at Whitehall his rough un-courtly manners provoked a smile in the royal circle. But the smile soon died into a general hate. The Queen, frivolous and meddlesome as she was, detested him; his fellow-ministers intrigued against him, and seized on his hot speeches against the great lords, his quarrels with the royal household, his transports of passion at the very Council-table, to ruin him in his master's favour. The King himself, while steadily supporting him against his rivals, was utterly unable to understand his drift.
Charles valued him as an administrator, disdainful of private ends, crushing great and small with the same haughty indifference to men's love or hate, and devoted to the one aim of building up the power of the Crown. But in his purpose of preparing for the great struggle with freedom which he saw before him, of building up by force such a despotism in England as Richelieu was building up in France, and of thus making England as great in Europe as France had been made by Richelieu, he could look for little sympathy and less help from the King.
Wentworth's genius turned impatiently to a sphere where it could act alone, untrammelled by the hindrances it encountered at home. His purpose was to prepare for the coming contest by the provision of a fixed revenue, arsenals, fortresses, and a standing army, and it was in Ireland that he resolved to find them. He saw in the miserable country which had hitherto been a drain upon the resources of the Crown the lever he needed for the overthrow of English freedom. The balance of Catholic against Protestant in Ireland might be used to make both parties dependent on the royal authority; the rights of conquest, which in Wentworth's theory vested the whole land in the absolute possession of the Crown, gave him a large field for his administrative ability; and for the rest he trusted, and trusted justly, to the force of his genius and of his will. In 1633 he was made Lord Deputy, and five years later his aim seemed all but realized. " The King," he wrote to Laud, "is as absolute here as any prince in the world can be." Wentworth's government indeed was a rule of terror. Archbishop Usher, with almost every name which we can respect in the island, was the object of his insult and oppression. His tyranny strode over all legal bounds.