Royal Armouries

Wentworth: sacrificed loyal subject

Images

Earl of Strafford

Engraving of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (1641), London, May 1st 1823, engraved by R.Cooper

  • Earl of Strafford

    Engraving of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (1641), London, May 1st 1823, engraved by R.Cooper

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Charles I in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome engraving of the Tower of London with a crowd witnessing an execution

    The execution of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. Dutch, mid-17th century (I.345)

Engraving of the execution of Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford

Object Provenance: Dutch, mid-17th century
Object Number: I.345

Wentworth: sacrificed loyal subject

Description

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford had been a Royalist but had not lived long enough to see the Civil Wars that tore the country apart, the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians or the return of Charles II and the Restoration. A figure of Strafford had not featured in the early Line of Kings displays but was added later in a re-display in 1827.

Writing in 1824 Dr Samuel Meyrick had criticised the Line of Kings display as being inaccurate, with monarchs shown in armour completely inappropriate to their time period. Consequently, in an attempt to address these inaccuracies, Meyrick was asked to co-ordinate a re-display. Anachronistic royal figures were removed and instead nobles and lords were chosen to accompany the remaining English monarchs. This was not popular with everyone and an article published in The London Magazine in 1827 described the authors and Tower of London warders’ ‘lamentations over despoiled greatness’.

However, the focus on a more concentrated time span and the use of figures of nobles not only allowed the changes in arms and armour to be clearly demonstrated but also aspects of loyalty to monarchy to be explored. For the reign of Charles I, Wentworth and George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, were chosen to stand beside two armours of Charles I.

Both these nobles were Royalists and both died violently in the period before the Civil Wars. Wentworth had been a successful advisor to the King and was also Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. However, by 1640 he had many enemies in Parliament who were planning his demise. After providing a brilliant and successful defence for himself during his trial for treason in the House of Lords, Parliament produced a bill of attainder, a piece of legislation that would declare Wentworth’s ‘behaviour treasonable and at the same time condemn him to death’. Under pressure, Charles I reluctantly signed his death warrant, an act the Tower of London guidebook for 1827 noted he always regretted.

Wentworth was beheaded on Tower Hill in 1641, and at the time the crowds of London celebrated, but nearly two hundred years later his effigy was represented in the Tower of London as a heroic figure.

Furthermore, Meyrick, a recognised expert in historic armour, not only used the image of Wentworth to represent royalist loyalty, but also to represent the changing tide for armour during the period of the Civil Wars. In the Tower of London guidebook for 1842 Wentworth’s figure was described as wearing a suit of armour that ‘continued no lower than the knees: the place of the jambs and sollerets are supplied with boots of buff leather’. He was an illustration of the move away from full plate armour in the face of the increased use of firearms. Not only was the Civil War an upheaval for the country, but it saw changes in how battles were fought.

As the nobles chosen to signify loyalty to Charles I and the changes in warfare, Wentworth and Villiers were often displayed between armours belong to Charles, one when he was Prince of Wales and the other when he was King. Standing between these beautifully decorated royal armours, the difference between King and subject would have been visually obvious.

Engraving of the execution of Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford

Object Provenance: Dutch, mid-17th century
Object Number: I.345

Related Objects

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Charles I in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Villiers: commander and assassin’s victim Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings