Images from the trial of Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford
(4a: John Rushworth, The Trial of Thomas Earl of Strafford. Published in London, 1680. 4b: SP 16/479/28, 4c: Wenceslaus Hollar D1317, 1641 National Portrait Gallery)
Here is a portrait of the Earl of Strafford, an extract from the final speech he made on 13 April 1641, and a picture of his execution in May 1641.
Strafford was accused of treason (betrayal of one’s country or king). He believed his enemies in the House of Commons had given him an unfair trial. He made this speech to the House of Lords in 1641, shortly before Strafford faced a vote by Parliament on whether he was guilty of treason or not.
The speech did no good and he was found guilty and executed. The picture shows that event, which took place in London in May 1641. (You can see the Tower of London in the background.)
The portrait of Strafford comes from a book published in 1680, which told the story of the trial. In the 1680s many books and pamphlets marked the anniversary of the events of the 1640s.
Strafford was Charles I’s right-hand man during the Personal Rule. This was the period from 1629-40 when Charles ruled without once calling Parliament. Charles’s opponents in Parliament (led by John Pym) feared Strafford. When Parliament finally met in 1640, Pym accused Strafford of treason. The penalty was death. Basically, Pym and his supporters were trying to have Strafford killed.
Pym and other Parliamentary leaders were afraid of Strafford for several reasons.
The evidence against Strafford was very weak. The trial dragged on into 1641 and fell apart. John Pym then accused Strafford again, using a Bill of Attainder. This was a legal process that allowed Parliament to simply vote on whether he was guilty rather than basing the judgement on evidence in a fair trial. Strafford was found guilty. Many MPs disliked the way Pym twisted the law to get Strafford executed. Pym’s actions eventually led many MPs to support Charles.
Strafford was very unpopular, but Charles would not agree to sign the death warrant. He was always loyal to his ministers. Eventually Strafford agreed to die for the good of the country. He thought the country could avoid civil war if he died. Charles reluctantly agreed, but he was tortured with guilt over the decision. It was another reason why he was so hostile to Parliament.