Off With His Head


History is filled with injustices and wrongs committed. And position or power often does not protect against them. In the 17th century, my 11th great grand-uncle, Thomas Wentworth, rose to a level of prominence very quickly. He was knighted at the age of 18 and elected to the House of Commons. He sat on a number of Parliaments where he became a supporter of Charles I. This put him in conflict with many of his peers who were actively working to strengthen to power of Parliament and restrict the influence of the king.

Under the leadership of John Pym, laws were passed to take away the king’s right to dissolve Parliament; made it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes; and gave Parliament members control over the king’s ministers. Wentworth sided with the royals in those disputes and was appointed Earl of Strafford in return for his loyalty. But it came at a cost.

Wentworth was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, charged with treason. His widely attended trial opened on March 22, 1641. For seventeen days he successfully defended himself against thirteen accusers, arguing the charges brought against him and for a time it appeared his impeachment would fail. But Pym and his other enemies decided to propose a bill of attainder, which allowed a person or persons to be declared guilty and be punished without the need for a trial.

The king, under pressure from his wife (who did not like Wentworth) and others reluctantly gave consent to the attainder. Wentworth was beheaded on May 12, 1641.

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