Strafford's Despotism

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VI | Start of Chapter

Strafford's was the policy which he himself called "thorough." He governed Ireland in the name of his master with despotic power and a total disregard for what were even then considered constitutional principles. He no doubt reformed many abuses, extinguished much departmental corruption, and gave to many industries a new chance of development and prosperity. He was not, indeed, that "faultless monster" which the world has very rarely seen, the beneficent despot; but he was not the mere wanton despot, the English version of a mediaeval Ottoman Pasha, his enemies afterwards tried to make him out. Gardiner, the historian, says in his defence that "the choice for Ireland in the seventeenth century did not lie between absolutism and Parliamentary control, but between absolutism and anarchy." Perhaps we may admit this position and yet hold that the absolutism practised by Strafford in Ireland was not in any sense a beneficent despotism. A beneficent despot might have so ruled Ireland, just then, as to open for her a fair way into national prosperity and content. But Strafford's absolutism only expressed the deliberate purpose to make of Ireland a convenient and unresisting source of supply for the wants of Strafford's master. Whatever may have been the effect of his rule upon Ireland, influences were already growing up in England which could not long endure such a King and such a Minister.