Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex

Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex

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Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex PC
Privy Council of England
The Privy Council of England, also known as His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, was a body of advisers to the sovereign of the Kingdom of England...

 (1631 – 13 July 1683), whose surname is sometimes spelled Capel, was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...


Early life

He was the son of Arthur Capell, 1st Baron Capell of Hadham (who was executed in 1649) and of Elizabeth Morrison, daughter and heir of Sir Charles Morrison of Cassiobury in Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

, and was baptized on 2 January 1632.

In June 1648, then a sickly boy of sixteen, he was taken by Lord Fairfax's soldiers from Hadham to Colchester, which his father was defending, and carried every day around the works with the hope of inducing Lord Capel to surrender the place.

Political career

At the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 he was created Viscount Malden and Earl of Essex (20 April 1661), the latter title having previously died out with Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex was an English Parliamentarian and soldier during the first half of the seventeenth century. With the start of the English Civil War in 1642 he became the first Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Parliamentarian army, also known as the Roundheads...

. It was granted with special remainder to the male issue of his father, and Capel was made lord-lieutenant
Lord Lieutenant
The title Lord Lieutenant is given to the British monarch's personal representatives in the United Kingdom, usually in a county or similar circumscription, with varying tasks throughout history. Usually a retired local notable, senior military officer, peer or business person is given the post...

 of Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

 and a few years later Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire
Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire
This is a list of people who have served as Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire. From 1750, all Lord Lieutenants have also been Custos Rotulorum of Wiltshire.-Lord Lieutenants of Wiltshire:*William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke 1551 – 17 March 1570...


Early on, he showed himself antagonistic to the court, to Roman Catholicism, and to the extension of the royal prerogative, and was coupled by Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 with Denzil Holles as "stiff and sullen men," who would not yield against their convictions to his solicitations. In 1669 he was sent as ambassador to King Christian V of Denmark
Christian V of Denmark
Christian V , was king of Denmark and Norway from 1670 to 1699, the son of Frederick III of Denmark and Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg...

, in which capacity he gained credit by refusing to strike his flag to the governor of Kronborg.

In 1672 he was made a privy council
Privy Council of England
The Privy Council of England, also known as His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, was a body of advisers to the sovereign of the Kingdom of England...

lor and lord-lieutenant of Ireland
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the British King's representative and head of the Irish executive during the Lordship of Ireland , the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

. It is clear that he was aligned to Charles's policy in 1672 and supported the Declaration of Indulgence especially in so far as it affected dissenters (and potentially extending this to Catholics, but this was always an ambiguous point). Essex had already developed a well known tolerance towards and association with dissenters of all types, but subsequent events were to prove that this latitude did not apply to Catholics. He remained in office till 1677, and his administration was greatly commended by Burnet and Ormonde
James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde
James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde PC was an Irish statesman and soldier. He was the second of the Kilcash branch of the family to inherit the earldom. He was the friend of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, who appointeed him commander of the Cavalier forces in Ireland. From 1641 to 1647, he...

, the former describing it "as a pattern to all that come after him." Burnet's viewpoint, whilst contemporary was not unbiased, however, and whilst Essex's brother's administration as Lord Deputy in 1696' followed such a high minded approach his predecessors, such as Clarendon, Tyrconnel and Ormond's own last period as viceroy could not be said to have followed Essex's model. He paid close attention to Irish
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 interests, and took immense pains to understand the constitution and the political necessities of the country, appointing men of real merit to office, and maintaining an exceptional independence from solicitation and influence.

The purity and patriotism of his administration were in strong contrast to the systemic corruption
Systemic corruption
Systemic corruption is corruption which is primarily due to a weaknesses of an organisation or process.It can be contrasted with individual officials or agents who act corruptly within the system....

 prevalent at the court and in its administrative arms and naturally aroused bitter opposition, as an obstacle to the unscrupulous employment of Irish revenues for the satisfaction of the court and the king's expenses. He proved to be a conscientious viceroy and, unlike so many other politicians of his age, he quickly showed an acumen for understanding accounts which was to lead to all kinds of challenges with the undertaking of Lord Ranelagh and his partners and with the same lord when he became vice-treasurer of Ireland in 1675. His conflict with Lord Ranelagh
Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh
Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh PC FRS , known as The Viscount Ranelagh between 1669 and 1677, was an Irish peer, politician both in the Parliaments of England and Ireland.-Background:...

, to whom had been assigned the Irish revenues on condition of his supplying the requirements of the crown up to 1675, and whose accounts Essex refused to pass, was in many ways the principled struggle which was ultimately to lead to his recall - it was also an early sign as to how out of step Essex's integrity levels were with his contemporaries. He also opposed strongly the lavish gifts of forfeited estates to court favourites and mistresses, prevented the grant of Phoenix Park
Phoenix Park
Phoenix Park is an urban park in Dublin, Ireland, lying 2–4 km west of the city centre, north of the River Liffey. Its 16 km perimeter wall encloses , one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. It includes large areas of grassland and tree-lined avenues, and since the seventeenth...

 to the duchess of Cleveland, and refused to encumber the administration by granting reversions. Finally the intrigues of his enemies at home, and Charles's continual demands for money, which Ranelagh undertook to satisfy, brought about his recall in April 1677.

He immediately joined the country party and the opposition to Lord Danby's
Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds
Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds, KG , English statesman , served in a variety of offices under Kings Charles II and William III of England.-Early life, 1632–1674:The son of Sir Edward Osborne, Bart., of Kiveton, Yorkshire, Thomas Osborne...

 government, and on the latter's fall in 1679 was appointed a commissioner of the treasury
Lord of the Treasury
In the United Kingdom, there are at least six Lords of the Treasury who serve concurrently. Traditionally, this board consists of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Second Lord of the Treasury, and four or more junior lords .Strictly they are commissioners for exercising the office of Lord...

, and the same year a member of Sir William Temple
William Temple (British politician)
Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet was an English statesman and essayist.Sir William was the son of Sir John Temple of Dublin and nephew of Rev Dr Thomas Temple DD. Born in London, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he travelled across Europe, and was for some time a member of the Irish...

's new-modelled council
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

. Essex is often looked upon as a surprise appointment to his key treasury role, but, based on his experience in Ireland and his ability to go 'toe to toe' with Danby on financial matters, it was in fact a the sensible choice for Charles, and gave him the best option for balancing his financial options as the events leading to the Popish plot and Exclusion began to unfold. Essex followed the lead of Lord Halifax
Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax
Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, PC, FRS was an English poet and statesman.-Early life:Charles Montagu was born in Horton, Northamptonshire, the son of George Montagu, fifth son of 1st Earl of Manchester...

, who advocated not the exclusion of James, but the limitation of his sovereign powers, and looked to the Prince of Orange
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 rather than to the Duke of Monmouth
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, 1st Duke of Buccleuch, KG, PC , was an English nobleman. Originally called James Crofts or James Fitzroy, he was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress, Lucy Walter...

 as the leader of Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

, incurring thereby the hostility of Lord Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury PC , known as Anthony Ashley Cooper from 1621 to 1631, as Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, 2nd Baronet from 1631 to 1661, and as The Lord Ashley from 1661 to 1672, was a prominent English politician during the Interregnum and during the reign of King Charles...

, but at the same time gaining the confidence of Charles
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...


He was appointed by Charles together with Halifax to hear the charges against the Duke of Lauderdale
John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale
Sir John Maitland, 1st Duke and 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, 3rd Lord Thirlestane KG PC , was a Scottish politician, and leader within the Cabal Ministry.-Background:...

. In July he wrote a wise and statesmanlike letter to the king, advising him to renounce his project of raising a new company of guards. Together with Halifax he urged Charles to summon the parliament, and after his refusal resigned the treasury
HM Treasury
HM Treasury, in full Her Majesty's Treasury, informally The Treasury, is the United Kingdom government department responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy...

 in November, the real cause being, according to one account, a demand upon the treasury by the duchess of Cleveland for £25,000, according to another "the niceness of touching French money," "that makes my Lord Essex's squeasy stomach that it can no longer digest his employment." This again is no surprise for Essex's high principles and sense of personal integrity, and probably his experience of the previous 7 years, had made him less pliable and tolerant of the ambiguities in royal policy that made him able to support the Stop of the Treasury and Declaration of Indulgence in early 1672.

Subsequently his political attitude underwent a change, the exact cause of which is not clear—probably a growing conviction of the dangers threatened by a Roman Catholic sovereign of the character of James
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

. He now, in 1680, joined Shaftesbury's party and supported the Exclusion Bill
Exclusion Bill
The Exclusion Crisis ran from 1678 through 1681 in the reign of Charles II of England. The Exclusion Bill sought to exclude the king's brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, from the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland because he was Roman Catholic...

, and on its rejection by the Lords carried a motion for an association to execute the scheme of expedients promoted by Halifax. On 25 January 1681 at the head of fifteen peer
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

s he presented a petition to the king, couched in exaggerated language, requesting the abandonment of the session of parliament at Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

. He was a jealous prosecutor of the Roman Catholics in the popish plot, and voted for Lord Stafford's
William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford
Blessed William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford was the youngest son of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, and his wife, the former Alethea Talbot. He was a supporter of the Royalist cause before being implicated in the Popish Plot and executed for treason...

In English criminal law, attainder or attinctura is the metaphorical 'stain' or 'corruption of blood' which arises from being condemned for a serious capital crime . It entails losing not only one's property and hereditary titles, but typically also the right to pass them on to one's heirs...

, on the other hand interceding for Archbishop Plunkett
Oliver Plunkett
Saint Oliver Plunkett was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland....

, implicated in the pretended Irish plot. He, however, refused to follow Shaftesbury in his extreme courses, declined participation in the latter's design to seize the Tower
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 in 1682, and on Shaftesbury's consequent departure from England became the leader of Monmouth's faction, in which were now included Lord Russell, Algernon Sidney, and Lord Howard of Escrick
William Howard, 3rd Baron Howard of Escrick
William Howard, 3rd Baron Howard of Escrick was an English Parliamentarian soldier, nobleman, and plotter.-Life:He was the second son of Edward Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Escrick. He matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1646, and was then admitted to Lincoln's Inn...


Essex took no part in the wilder schemes of the party, but after the discovery of the Rye House Plot
Rye House Plot
The Rye House Plot of 1683 was a plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother James, Duke of York. Historians vary in their assessment of the degree to which details of the conspiracy were finalized....

 in June 1683, and the capture of the leaders, he was arrested at Cassiobury
Cassiobury is a residential area of Watford in Hertfordshire, England.It is formed by two areas of housing: one to the north-east of Cassiobury Park and the other to the south...

 and imprisoned in the Tower.


His spirits and fortitude appear immediately to have abandoned him, and on 13 July he was discovered in his chamber with his throat cut. His death was attributed, quite groundlessly, to Charles and James, and the evidence points clearly if not conclusively to suicide, his motive being possibly to prevent an attainder and preserve his estate for his family. Lord Ailesbury wrote: "The Earl asked very coldly for a razor to cut his nails, and being accustomed so to do gave no manner of suspicion. He went into a small closet," where his servant afterward found him "dead and wallowing in blood"... the assumption being that the reason he "cutt his own throat with a knife" was because of his knowledge of the Rye House Plot.


He was known as a statesman of strong and sincere patriotism, just and unselfish, conscientious and laborious in the fulfilment of public duties, blameless in his official and private life. John Evelyn
John Evelyn
John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn's diaries or Memoirs are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time John Evelyn (31 October 1620 – 27 February...

 describes him as "a sober, wise, judicious and pondering person, not illiterate beyond the rule of most noblemen in this age, very well versed in English history and affairs, industrious, frugal, methodical and every way accomplished"; and declares he was much deplored, few believing he had ever harboured any seditious designs. He married Lady Elizabeth Percy daughter of Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland
Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland
Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy, KG was an English military leader and a prominent supporter of constitutional monarchy.-Family background:...

, by whom, he had an only son Algernon
Algernon Capell, 2nd Earl of Essex
Algernon Capell, 2nd Earl of Essex PC was an English nobleman, a soldier and courtier. He was the son of Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex and Elizabeth Percy. After his father's suicide in 1683, Capell became the 2nd Earl of Essex...

 (1670–1710), who succeeded him as the 2nd Earl of Essex
Earl of Essex
Earl of Essex is a title that has been held by several families and individuals. The earldom was first created in the 12th century for Geoffrey II de Mandeville . Upon the death of the third earl in 1189, the title became dormant or extinct...

 and a daughter, Anne, who married Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle
Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle
Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, PC was a British statesman and member of the peerage of England.Charles Howard was the eldest son of Edward Howard and inherited his title on the death of his father in 1692. He married in 1683 Lady Anne de Vere Capell, daughter of Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of...