WILMOT, Sir Charles (c.1571-bet.1643/4), of Scotland Yard, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1571, 1st s. of Edward Wilmot of Culham, Oxon. and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Stafford of Bradfield, Berks., wid. of John Bury of Culham.1 educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1587 aged 16.2 m. (1) Sarah (bur. 8 Dec. 1615), da. of Sir Henry Anderson of London, alderman and grocer, 3s. (2 d.v.p.), 1da.;3 (2) by 28 Apr. 1630, Mary (d. 3 June 1654), da. of Sir Henry Colley of Castle Carbery, Co. Kildare [I], and wid. of Garret Moore (d.1627), 1st Visct. Moore of Drogheda [I], s.p.4 kntd. 5 Aug. 1599;5 suc. fa. c.1602;6 cr. Visct. Wilmot of Athlone [I] 4 Jan. 1621.7 d. bet. 29 June 1643 and Apr. 1644.8 sig. C[harles] Wilmot.

Offices Held

Capt., Eng. army in France c.1592-5, ft., [I] 1595-8,9 sgt.-maj. 1598, col. ft. from c.1599,10 constable, Castlemaine Castle, Co. Kerry by 1601-5,11 gov. Cork, co. Cork 1601,12 acting gen., Munster 1602-3;13 second-in-command, Ile de Ré relief expedition 1627;14 gen., [I] 1629-32.15

Acting pres. of Munster (jt.) 1599, 1603; member, Council of Munster 1600;16 PC [I] 1607-at least 1628,17 [Eng.] 1628-at least 1640;18 gov., Co. Kerry 1605-at least 1615;19 v.-pres., Munster by 1609,20 pres., Connaught 1616-30 (sole), 1630-d. (jt.);21 member, Council of War 1621, 1628, 1637-8;22 commr. Irish inquiries 1622;23 member, High Commission 1629, 1633;24 commr. transportation of felons 1633,25 Regency 1639-40.26

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.27

Commr. French prize goods in Ire. 1627,28 martial law, Devon and Cornw. 1627,29 oyer and terminer, London 1629;30 j.p. Oxon. 1634-at least 1640,31 commr. forest perambulations 1641,32 array 1642.33


Wilmot’s ancestors were living in Oxfordshire by the late fifteenth century. His grandfather, Edward, flourished as a wool merchant in Witney, and by his death in 1558 he owned several Gloucestershire manors. Wilmot’s father, Edward’s second son, inherited two of these properties, along with three rectories, and settled as a gentleman at Culham, six miles south of Oxford.34 After attending his local university, Wilmot opted for a military career, apparently attaching himself to a distant kinsman, Sir Henry Norris†. In 1595, having served on the continent for around seven years and achieved the rank of captain, he arrived with Norris in Ireland, where he joined the campaign against Tyrone in Ulster.35 Discharged in early 1598, he was ordered back to Ireland later that year following Tyrone’s crushing victory at the Yellow Ford. Now stationed in the southern province of Munster, where Norris’ brother Sir Thomas† was Lord President, Wilmot was swiftly promoted to sergeant-major and then colonel, establishing a reputation for ‘great valour and sufficiency’.36 Within weeks of being knighted by the 2nd earl of Essex at Dublin in August 1599, he was placed in temporary joint control of Munster after Sir Thomas Norris died of battle wounds. The new lord president, Sir George Carew I*, held Wilmot in similar esteem, adding him to the Council of Munster in June 1600, and singing his praises to the Privy Council in London.37 Wilmot was by then engaged in the pacification of County Kerry, a task which he pursued vigorously through the latter half of 1600. In November Carew described him to Sir Robert Cecil† as being ‘of great worth, and absolutely the discreetest and sufficientest man of war under my command’.38 In September 1601 Wilmot was one of the first commanders on the scene following the Spanish landing at Kinsale, County Cork, though he was employed to help maintain a blockade around the town, rather than participating directly in the subsequent siege.39 By November 1602 Kerry had been brought to heel again, and when Carew relinquished his post shortly afterwards, Wilmot was once more placed in joint charge of Munster until the next lord president arrived. In this capacity he helped to suppress an attempted rising at Cork in May 1603.40

Like many soldiers in Ireland, Wilmot suffered from erratic pay. By November 1600 he was owed arrears of £400, and in March 1603, when he requested £1,000 from the government, he claimed that he had received only £500 during 15 years’ commissioned service. By now his situation was desperate, as his family estates were heavily mortgaged and he lacked the money to redeem them. In 1604, he finally got permission to return to England, where he petitioned the Privy Council for relief. In May the Crown granted him a £250 annuity in lieu of his arrears, which now stood at £1,200.41 A few months later, Wilmot also secured the promise of the governorship of County Kerry, which was formally conferred on him in May 1605. Once back in Ireland, however, he was unable to obtain either his annuity or his governor’s salary. Furthermore the new president of Munster, Sir Henry Brouncker†, who had opposed the Kerry appointment, caused Wilmot so much trouble that in 1606 he returned to England to appeal against his treatment. The government proved sympathetic, converting part of his governor’s pay into a second pension, and when he finally returned to his post in 1607, after Brouncker’s death, he was made a privy councillor in Ireland.42 Within two years Wilmot received further promotion as vice-president of Munster, while in 1611 he acquired the reversion of a marshall’s office in the Irish army, agreeing to trade in one of his pensions when he took up the post.43

Around now, Wilmot resolved to try his luck at Court. In February 1612 he leased a house in Scotland Yard, on the northern perimeter of Whitehall Palace. Thereafter, presumably with the assistance of his uncle, Arthur Wilmot, a ‘special follower’ of Viscount Rochester, he entered the royal favourite’s circle. By April 1613 he had become a close friend of Rochester’s henchman Overbury, though when the latter was consigned to the Tower shortly afterwards Wilmot managed to retain the viscount’s patronage. In the following August Rochester arranged for his Kerry governor’s salary, suspended since his departure from Ireland, to be restored and backdated, even though Wilmot was simultaneously granted a further year’s leave of absence. When the favourite, now earl of Somerset, married in December, Wilmot provided an expensive wedding present.44

In the spring of 1614 Wilmot was elected to Parliament at Launceston, doubtless with Somerset’s backing, and probably through the mediation of another of the earl’s clients, Sir Robert Killigrew*, who possessed influence within the local district.45 Wilmot was nominated on 14 Apr. to attend a conference with the Lords on the bill for naturalizing the Elector Palatine. On 12 May he was present at the committee investigating ‘undertaking’ when Killigrew assaulted the chairman. Called upon as a witness to this incident on the following day, Wilmot played down the seriousness of Killigrew’s actions.46

During the latter part of 1614 Wilmot secured a further re-structuring of his finances, this time exchanging his pensions and salary for a grant of lands in Ireland worth £200 p.a. Although still on close terms with Somerset in December 1614, he seems not to have suffered through the favourite’s disgrace in the following year.47 Wilmot now concentrated on consolidating his position in Ireland. In 1616 he acquired the presidency of the western province of Connaught by buying out his predecessor, the earl of Clanricarde, and turned his attention to civil administration. The task of converting Connaught’s revenues into regular annual payments and rent-charges had been left unfinished in the sixteenth century, and Wilmot revived this process in November 1616 with a commission for taking surrenders and issuing fresh patents.48 Conscious of the defensive value of strong towns, in 1618 he also launched a programme for reconstructing his provincial capital, Athlone. The resident Protestants were invited to purchase their properties in fee-farm, but in return for this greater security of tenure they were obliged to rebuild both their houses and the town walls more solidly. Wilmot claimed that this five-year project doubled the Crown’s annual rents to £100, though he later admitted that he had also made a personal profit of £1,300 from the scheme.49

Unfortunately, this tendency to confirm the status of existing landowners, which Wilmot believed was the appropriate policy for Connaught, placed him firmly at odds with those who wished to establish plantations in the province. This latter approach was strongly advocated by the new royal favourite, Buckingham, who sought to bend Wilmot to his will with a blend of threats and rewards. In 1620 the lord president was forced to accept one of Buckingham’s clients, Sir Charles Coote, as his deputy in Connaught, but this set-back was balanced in the following January by the grant to Wilmot of an Irish peerage. However, while the new viscount paid lip service to Buckingham’s authority, in practice he continued to fight his own corner. His long years of service had rendered him a leading authority on military and Irish matters. During 1621 he was included in the Council of War which debated the Palatinate crisis, and summoned as a witness by the House of Commons’ committee established to examine the abuse of monopolies in Ireland.50 Wilmot exploited this prestige to his own advantage. As a leading figure on the major Irish reform commission of 1622, he both secured a share of Connaught’s customs revenues to augment his official allowance, and also saw to it that Coote’s dealings in the province were investigated. The vice-president fled to England to evade arrest, and attempted to revenge himself on his superior by accusing him of defrauding Buckingham’s half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers*, who possessed an interest in the Athlone project. However, in 1623 the Privy Council sided with Wilmot.51 Buckingham stepped in to protect Coote, but Wilmot continued to obstruct plans for plantations in Connaught until August 1625, when the favourite finally ordered him to back down. Even so, Buckingham felt it advisable to offer concessions on other fronts. In September 1625 Wilmot received a grant of pay arrears and a pardon for any errors committed over the Athlone scheme, while a year later, when he next visited England, he left behind him a vice-president of his own choosing, Sir Roger Jones. Ironically, the plantation proposals were subsequently shelved.52 With the renewal of war with Spain, Wilmot was once more in demand in London as an expert on Irish security. Having finally made his peace with Buckingham, he was employed in the autumn of 1627 as one of the leaders of the abortive expedition dispatched to relieve the duke on the Ile de Ré. His plans frustrated by a weak supply-chain and adverse weather, Wilmot nevertheless threw himself vigorously into the task of organizing the troops assembled around Plymouth. His efforts were rewarded in the following year with a seat on the English Privy Council.53

In 1629 Wilmot reached the pinnacle of his career in Ireland. Following the disgrace of lord deputy Falkland (Sir Henry Carey I*), with whom he had long been at odds, he was placed in command of the army. At the same time his friend viscount Loftus, the Irish lord chancellor, became joint head of the civil administration. One of Wilmot’s first tasks on his return to Dublin was to reconcile Loftus to his fellow lord justice, the earl of Cork, who represented the Falkland interest, though in the uneasy partnership which followed there is little doubt that his sympathies lay with the chancellor. On the military front, the successful billeting of troops proved a major hurdle, as it had at Plymouth. When the Dublin authorities tried to avoid this burden by pleading their charter privileges, Wilmot reacted firmly. Concerned lest other Irish towns followed this example, he demanded swift action from the government in London, warning that the king should not let his Irish subjects ‘be suffered to learn the language of English parliaments’.54 Wilmot was now aged nearly 60, and in 1630 arranged the promotion of his Connaught deputy, now Viscount Ranelagh, to the rank of joint-president. Nevertheless, he was disappointed not to be made lord deputy in 1632, and having relinquished his army role to his new superior, Sir Thomas Wentworth*, he once more retired to England.55 However, Wilmot retained too many interests in Ireland to be left in peace. He continued to be seen as an obstacle to the planting of Connaught, which Wentworth wished to pursue again, while his claim on the province’s customs revenues interfered with the lord deputy’s plans for reform in this area. In 1634 Wentworth began to turn against Loftus and his allies, accusing Wilmot and others of misappropriating Crown property. Although he expressed reluctance to pursue a man of ‘so boisterous and turbulent a disposition’ as Wilmot, the lord deputy claimed that the Athlone project had deprived the king of an annual rent of £500, which he was determined to recover.56 The lord president launched a desperate rear-guard action, encouraging complaints in England about Wentworth’s own conduct, and drawing in the latter’s enemies at Court, such as Lord (Sir Francis) Cottington*. However, the lord deputy piled on the pressure, threatening to extend his investigation to the renewal of tenure elsewhere in Connaught and alleged fraud over Wilmot’s army salary. In May 1635 Charles I himself took charge of the inquiry, and a few weeks later the lord president agreed to submit. However, his initial admission of guilt was deemed to contain too much self-justification, and four more months passed before he produced an acceptable form of words.57 If Wentworth expected the matter to end here, he was disappointed. For the alleged lost revenues to be recovered, Wilmot was required to fund the recovery of the Athlone fee-farms, and despite his repeated assurances of cooperation, this task was still nowhere near complete in August 1638.58

By this time the king had once more found himself in need of Wilmot’s military experience, appointing him to his new Council of War as the crisis in Scotland intensified. In January 1639 he was even half-seriously proposed as governor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, though in the event he stayed in London to help supervise the government during Charles’s absence in the north. In December 1640 Wilmot had the satisfaction of being summoned as a witness in the impeachment proceedings against Wentworth, now earl of Strafford, though he played no significant role in the subsequent trial.59 Now quite elderly, he remained in the capital following the outbreak of the Civil War, apparently unmolested by Parliament despite his son Henry’s† vigorous espousal of the royalist cause. Wilmot drew up his will on 12 May 1643, while still in good health. His Athlone travails, and doubtless also the 1641 Irish rebellion, had taken their toll on his finances, and his lands in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire were currently mortgaged. However, he still owned property in Oxfordshire worth several hundred pounds a year. The bulk of this estate was bequeathed to Henry, with some provision for a solitary grandson. Two weeks later, news reached Parliament that Wilmot had been sending intelligence reports to his son at Oxford. The House of Lords ordered his immediate arrest, but he seems to have made his escape. He was presumably still alive in June 1643, when Henry was granted a peerage of his own, but had died by the following April, when the presidency of Connaught was granted jointly to his son and Sir Charles Coote†, the heir of his old foe. Wilmot’s will was finally proved by one of his creditors in 1654.60

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. The Ancestor, xi. 16, 19-20.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. Ancestor, xi. 20-1; GL, ms 4399, p. 60; A.B. Beaven, London Aldermen, i. 5.
  • 4. CP.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 97.
  • 6. CSP Carew, 1601-3, p. 259.
  • 7. CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 312.
  • 8. Ancestor, xi. 20.
  • 9. CSP Ire. 1592-6, p. 302; 1603-6, p. 386; HMC Hatfield, vi. 543.
  • 10. CSP Ire. 1598-9, p. 415; 1603-6, p. 386; HMC Hatfield, ix. 145.
  • 11. CSP Ire. 1601-3, p. 17; 1603-6, p. 335.
  • 12. Ibid. 1600-1, p. 415.
  • 13. Ibid. 1601-3, p. 572; G. Carew, Pacata Hibernia ed. S. O’Grady, ii. 279.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 371, 404.
  • 15. CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 474, 670.
  • 16. CSP Carew 1589-1600, pp. 320, 404; CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 7.
  • 17. CSP Ire. 1606-8, p. 330; Addenda 1625-60, p. 127.
  • 18. APC, 1628-9, p. 42; PC2/53, p. 5.
  • 19. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 275; 1615-25, p. 11.
  • 20. Ibid. 1608-10, p. 329.
  • 21. R. Lascelles, Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae, i. pt. 2, p. 189.
  • 22. APC, 1619-21, p. 333; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 563; 1637, p. 224; 1637-8, p. 266.
  • 23. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. iii, p. 231.
  • 24. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 360.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 547.
  • 26. Ibid. 1638-9, p. 607; 1640-1, p. 3.
  • 27. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 210.
  • 28. APC, 1627, p. 459.
  • 29. Ibid. 1627-8, p. 79.
  • 30. C181/4, f. 15.
  • 31. C231/5, p. 148; C66/2859.
  • 32. C181/5, f. 209v.
  • 33. Northants. RO, FH 133.
  • 34. Vis. Oxon. (Harl. Soc. v), 301; Ancestor, xi. 15-16; Cal. of Witney Bor. Ct. Bks. ed. J.L. Bolton and M.M. Maslen (Oxon. Rec. Soc. liv), pp. lv, lxi; C142/118/54; PROB 11/42A, f. 68Av.
  • 35. CSP Ire. 1592-6, pp. 302, 322; 1603-6, pp. 3, 386; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 454.
  • 36. APC, 1597-8, p. 617; 1598-9, p. 253; CSP Ire. 1598-9, p. 415.
  • 37. Shaw, ii. 97; CSP Carew, 1589-1600, p. 320; CSP Ire. 1600, p. 319.
  • 38. CSP Ire. 1600, pp. 318-9, 366-7; 1600-1, pp. 3, 48-9; Carew, i. 116, 183.
  • 39. CSP Ire. 1601-3, pp. 82, 165.
  • 40. Ibid. 1601-3, p. 518; 1603-6, pp. 1-2, 43, 47-9.
  • 41. Ibid. 1600-1, p. 7; 1603-6, pp. 2-3, 165; CSP Carew, 1601-3, p. 337; C66/1631; HMC Hatfield, xx. 314.
  • 42. CSP Ire. 1603-6, pp. 208, 275, 385-6, 399, 493; 1606-8, p. 330; HMC Hatfield, xx. 314.
  • 43. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 24.
  • 44. C104/263, bdle. 16; V. Treadwell, Buckingham and Ire. 59; SP14/82/84; CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 411.
  • 45. E315/310, f. 67v; DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, ff. 140v-1.
  • 46. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 82, 231, 229.
  • 47. CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 502, 536; CPR Ire. Jas. I, 271-2, 275.
  • 48. Treadwell, 59, 265-6.
  • 49. CSP Ire. 1615-25, pp. 351, 436-7.
  • 50. Treadwell, 59, 158; SP14/119/65; CJ, i. 595a.
  • 51. Treadwell, 187, 201, 211; M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 349, 354; Berks. RO, D/EHY/01, f. 56; APC, 1623-5, pp. 101, 161; CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 436.
  • 52. Treadwell, 202, 268-9; CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 42.
  • 53. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 200; APC, 1627, p. 264; 1627-8, pp. 32, 155; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 374, 382, 391-2, 394-6, 400-1, 404, 410, 415.
  • 54. HMC Cowper, i. 367; CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 474, 498; H.F. Kearney, Strafford in Ire. (2nd edn.), 11-12.
  • 55. Ibid. 1625-32, pp. 446, 670; Lascelles, i. pt. 2, p. 189; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 61-2.
  • 56. P. Little, ‘Fam. and Faction: the Irish Nobility and the English Ct. 1632-42’ (TCD MLitt. thesis, 1992), pp. 77-8; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. of Eng. 1603-42, viii. 183-4; Strafforde Letters, i. 338, 399, 421.
  • 57. Strafforde Letters, i. 369, 381, 399, 401-2, 423, 433, 477; HMC Cowper, ii. 83.
  • 58. Strafforde Letters, ii. 9-10, 81, 89, 102, 205; CSP Ire. 1633-47, pp. 129-30; Addenda 1625-60, p. 217; HMC Cowper, ii. 150, 183.
  • 59. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 378; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 396.
  • 60. HMC 7th Rep. 440-2; PROB 11/240, f. 373v-5; CJ, iii. 104a-b; LJ, vi. 64b; Ancestor, xi. 20.