ARMSTRONG, Sir Thomas (1633-84), of Corbellis, co. Dublin.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Dec. 1633, o.s. of Sir Thomas Armstrong of Dublin by Anne Anderson. m. settlement 10 Feb. 1657, Catherine Pollexfen, 3da. suc. fa. 1662; kntd. 1667/8.1
Capt.-lt. R. Horse Gds. 1661-73; maj. King’s 1 Life Gds. 1673-8, lt.-col. Jan.-Dec. 1679, lt.-col. Queen’s Horse 1678-9.
Armstrong was born in the Netherlands, the son of an English officer of obscure origin serving in the Dutch army. His father later fought in Ireland under Ormonde, who knighted him in 1644. A reckless adventurer, he sat for county Dublin in the Irish Parliament of 1647, and became a tireless royalist conspirator during the Interregnum. Armstrong himself was involved in the design against Chester Castle in 1655, and carried a considerable sum of money from the Earl of Oxford to the exiled Court. At the Restoration his father was given a troop of horse in Ireland and a patent for coining farthings; but he died before he had time to make anything of a career. Armstrong himself was more fortunate. Lord Oxford selected him as his captain-lieutenant in The Blues, and he became of political importance through his influence on the youthful Duke of Monmouth, whom he is said to have debauched, no very difficult achievement at the Restoration Court. He was seconded to act as chief of staff to Monmouth in the French army in 1672. Three years later he was grossly provoked in a theatre quarrel, and after being wounded himself killed his man ‘stark dead’ upon the spot.
Sir Thomas Armstrong is justified by everybody in what he did, but for all that it is a sore misfortune to him, this being the third man he has killed, and though he could not well do otherwise than what he did in the circumstances he was in now, yet this rubs up old stories and puts men upon making divers reflections.
Although his opponent’s mother was one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting, he was pardoned, and in 1677 he was naturalized by Act of Parliament. In 1678 he again accompanied Monmouth, this time to Flanders with the British expeditionary force. He was wounded ‘in three several places at three several times by lead shots, which made contusions only’.2
As high steward of Stafford, Monmouth was able to secure the unopposed return of his principal henchman to all the Exclusion Parliaments. As an army officer, Armstrong was marked ‘base’ on Shaftesbury’s list, and he was appointed to only two minor committees in 1679, those to inspect the laws against profanity and to inquire into abuses in the Post Office. But he was alleged to have told the 2nd Duke of Albemarle ( Christopher Monck) that ‘the nation could not be safe’ so long as Lord Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne) was ‘in being’, and he voted for the committal of the first exclusion bill. He accompanied Monmouth in his campaign against the Scottish rebels in the summer, but was required to part with his commission in the guards soon afterwards, probably in exchange for a renewal of his father’s coinage patent, which he was to hold jointly with George Legge. He was moderately active in the second Exclusion Parliament, in which he was named to the committees to inquire into the proceedings of the judges and to inspect the arrangements made for the trial of Lord Stafford. He acted as teller against committing a petition against cane-bottomed chairs. In his only recorded speech on 14 Dec. 1680 he confirmed with soldierly brevity the account given to the House by Silius Titus of a warning which he had received against Sir Robert Peyton. In the Oxford Parliament he was named to the committee to bring in the third exclusion bill.3
Nevertheless Armstrong seems to have lost ground in his constituency, where by November 1681 several of his professed friends had turned against him. He accompanied Monmouth on his progress through Staffordshire and Cheshire in 1682, which was terminated by his master’s arrest, whereupon Armstrong made a spectacular dash for London to obtain a habeas corpus. But his career was almost at an end. After the Rye House Plot a proclamation was issued for his arrest. He escaped to the Netherlands, and was outlawed in his absence. Under the statute of Edward VI the outlaw was allowed 12 months’ grace in which to surrender himself; but before this period had elapsed he was captured at Leyden and brought over to England. For the crown, (Sir) Robert Sawyer argued that he could not claim the benefit of the statute, since he had not surrendered himself voluntarily. Armstrong asked for the common benefit of the law, to which Judge Jeffreys replied: ‘You shall have that indeed. By the grace of God you shall be executed on Friday next.’ He made a dignified end on the gallows at Tyburn on 20 June 1684, thanks to the ministrations of Tenison, protesting that he died ‘a true and sincere Protestant ... and in the communion of the Church of England; and I heartily wish I had more strictly lived up to the religion which I believed’. His lands in Ireland, worth £300 p.a., and bonds from various persons totalling £12,700 were saved from forfeiture under his marriage settlement. Nevertheless his trial was widely regarded as a flagrant miscarriage of justice. His widow and daughter petitioned the Convention, and a bill was brought in to reverse his attainder, but it made slow progress. However, John Hawles, a rising Whig lawyer who had made a special study of the case, succeeded in securing Sawyer’s expulsion from the House. A writ of error was granted in 1694.4
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: A. M. Mimardière
This biography is based on IHR Bull. xxii. 65-67.
- 1. PCC 28 Bence, 91 Coker.
- 2. D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 112, 148-9, 158, 335; Burnet, ii. 415; Reresby, 340; Bulstrode Pprs. 312; CJ, ix. 405; HMC 7th Rep. 365.
- 3. Bodl. Carte 243, ff. 383, HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 456; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 181, 243, 272, 345; Grey, viii. 145; CJ, ix. 665.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 556; 1682, pp. 190, 415, 419; July-Sept. 1683, p. 378; 1684-5, pp. 47, 54-55; Burnet, ii. 412-15; Dalrymple, Mems. i. 55; CJ, x. 137, 337.