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Lucius Cary,
Viscount Falkland

Born: 1610 at Burford, Oxfordshire
Secretary of State

Died: 20th September 1643
at the First Battle of Newbury, Berkshire

Lucius was the son of Henry Cary, created Viscount Falkland in 1620, and Elizabeth Tanfield. His early years were spent with his grandfather, Sir Lawrence Tanfield, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, whose estate was at Great Tew in Oxfordshire. At the age of twelve, Cary went to join his parents in Ireland, where his father was Lord Deputy. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and is there said to have acquired a sound knowledge of French and Latin. In 1629, he returned to England, and took up his residence at Tew, which he had inherited from his grandfather. The bequest probably aroused the jealousy of Lord Falkland, a man of a violent temper, which he displayed freely when Lucius married Lettice Morrison, soon after his settlement in Oxfordshire. Cary offered to give up his estate altogether and, when his father contemptuously rejected his offer, went to Holland in the hope of obtaining some military post and of forgetting the quarrel. Disappointed in this, he returned to England and gave himself up to a life of studious retirement in the country.

Cary had strong literary tastes and delighted in having men of wit and culture about him. His house at Tew became frequented by poets from London and theologians from Oxford, who came uninvited but were always warmly welcomed. By 1633, he had succeeded to his father's title and, at about this time, it was believed that he was being drawn towards Catholicism under his mother's influence. Of this, there is no good evidence, but his thoughts were continually occupied by religious subjects. As Suckling complained, he became “gone with divinity” and abandoned literary for philosophic pursuits. Falkland was not a great or original thinker, but he had an earnest and sincere desire to discover truth. Consequently, he readily became the disciple and the firm friend of Chillingworth, who was a frequent guest at his Oxfordshire mansion. Under his auspices, Falkland wrote his ‘Discourse of Infallibility,’ a plea for rationalism, yet as devoid of profundity as his verses were of imagination. Nevertheless, his attitude impressed his contemporaries who could not fail to recognize a true tolerance and a “sweet reasonableness” in his nature, which more than compensated for his want of abusive ferocity in controversy.

To political questions, Falkland apparently paid little heed until 1639, when he went as a volunteer on the expedition against the Scots. This experience convinced him of the narrowness and oppression of the Laudian system and, from this conviction, there sprang, by an easy intellectual transition, a hatred of the Straffordian system of political government. Hence, in the Long Parliament, Falkland steadily supported the Bill of Attainder against Strafford and followed this up by an attack on the judges who had declared the legality of Ship‑Money. By instinct, however, he was conservative and, by reason, he was driven to dread the tyranny of Presbyterianism in matters of belief more than he disliked the tyranny of the bishops in matters of observance. His lot was, therefore, finally cast on the King's side. Against the Root and Branch Bill and against the Grand Remonstrance, he protested strongly, though his speeches, apart from their intense seriousness, were devoid of eloquence or fire. On 1st January 1642, he was appointed Secretary of State and he laboured unremittingly in King Charles I's cause. His influence, however, never became paramount among the Royalists. His mind was of too philosophical a cast to allow him to become a whole‑hearted partisan, at a time when the extravagance of partisanship was an indispensable qualification for leadership. The violence and bitterness of war were abhorrent to him, but he fought with additional recklessness because he knew himself to be reputed a man of peace. At the Siege of Gloucester, he exposed himself fearlessly and, at the First Battle of Newbury, on 20th September 1643, he met his death, charging desperately against a hedge lined by the enemy's musketeers.

 Among historians there has been much dispute as to Falkland's qualities as a statesman. None have questioned the testimony to the charm and loftiness of his personal character contained in Clarendon's noble eulogy. Indeed, he stands side by side with Hampden as a man universally beloved and respected. The very gentleness of his disposition and the very breadth of his opinions have exposed him to charges of weakness and effeminacy as a politician. His aims were, in the main, negative, since he was averse to any violent revolution in Church or State. His ideal of constitutional liberty and religious freedom was unattainable in an age when extremes were in conflict. To pursue a path of moderation at such a time involved failure and disappointment, but the fact that Falkland followed this course unswervingly does not convict him of incapacity as a constructive statesman, or of infirmity of purpose, but rather argues a strength and independence of mind, incapable of perversion by the passions prevalent around him. In fact, Falkland's ineffectiveness in action is by no means the least justification for the reverence in which he was generally held.

Edited from CRL Fletcher's 'Historical Portraits' (1911)

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