Thomas West was educated at Queen’s College, Oxford. He later served in the army under Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and was subsequently charged with supporting Essex's insurrection against Queen Elizabeth. He was acquitted of those charges. West succeeded his father as Baron De La Warr in 1602 and became a member of the Privy Council, a non-executive body of advisors mostly comprised of former members of Parliament. Lord De La Warr was appointed governor-for-life and captain-general of the Virginia Colony which replaced the governing council under the presidency of Captain John Smith.