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Portrait of Sir Nicholas Carew in full jousting armour, by Hans Holbein, 1532-3.

Sir Nicholas Carew  (d. 1539)

SIR NICHOLAS CAREW (d. 1539), master of the horse to Henry VIII, was the head of the younger branch of a very ancient family which traced its descent back to the Conquest, though the surname, derived from Carew in Pembrokeshire, dates only from the days of King John. The younger branch had been established at Beddington in Surrey from the time of Edward III. Sir Richard Carew, father of Sir Nicholas, was created by Henry VII a knight-banneret at the Battle of Blackheath, and was sheriff of Surrey in 1501. Nicholas was probably born in the last decade of the fifteenth century.

In 1513 he was associated with his father in a grant from the crown of the office of lieutenant of Calais Castle, which they were to hold in survivorship.1 In the same year he attended Henry VIII in his invasion of France, and received a 'coat of rivet' of the king's gift at Therouanne.2 In December 1514 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Bryan, vice-chamberlain to Catherine of Arragon.3 At this time he was squire of the king's body, and is also called one of the king's 'cypherers,' which appears to mean cupbearers, in which capacity he had an annuity of 30 marks given him by patent on 6 Nov. 1515.4 At his marriage lands were settled upon him and his wife in Wallington, Carshalton, Beddington, Woodmansterne, Woodcote, and Mitcham, in Surrey.5 In 1517 his name is mentioned as cupbearer at a great banquet given by the king at Greenwich on 7 July in honour of the ambassadors of young Charles of Castile, afterwards the Emperor Charles V.6 This is the first occasion on which we find him designated knight; and on 18 Dec. following, he being then knight of the royal body, was appointed keeper of the manor of Pleasaunce in East Greenwich, and of the park there.

That he was a favourite with Henry VIII both at this time and long afterwards there is no doubt whatever. We learn from Hall, the chronicler, that early in the eleventh year of the reign (which means about May 1519) he and some other young men of the privy chamber who had been in France were banished from court by an order of the council for being too familiar with the king. Hall's 'Chronicle' is so accurate throughout in respect of dates, that we may take it for granted he is right here also; and, indeed, what he says is in perfect keeping with our knowledge from other sources. But in that case it must be observed that this was not the first occasion on which the council had insisted on his removal from the king's presence, for on 27 March 1518 the scholar Pace writes to Wolsey, 'Mr. Carew and his wife be returned to the king's grace—too soon after mine opinion.'7 The king was still young and loved young companions, but he knew well how to guard himself against over-familiarity, and could freely allow any such cases to be corrected by his council while enjoying to the full the pleasures of the moment. On 11 Aug. of the same year he and Sir Henry Guildford 'had each of them from the standing wardrobe six yards of blue cloth of gold towards a base and a trapper, and fifteen yards of white cloth of silver damask to perform another base and trapper for the king's justs appointed to be at Greenwich upon the arrival of the French ambassadors.'8 Frequent mention is made of him even before this time in jousts and revels at the court.9

In 1518-19 he was sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, his name being found on the commission of the peace for the former county from this time onward.10 In May 1519, as we have already indicated, occurred what must have been at least his second expulsion from court, and though it was in some degree mitigated by his being given an honourable and lucrative post at Calais, we are told that it was 'sore to him displeasant.' It is commonly said that his disgrace was owing to his too great love of the French court, whose fashions he praised in preference to those of England; but Hall's words, from which the statement is derived, may possibly apply only to the gentlemen of the privy chamber who were removed along with him. So far as appears by the 'State Papers' of the period he had as yet had no opportunity of making acquaintance with the French court.

However, on 18 May 1519 an annuity of 109l. 6s. 8d. was granted to him out of the revenues of Calais,11 and two days later he was appointed lieutenant of the tower of Ruysbanke, a fort which guarded the entrance of Calais harbour.12 This office had just been resigned by Sir John Peachey, who had been at the same time appointed deputy of Calais, and Peachey's letters tell us how Carew immediately after arrived at Calais and was sworn in as lieutenant of Ruysbanke the same day that he himself was sworn in as deputy.13 In 1520 he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and was one of those who held the lists against all comers.14 He was also at the meeting of Henry VIII and Charles V, which occurred immediately afterwards.15 On 19 Oct. in that year he surrendered the lieutenancy of Calais Castle in favour of Maurice, lord Berkeley, but with reservation of a pension of £10016 to himself;17 and on 12 Nov. he surrendered his annuity as one of the king's 'cypherers.'

At the very close of 1520 he was sent with important letters to Francis I,18 and on his return £10019 was paid him for his costs.20 In 1521 he was one of the grand jury of Surrey who found the indictment in that county against the Duke of Buckingham.21 On 12 June in that year there were granted to him, in reversion after Sir Thomas Lovel, the offices of constable of Wallingford Castle and steward of the honour of Wallingford and St. Walric, and the four and a half hundreds of Chiltern.22 At Christmas following he is named as one of the king's carvers.23 On 18 July 1522 he was appointed master of the horse, and also steward of the manor of Brasted in Kent, which had belonged to Buckingham. On the same day he likewise received a grant to himself and his wife, in tail male24, of the manor of Bletchingley in Surrey,25 to which grant were added next year some other lands in the neighbourhood.26 In October 1523, when the Earl of Surrey was in the north charged to repel a threatened invasion of the kingdom by the Duke of Albany, the Marquis of Dorset, Carew, and others were sent to him to give him counsel, and Surrey refers to their testimony as to the extreme discomforts of the campaign.27

In 1526 he was assessed at £40028 for the third payment of the subsidy.29 Next year he was commissioned to go with Lord Lisle, Dr. Taylor, Sir Anthony Brown, and Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter king of arms, to carry the Garter to Francis I of France.30 It was duly presented on 10 Nov.,31 and, to judge by the interest afterwards taken in him by Francis, his conversation and address must have produced a very favourable impression. He returned, however, with Lord Lisle very shortly after the presentation, leaving Taylor at Paris, who remained as resident ambassador.32 On 29 Jan. 1528 he received the grant from the crown of an annuity of fifty marks.33

In the course of the following summer, while several of the court were taken ill of the sweating sickness, he appears to have felt a little uneasy, complaining of his head, but we do not hear that he had a more serious attack.34 One of those carried off by the epidemic was Sir William Compton, who held the constableship of Warwick Castle and other important offices in that part of the country. Carew seems to have made interest to be appointed his successor, as we meet with a draft patent to that effect, but the grant does not appear to have been passed.35 In 1528-9 he was again sheriff for the counties of Surrey and Sussex,36 and at the expiration of his year's service in this office he was chosen knight of the shire for Surrey in the parliament of 1529.37 But he could scarcely have taken his seat in parliament when he was sent, with Dr. Sampson and Dr. Benet, to Bologna on embassy to the emperor. Their instructions had already been prepared as early as 21 Sept., and they seem to have left on or about 7 Oct.;38 but additional instructions were sent after them on 30 Nov.39 Carew continued at Bologna till 7 Feb. 1530, and in the opinion of good judges acquitted himself with great dexterity.40

In February 1531 the king paid him a visit at Beddington, and went to hunt in his grounds.41 In September following he and Thomas Cromwell received joint authority to swear in commissioners for sewers in Surrey.42 Next year (against his will, as he privately intimated to the imperial ambassador Chapuys) he was sent over to France in October to prepare for a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I, which took place at Calais in the end of the month. As the object of the interview no doubt was to promote the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn and to strengthen him against the emperor, it was exceedingly unpopular. Carew, for his part, would rather have gone to hinder than to prepare for it; but he did as he was commanded.43 In much the same spirit doubtless, when Anne Boleyn was proclaimed queen next year, he tourneyed at her coronation.44

In this year (1533) Francis wrote to Henry VIII requesting him to confer upon Carew the Order of the Garter, which the king apparently promised to do on some future occasion.45 Shortly afterwards he obtained a grant in reversion of the office of the king's otter hunter.46 Next year the French king again wrote to Henry in Carew's favour that a Garter might be conferred on him, and, if convenient, the chancellorship of the order. Henry replied to the envoy who presented the letter that the chancellorship of the order had been already conferred upon the King of Scots, but that he would remember Carew for a Garter on the first vacancy.47 Accordingly, on St. George's day, 23 April 1536, a chapter being held at Greenwich, votes were taken to fill a vacancy among the knights, and the king on the following day declared that the election had fallen on Carew. According to the Black Book of the order he was elected 'in regard of the majority of votes, the eminence of his extraction, his own fame, and the many and noble actions he had performed; which ample relation was unanimously applauded by the knights companions.' He was installed at St. George's Feast, 21 May following.48

He was still, to all appearance, in high favour in October 1537, when at the christening of Prince Edward (afterwards Edward VI) he, with three others of high standing at the court, 'in aprons and towels, took charge of the font, and kept the same till they were discharged thereof by the lord steward or treasurer of the king's house in his absence.'49 But little more than a year afterwards a cloud passed over his fortunes. In November 1538 Lord Montague and the Marquis of Exeter were sent to the Tower, and next month they were found guilty of high treason on the ground that they had expressed approval of the proceedings of Montague's brother, Cardinal Pole, and hoped to see a change in the realm.

Early in 1539 Carew was also apprehended. On 14 Feb. he was arraigned as an adherent of the Marquis of Exeter, and for having spoken of his prosecution as arbitrary and unjust. Of this he was certainly a very competent judge, as he had been a member of the special commission which received the indictment.50 To have said so, however, was in itself almost sufficient to brand him as a traitor. But it had been found, besides, since Exeter's attainder, that Carew had been privy to a number of the 'traitorous discourses' of the marquis in past years, and had kept up a treasonable correspondence with him, the letters on both sides having been burnt by mutual agreement to avoid disclosure. The treason, of course, was of the same character as that of the marquis himself, the expression of a desire to see a change. Carew was condemned as a matter of course, and on 3 March was beheaded on Tower Hill. On the scaffold, if we may believe the puritanical testimony of Hall, 'he made a goodly confession, both of his folly and superstitious faith, giving God most hearty thanks that ever he came in the prison of the Tower, where he first savored the life and sweetness of God's most holy Word, meaning the Bible in English, which there he read by the mean of one Thomas Phelips, then keeper of that prison.' Hall adds that Phelips himself had been a prisoner there two years before, and had suffered persecution for his opinions from Sir Thomas More and Stokesley, bishop of London—that is to say, he had been prosecuted in the bishop's court and under a royal commission for heresy.

A family tradition, mentioned by Fuller, gives as the cause of his fall an indiscreet answer that he gave to the king when the latter, between jest and earnest, at a game at bowls, used opprobrious language towards him. 'The king, according to Fuller,' in this kind would give and not take,' and Carew accordingly ' fell from the top of his favour to the bottom of his displeasure.' It is possible, and not altogether inconsistent with the Tudor character, that a game of bowls was the occasion made use of to let Carew know he had fallen from favour; but that it was not the cause of the king's displeasure we have pretty sufficient evidence. The tradition, however, may perhaps refer to the temporary disgrace which Carew, as we have seen, had incurred at an earlier period. It may at least be accepted as showing that he was a man of quick temper, who could not easily bear indignities even from a king. We learn also from Fuller that he built a fine manor house at Beddington.

He was buried in the church of St. Botolph, Aldersgate, in the same tomb in which his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Mary, and her husband, Sir Arthur Darcy, were afterwards interred. His property of course was seized by the crown, and, though his attainder was afterwards reversed,51 there is still preserved an interesting inventory taken at Beddington in the reign of Edward VI, describing the tapestries, bedsteads, and other furniture which had been left there apparently by the unfortunate knight. Among other articles, mention is expressly made of a press with drawers full of evidences, court rolls, and other writings concerning the lands both of Carew and of other persons. At the end is a list of books, among which are enumerated the chronicles of Monstrelet and Froissart, with other books, both written and printed, of divers histories. But the work which stands first on the list is Gower's 'Confessio Amantis' (the author's name is not given in the inventory), which is described as 'a great book of parchment lined with gold of graver's work.'

J. G.

1. Cal. State Papers, Hen. VIII, vol. i. No. 4570.
2. ib. No. 4642.
3. ib. ii. No. 1850, and p. 1466.
4. ib. No. 1116; see also p. 874.
5. ib. Nos. 1850, 2161.
6. ib. No. 3446.
7. ib. No. 4034.
8. Anstis, Order of the Garter, i. 241.
9. Cal. ii. 1500-1, 1503-5, 1507-10; Hall, Chronicle, 581.
10. Cal. ii. Nos. 4437, 4562.
11. 109l. 6s. 8d. in 1519 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £79,000 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
12. Cal. iii. p. 93, and No. 247.
13. Nos. 259, 265.
14. ib. pp. 241, 243, 313.
15. ib. p. 326.
16. £100 in 1520 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £65,500 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
17. Cal. No. 1027, iv. No. 400.
18. ib. iii. No. 1126.
19. See footnote 16. 20. ib. p. 1544.
21. ib. p. 493.
22. ib. No. 1345.
23. No. 1899.
24. in tail male: the limitation of the succession of property or title to male descendants.
25. Cal. iii. Nos. 2395-7.
26. ib. p. 1285.
27. Nos. 3421, 3434, 3508, 3515.
28. £400 in 1526 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £312,000 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
29. Cal. iv. p. 1332.
30. ib. No. 3508.
31. No. 3565.
32. No. 3591.
33. No. 3869. 50 Marks in 1528 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £17,600 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
34. No. 4429.
35. No. 4583.
36. No. 4914.
37. ib. iv. p. 2691.
38. Nos. 5949, 5995.
39. No. 6069.
40. ib. p. 2783.
41. ib. v. p. 50.
42. ib. No. 429. A 'sewer' was a servant of high rank in charge of the serving of meals and the seating of guests.
43. ib. p. 592.
44. ib. vi. p. 266.
45. ib. Nos. 555, 707.
46. ib. p. 496.
47. ib. viii. p. 61.
48. Anstis, Order of the Garter, i. 249, ii. 398.
49. Strype, Eccl. Memorials, n. i. 4.
50. Third Report of Dep. Keeper of Public Records, App. ii. 250.
51. 2 & 3 Edw. VI, c. 42.


Gairdner, James. "Sir Nicholas Carew."
The Dictionary of National Biography. Vol IX. Leslie Stephen, Ed.
New York: Macmillan and Co., 1887. 56-59.

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George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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