George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes

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George Carew

Birthdate: (73)
Death: March 27, 1629 (73)
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir George Carew, Knight and Ann Carew
Husband of Anne Carew
Brother of Mary Carew and Sir Peter Carew

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About George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes

GEORGE CAREW, 1555-1629


Various circumstances have combined to obscure the fame of this great and good man, and to exclude his character from that station amidst British worthies to which it is so justly entitled. He was a wise and honest statesman, a most eminent military commander, and an historian not less estimable for the extent and correctness of his views than for a purity and perspicuity of expression of which few other instances are to be found among the authors of his day: but his counsels, and the labours of his pen, as well as of his sword, were chiefly devoted to the affairs of a nation at that time not only wholly unable to appreciate his deserts, but which was regarded by England with a degree of contempt extending its influence, in some sort, even to all who concerned themselves in any way with that unfortunate and uncivilised people. To this fortuitous impediment were added others which arose out of his nature: a dignified pride that scorned the arts by which men too frequently acquire distinction, and a simplicity of mind which, had he been inclined to use them, would perhaps have disqualified him. He was too modest to blazon his fame with his own hand, and he left no successor to his dignities to cherish and maintain the memory of his worth.

More than one error has occurred regarding his descent. It is stated in the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors that he was a younger son ; but he was either born his father's heir, or became so by the death of his only brother in 1580, when a very young man. The ingenious continuator too of that work has founded a doubt as to the peculiar line of the ancient family from which he sprung, on the credit of a long inscription on the back of a portrait, remaining in that of his lady, which derives him from the Carews of Antony, a branch widely distant from his own. There are perhaps few authorities of less value than such inscriptions, the writers and the dates of which are almost always unknown. The fact is that he was the son and heir of a clergyman, George Carew, a cadet of the elder and baronial branch of that once mighty Devonshire family, who was successively Archdeacon of Totnes, Dean of Bristol, of the King's Chapel, of Christchurch Oxon, of Exeter, and of Windsor, by Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Harvey. He was born in 1557, and at the age of fifteen was admitted a gentleman commoner of Pembroke College, then called Broadgate Hall, in Oxford, where he was distinguished by the variety, the rapidity, and the success, of his studies, particularly of historical and legal antiquities, his zeal in the discovery and illustration of which increased with his years, and employed all his hours of leisure.

It is singular that a young man thus disposed should have suddenly adopted the military profession, but there can be little doubt that he was induced to that step by his uncle, James Wingfield, who was then in the office of Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance in Ireland : certain it is, however, that he quitted the university without taking a degree, and that we find him soon after serving against the insurgents in the province of Munster. Even so early as 1579, as Camden informs us, he was intrusted with the command, jointly with another, of a garrison town, and sustained, with signal perseverance, a siege which the enemy were at length compelled to relinquish. In the beginning of the following year he was appointed, together with his only brother, Peter Carew, who had accompanied him in this expedition, to the government of a fortress which Camden calls "Asketten Castle," and on the death of Peter, who fell very shortly after in a skirmish not far from Dublin, remained alone in that trust. Such was the commencement of a career of military service, pursued, with few interruptions, for more than twenty years, and distinguished equally by prudence and bravery. He rose, through various promotions, to the office of Lieutenant General of the Ordnance in Ireland, to which he probably succeeded on the death of his uncle, having previously received the honour of knighthood, and was recalled from that country in 1596, to serve in the same capacity in the two excursions against the Spaniards. In the following year he was sent Ambassador to Poland, and in 1599, returned to Ireland, where he was now appointed President of Munster, Treasurer of the Army, and one of the Lords Justices, which latter office was soon after dissolved by the arrival of Charles Blount, Lord Montjoy, in the character of Lord Lieutenant. This was the most critical period of the tedious Irish rebellion, the succeeding termination of which may be ascribed almost wholly to his admirable conduct. " Thus far," says Camden, having recited the simultaneous good services of Montjoy, " did the Lord Deputy proceed the very first year, and Sir George Carew made a progress in Munster equally successful, for he was lately made President of that southern province of Ireland, which was desperately harassed by a rebellion which the titular Earl of Desmond had promoted through every part of it; for, in the first place, he so ordered the matter with the commanders of the hired troops from Connaught, that when the rebels had sent for them he got Dermot O'Connor out of the country by a wile, sent away Redmond O'Burgh, by giving him hopes of retrieving his ancient estate; and despatched Tirrell by alarming him with the apprehension of being murdered unawares. He moreover so dexterously fomented a suspicion he had before raised among the rebels by sham and counterfeit letters, that they grew jealous, and ran away from one another. After this, he and the Earl of Thomond, his constant and inseparable friend and assistant, marched against them; took the titular Earl, who was rescued afterwards by the rebels; and either seized on, or took by capitulation, the castles of Loughguire,

Crome, Glan," &c. &c. After recounting a long series of gallant and successful exploits performed by officers whom Carew had charged with particular duties, Camden concludes—" to be brief, the President, who had found that province so miserably out of order upon his entrance in April," (1600) "managed things with that conduct, that by December all things were in a quiet posture, and not one single fort stood out against the Queen."

Satisfied with the measure of glory which he had justly acquired, and conceiving his task of duty now fully accomplished, he languished to return to England, and to pass the remainder of his life in study and retirement. To crown his successes, Fitz Thomas, the titular Earl of Desmond mentioned in the extract from Camden, who was the most powerful leader in that part of the island, had lately fallen again into his hands, and had been, by his advice, brought to a trial for high treason, in order to the forfeiture of his great estates. This done, and it appears to have been done with all due regard to law and justice, Carew spared his life and sent him prisoner to London, together with Florence Maccarty, another eminent chief. At that precise period, he addressed the following letter to Elizabeth; curious in many respects, and particularly as a finished specimen of the courtly composition then in vogue. It is printed in his " Pacata Hibernia," a work of which more will presently be said.

" Sacred and most dread Sovereign,

" To my unspeakable joy I have received your Majestie's letter, signed with your royall hand, and blessed with an extraordinarie addition to the same, which, although it cannot increase my faith and zeale in your Majestie's service, whiche from my cradle, I thanke God for it, was ingraffed in my heart, yet it infinitely multiplies my comforts in the same; and wherein my endeavours and poore merites shall appear to bee shorte of such inestimable favours, my never dying prayers for your Majestie's eternall prosperitie shall never faile to the last day of life. But when I compare the felicities which other men enjoy with my unfortunate destinie, to bee deprived from the sight of your royall person, which my heart with all loyall affection, injurious to none, ever more attends, I live like one lost to himself and wither out my days in torment of minde until it shall please your sacred Majestie to redeem me from this exile, which, unless it be for my sinnes, upon the knees of my heart I doe humbly beseech your Majestie to commiserate and to shorten the same as speedily as may be. Since my time of banishment in this rebellious kingdome, for better than a banishment I cannot esteeme my fortune that deprives mee from beholding your Majestie's person, although I have not done as much as I desire in the charge I undergo, yet, to make it appear that I have not been idle, I thanke God for it, I have now at length, by the meanes of the White Knight, gotten into my hands the bodie of James Fitz Thomas, that archtraytour, and usurping Earle, whom, for a present, with the best conveniencie and safetie which I may find, I will by some trustie gentleman send unto your Majestie, whereby I hope this province is made sure from any present defection. And, now that my taske is ended, I doe in all humilitie beseech that, in your princelie consideration, my exile may ende, protesting the same to be a greater affliction to me then I can well endure ; for, as my faith is undivided, and onely professed, as by divine and humane lawes the same is bound, in vassalage to your Majestie, so doth my heart covet nothing so much as to be evermore in attendance on your sacred person, accounting it a happinesse unto me to dye at your feet; not doubting but that your Majestie, out of your princelie bountie, will enable me by some meanes or other to sustaine the rest of my dayes in your service, and that my fortune shall not be the worse in that I am not any importunate craver, or yet in not using other arguments to moove your Majestie thereunto then this—' Assai demanda qui ben serve e face.' So, most humblie beseeching your Majestie's pardon in troubling you with these lines, unworthie your divine eyes, doe kisse the shadowes of your royall feet.

" From your Majestie's citie of Corke, this third of June, 1601."

Impending circumstances however, unknown to himself, were about to claim his strictest personal attention, and to recal him to the most arduous service. In the spring of that year a secret engagement had been made to the Pope by the King of Spain, to send a powerful force to the succour of the Irish in Munster, and, almost immediately after the date of his letter to the Queen, the rebels, encouraged by the expectation of that aid, again appeared in arms in that province. In the middle of September he suddenly received certain intelligence that the Spanish fleet was then under sail. The Lord Deputy was at that time at Kilkenny, with few attendants, and even without his usual military guard, and it was warmly debated in council whether he should wait there for the assembling of the forces, or return to Dublin. " Some," (to use again the words of Camden, who reports Carew's judgment on that question with an air of peculiar information and accuracy) " thought it best for him to return; and that it was not consistent with the grandeur of a Lord Deputy to go forward with so small a train. The President was very positive in the contrary opinion, viz.—' that he could neither stay there, nor return, without being taxed as timorous and faint-hearted, as well as hazarding the defection of the whole province; and that niceties and punctilios are to be dispensed with where the safety of a kingdom is at stake. It was requisite therefore that he should advance forward, and use his authority as Lord Deputy against such as were inclinable to revolt, who would not only in all probability remain more fixed to their duty when overawed by the Lord Deputy's presence, who had been so famous for his happy successes, but would most certainly revolt should he turn back.' The President offering him a guard of two hundred horse, and assuring him that Cork was plentifully furnished with all necessaries, he advanced on with a great deal of cheerfulness."

On the twenty-third of September the Spanish fleet, which had been prevented by the failing of wind from reaching Cork, entered the harbour of Kinsale, and landed their troops, who were received by the people of the town and neighbourhood with open arras. Carew now displayed all the faculties of a great General. With a vigour and. coolness by which the warlike operations of that time were little distinguished, he desolated the surrounding country, after having made himself master of all the provisions that it afforded; enlisted, and distributed among the most faithful of his bands, those of the better sort of the neighbouring Irish whose attachment he most doubted; and, having seized a castle garrisoned by the Spaniards, and not less conveniently situated for the defence of the English ships on the coast than for the annoyance of the town, and made the most judicious disposition of his army, commenced the siege of Kinsale with the utmost judgment and resolution. It was obstinately defended till the arrival of Montjoy, with a reinforcement, which, though large, was very inferior to the united army of the Spaniards and Irish, whose main body, however, he attacked with great fury. Carew, who in the beginning of the action had been occupied in preventing with signal dexterity any sally by the garrison, joined the Lord Deputy at the moment when the enemy had fallen into some confusion, and the most complete rout ensued; Kinsale was surrendered under articles of capitulation, by which the whole of the Spanish army, consisting of the remains of six thousand men, also put itself into the hands of the conquerors; and this signal victory may be considered as the death-blow to the Irish rebellion.

The disorders necessarily incident to a country which had so lately been the seat of war yet required his presence for a time, and it was not till the spring of the succeeding year that he obtained permission to return to England, where he arrived on the twenty-first of March, three days only before the Queen expired. James received him with the grace and gratitude which he had so largely merited; appointed him Governor of Guernsey; and, on the fourth of June, 1605, advanced him to a Barony, by the title of Lord Carew, of Clopton, in the County of Warwick. He was in the same year placed in the offices of Vice-Chamberlain and Treasurer to the Queen, sworn of the Privy Council,

and named Ambassador to Paris, in which station he remained with the greatest credit for four years; and immediately after his return was appointed Master of the Ordnance for life. After this period he withdrew himself as much as he could from public affairs, and doubtless employed the years which were afterwards spared to him, chiefly in amassing, arranging, and illustrating, that great body of now neglected documents which will presently be briefly mentioned. Charles the First, by whom he was highly esteemed, raised him to the dignity of Earl of Totnes, on the first of February, 1625, O. S. the first year of that Prince's reign. He died at the Savoy, in the Strand, on the twenty-seventh of March, ' 1629, and is buried, under a superb monument, at Stratford-uponAvon.

The accounts which have been transmitted to us of the extent of his compositions and collections are nearly incredible. Bishop Nicolson says that he wrote forty-two volumes, relating to the affairs of Ireland, which are preserved in the archiepiscopal library at Lambeth, and four more of extracts from the Cotton manuscripts. Harris, in his Irish history, tells us that four large volumes, containing " chronologies, letters, muniments, and other materials belonging to Ireland," are in the Bodleian library ; and Dugdale states that several others were sold by his executors to Sir Robert Shirley. His printed works are less numerous. He prepared large materials for a history of the reign of Henry the Fifth, which are incorporated into Speed's History of Great Britain; and wrote " A Relation of the State of France, with the characters of Henry the Fourth, and the principal persons of liis court," published by Dr. Birch. He also translated from the old French an historical poem, written in the reign of Richard the Second, a specimen of which may be found in Harris's Hibernica. But his principal publication is a History of the Wars in Ireland, especially within the province of Munster, from 1599 to 1602, inclusive, better known by the title of " Pacata Hibernia," which was printed in 1633, by his natural son, Thomas Stafford. A question has ridiculously arisen, from a single equivocal expression in the preface to that work, whether it was composed by himself, or by another from the materials left by him! while a passage in the same document, the meaning of which can admit of no doubt, clearly points him out as the author in the fullest sense of the word. Granger truly observes, that " it is written with the unaffected openness and sincerity of a soldier." He might have added, that it is not less distinguished by the pure simplicity of its style, and by the most admirable modesty.

The Earl of Totnes married Anne, daughter and sole heir of William Clopton, of Clopton, in the county of Warwick, by whom he acquired great estates, which, on the death of his only son without issue, he, with a noble generosity, empowered her to return to her family. He had by her that son, Peter Carew, mentioned above; and one daughter, Anne, married first to a Mr. Wilsford, or Wilford, of Kent, and, secondly, to Sir Allen Apsley.


George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes (29 May 1555 – 27 March 1629), known as Sir George Carew between 1586 and 1605 and as The Lord Carew between 1605 and 1626, served under Queen Elizabeth I during the Tudor conquest of Ireland and was appointed President of Munster.

Early career

Carew was the son of Dr. George Carew, Dean of Windsor, from a well-known Devonshire family - and Anne, daughter of Sir Nicholas Harvey. He attended Broadgates Hall, Oxford, in the years 1564-1573 and was created Master of Arts in 1589. In 1574, Carew entered crown service in Ireland under his cousin, the controversial Sir Peter Carew, and in the following year volunteered in the army of the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney. In 1576 he filled the post of captain of the garrison at Leighlin for a few months, during the absence of his brother, Peter, and was appointed lieutenant governor of county Carlow and vice-constable of Leighlin castle. In 1577, he was awarded a small pension for his courageous and successful attack on the rebel Rory Oge O'More, whose forces had been menacing the castle.


In 1578, Carew was made captain in the royal navy and undertook a voyage with Sir Humphrey Gilbert. In 1579-1580, he led a regiment of Irish infantry, then a regiment of cavalry, during the Baltinglas and Desmond rebellions. On the death of his brother in the Battle of Glenmalure - from which fight he had been kept by his uncle Jacques Wingfield - he was appointed constable of Leighlin castle. Soon afterward he killed with his own hands several Irishmen suspected of his brother's killing and was censured by the government.

Carew was much liked by the queen, and by her principal secretary, Sir William Cecil, and his son, the future secretary, Robert Cecil. In 1582 he was appointed gentleman pensioner to the queen, and in 1583 High Sheriff of Carlow. He received his knighthood in Christ Church, Dublin on 24 February 1586, at the hands of his friend, Sir John Perrot, the recently appointed lord deputy. In that same year he was at court, lobbying on government matters in Ireland. He declined the ambassadorship to France and returned to Ireland in 1588 to become master of the ordnance (a post he resigned on appointment as lieutenant general of ordnance in England in 1592). He was present when the new lord deputy, William Fitzwilliam, dealt with the mutineers from Sir John Norris' regiments in Dublin and was appointed to the council on the 25th of August 1590.

In May 1596 Carew took part in the expedition to Cadiz of the Earl of Essex, and in 1597 in the expedition to the Azores. In 1597 he was elected Member of Parliament for Queenborough. In 1598 he went to France for a short time as ambassador to the court of King Henry IV in the company of secretary Cecil. He was appointed treasurer at war to Essex in Ireland in March 1599, and on the latter's sudden departure in September of the same year, leaving the island in disorder, Carew was appointed a lord justice.

President of Munster

Carew was appointed President of Munster on 27 January 1600, at the height of the Nine Years War and landed with Lord Mountjoy at Howth Head a month later. He enjoyed wide powers, including imposition of martial law, and excelled in the politics of divide and rule. He interviewed the successor to the Earl of Clancarty, Florence MacCarthy, in the spring of that year, after an unjust attack by presidency forces on the MacCarthy territories prior to his arrival. He was present as a guest when the Earl of Ormond was seized by the O'Mores at a parley in the same year, and managed to escape with the Earl of Thomond through a hail of daggers. At about this time he put down the supporters of the Súgán Earl of Desmond, and in October the lawful Desmond heir, James Fitzgerald, was restored to the title in a limited degree. In August, Carew had accepted a reinforcement of 3,000 troops from England, but in the following May was dismayed when Mountjoy took 1,000 from him to supplement the crown army in its northern campaign, at a time when the threat of a Spanish landing in the south was at its highest.

Although he had been distrusted by Essex, owing to his sympathy with the Cecils - in 1598 Essex had encouraged his despatch to Ireland, in order to remove his influence from court - Carew's support was welcomed by Mountjoy (who had overtaken his own master, Essex). Cecil did seek his recall from the Irish service - as much for his own political ends, as out of friendship - and tried to manipulate Mountjoy into recommending this. But Carew remained on and, although he failed to intercept Hugh Roe O'Donnell on the rebel's remarkable march southward to relieve the Spanish forces at Kinsale in the winter of 1601, he did great service before and after the Battle of Kinsale, as he raided castles in the surrounding region in order to remove the advantage the Spanish had expected upon their landing. In the course of this campaign, his violence devastated the rebels and the peasantry, and his conduct of the siege of Dunboy castle, the last major engagement in Munster during the war, was ruthless.

Carew proved unpopular with elements of the Old English élite in Ireland, particularly over his strong opposition to the privileges enjoyed by the municipal corporations under royal charter.

Late career

After the pacification of Ireland, Carew sought recall to England, with failing health and anxieties of office affecting him. But it was only on Mountjoy's resignation from the office of lord lieutenant that he was permitted to return, whereupon he was replaced as president of Munster. Under King James I he enjoyed immediate and lasting favour.In 1603 he was appointed receiver-general and vice-chamberlain to the queen. In 1604 Carew was elected Member of Parliament for Hastings in the House of Commons of England. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Carew, of Clopton on 4 June 1605. In 1608 he was Master of the Ordnance.

In 1610 Carew was appointed Governor of Guernsey. He visited Ireland to report on prospects for a settlement and plantation of Ulster, and discovered rapid improvements and recovery in the country. He also suggested the creation of new boroughs in the northern province, in order to ensure a Protestant majority in the forthcoming parliament, a suggestion that was successfully adopted in 1613. He became a privy councillor in 1616. In 1618 he pleaded to the crown for the life of Sir Walter Raleigh - they had been intimate for 30 years - and his wife was a kind friend to the family after Raleigh's execution.

On the accession of Charles I in 1626, Carew became treasurer to Queen consort Henrietta Maria of France. He was further honoured when he was made Earl of Totnes on 5 February 1626.

Carew died at The Savoy in 1629, when his titles became extinct. He was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.


Carew had a considerable reputation as an antiquary and was a friend of William Camden, John Cotton, and Thomas Bodley. He gathered a large collection of materials relating to Irish history and pedigrees, which he left to his secretary, Sir Thomas Stafford (reputed on scanty evidence to be his natural son). A portion has disappeared, but thirty nine volumes that came into Laud's possession are archived at Lambeth, and a further four at the Bodleian Library. A calendar of the former is included in the State Papers series edited by J. S. Brewer and W. Bullen. His correspondence from Munster with Sir Robert Cecil was edited in 1864 by Sir John Maclean, for the Camden Society, and his letters to Sir Thomas Roe (1615–1617) in 1860.

In the introduction to the Calendar of Carew manuscript the date of his birth is given as 1558, and his admission into Broadgates Hall in 1572, aged 15. In the preface to Carew's Letters to Sir Thomas Roe it is given as 1557.

Other letters or papers are in the Record Office; among the manuscripts at the British Museum and calendared in the Hist. Manuscripts Com. Series, Marquess of Salisbury's Manuscripts. Stafford published after Carew's death Pacata Hibernia, or the History of the Late Wars in Ireland (1633), the authorship of which he ascribes in his preface to Carew, but which has been attributed to Stafford himself. This was reprinted in 1810 and re-edited in 1896. A Fragment of the History of Ireland, a translation from a French version of an Irish original, and King Richard II in Ireland from the French, both by Carew, are printed in Walter Harris's Hibernica (1757). According to Wood, Carew contributed to the history of the reign of Henry V in Speed's Chronicle. His opinion on the alarm of the Spanish invasion in 1596 has also been printed.


Carew married Joyce Clopton of Clopton House, Warwickshire in 1580, by whom he had no issue. He had an illegitimate son, Sir Thomas Stafford, who served under his father in Munster and was a courtier and MP.

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George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes's Timeline

May 29, 1555
March 27, 1629
Age 73