Sir Nicholas CAREW, Knight

Born: AFT 1496, Beddington, Surrey, England

Died: 2 Mar 1538/39, Tower Hill, Executed

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: Richard CAREW (Knight Sheriff of Surrey)

Mother: Malyn OXENBRIDGE

Married: Elizabeth BRYAN 1514


1. Anne CAREW

2. Francis CAREW of Beddington (Sir)

3. Mary CAREW

4. Elizabeth CAREW

5. Isabel CAREW

Sir Nicholas Carew

By Hans Holbein

Private Collection

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born by 1496, first son of Sir Richard Carew of Beddington by Malyn, dau. of Sir Robert Oxenbridge of Ford, Suss. Kntd. by Jul 1520; KG nom. 23 Apr, inst. 21 May 1536. Groom of the privy chamber 1511, gent. 1518; jt. (with fa.) lt. Calais castle 1513-20; esquire of the body 1515; cipherer, the Household 1515-20; keeper, Pleasance manor and East Greenwich park and tower 1517; sheriff, Surr. and Suss. 1518-19; lt. Rysbank Tower May 1519; j.p. Surr. 1520-d.; master of the horse 1522-d.; steward, manors in Kent 1522, Worcs. 1531; commr. sewers, Surr. 1531, tenths of spiritualities 1535; master of forest and park of Fakenham and steward of duchy of York in Worcs. 1534; chief steward, receiver and surveyor, Perching and other Suss. manors 1536.

Nicholas advanced at court while still under age, 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 (Cal. State Papers, Hen. VIII, vol. i. No. 4570). He surrendered this patent on his father's death but continued to enjoy the annuity of more than £100 out of Calais granted to him in May 1519, despite the protest of Sir Robert Wingfield in 1524 that this was to last only until the King gave Carew lands or fees of like value, which had already been done. He attended Henry VIII in his invasion of France, for the siege of Tournai, where his father commanded the artillery and his kinsman Sir Edmund Carew was killed, and Nicholas received a  coat of rivet' of the King's gift at Therouanne. In Dec 1514 the King attended his marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Bryan of Ashridge, vice-chamberlain to Catalina de Aragon (ib. ii. no. 1850, and p. 1466) and sister of another royal favourite, Sir Francis Bryan. 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. At his marriage lands were settled upon him and his wife in Wallington, Carshalton, Beddington, Woodmansterne, Woodcote, and Mitcham, in Surrey. In 1517 his name is mentioned as cupbearer at a great banquet given by the King at Greenwich on 7 Jul in honour of the Ambassadors of young Carlos of Castile, afterwards the Emperor Carlos V. 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 leeper of the manor of Pleasaunce in East Greenwich, and of the Park there.

That he was a favorite 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 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 to familiar with the King. This was not the first occasion on which the council had insisted on his removal from the king's presence, for on 27 Mar 1518 the scholar Richard Pace from the court at Abingdon writes to Wolsey, 'Mr. Carew and his wife be returned to the king's grace- too soon after mine opinion'. On 11 Aug of the same year he and Sir Henry Guilford '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'. Frequent mention is made of him even before this time in jousts and revels at the court. It was in the spring of the following year, according to Hall, that the Council judged ‘certain young men’ around the King to be over-familiar with him, ‘not regarding his estate or degree’, and in May Carew was among those summoned before that body at Greenwich and told 'how the bruit was that they after their appetite governed the King'. His punishment was to be made lieutenant of Rysbank Tower, guarding the entrance to Calais harbour, and he was ordered to set off at once, ‘which was sore to him displeasant’. His exile was to be brief: either the King had yielded to the Council while ensuring that the banishment should be exemplary rather than punitive, or its coincidence with his term as sheriff meant that it could not well be prolonged. Within six months his name was included in a list of liveries for members of the Household, and in the following Jun he attended the King and Queen at the Field of the Cloth of Gold; later in the same year he accompanied the King to Gravelines for the meeting with Carlos V.

In 1518-1519 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. 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 honorable 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 gentleman 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 was granted to him out of the revenues of Calais, and two days later he was appointed lieutenant of the tower of Ruysbanke, a fort which guarded the entrance of Calais harbor. 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. On 19 Oct in that year he surrendered the lieutenancy of Calais Castle in favor of Maurice, Lord Berkeley, but with reservation of a pension of 100 pounds to himself; and on 12 Nov he surrendered his annuity as one of the king's 'cypherers'.
In 1521 he was one of the grand jury of Surrey who found the indictment in that county against the Duke of Buckingham. On 12 Jun in that year there were granted to him, in reversion after Sir Thomas Lovell, the offices of constable of Wallingford Castle and steward of the honor of Wallingford and St. Walric, and the four and hald hundreds of Chiltern. On 18 Jul 1522 he was appointed master of the horse, and also steward of the manor of Brasted in Kent, which had belonged to Buckingham.

With the coming of war he first served in the autumn of 1522 in the expeditionary force to Picardy under the Earl of Surrey. In Oct 1523, when the 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.

Sir Nicholas Carew

Sketch by Hans Holbein

Basel, Kupferstichkabinett

Although Carew was pricked sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in Nov 1528 he did not render account, and his duties were exercised for the full year by Richard Bellingham. In his account Bellingham showed Carew as still owing nearly £700 from his sheriffdom of ten years earlier, but this was to ignore the letters patent of 8 Nov 1520 pardoning him a debt of £742 in that capacity: the deficit was no doubt due in part to his enforced exile during his year of office, but its remission was an unusual mark of royal favour. It must have been with royal approval that he was returned to the Parliament of 1529 as one of the knights of the shire for Surrey, especially as his fellow was another court personality, Sir William Fitzwilliam, but before the Parliament assembled he had been despatched to Bologna and he was to remain abroad throughout the first session. He must have been absent from the Commons again, this time perhaps only temporarily, midway through the second session, for on 21 Feb 1531 the Imperial Ambassador Chapuys reported that the King had been staying with him at Beddington until the day before. The only other glimpse of Carew's parliamentary progress is furnished by a list of Members drawn up by Cromwell probably in Dec 1534 and thought to indicate those who had a particular but indeterminate connexion with the treasons bill then passing through the House: he appears on the list both as ‘the master of the horse’ and as ‘Mr. Carew’.

In spite of his high spirits Carew proved an able Ambassador. First employed in 1520 to dissuade Francois I from going into Italy and to solicit his influence with the Scots, he was only partly successful, but he was well entertained by Francois, who defrayed his expenses, and on returning home he was paid £100. In Nov 1527 he was again commissioned to go with Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, Dr. Taylor, Sir Anthony Browne, and Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, to carry the Garter to Francois I of France. It was duly presented on 10 Nov, and, to judge by the interest afterwards taken in him by Francois, his conversation and address must have produced a very favorable impression. He returned, however, with Lord Lisle sent Ambassador. 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. On 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. In 1528-1529 he was again sheriff for the counties of Surrey and Sussex, 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. But he could scarcely have taken his seat in parliament when he was sent, with Dr. Richard Sampson and Dr. Bennet, to Bologna on embassy to the Emperor to ratify the Treaty of Cambrai at Bologna. They were also charged with testing the Emperor's attitude to ‘the King's great cause of matrimony’: accredited to the imperial court, they also waited on the King of France, the Duke of Savoy and the Pope. The Emperor and the Pope both appeared conciliatory and on 7 Feb 1530, the day before Carew's departure, Ghinucci wrote to Henry VIII from Bologna that he had managed the business there with such prudence and dexterity as to give both potentates the greatest satisfaction.

In Sep 1531 he and Thomas Cromwell received joint authority to swear in commissioners for sewers in Surrey. Next year (against his will, as he privately intimated to the Imperial Ambassador Chapuys) he was sent over to France in Oct to prepare for a meeting between Henry VIII and Francois 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 that to prepare for it; but he did as he was commanded. In much the same spirit doubtless, when Anne Boleyn was proclaimed Queen next year, he tourneyed at her coronation. In this year (1533) Francois 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. Shortly afterwards he obtained a grant in reversion of the office of the king's otter hunter. Next year the French King again wrote to Henry in Carew's favor 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. Accordingly, on St. George's Day, 23 Apr 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 (Anstis, Order of the Garter, i. 249, ii. 398).

Carew's own attitude to the divorce, and to the King's relations with France and the Empire, was ambivalent: loyal to Queen Catalina and Princess Mary, he was none the less regarded as a friend of France. In Mar 1530 Sir Gregory Casale told Montmorency of his efforts to have Carew sent to France, and in the following Dec he did go there again as one of those representing the King at the French Queen's coronation. In 1533 and again in 1535 Francois asked Henry VIII to admit Carew to the Order of the Garter. Yet Carew had also won the confidence of the Pope and the Emperor at Bologna, and at the time of this mission Queen Catalina had assured the Emperor of her trust in Carew's loyalty to herself and to the imperial cause. Chapuys professed himself not entirely certain of Carew's attitude, but confident of his loyalty to the Queen the Ambassador promised Carlos V ‘to keep him in this mood’ and to make use of him when needed. Before setting off for France to prepare the interview between the two monarchs in Oct 1532, Carew told Chapuys that he would prefer to hinder the meeting, doubtless because he foresaw its possible consequence for the Queen. By this time Carew and his wife were in communication with Princess Mary, Lady Carew urging her to submit to the King ‘in all things ... otherwise she was utterly undone’.

Although Carew was related to Anne Boleyn through a common ancestor, Lord Hoo, there was no friendship between them. An incident of Jul 1535, related by Chapuys to Granvelle, confirms Carew's loyalty to the Queen and Princess. The King had nearly murdered his own fool, Will Sommers, for speaking well in his presence of Catalina and Mary and for calling Anne ‘Ribaude’ and her daughter Elizabeth ‘bastard’; when the fool was banished from court he was sheltered and hidden by Carew. In 1536 Sir Anthony Browne disclosed that Carew, in common with some other members of the privy chamber, thought that Mary should be named heir if the King should fail to have issue by Jane Seymour; he also revealed that Carew had himself urged Mary to submit to the King.

In spite of his sympathy for Catalina and Mary, Carew was for years circumspect enough to avoid provoking the King's hostility. In Jun 1531 Chapuys reported that the King had left Hampton Court to pass the time at Windsor and other places accompanied only by Anne Boleyn, Carew and two others, and after Anne's ruin, but before her execution, Henry VIII had Jane Seymour lodged at Carew's house for the sake of privacy. Even after the disclosure of his communications with Mary the King continued to treat Carew graciously. He was probably re-elected to the Parliament of 1536 in accordance with the King's request for the return of the previous Members, and later that year he supplied 200 men to combat the Pilgrimage of the Grace and himself attended the King with a personal retinue of 100. In 1537 he received a substantial grant of monastic lands and at Prince Edward's christening in Oct of that year he and three others were in charge of the font until relieved by the lord steward; a few weeks later Lady Carew was among the noble ladies who attended Jane Seymour's funeral. In Apr 1538 Carew entertained the King at Beddington, as he had done on previous occasions.

In Nov 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.

The reason for Carew's fall is not entirely clear. Fuller reports a family tradition, running counter to the official explanation of the chroniclers, that the King, then at bowls, gave this knight opprobrious language, betwixt jest and earnest; to which the other returned an answer rather true than discreet, as more consulting therein his own animosity than allegiance. The King, who in this kind would give and not take, being no good fellow in repartees, was so highly offended thereat that Sir Nicholas fell from the top of his favour to the bottom of his displeasure, and was bruised to death thereby. 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 favor; but it was not the cause of the King's displeasure we have pretty sufficient evidence. Such an incident may well have occurred and have contributed to the tragedy, but Chapuys's testimony and the charges in the indictment doubtless come nearer the truth of the matter. In Nov 1538 a witness to the alleged treason of the Marquess of Exeter and the Poles declared that Carew had been among those who had frequented the marquess's house at West Horsley, Surrey, and among the questions put to Sir Geoffrey Pole during that month was one concerning an exchange of letters between Lord Montague and Carew. On 15 Nov the sheriffs were pricked for the forthcoming year; Carew was a nominee for Surrey and Sussex and his passing over may indicate that he was already under suspicion, although a week later he was named one of the special commission to receive the indictments of Montague and Exeter. According to Chapuys, the occasion of Carew's own arrest, made on 31 Dec, was the discovery in the marchioness's coffer of a letter implicating him in the plot. Commissioners promptly seized all the goods in his house, including no doubt ‘the most beautiful diamonds and pearls and innumerable jewels’ which the King had bestowed on Lady Carew: the re-distribution of his offices had already been arranged before his arrest.

Carew was condemned as a matter of course. At his trial on 14 Feb 1539 Carew was indicted on the following counts: that knowing Exeter was a traitor he had ‘falsely abetted’ him; that he had had ‘conversation with him about the change of the world’; and that they had exchanged letters which they afterwards burned. The evidence seems to have been very slight and Chapuys may well have been right to construe Carew's arrest as part of a campaign to deprive the Princess of her friends. Carew was beheaded on Tower Hill on 8 Mar 1539, where according to Hall, he made a godly 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 savoured the life and sweetness of God's most holy word, meaning the Bible in English, which there he read by the means of one Thomas Phelips then keeper of that prison. Another contemporary noted that as he was led to the block ‘he exhorted all to study the evangelical books as he had fallen by hatred of the Gospel’. His head and body were buried in the Tower chapel. He was included in the Act of Attainder (31 Hen. VIII, c.15) passed during the third session of the Parliament of 1539, and if he was allowed to make a will it does not seem to have survived. His widow was granted some of his property in Aug 1539. In the second session of the Parliament of 1547 a private Act (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no.42) was passed for the restitution in blood of Carew's son Francis and in 1554 Queen Mary restored him to his inheritance, part of which had been granted by Edward VI to Lord Darcy; the restitution of all the property except Bletchingley was completed in two further stages.

His friendship with the King had yielded Carew many lands, pensions and offices: in 1527 his lands had been assessed for subsidy at £400, the third highest figure among the King's household servants. The inheritance to which he succeeded in 1520 was itself considerable, including the manors of Bandon, Beddington and Norbury, valued at £112 a year. His first grant of property in 1514 consisted of six manors in East Sussex. His second large acquisition came after the Duke of Buckingham's attainder, when in Jul 1522 the King granted him Buckingham's manor of Bletchingley. In 1528 a patent was drafted for the grant to Carew of the constableship of Warwick castle and other important offices in Warwickshire, but this does not seem to have been issued. Having obtained in Feb 1533 a lease during the lifetime of Catalina de Aragon of the Surrey manors of Banstead and Walton-on-the-Hill, part of her dowry, Carew added to this four months later the reversion of these and other properties of the Queen. His religious conservatism did not inhibit him from making handsome gains of dissolved monastic lands in Surrey, including the manors of Coulsdon, Epsom, Horley and Sutton with their rectories and advowsons. He also owned property in Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Northumberland and Kent.

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.
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