Sir Peter CAREW

Born: 1512 / 1514, Mohun Ottery, Devonshire, England

Died: 27 Nov 1575, Ross, Waterford, Ireland

Buried: 15 Dec 1575, Waterford, Ireland

Father: William CAREW (Sir)

Mother: Joan COURTENAY

Married: Margaret SKIPWITH (B. Talboys of Kyme) (dau. of William Skipwith and Alice Dymoke) (w. of George Talboys, 2 B. Talboys - m.3 Sir John Clifton)(See her Biography) 20 Feb 1547


Sir Peter Carew

by Gerlach Flicke

National Gallery of Scotland


Second son of Sir William Carew of Ottery Mohun or Mohuns Ottery, Devonshire by Jane, dau. of Sir William Courteney of Powderham. Sir William was the son of Sir Edmund Carew. His brothers were George, who served in several military commands in the reign of Henry VIII, and Phillip, of whom nothing is known but that he was a knight of Malta. Sir Peter was born at Ottery Mohun in 1514. He was sent to grammer school at Exeter, but can hardly be said to have been educated there; for a career of frequent truancy culminated in his climbing a turret on the city wall, and threatening to jump down if his master came after him. His father, being told of this escapade, had him led back to his house on a leash, like a dog, and for a punishment 'coupled him to one of his hounds, as so continued him for a time'. Soon after he was sent to St. Paul's School, but did no better there; and his father, in despair of making him a scholar, accepted the proposal of a French friend, who wanted the young Carew as his page. He was unlucky in this new position also, and was degraded to the place of muleteer, from which he was rescued by a relation, who heard his companions call him by name. This relation, a Carew of Haccombe, was going with Francois I of France, to the siege of Pavia, but died on the way, and the young Carew was taken up by the Marquis of Saluzzo, who was slain at the battle of Pavia in Feb 1526. Being again left masterless, he went over to the enemy's camp, and entered the service of Philibert De Chalons, prince of Orange, and, after his death at the siege of Florence in 1530, continued with his sister Claudia, wife of Henry of Nassau. He was now about 16 years of age, and, being anxious to revisit his native country, was sent by the princess with letters to Henry VIII, who, struck by his proficiency in riding and other exercises, and by his knowledge of the French language, took him into his service, first as a Henchman (1530-1532), and then as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber (1532).

The next few years of his life were chiefly passed in England at the court, with the exception of journeys in the King's service, such as attending on his royal master to Calais in 1532; on Lord William Howard, when he took the Garter to James V in 1535; and on the lord admiral when he went to fetch Anne of Cleves in 1539. About the following year (1540) he went abroad two years with his cousin, John Champernowne, and visited Constantinople, Venice, Milan, and Vienna, where Champernowne died of dysentery.

The 'Life of Sir Peter Carew', written by his friend and servant John Hooker alias Vowell Joh Hooker of Exeter, portrays Carew as a man of medium height, strongly built, with a swarthy face, black hair and beard. Generous, hospitable and courageous, he was both sober and temperate in his personal habits and hot-tempered and inclined to extravagance, unable to guide his purse within the rules of liberality. He was a fine soldier, a fluent linguist in French and Italian, and had a keen interest in the arts of war and government, in mathematics, and especially in architecture, upon which he spent great masses of money .. making of houses, building of ships, and erecting of mills. In his lifetime he rebuilt his house at Mohun's Ottery.

In the campaign of 1544 (during the war between England and France), he joined the King's army with 100 foot, apparelled in black at his own expense. Carew crossed the channel with the lord-admiral, Sir John Dudley, being one of the leaders of the assault of Tre'port, for which he was knighted. Member of Parliament for Tavistock in 1545, and for Devonshire in 1553, Carew was sheriff of Devonshire in 1547, but marrying, 20 Feb 1547, a Lincolnshire lady, Margaret, daughter of Sir William Skipwith of South Ormsby, widow of George, 2nd Baron Tailboys of Kyme, and lady in waiting of Princess Elizabeth. He went to reside on his wife's estates, till he was recalled by the news of the insurrection of 1549, caused by the issuing of the reformed Book of Common Prayer. His action in this matter was energetic, and he did not escape reprimand for having exceeded his commission.

On the death of Edward VI he opposed the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and proclaimed Mary as Queen in the west; but as soon as her marriage with Felipe of Spain was proposed, he conspired with some of his neighbors against it in the after called "Wyatt rebellion". The plot was discovered, and he only escaped to the continent just in time to avoid arrest. At Venice he was nearly murdered by bravoes hired by Peter Vannes, the English Ambassador, and therefore travelled northward. Passing through Antwerp, Lord Paget had him and his companion, Sir John Cheke, arrested by the sheriff, and sent blindfolded to England in a fishing boat. His destination was the Tower, where he was confined till Dec 1556, being released on the payment of some old-standing debt of his grandfather to the crown.

The accession of Elizabeth again brought him into favour. In the 2nd year of her reign, when the Duke of Norfolk and William, 13th Lord Grey of Wilton were commanding an army against the French in Scotland, he was sent on the delicate mission of settling a difference between the two noblemen whic was detrimental to the public service; and when the Duke was tried and convicted of treason, in 1572, Carew acted as constable of the Tower. But before this latter date (about 1565 or 1566) he showed a quantity of old reccords to his biographer, Hooker, who on examination was convinced that Carew was entitled to many lands in Ireland which had belonged to his ancestors; and going to Ireland on Carew's behalf, his opinion was confirmed. The remainder of his life, with short exceptions, was spent in recovering what he believed to be his property in Ireland, in which was included a large portion of Munster, which had been granted by Henry II to Robert FitzStephen, whose daughter married a Carew.

His abilities were praised by his contemporaries, including Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Walsingham and Richard Carew of Anthony. Having been attainted and exiled under Mary, and being allied in blood, marriage or friendship to many of the leading west country families, he was naturally in favour during the first years of Elizabeth's reign. He sat on committees to supervise ships and munitions, to investigate the customs revenues, and to survey the defences of the Tower. Late in 1559 he was sent to the army in the north to report on disputes between its commanders, and he was military adviser to the commission appointed to treat for peace with the French in Scotland.

In 1559 he was elected as senior knight of the shire for Devon, a choice that was no doubt pleasing to the 2nd Earl of Bedford, under whom he had served in the St. Quentin expedition of 1557, and whose deputy lieutenant he was in the county. This was Carew's first appearance in the House of Commons since Oct 1553, when he had stood for the true religion against Marian religious policy. According to Hooker he angered Elizabeth in her first Parliament by his support of the motion urging her to marry. Whether because of his extreme protestantism or on account of his debts, Carew did not long remain at court. Back in Devon he was active especially concerning piracy: in 1564-5 he captained a fleet formed to clear the Irish Sea and Western Channel of pirates.

During the first session of the 1563 Parliament an Act was passed to restore Carew in blood, and on 25 Sep 1566 he was, at his own request, elected burgess for Exeter (which had for some years paid him a 40s. annuity) in place of Thomas Williams, deceased, on condition that he became a freeman and that presumably to prevent his acting purely as a patron at elections there he represented the city in person. In that Parliament he was a member of the succession committee on 31 Oct 1566, and was one of 30 MPs summoned on 5 Nov to hear the Queen's message on the subject. In the following Mar he was warned by the Privy Council not to break the peace in his quarrel with Sir John Pollard.

From 1567 Carew's energies were mainly absorbed in his attempt to obtain the vast estates in Ireland to which he claimed he was heir. Feb 1569; marshal of the army in Ireland. With the aid of the antiquary John Hooker and the lawyer William Peryam, he made good his claim in the courts to the barony of Odrone in county Carlow, but his attempts to take physical possession of his rights led to conflict with the neighbouring Irish gentry, and was the immediate cause of driving Sir Edmund Butler into rebellion. Carew's activities were naturally considered untimely by the hard-pressed English officials in Ireland and he was forced to return to England in 1569 or 1570.

Next, early in 1572, he apparently entertained some hopes of being made warden of the stannaries, to the amazement of Lord Hunsdon, who wrote to Burghley, 11 Mar:

'I marvel that Sir Peter Carew is anyway able to encounter with my lord of Bedford for the stannary, being an office of such a number of men as it is fit for none but such a one as her Majesty hath great cause to trust unto, which I know not that she hath had at Sir Peter's hand ... '

In the event he was made constable of the Tower for the period of Norfolk's confinement that year, and in the Sep he was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the Tower. He returned to Ireland in Jul 1573 with the army of Walter Devereaux, 1st Earl of Essex, to defend his title to Odrone and make good his claim to the Munster estates, though Sir John Perrot and others advised the lord deputy and the Queen that in the disturbed state of the country any move to enforce such a claim would be dangerous. He acted as marshal to Essex's army in Ulster until Nov of that year, when he fell ill and departed for the Pale, promising to postpone any attempts to secure his Munster estates. He returned to England soon afterwards, but in Apr 1575 he was sent again by the Queen to act as Essex's lieutenant, as a person for his wisdom, discretion, reputation and for his affection to the Earl most meet. He earned the Queen's commendation for his part in the Ulster campaign of that year. On the departure of Essex he set out finally to take possession of some of his Munster lands, but fell ill at Ross on the way to Cork, dying there 27 Nov 1575. He was buried at Waterford 15 Dec, Hooker erecting a monument to him in Exeter cathedral.

His will, made 4 Jul 1574, mentions only his Irish barony of Odrone, which he had settled on trustees a month earlier, and from the issues of which all his debts and legacies were to be paid; afterwards it was to go to his nearest male heir, his cousin Peter Carew, subject to some protection for his widow and executrix. She declined the responsibility and administration was granted 20 Feb 1576 to his kinsman and servant John Wood of Lopit, Devon. The debts were still unpaid some ten years later, when his creditors petitioned to be allowed to call the widow and others to account.
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