George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes

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George Carew
George Carew, Earl of Totnes from NPG cropped.jpg
Born (1555-05-29)29 May 1555
Died 27 May 1629(1629-05-27) (aged 73)
Title 1st Earl of Totnes
Tenure 1626–1629
Known for Tudor conquest of Ireland
Nationality British
Arms of Carew: Or, 3 lions passant in pale sable[1] These were the arms shown on the seal of "Nicholas de Carreu" (c.1255–1311), appended to the Barons' Letter, 1301, which he joined as "Lord of Mulesford" and which were blazoned for the same bearer in the Caerlaverock Poem or Roll of Arms of 1300, when he was present at the Siege of Caerlaverock Castle. From him are descended the Carew baronets of Antony and of Haccombe, the Earl of Totnes and Baron Carew

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.[2] 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.[3]


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.[3]

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.[2] 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).[2] 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.[3]

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.[2] 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.[3]

President of Munster

Carew was appointed President of Munster on 27 January 1600,[2] 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. On the death of Elizabeth I, he was confronted unexpectedly with serious civil disorder, when several towns under his jurisdiction refused to proclaim the new King James I. The motives for these disturbances are obscure, but probably combined a desire for greater religious toleration with a demand for greater recognition of their civic independence. The trouble was especially severe in Cork, where serious rioting broke out. Carew was forced to send troops to restore order, and later tried, without success, to have the Cork city fathers tried for treason. He had a personal interest in the matter since Lady Carew's life was said to have been threatened during the riots, and she had been forced to take refuge in Shandon Castle.

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.[3] In 1608 he was Master of the Ordnance.[2]

In 1610 Carew was appointed Governor of Guernsey.[2] 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.[3]

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.[2]

Carew died at The Savoy in 1629, when his titles became extinct.[2] He was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.[4]


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 Palace Library, 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.


Tomb of the Earl of Totnes (d. 1629) and his wife Joyce (d. 1637) in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

Carew succeeded his brother Peter, who died in Ireland in 1575, and inherited the family seat at Upton Hellions, near Crediton, Devon, which he later sold to a member of the Young family.

In 1580 he had married Joyce Clopton, the daughter of William Clopton (1538–1592) of Clopton House, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, 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.[4]

Carew died on 27 March 1629 in the Savoy, Strand, London and was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The earldom was extinguished on his death.




 Lee, Sidney (1887). "Carew, George (1555-1629)". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 9. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 51–53.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors vol.3 (London, 1885–1890).
  • J.S.Brewer and W.Bullen eds. Calendar of Carew MSS. 1515–1624 6 vols (London, 1867–1873).
  • Nicholas P. Canny Making Ireland British, 1580–1650 (Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-19-820091-9.
  • Hiram Morgan Tyrone's Rebellion: The Outbreak of the Nine Years War in Ireland (Woodbridge, 1993).
  • Standish O'Grady (ed.) "Pacata Hibernia" 2 vols. (London, 1896).
  • Cyril Falls Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996). ISBN 0-09-477220-7.

External links

Media related to George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes at Wikimedia Commons

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Robert Constable
Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
Sir Roger Dallison
Preceded by
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
The Lord Vere of Tilbury
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Totnes
Baron Carew