CAREW, Sir Nicholas (by 1496-1539), of Beddington, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. by 1496, 1st s. of Sir Richard Carew of Beddington by Matilda, da. of Sir Robert Oxenbridge of Ford, Suss. m. 1514, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Bryan of Ashridge, Herts., 1s. Francis 4da. suc. fa. 18 May 1520. Kntd. by July 1520; KG nom. 23 Apr., inst. 21 May 1536.1

Offices Held

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 1536.2


Nicholas Carew became the head of a younger branch of the ancient family which traced its descent from the Conquest, although its surname, derived from Carew castle in Pembrokeshire, went back only to the reign of John. In the 14th century the family settled at Antony, Cornwall, but a younger member acquired Beddington by marriage and there founded a line which was to survive until the reign of George II.3

Advanced at court while still under age, Carew was also joined with his father in a new grant of the lieutenancy of Calais castle. 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. In 1513 Carew accompanied the King to France for the siege of Tournai, where his father commanded the artillery and his kinsman Sir Edmund Carew was killed. In the following year the King attended his marriage to Elizabeth Bryan, daughter of the Queen’s vice-chamberlain and sister of another royal favourite, Sir Francis Bryan. From then on Carew frequently took part in revels, mummeries and jousting tournaments; a portrait by Holbein shows him in tilting armour with a broken stave in one hand and a sword in the other.4

The first hint that Carew’s behaviour might compromise him is Richard Pace’s comment, in a letter of March 1518 from the court at Abingdon, that ‘Mr. Carew and his wife be returned to the King’s grace, too soon after my opinion’. 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 June he attended the King and Queen at the Field of Cloth of Gold; later in the same year he accompanied the King to Gravelines for the meeting with Charles V. With the coming of war he first served in the autumn of 1522 in the expeditionary force to Picardy under the Earl of Surrey, and a year later he was sent north to advise Surrey when the Duke of Albany threatened an invasion.5

Although Carew was pricked sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in November 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 I, 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 December 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’.6

In spite of his high spirits Carew proved an able ambassador. First employed in 1520 to dissuade Francis I from going into Italy and to solicit his influence with the Scots, he was only partly successful, but he was well entertained by Francis, who defrayed his expenses, and on returning home he was paid £100. He was again sent to France in November 1527, this time as one of a mission to present Francis with the Garter, but his most important mission was that of 1529-30 with Dr. Richard Sampson. Their official task was to ratify the Treaty of Cambrai at Bologna, but 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.7

Carew’s own attitude to the divorce, and to the King’s relations with France and the Empire, was ambivalent: loyal to Queen Catherine and Princess Mary, he was none the less regarded as a friend of France. In March 1530 Sir Gregory Casale told Montmorency of his efforts to have Carew sent to France, and in the following December he did go there again as one of those representing the King at the French Queen’s coronation. In 1533 and again in 1535 Francis 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 Catherine 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 Charles 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 October 1532, Carew told Chapuys that he would prefer to hinder the meeting, doubtless because he foresaw its possible consequence for the Queen.8

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 July 1535, related by Chapuys to Granvelle, confirms Carew’s loyalty to the Queen and Princess. The King had nearly murdered his own fool for speaking well in his presence of Catherine 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.9

In spite of his sympathy for Catherine and Mary, Carew was for years circumspect enough to avoid provoking the King’s hostility. In June 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 northern rebellion 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 October 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 April 1538 Carew entertained the King at Beddington, as he had done on previous occasions.10

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.

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 November 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 Montagu 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 Montagu 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.11

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 Philips then keeper.

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 August 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.12

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 3rd Duke of Buckingham’s attainder, when in July 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 February 1533 a lease during the lifetime of Catherine of 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 ex-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.13

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: S. R. Johnson


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m. C142/35/52. Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 17; LP Hen. VIII, i. iii; DNB.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, i-x, xii, xiii.
  • 3. VCH Surr. iv. 170, 173; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 522-3.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, i-iv; SP2, f. A(1); C66/626; Hall, Chron. 689, 722; The Voyage of Sir Nicholas Carew to the Emperor Charles V, 1529 (Roxburghe Club), 15.
  • 5. The Voyage, 17, 18; Hall, 598, 630; LP Hen. VIII, ii, iii; Chron. Calais (Cam. Soc. xxxv), 32.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, v, vii; E368/294, mm. 19, 37; 368/303; 372/374.
  • 7. The Voyage, 18, 31-35; CSP Span. 1529-30, p. 257; LP Hen. VIII, iii, iv.
  • 8. LP Hen. VIII, iv-vii.
  • 9. Ibid. vii, viii, x. xiv; CSP Span. 1529-30, pp. 279, 514, 536, 587, 692, 854; 1531-3, pp. 528, 973-4.
  • 10. Manning and Bray, ii. 525; LP Hen. VIII, v, vi, x-xiii.
  • 11. Fuller, Worthies, iii. 234; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv; The Voyage, 20.
  • 12. The Voyage, 20; LP Hen. VIII, xiv; CPR, 1550-3, p. 458; 1553-4, p. 214; 1554-5, p. 28; 1555-7, p. 90; Manning and Bray, ii. 526; Strype, Eccles. Memorials, ii(1), 210; Wriothesley’s Chron. i (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 94.
  • 13. C142/35/52; E150/1088/2; LP Hen. VIII, i, iii-v, xii-xiv, xvi; Manning and Bray, ii. 314, 583, 617, 646-7; VCH Surr. iv. 101, 200, 205, 258; CPR, 1553-4, p. 214.