CAREW, Richard (1555-1620), of Antony, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 17 July 1555, 1st s. of Thomas Carew of Antony by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Edgecombe; bro. of George. educ. Christ Church Oxf. c.1566; Clement’s Inn; M. Temple 1574. m. 1577, Juliana, da. of John Arundell of Trerice, 7s. 3da. suc. fa. 1564.1

Offices Held

J.p. Cornw. 1581, sheriff 1582-3; bailiff of Mitchell 1584; dep. lt. Cornw. 1586; commr. grain 1586; mayor, Callington 1597.2

Member, Antiq. Soc. c.1591.


Carew is principally remembered for his Survey of Cornwall. He belonged to one of the leading Cornish families, and was related to the Edgecombes, Arundells, Cosworths, Godolphins, Raleghs, Carnsews and St. Aubyns. He received a good education, going first to Oxford at the age of about 11. There he and William Camden, his exact contemporary, were lodged at Broadgates Hall, ‘to receive entertainment from the muses’. His exceptional qualities were already apparent and, at the age of 14, he was called upon to dispute extemporewith the ‘matchless Philip Sidney’, whom he later described as ‘the miracle of our age’.

Carew was only eight when he succeeded to his father’s considerable property. This unfortunately deprived him of the opportunity to travel abroad, from which, with his burning curiosity, his powers of observation and his ability for languages, he would have derived inestimable profit and delight.

If Carew had faults, they have not been recorded, and all that we know of him points to the virtue and excellence of his mind and character. Beloved by his family and his friends, he received from the literary world a number of dedications. His son Richard wrote of his father in later years that he was ‘so excellent for his virtues ... a man in whom I ever found so much good and so little evil ... continually so loving unto me and mine ... His wisdom doth well appear in his writings, his conversation so full of sweetness as he was able to gain everybody’s affection ... so upright in matters of justice that they raised a common proverb upon him ...’ In brief, he was loved far and wide for his kindliness, tolerance and justice, the modesty of his manners and the generosity of his disposition.3

Like so many Elizabethans, Carew was highly versatile, but first and foremost he was a scholar. He studied the classics, history, the poetry of his great contemporaries and, above all, languages. Working alone, he mastered Greek, Italian, German, French and Spanish. He delighted so much in reading that, if he had no other hindrance, ‘going or riding, he would ever have a book and be reading’. His son recorded that from his earliest childhood, his father took all the care he could to have him bred up in learning, ‘well knowing the value thereof by the sweet fruits he still gathered of his own, which he always increased by his almost incredible continual labours ...’ His literary achievements were considerable, but, for all his studies, Carew was not a recluse. He had far too lively a sense of fun to withdraw from social life, and his Survey shows how much he went out and about, keeping abreast of local affairs. ‘A gentleman and his wife’, he wrote, ‘will ride to make merry with his next neighbour, and after a day or twain those two couples go to a third, in which progress they increase like snowballs, till through their burdensome weight they break again’. This was a community of landowners, and Carew, like his friends, bought and sold property and grappled with the problems of enclosures. He is said to have been accounted amongst his neighbours the greatest husbandman and the most excellent beekeeper in Cornwall. Living quietly on the banks of his beloved Lynher, he felt no yearning for the glamour of the court:

I wait not at the lawyer’s gates, Ne shoulder climbers down the stairs; I vaunt not manhood by debates, I envy not the miser’s fears; But mean in state and calm in sprite, My fishful pond is my delight.

He contrived his fishful pond ‘where a little creek of ooze [lieth] between two hills, which delivering a little fresh rillet into the sea, receiveth for recompense a large overflowing of the salt tides’. Round the pond he built an inward sloping palisade, to keep out the otters. It was a place he loved to visit in the evening and there watch the captive fish answer to a knocking sound, like the chopping of their meat, and so come to be fed.

It was natural that Carew should have played a prominent part in the local affairs of Cornwall, serving as sheriff, justice and, in the uneasy years of danger from Spain, as deputy lieutenant under his kinsman (Sir) Walter Ralegh. He was treasurer of the lieutenancy, and colonel of a regiment of five hundred charged with the defence of Cawsand Bay below Mount Edgcumbe. In 1596 a small body of Spaniards landed there, as a result of which a ‘weak kind of fortification was raised’.4

Carew can have experienced no difficulty in obtaining his return to Parliament in 1584 for the local borough of Saltash and in 1597 for Mitchell, where he was bailiff. On 8 Mar. 1585 he brought a bill into the House imposing conditions for the manufacture of Devon and Cornish cloth. In London, he was able to attend some of the meetings of the Society of Antiquaries, often in the house of Robert Cotton. He also renewed his friendship with William Camden, who urged him to produce his Survey, which he first composed ‘not minding that it should be published in print ... Long since begun, a great while discontinued, lately reviewed, and now hastily finished’. Thus, thanks at least in part to Camden, this living work can still be enjoyed. It lives because of Carew’s stylistic gifts, and his truly Elizabethan delight in words. He wrote with ease and gaiety, condensing a vast fund of anecdote and information.5

‘I will here sit me down and rest’, are the last words of the Survey written in 1602 when, at the age of about 47, Carew was already ailing. For some little while he had been anxious to arrange a marriage for his eldest surviving son, and thereby save him from becoming a ward. About 1611 Carew’s eyesight began to fail. For two years he ‘remained dark’, and he wrote a little treatise about the endurance of blindness. His sight returned unexpectedly in 1615, and ‘the light appeared suddenly with such a glory, for the day was fair, and the sun shined bright’. Carew retained his interest in affairs, though his health continued to trouble him, and he suffered from a cough, a rupture and the stone. ‘My time uncertain, Lord, long certain cannot be’, he wrote shortly before his death. One Saturday morning in November 1620, he announced to his son: ‘This last night hath been with me as the first was of my last sickness. I think I have turned a thousand times in my bed’. The following Monday afternoon—it was 6 Nov.—he went up to his study as usual to pray. There he died, ‘yet retained that natural cheerful countenance he ever showed his friends whiles he was alive’. He was buried the next day, according to his own wishes, in the crypt of Antony church. A plain marble slab in the north wall commemorates this ‘most peaceful man’.

Carew revised his will in June 1620. He bequeathed his soul to Almighty God and his body to the earth to be buried in Antony church, ‘if I happen to die within a day’s journey of that place’. He was succeeded by his second son Richard, his sole executor. To his wife Juliana he left 100 marks and various estates, to his servants a year’s wages, and to his clerk 40s. He appointed as overseers his brothers-in-law John St. Aubyn and William Carnsew II, his son-in-law Francis Godolphin, his son John, and Arthur Burrell of Saltash.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


This biography is based upon Carew’s Surv. Cornw. ed. Halliday.

  • 1. DNB; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 68-9.
  • 2. Lansd. 48, f. 236; APC, xiv. 199.
  • 3. A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 425.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 502.
  • 5. D’Ewes, 363, 364, 368; Statutes, iv. 704.
  • 6. PCC 206 Soame.