CARTERET, Sir George, 1st Bt. (c.1610-80), of Whitehall and Hawnes, Beds.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. ?6 May 1610, 1st s. of Élie de Carteret of Metesches, Jersey by Elizabeth, da. of Hugh Dumaresq of Sark. m. 6 May 1640, his cos. Elizabeth (d.1697), da. of Sir Philippe de Carteret of St. Ouen, Jersey, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. 1634; kntd. 21 Jan. 1645; cr. Bt. 9 May 1645.
Lt. RN 1629, capt. 1633-9; lt.-gov. Jersey 1643-51, v.-adm. 1644-7.
Comptroller of the navy 1641-2, treas. July 1660-7; v.-chamberlain June 1660-d.; PC 11 July 1660-21 Apr. 1679; commr. for trade Nov. 1660-7, plantations Dec 1660-70, trade and plantations 1671-4; jt. farmer, French shipping duty 1661-7; elder bro. Trinity House 1661-d., master 1664-5; agent R. Adventurers into Africa 1661-3, asst. 1664-71; commr. for Tangier 1662-d.; ld. prop. Carolina 1663-d.; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; commr. for prize appeals 1665-7; v.-treas. [I] 1667-70; ld. of Admiralty 1673-9.1
J.p. Essex, Hants, Kent and Mdx. 1639-44, Aug. 1660-d.; bailiff, Jersey 1643-51, May 1660-1; commr. for assessment, Westminster 1661-3, 1677-9, Berks. 1665-d., Devon and Hants 1665-79, Mdx. 1673-9, Beds. 1673-d., loyal and indigent officers, London and Westminster 1662, oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1662; freeman, Portsmouth 1662; ranger, Cranborne chase 1664-d.2
Carteret’s ancestors had held property in Jersey since the 12th century. But his father was a younger son, and he was himself bred to the sea without ever acquiring more than the rudiments of a gentleman’s education. He distinguished himself in the expedition that smoked out the Sallee corsairs in 1637, and was promised the post of comptroller of the navy in reversion in 1639. He married the daughter of the head of his family, whom he succeeded as bailiff of Jersey in 1643. After suppressing the parliamentarian militia, he turned the island into a base for privateers, from which a steady supply of munitions flowed to the royalist forces in the west of England. Sir Edward Hyde, accompanying the future Charles II on his visit to the island in 1646, described Carteret as:
a worthy and most excellent person, of extraordinary merit towards the crown and nation of England; the most generous man in kindness, and the most dexterous man in business ever known; and a most prudent and skilful lieutenant-governor, who reduced Jersey not with greater skill and discretion than he kept it. And besides his other parts of honesty and discretion, undoubtedly a good, if not the best seaman in England.
In 1649 Charles wrote to Carteret, promising never to forget his good services, and he appears to have kept his word. He ‘had the honour to hold the last sword for the King’; it was not until December 1651 that the Commonwealth forces were able to subdue Jersey, and then only by granting Carteret generous terms. He was not required to compound for his privateering gains, and took service in the French navy until Mazarin’s alliance with Cromwell, when he was briefly sent to the Bastille. After the death of the great Protector he resumed contact with the exiled Court, signing his letters, mischievously, with the name of the author of Eikonoklastes.3
Carteret had not been impoverished by his loyalty. At his own computation he was worth £50,000 at the Restoration, including his claims for reimbursement, for which provision was at once made by means of crown leases in Devon and elsewhere. Together with Daniel O’Neill he farmed the duty on French shipping at an annual rent of £1,000. He was made vice-chamberlain, treasurer of the navy, and a Privy Councillor. In his administrative capacities his loyalty, industry and integrity were beyond cavil, even his adversary William Coventry acknowledging that ‘he is a man that doth take the most pains, and gives himself the most to do business of any man about the Court, without any desire of pleasure or divertisements’. Essentially a family man, he was disgusted by ‘the baseness and looseness of the Court’ to the point of reminding his former guest of ‘the necessity of having at least a show of religion in the government, and sobriety’. Hyde, now Lord Chancellor Clarendon, declared that Carteret was ‘a punctual officer and a good accountant’; but Samuel Pepys found his ignorance in financial matters perverse and ridiculous, complaining that he argued ‘like a mad coxcomb, without reason or method’. ‘The most passionate man in the world, ... it was always his humour to have things done his way’, and his accounts were so idiosyncratic that no serious audit was possible. On such occasions he took care to provide the navy board with an excellent dinner to lubricate proceedings.4
At the general election of 1661 Carteret was returned for Portsmouth on the Admiralty interest. An inactive Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to 41 committees, almost all of them during the administration of Clarendon, whose great confidant he was. But conscious no doubt of the ‘ill English’ at which Andrew Marvell scoffed, he seldom spoke except in self-defence. As a senior Household official, he helped to conduct (Sir) Edward Turnor to the Speaker’s chair, and attended a conference to hear a loyal message from the Scottish Parliament. His committees in the first session included those for restoring the bishops to the House of Lords, making reparations to the Marquess of Winchester, inquiring into the shortfall in the revenue, and considering the corporations and uniformity bills. He was naturally named to the committees to consider the naval regulations bill and the proviso on behalf of the lord high admiral. On 21 Nov. he was among those sent to ask the King when he would receive an address about disarming the disbanded soldiers, and a week later he was desired to attend the commissioners appointed to state the debts of the army and navy. He helped to present the vote of thanks for the King’s speech of 1 Mar. 1662, and was added to the committee for the relief of loyalists. He was much vexed at the appointment of Coventry to the navy board in May, and it was not long before they were in dispute over the victualling accounts, on which Carteret was charging 3d. in the £.5
In the 1663 session Carteret was named to the committees to hear a petition from the loyal and indigent officers and to enlarge the power of martial law in the fleet. He found Parliament ‘in a very angry, pettish mood at present, and not likely to be better’. He was one of the four Privy Councillors sent on 12 May to the King with four resolutions of the House regarding postal contracts, trade with Scotland and Ireland, the export of geldings, and the appointment of consuls. His most important committee in this session was on the bill for preventing abuses in the sale of offices; Coventry believed him to be responsible for the outcry over this matter, though Carteret had claimed the credit for dissuading William Prynne from raising it in the previous session. He was among those appointed to consider the bill for improving the revenue, and was the first Member named to the committee to hear a petition from naval creditors. By the end of the year he was able to boast that the navy was quite out of debt, a laudable achievement attained by the use of his personal credit. His aim, he confided to Pepys, was that ‘the King should not be able to whip a cat but I must be at the tail of it’. Listed as a court dependent in 1664, he was appointed to consider the bills to prevent the surrender of English merchantmen to pirates, to increase the authority of the navy board, and to preserve the timber in the Forest of Dean. On 25 Nov. he was among those instructed to present thanks to the King and the City for defending the nation against the Dutch. He had predicted that commercial rivalry would lead to another war, and was described by Coventry as the principal intermediary (together with Thomas Grey) between the Royal Adventurers into Africa and the Court, ‘Carteret (though underhand) governing the merchants by their dependence on him for trade and payment in the navy’. He had long been interested in the profits to be realized from colonial projects, and on the conquest of the New Netherlands the Duke of York assigned to him and Lord Berkeley all the land between the Hudson and the Delaware, to be named New Jersey in honour of his native island. On 20 Feb. 1665 he was the first Member named to the committee on the bill for raising the level of interest on government loans.6
Carteret, who was morbidly nervous of infection, does not appear to have attended the Oxford session during the plague. This was a mistake, for in his absence the supply bill was passed with provisions that curtailed his profits considerably. Pepys feared that when Parliament met again they would ‘fall hard upon him’ for the ill-success of the naval war. At Court he was neglected, with enemies working to undermine his position. While at the Treasury Sir Philip Warwick ‘endeavours hard to come to a good understanding of Sir George Carteret’s accounts’; but Pepys feared that ‘our method of accounting, though it cannot I believe be far wide from the mark, yet [it] will not abide a strict examination if the Parliament should prove troublesome’. Carteret offered to produce his account as soon as the House met in September 1666, and was named to the committee to bring in a bill for preventing the embezzlement of gunpowder and ammunition. Nevertheless, according to Coventry ‘the House hath a great envy at Sir George Carteret’, and by the following summer he had come to recognize that he must quit the navy ‘on any good terms’. He was fortunate to be able to exchange offices with Lord Anglesey (Arthur Annesley), whose post as vice-treasurer of Ireland was considered to be worth £5,000 p.a., to which the King added a pension of £500 on the Barbados sugar duty. He told Pepys at this time that he was worth £65,000 in all, though ‘he was not, all expenses and things paid, clear in estate £15,000 better than he was when the King came in’. This presumably excluded the £15,487 that he had claimed from the crown for disbursements in Jersey during the Civil War, and perhaps also the Hawnes estate, which he had just purchased as a residence for his eldest son.7
Fortunately for Carteret, in the session following the fall of Clarendon the Opposition concentrated on those immediately responsible for the failures to follow up the victory off Lowestoft and to defend the Medway. In the miscarriages debate of 22 Feb. 1668 he told the House ‘that it was ever against his judgement and advice to pay seamen by tickets’, which was no more than the truth. On 5 Mar. he was ordered to give an account of what moneys were assigned for the navy, and how they were afterwards employed and issued by him. On 24 Apr. (Sir) Robert Brooke tabled the exceptions taken by the public accounts commission to Carteret’s accounts; but nothing further was done that session. His ordeal began on 8 Nov. 1669 when Sir Robert Carr accused him of reflecting on the commissioners of accounts, ‘as if they had given a false account of things’, and Carteret asked leave to read his reply to their observations ‘by reason he is an ill expresser of himself’. On 17 Nov. he told the House:
He has attended the commissioners to give them all satisfaction, which it seems he has not, and they have made observations on his proceedings. He protests he has not paid one penny without sufficient vouchers for the use of the war. It seems they say he has done nothing well, after all his pains and hazard of his person and fortune in the plague. He came then, and with his credit kept the fleet abroad and borrowed upon his own credit without security £280,000 and has done all that he possibly could; but he will not talk of what he has done further, though he knows many can justify it. They cannot say he ever took bribes, but has kept his Majesty’s fleet abroad, when it must else have come home.
The Commons found him guilty of misdemeanours on nine of the ten observations submitted by the commissioners, of which the most important was his high-handed disregard of the appropriations stipulated in the Additional Aid of 1665; while a Lords committee acquitted him on the only charges they had time to discuss. As Edmund Waller I pointed out, if he had been guilty he would have fled, like Clarendon, two years before, and it was only by three votes that the House resolved to suspend him. During the recess he resigned his Irish post and retired into comparative obscurity. The King told the Brooke House commissioners that he was satisfied with Carteret’s handling of naval expenditure, repeating this in his speech from the throne on 14 Feb. 1670, and, much to the irritation of the Buckingham faction, the inquiry lapsed. Carteret’s name appeared on both lists of the court party in this period, but there is no evidence that he attended again until the third Dutch war. His position at Court was unaffected. He received a grant of land in the Bahamas, and in September was sent to France to receive the first instalment of the subsidy payable under the treaty of Dover.8
Carteret was added to the committee of elections and privileges on 22 Feb. 1673, but he left no further trace in the Journals. However he was appointed to the board of admiralty when the Duke of York was forced out of office by the Test Act, and named on the Paston list. He attended at least two naval debates, telling the House of his own experiences before the Civil War in compelling the Dutch to salute the flag, and supporting Pepys on the classification of warships. He was listed as a court dependent in 1675 and classed as ‘vile’ by Shaftesbury. In A Seasonable Argument he was described as:
once treasurer of Ireland and the navy, in which two places he cheated the crown of £40,000, as upon account was made apparent. He has wisely conveyed great part of his estate beyond seas.
His name was on both lists of the court party in 1678, and as one of the ‘unanimous club’ it is unlikely that he stood in the following year. He died on 14 Jan. 1680, and was buried at Hawnes. His eldest son had been killed at Sole Bay, but in 1681 his grandson was given the peerage that had been intended for him. His great-grandson was the distinguished Georgian statesman, while a younger grandson, Edward, was returned for Huntingdon in 1698, Bedford in 1702, and Bere Alston in 1717.9