CAREW, Sir Peter (c.1510-75), of Mohun's Ottery, Devon.

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



Mar. 1553
Oct. 1553

Family and Education

b. c.1510, 3rd s. of Sir William Carew of Mohun’s Ottery by Jane, da. of Sir William Courteney of Powderham; bro. of (Sir) George Carew. educ. Exeter g.s. c.1523-4; St. Paul’s, London c.1524. m. 20 Feb. 1547, Margaret, da. of Sir William Skipwith of South Ormsby, Lincs., wid. of George, 2nd Lord Tailboys, s.p. suc. bro. 19 July 1545. Kntd. Aug.-Sept. 1545.2

Offices Held

Henchman in royal household c.1530-2; gent. of privy chamber from c.1532; gent. pens. by 1539; sheriff, Devon 1546-7; v.-adm. Devon by 1548, Cornw. from c.1549; dep. lt. Devon prob. 1558, j.p.q. and custos rot. from 1559; j.p.q. Dorset from 1559; PC [I] Feb. 1569; marshal of the army in Ireland 1573, lieutenant 1575; constable of the Tower 1572.3


The Life of Sir Peter Carew, written by his friend and servant John Hooker alias Vowell* 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’. His career before 1558 included several years as a boy in the wars and courts of Italy and France, a decade as gentleman of the privy chamber to King Henry VIII, a tour of two years’ duration through France, Italy and the Balkans to Constantinople, and considerable military experience on land and sea in the wars with France, 1543-6 and 1557-8. 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.4

His abilities were praised by his contemporaries, including Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Walsingham and Richard Carew of Antony. 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.5

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 October 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.6

During the first session of the 1563 Parliament an Act was passed to restore Carew in blood, and on 25 Sept. 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 March he was warned by the Privy Council not to break the peace in his quarrel with Sir John Pollard.7

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. 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 1570.8

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 September he was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the Tower. He returned to Ireland in July 1573 with the army of the 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 November 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 April 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.9

His will, made 4 July 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.10

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Roger Virgoe


This biography is based upon Hooker, Life of Sir Peter Carew ed. Maclean. Acknowledgments are also made to the Roberts thesis.

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. C142/73/50; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 135, 247; CP, xii(1), 603-5; Wards 7/5/81; LP Hen. VIII, xx(2), p. 130.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, xiv(2), p. 345; SP10/4 no. 40; EHR, xxiii. 739; Roberts thesis 30-1; Lansd. 1218, ff. 8-9; CPR , 1563-6, p. 21; CSP Ire. 1509-73, pp. 401, 527; Cal. Carew Pprs. ii. 6, 8, 20-1.
  • 4. LP Hen. VIII, xiv(2), p. 345; xviii(1), p. 525; xix(2), pp. 240, 283 etc.; HMC Foljambe, 7; W. G. Hoskins, Devon, 426-7.
  • 5. Cal. Carew Pprs. ii. 6; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 30; Richard Carew of Antony ed. Halliday, 169; CSP For. 1553-8, pp. 56-109 passim; 1560-1, pp. 79, 80, 85; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 127; SP12/1/57; Read, Cecil, 174.
  • 6. HMC Foljambe, 5-8; Bodl. e Museo 17; APC, vii. passim; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 244-5, 251; Lansd. 8, ff. 77-8.
  • 7. 5 Eliz. I, c.33; Exeter city act bk. ii. 109b; iii. 181; D’Ewes, 126; APC, vii. 378; Camb. Univ. Lib. Gg. iii. 34, f. 209.
  • 8. Cal. Carew Pprs. i. 383, 385, 387, 450; CSP Ire. 1509-73, pp. 397, 401, 414-22.
  • 9. SP52/22 Eliz. 38; APC, viii. 111; Cal. Carew Pprs. i. 451; ii. 6, 8, 20-1; CSP Ire. 1509-73, pp. 510, 527.
  • 10. CSP Ire. 1509-73, p. 527; 1574-85, p. 545; PCC 1 Carew; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 553; CP.