CARY, William (c.1578-1652), of Clovelly Court and Exeter, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1578,1 1st s. of George Cary of Clovelly and Christian, da. and h. of William Stretchleigh of Stretchleigh, Devon, wid. of Sir Christopher Chudleigh of Ashton, Devon (d.1570).2 educ. M. Temple 1596.3 m. (1) by c.1602, Gertrude (d. by c.1604), da. of Richard Carew† of Antony, Cornw. and wid. of John Arundell (d.1598) of Tolverne, Cornw. 2da. (1 d.v.p.);4 (2) 23 Jan. 1605, Dorothy (d. 3 Nov. 1622), da. of Sir Edward Gorges of Wraxall, Som., 4s. 7da.;5 (3) 11 June 1631, Jane (still living 1674), da. of one Elworthy of Som. and wid. of Narcissus Mapowder (d.1628) of Holsworthy, Devon, s.p.6 suc. fa. 1601.7 d.1652.8

Offices Held

Commr. piracy, Devon July-Dec. 1603, 1614-15, 1624-39,9 j.p. 1604-at least 1643,10 collector, Benevolence 1614, commr. subsidy 1625,11 sewers 1627-34,12 corporal of the field 1635,13 commr. assessment 1642, array 1642.14


Cary represented a junior branch of a major Devon family with roots stretching back more than three centuries. Clovelly had been a Cary possession since at least the fourteenth century, though the independent family line there dated only from 1535.15 Cary’s grandfather represented Barnstaple in the second Parliament of 1553, and his father George served as sheriff of Devon in 1588.16 At his death in 1601, George owned three other manors in Devon and Somerset and property in Exeter, but much of this estate, including Clovelly, was tied up in the jointure provision for his third wife, Katherine Russell, who lived on until around 1633. Moreover, George seems to have almost exhausted his capital developing a new quay at Clovelly to stimulate trade. The income from Clovelly included a share in the profits of the local fisheries, and George arranged for his heir to receive these revenues during Katherine’s life.17 Nevertheless, Cary was obliged to take legal action against his stepmother in 1604 to protect his inheritance, and must have been financially disadvantaged for many years.18

Despite these difficulties, Cary enjoyed the benefits of a distinguished kinship network, which included the Bassets of Cornwall, the Chudleighs of Devon, and the Gorges of Somerset. Indeed, his election for Mitchell in 1604 depended entirely on his personal connections. His father-in-law Richard Carew possessed some influence there, having himself represented the borough in 1597, while Mitchell’s principal patron, John Arundell*, may already have been married to one of Cary’s half-sisters.19 As a Member, Cary was notable only for his absenteeism. He first featured in the Commons’ records on 15 Apr. 1606, when he was given leave to depart. On 30 Mar. 1610 Sir Warwick Hele, his colleague on the Devon bench, explained to the House that Cary had been absent ‘all this [session of] Parliament by reason of certain pirates that had threatened to burn his house’. After a letter containing such threats had been read out, Cary was granted indefinite leave until his troubles abated.20 Implausible as it sounds, there was some substance to Cary’s story, for between 23 Mar. and 4 Apr. 1610 the pirate Thomas Salkeld, fresh from raiding the Welsh coast, occupied Lundy Island, little more than 15 miles from Clovelly.21

This episode aside, Cary seems to have pursued the quiet life of a country squire. The daring foreign exploits attributed to him in Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! are entirely fictional. In addition to long service as a local magistrate, Cary helped collect the 1614 Benevolence in north Devon, and supervised improvements to the county’s coastal defences in 1625.22 By then he was again resident at Clovelly, having spent the early 1620s in Exeter, where he buried his second wife.23 At the outset of the Civil War, Cary sided with the Crown, but being now in his mid-sixties he seems not to have played an active role in the conflict, unlike his eldest son Robert, who held Bideford for the king.24 Royalist defeats presumably prompted his decision in 1645 to place the bulk of his estates in trust. Robert was doubtless the intended beneficiary, since Cary left him nothing in his will, drawn up on 20 Dec. 1648. Cary appointed as his executor his second son George, who was also a trustee.25 Despite an attempt at sequestration after Cary’s death in 1652, the family property was apparently intact at the Restoration.26 George’s eldest son represented Okehampton in 1681, his second son taking over the seat in 1685 and winning re-election there or at Launceston nine times until 1708.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. C142/268/142.
  • 2. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 159, 189.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 6, 159.
  • 5. Som. Par. Reg. iv. 128; MI, Speke’s chapel, Exeter Cathedral; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 159.
  • 6. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 159, 551; PROB 11/352, f. 6v.
  • 7. C142/268/142.
  • 8. MI, Clovelly.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 61v; 181/2, ff. 201, 242v; 181/3, f. 130; 181/4, f. 52v; 181/5, ff. 84v, 133.
  • 10. C66/1620; Devon RO, QS 28/1-2.
  • 11. A.H.A. Hamilton, ‘JPs of Devon and Benevolences of 1614 and 1622’, Trans. Devon Assoc. ix. 405; E115/107/100.
  • 12. C181/3, f. 217v; 181/4, f. 163v.
  • 13. SP16/291/14.II.
  • 14. SR, v. 150; Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 15. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 150; Harrison, i. 165-6, 174.
  • 16. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 36.
  • 17. PROB 11/99, ff. 317v-18; 11/163, ff. 328v-29.
  • 18. C2/Jas.I/C17/49.
  • 19. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 157, 159.
  • 20. CJ, i. 298b, 416b; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 5.
  • 21. SP14/53, f. 148.
  • 22. Hamilton, 405; Devon RO, 1148 M/add/18/1.
  • 23. Mar. Lics. of Exeter Diocese ed. J.L. Vivian, 70; MI, Speke’s chapel, Exeter Cathedral; E115/107/100.
  • 24. Devon RO, QS 28/1-2; CCC, 2014.
  • 25. PROB 11/228, ff. 242v-44v.
  • 26. CCC, 2014.