RALEGH, Sir Carew (c.1550-1627), of Gillingham, Dorset and Downton House, Downton, Wilts.

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.1550, 1st s. of Walter Ralegh† (d.1581) of Fardel and East Budleigh, Devon and his 3rd w. Catherine, da. of Sir Philip Champernown of Modbury, Devon, and wid. of Otho Gilbert (d.1547) of Compton and Greenway, Devon; bro. of Walter† and half-bro. of Adrian Gilbert† and Sir Humphrey Gilbert†. m. aft. 1580, Dorothy (d.1616), da. of Sir William Wroughton† of Broad Hinton, Wilts., and wid. of Sir John Thynne† (d.1580) of Longleat, Wilts., 3s. inc. Gilbert*, 1da.1 kntd. 14 Sept. 1601.2 d.1627.3 sig. Caru Ralegh.

Offices Held

Kpr. (jt.), Mere Park, Wilts. c.1577-86, kpr. (jt.) and steward, Gillingham Park, Dorset by 1586-at least 1611;4 v.-warden, stannaries, Cornw. and Devon by 1588;5 lt., I. of Portland and capt. Portland castle, Dorset 1584-1625;6 j.p. Wilts. 1584-d.,7 Dorset by 1594-1616;8 commr. piracy, Devon 1584, Dorset 1601,9 recusants, Wilts. 1585;10 v.-adm. Dorset 1591-1603;11 dep. lt., Devon by 1596-?d.; commr. subsidy, Wilts. 1599, Dorset 1606,12 musters, Dorset 1600-1,13 sewers, Wilts. and Dorset 1605,14 aid, Wilts. 1609,15 charitable uses, Wilts. 1613.16

Gent. of horse to Sir John Thynne to 1580.17


Ralegh’s family had been settled at Fardel in Devon since the mid-fifteenth century, and as a result of astute marriages had become connected with numerous powerful gentry in Dorset and Devon.18 As the son of a third marriage, Ralegh inherited little land or capital at his father’s death in 1581, a circumstance which, coupled with an adventurous spirit, may have encouraged his frequent exploits in privateering during the following two decades. 19 Most of the offices which he held in the 1580s probably reflected his younger brother Sir Walter’s favour at Court rather than his own talents: his keepership of two royal parks was jointly held with Sir Walter, to whom he owed the deputy wardenship of the stannaries. Nevertheless, Ralegh continued to hold the captaincy of Portland Castle long after his brother’s fall, an office he later passed to his son, Gilbert.20

Soon after 1580 Ralegh married Dorothy, the widow of Sir John Thynne, in whose household he had recently served. The couple initially lived at her dower house in Corsley, Wiltshire,21 but in 1599 Ralegh purchased the lease of Downton rectory from Winchester College. Downton House thereafter became his primary residence; he also lived at Gillingham, where he was joint keeper of the royal park.22 At Downton, Ralegh leased mills and other property from the bishop of Winchester and acquired a number of burgage tenements, on the strength of which he was able to get himself returned to Parliament in 1604 and 1621.23

In the first Jacobean Parliament Ralegh was a teller against recommitting a bill touching the dyeing of logwood (1 June 1610), and was included among the delegations ordered to deliver two grievance petitions to the king (14 May 1606 and 4 July 1610).24 He was appointed to committees for bills to prevent the building of weirs on navigable rivers (25 June 1604), and usury (added 27 June 1604); for the incorporation of the Spanish Company (5 Nov. 1605); to revive a statute of Edward IV upholding the monopoly rights of the London Horners’ Company (23 Feb. 1610); to promote shipping (28 Feb. 1610); to endow an almshouse in Dorchester (17 Feb. 1610); to prevent the export of iron ordnance (added 10 May 1610); and to repeal the New River Act (20 June 1610).25 In his first speech, delivered on 9 Nov. 1605, Ralegh unsuccessfully defended the attempt by Sir Thomas Thynne*, his step-grandson and Member for Hindon, to be returned as knight of the shire for Wiltshire in place of the latter’s recently deceased father, Sir John*.26 His remaining speeches were all made in the fourth session: on 2 May 1610 it seems to have been Ralegh who moved that the patentee Sir Stephen Procter, then under arrest in the Gatehouse prison, should be committed to the serjeant-at-arms while under investigation by the Commons. On the following day he moved a proviso for the sea-sand bill.27 On 5 May he argued against Richard Martin’s assertion that those MPs who had conferred with the Lords on the Great Contract did so as private individuals rather than as representatives of the House.28 His views remained unchanged on 21 Nov., when, during a debate on the punishment of MPs who had met with the king privately to discuss the royal finances, he moved that an order be set down ‘for preservation of the privilege of the House’ against such private undertakings.29 Ralegh had returned to Downton by 16 Dec., ten days after the prorogation of Parliament, where he attended the baptism of Robert, son of Lord Chandos (Gray Brydges†).30

At the 1614 election Ralegh made way for his son Gilbert at Downton, but in 1621 he was once again returned for the borough. He was named to the standing committees for privileges (5 Feb.) and courts of justice (added 22 Feb.) and a committee for a bill concerning the licensing of beggars (22 November).31 On 5 Feb. Ralegh opposed the appointment of Sir Edward Coke* to chair a committee of the whole House, on the grounds that Coke was a privy councillor; later in the day he opposed the suggestion that the dispute over free speech was best resolved by petitioning the king.32 His remaining speeches concerned the patentees for alehouses (22 Feb.), and the bill against taking tithes on catches of fish, but to what effect is unknown.33

Surviving assessments of Ralegh are uncomplimentary. In 1606 he was reprimanded by the Privy Council for being publicly disrespectful to Viscount Bindon (Thomas Howard†).34 Two years later, when (Sir) Lionel Cranfield* asked him for a gelding, he was informed by Randolph Baron, the deputy-receiver of Dorset, that Ralegh ‘will not deal plainly with you therein, for he would surely pay you with a jade, and yet would swear it to be as good as any in England. It is ordinary with him’.35 Ralegh may also have been accused of a misdemeanour in his capacity as captain of Portland Castle, for in February 1623 the Privy Council issued a warrant for his arrest ‘for reasons much importing His Majesty’s service’. The outcome of this incident is unknown.36

Ralegh died intestate in 1627 and was buried at Downton.37 His son Gilbert, who survived him by less than two years, succeeded him. Another son, Walter, the author of Reliquiae Raleghanae, became chaplain to the 3rd earl of Pembroke and, in 1641, dean of Wells Cathedral. A royalist during the Civil War, he ultimately died of wounds inflicted by his parliamentarian gaoler.38 The Raleghs retained their interest at Downton into the eighteenth century, and a further four generations represented the borough.39

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 160.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 99.
  • 3. R.C. Hoare, Hist. Wilts. ‘Downton’, 30.
  • 4. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxix. 242; SO3/5, unfol., Dec. 1611; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 48.
  • 5. APC, 1588, p. 149.
  • 6. C66/2356/16; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 549; APC, 1596-7, p. 316; HMC Sackville, i. 171, 330; Harl. 1376, f. 76.
  • 7. Lansd. 737, f. 56; Wilts. RO, A1/100, f. 27; A1/150/2, ff. 7, 11, 19, 37.
  • 8. C66/1549; C231/4, p. 60.
  • 9. SP12/172/38; C181/1, f. 12.
  • 10. Harl. 474, f. 91.
  • 11. Vice Admirals of the Coast comp. J.C. Sainty and A.D. Thrush (L. and I. Soc. cccxxi. 16).
  • 12. E179/198/330; 179/329/155.
  • 13. Harl. 3324, f. 21; APC, 1600-1, p. 302.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 130v; Earl of Hertford’s Ltcy. Pprs. ed. W.P.D. Murphy (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 64.
  • 15. E179/283; SP14/43/107.
  • 16. C93/5/20.
  • 17. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxix. 290.
  • 18. Vis. Wilts. 160; J. Winton, Sir Walter Ralegh, 13.
  • 19. C142/194/2.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 69.
  • 21. VCH Wilts. viii. 14; E179/198/326; 179/198/330.
  • 22. E179/198/329; E115/320/20; 115/329/115; 115/333/19.
  • 23. VCH Wilts. xi. 37.
  • 24. CJ, i. 309a, 445b.
  • 25. Ibid. 245b, 247b, 256b, 394b, 399a, 402a, 427a, 442a.
  • 26. Ibid. 257a.
  • 27. Ibid. 424a.
  • 28. Ibid. 425b.
  • 29. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 140.
  • 30. Wilts. RO, 914/1.
  • 31. CJ, i. 507b, 641b; CD 1621, vi. 262.
  • 32. CD 1621, ii. 24-5.
  • 33. Ibid. 125, 136.
  • 34. Add. 11402, f. 118.
  • 35. HMC Sackville, i. 171.
  • 36. APC, 1621-3, p. 404.
  • 37. R.C. Hoare, Hist. Wilts. ‘Downton’, 30.
  • 38. A. Matthews, Walker Revised, 318; Wilts. N and Q, iii. 142; iv.374; Subscription Bk. of Bishops Tounson and Davenant 1620-40 ed. B. Williams (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxxii), 16; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xli. 446-7.
  • 39. Wilts. N and Q, ii. 90-1.