Sir Robert Carey

Feb 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Reiver Information

Part II – Sir Robert CareyBefore looking at the powers and effectiveness of Sir Robert Carey, his background and personality will be examined. The reason for looking at Carey’s character is that no matter what laws there were, the effectiveness of his rule cannot be examined without assessing whether he himself was capable of being Warden. Concluding that he was not effective in his rule without looking into his character could well miss out an important point.

Robert Carey was born in about 15611 and was the youngest of ten children of which three brothers died at an early age. This left four brothers and three sisters born to his father Henry, Lord Hunsdon who was Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth from 1583. Lord Hunsdon’s mother, Mary, was also the sister of Anne Boleyn, the mother to the Queen. As Mary and Anne had each only given birth to one child, Carey’s father was the only living near relative to the Queen. Lord Hunsdon served the Queen in many important positions including his appointment as East March Warden, from 1568 till his death in 1596, and was involved in a number of battles including the suppression of the Rising of the North in 15692 and the defeat of Lord Dacre in 1570 who was at the head of an army twice his number and marching towards Carlisle. As a father Hunsdon must have appeared an impressive figure to his youngest son. Robert Carey would appear to have had a good relationship with his father, and speaks of been ‘born of good parents’ 3 The affection between the two is most apparent when Robert talks of his marriage:4

“the Queen was mightily offended with me for marrying, and most of my best friends, only my father was no ways displeased at it, which gave me great content”5

The quote shows that his father would stand by Robert Carey even when the Queen herself was at odds with him.

Robert Carey was educated under tutors and governors which he claims to have gained little benefit. As his father Lord Hunsdon was the Warden of the East March from 1568, Carey would have spent some of his time as a youngster living within the Borders at Berwick. It may well be this start in life that made the education under the tutors and governors so boring compared to the adventures surrounding him in the Borders. Living amongst a people with such strong loyalties and violent bloody feuds, may well have found sympathy within the young Carey, who developed the characteristics of the Borderer. This may well have come from his father who lived ‘in a ruffling time, so he loved sword and buckler men’, but would fight for ‘his Prince, and his Country.’6 It seems that his father’s character and temperament may well have influenced Carey.

Hunsdon was also a great courtier and this is certainly an area of Carey’s education that was not neglected. From around the age of 17 Carey had already met the Queen and his face was known to her. This can be seen from a letter written by Carey to his father warning him to leave soon on the Queens errand, or else be replaced.7 Carey’s life within the court seems to show that he was proficient in courtly ways where he kept ‘company with the best: in all triumphs I was one; either at tilt, tourney, or barriers; in mask or balls: I kept men and horses far above my rank’.8 The world of the court in which Robert Carey sometimes lived, was full of arcane symbolic meanings where gesture, dress, and posture, often held as much meaning as the spoken word. It is therefore to his credit that he was able to live at court while also holding the qualities suitable to the Border.

Carey did allude University, but learnt instead through the gentleman’s education of the time, foreign travel. In 1578 at the early age of 17 he joined an Embassy to the United Provinces,9 and in 1582 he found himself in Paris returning from Antwerp where he had travelled as part of an embassy accompanying the brother of the King of France. Though Carey said nothing of what he did there he returned ‘very unwillingly’10 and as he spent nine months in Paris he no doubt learnt the language and much of his courtly manners.

Carey’s next trip was in 1583 when he travelled in the company of Sir Francis Walsingham,11 Ambassador of Queen Elizabeth. According to Carey’s Memoirs the King took ‘such a liking of me’ he wrote earnestly to the Queen at our return to give me leave to come back to him again’12 Carey’s introduction to King James VI meant that at an early age he had met both the Queen of England and the King of Scotland, and throughout the 1580’s he went on some 3 embassies to King James.

Carey also had experience of practical warfare as a volunteer in the Netherlands war in 1587, and against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Although Carey does talk of his enjoyment of the court, it is when he approaches adventure that his writing of his Memoirs comes to life. When talking of the Spanish Armada Carey’s enjoyment and lust for adventure can clearly be seen,

‘we made ready to follow them [the Spanish ships], where began a cruel fight, and we had such advantage, both of wind and tide, as we had a glorious day of them?’13

An event that shows something of Carey’s character occurred in the summer of 1589. He carried out a £2000 wager to walk some 334 miles from London to Berwick, enabling him to live at court some while longer. This shows that Carey was a gambling man, and a man of notable physical endurance, two attributes which would suit him to the Borders where gambling was popular, and good health essential to any active Warden.

Further insight into Carey’s character can be seen during his time serving under Essex in France in 1591. In this campaign Carey was first to captain a troop of 150 men and then a regiment, providing him with vital experience in the command of soldiers, which would certainly prove useful on the Borders. After some time Essex was commanded by the Queen to return, whereupon Sir Francis Darcy was dispatched to plead for more time, as leaving so near the time the King was to besiege Rouen, would be a great dishonour. After the fall of Gourney, Carey returned to inform the Queen, where he discovered that Darcy had been sent back with a command for Essex to return immediately. When Carey delivered a letter from Essex to the Queen.

‘She presently burst into a great rage against my Lord, and vowed she would make an example of him to all the world.’14

Carey now showed his ability as a courtier by explaining to the Queen the effect of the death of Essex’s brother, and of the dishonour her charge would have caused. For his efforts Carey received a hand written letter from the Queen to Essex, and set off to find his lord. Essex had by now set off to return to court and on seeing the Queen, against his expectations, was received with great pleasure. He stopped at court a week, till returning back to his post where he met up with Carey;

‘As soon as he saw me he drew his rapier and came running to me, and laid it on my shoulder?and said to me, when he had need of one to plead for him, he would never use any other orator than myself.’15

This then is how Robert Carey became Sir Robert Carey, Knighted by one of the Queens favourites. The fact that Carey was knighted for his oratory skills shows his ability at court, and his intervention with the Queen, must say something of his sense of loyalty.

When Carey returned to court, he stayed till 1593 at which time his brother-in-law, Lord Scrope,16 invited him to be deputy Warden of the West March. It is at this point in Carey?s life that his character can most plainly be seen, especially when he states that,

‘Thus after I had passed my best time in court, and got little, I betook myself to the country, after I was past one and thirty years old, where I lived with great content: for we had a stirring world, and few days past over my head but I was on horseback, either to prevent mischief, or to take malefactors, and to bring the border in better quit than it had been in times past.’17

Carey clearly enjoyed his life on the Borders, and his adventurous nature and the obvious thrill of the chase is evident throughout his years there. Carey now becomes more animated within his Memoirs, and while the Armada was an interlude to his court life, his court life is now merely an interlude to his Border life. As Deputy, Carey learns more of Border life and the laws that were used to govern it, and more importantly about the people who lived there. It was not long after his arrival that he faced the Grahams, one of the more notorious of the riding surnames. From intelligence given of two Scotsmen finding shelter with the Grahams, Carey took just 25 horsemen with him to capture them. On his arrival the two men ran into Netherby Tower, the Grahams stronghold, while a boy was seen riding fast from the nearby house of the Grahams. Carey was told that the boy would soon return with many more people and he should act quickly. The country was raised, and soon Carey’s band numbered some three-four hundred horse and an equal amount of foot from Carlisle. Carey sent the foot to scale the Tower and to go in through the roof, but just before the men within were about to surrender they saw some four hundred horse approaching. These would have been the Grahams and their allies coming to kill or capture Carey and his small band. This point offers a good example of the blood feuds that were rife in the Borders. Carey states that the borderers came to him and pleaded to allow them to attack, for,

‘these are they that have killed our fathers, our brothers, our uncles and our cousins, and they are come thinking to surprise you, upon weak grass nags, that we may take revenge of them for much blood that they have spilt of ours.’18

Carey managed to stay his men and prevented any blood shed, so that

‘a great many men’s lives [were] saved that day.’19

This event illustrates how easily blood could be spilt on the Borders and shows that Carey was not blood thirsty himself, although he enjoyed war, as could be seen in his exploits in France, his main aim was to uphold March Law and prevent disorder.

Carey was also independently minded and determined which can be seen in his marriage to Elizabeth, the widow of Henry Widdrington, during 1593. It seems clear, as mentioned earlier, that the Queen and many of his friends did not approve of the match. Carey, however, unusually for this period seems to have married more out of love than for wealth or station. This again gives some insight into his character and shows that he may act ruthlessly when needed, but that he did have a tender side.

After being Deputy of the West March till 1595 Carey was appointed Deputy of the East March by his father Lord Hunsdon during that year. Carey carried out his duty well and on the death of his father in 1596, held the position as Warden.20 In February 1598 the position was taken by Lord Willoughby, and later that year Carey accepted the Wardenship of the Middle March, a position which lasted about 5 years until the union of the crowns under James I in 1603. Carey’s Middle March Wardenship will be looked at in more detail when examining his effectiveness in Chapter 3, and so no more will be said here.

For the last 10 years of Queen Elizabeth’s life Carey was employed in the government of the Borders. Mares (1972) sums up Carey well when he states,

‘Carey’s physical vitality and energy, his tough, pragmatic, and self-confident mind, fitted him admirably for this life.’21

On entering the Middle March Carey already has experience of Border affairs as Deputy of the East March, and as Warden of the West March. Carey’s character does seem to suit him for the type of work a Warden had to fulfil. He not only seems to have enjoyed Border life, but his character and physical strength would make him a formidable force as Warden of the Middle March.

  1. Carey states he was 63 years old when Prince Charles went to Madrid which was in the spring of 1623, and had attained the age of about 17 when he first went on embassy with Sir Thomas Layton in 1578. Also states he had past 31 years old when he took office as deputy of the east March in 1593. []
  2. This was a revolt by the Earls of Northumberland, Westmorland, and Leonard Dacre, a former Warden of the West March who with the exception of the latter, represented the last of the Catholic nobility fighting against the new faith, and by many who were in support of Mary Queen of Scots. []
  3. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), The Memoirs of Robert Carey, p3. []
  4. Carey married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Hugh Trevannion of Caerhays, Cornwall. She had been married to Sir Henry Widdrington of Swinburne Magna, Northumberland, in June 1580. Sir Henry Widdrington died in March 1593, the same year Elizabeth married Sir Robert Carey. []
  5. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p26. []
  6. A quote from Naunton pp.46-7, in F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), []
  7. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), pp.xiv-xv. []
  8. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p7. []
  9. The government of the Netherlands provinces, presently under revolt against Spain. []
  10. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p4. []
  11. Sir Francis Walsingham (1530-90), was the Secretary of State from 1572 till his death. He was a zealous Protestant and the chief of Queen Elizabeth’s secret service. []
  12. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p5. []
  13. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p10. []
  14. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p16. []
  15. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p18. []
  16. 10th Baron Thomas Lord Scrope (1560?-1609), Warden from March 23rd 1595 till 1603, and was married to Carey’s sister Philadelphia with whom Carey appears to have enjoyed a close relationship. []
  17. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), pp.22-3. []
  18. 40 F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p24-5. []
  19. 41 F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p25. []
  20. Though the patent was not granted till November 1597 []
  21. F.H. Mares, ed., (1972), p.xx []
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