Open main menu


CAREY, ROBERT, first Earl of Monmouth (1560?–1639), seventh and youngest son of Henry Carey, first lord Hunsdon [q. v.], was born about 1580, for he states that he was ‘upon sixty-three years of age' when he followed Prince Charles to Spain in 1823 (Memoirs, p. 157). At the age of seventeen he accompanied Sir Thomas Layton in his embassy to the Netherlands, and four years later formed part of the suite sent by Elizabeth to attend the Duke of Alençon when he undertook the government of the Low Countries. In 1586, and again in the parliaments of 1588 and 1593, he represented Morpeth. In 1587 he stole sway from court with the Earl of Cumberland to take part in the attempts to relieve Sluys, and spent a few months in active military service. In the next year he served against the Spanish armada as a gentleman volunteer. It is stated by Park that Carey’s portrait was among those of the English commanders in the tapestry of the House of Lords. In Essex's expedition to Normandy in 1591, Carey commanded first a troop and then a regiment, and took part in the siege of Rouen. But it was rather as a courtier than as a soldier that he distinguished himself, although Lloyd speaks of his ‘uncourtly temper,’ and asserts that his share of the family candour prevented his success (State Worthies, p. 794). ‘I lived in court,’ says Carey, 'had small means of my friends, and yet God so blessed me that I was ever able to keep company with the best. In all triumphs I was one; either at tilt, tourney, or barriers, in masque or balls; I kept men and horses far above my rank, and so continued a long time.’ In short, as his cousin the Earl of Suffolk, afterwards told James I, ‘there was none in the queen’s court that lived in a better fashion than he did’ (Memoirs, p. 145). What most distinguished him, however, was that ‘he exceeded in making choice of what he wore to be handsome and comely.’ These characteristics recommended him to the notice and favour of James I when he attended Walsingham into Scotland (1583). ‘It pleased the king at that time to take such a liking of me,’ as he wrote earnestly to the queen at our return to give me leave to come back to him again, to attend him at his court, assuring her majesty I should not repent my attendance’ (ib. p. 7). For this reason Carey was chosen to explain to James Elizabeth's innocence of Mary's execution, but he was not allowed even to cross the border. On two subsequent occasions, however, in 1588 and 1593, he proved a more successful negotiator. Essex found Carey's skilful intercession effective with Elizabeth when all his friends in court and all her council could not move her from her resolution to recall him from Normandy (1591). For this service he knighted Carey, and told him that ‘when he had need of one to plead for him he would never use an other orator’ (ib. pp. 28–33). About 1598 Carey married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Hugh Trevannion; she appears to have been the widow of some member of the family of Widdrington. She brought him very little money, and ‘the queen was mightily offended’ with him for marrying (ib. p. 51) He regained her favour only after ‘a stormy and terrible encounter,’ by means of an ingenious excuse, a courtly device, and an important piece of service (Memoirs, pp. 51–6). For the last ten years of Elizabeth's reign Carey was employed in the government of the border, of which he gives in his 'Memoirs' a very graphic description. In the first place he was appointed by Lord Scrope deputy-warden of the west marches (1593), and after that by his father, Lord Hunsdon, deputy-warden of the east marches and captain of Norham Castle (1595). On the death of Lord Hunsdon in the summer of 1596 he succeeded to his father's post, although it was not formally granted him till 20 Nov. 1597 (Cal S. P. Dom.) In February 1598 he was superseded by Lord Willoughhy (Bertie, Five Generations of a Loyal House, p. 324), but, after a little delay, accepted the office of warden of the middle march, which he held until the accession of James I. In the parliaments of 1597–8 and 1601 he represented Northumberland (29 May 1598, April 1603, Doyle). In March 1603, Carey made a flying visit to the court, and this became a spectator of Elizabeth's last illness, which he carefully observed and described. He speedily became alarmed for his own fortunes, remembering that most of his livelihood depended on her life. At the same time he called to mind the favour with which the King of Scots had treated him, and determined to inform him at once of the queen's state. 'I did assure myself it was neither unjust nor unhonest for me to do for myself, if God at that time should call her to his mercy' (Memoirs, p. 118). Accordingly, on 19 March 1603 a messenger from Carey arrived at Edinburgh 'to give King James assurance that the queen could not outlive three days at most, and that he stayed only at court to bring them the first news of her death, and had horses placed all the way to make him speed in his post' (Correspondence of James VI with Sir Robert Cecil, Camden Society, p. 49). Elizabeth died early on the morning of the 24th, and Carey, in spite of the prohibition of the council, started about nine, and by hard riding reached Holyrood late on the 26th. His conduct in thus hastening to make profit out of the death of his kinswoman and benefactress has been deservedly censured. 'It hath set so wide a mark of ingratitude on him,' writes Weldon, 'that it will remain to posterity a greater blot than the honour he obtained afterwards will ever wipe out' (Secret History of the Court of James I, i. 314). James rewarded Carey by appointing him one of the Gentlemen of his bedchamber, but on the king's coming to England he was discharged from that post and disappointed in the promises made to him. This was probably caused by the representation addressed to the king by the council, in which Carey's conduct was stigmatised as 'contrary to such commandments as we had power to lay upon him, and to all decency, good manners, and respect' (Letter of the Council, 24 March, quoted by Orrery). Fortunately, however, Lady Carey obtained a post in the queen's household, and soon after obtained the charge of Prince Charles. Carey succeeded in selling the life government of Norham for 6,000l., his wife obtained a suit worth 5,000l., his daughter became one of the maids of honour to the Princess Elizabeth, and he himself governor of the household of Prince Charles (23 Feb. 1605). When, in 1611, that prince obtained a larger establishment, Carey, after a struggle with Sir James Fullarton, succeeded in becoming his master of the robes, remarking that, if he had skill in anything, he thought he could tell how to make good clothes. When Charles was created Prince of Wales, Carey became his chamberlain (8 March 1617, S. P. Dom., xc. 105), and at length, on 6 Feb. 1622, was created Baron of Leppington. In the following year he was appointed to follow Prince Charles to Spain, in charge of the servants sent after him by James. When Charles ascended the throne, Carey was consoled for the loss of his chamberlainship by the grant of fee farms, rents in perpetuity to the value of 500l. a year, and by being created earl of Monmouth (7 Feb. 1626). With his attainment of the height of a courtier's ambition Carey closes his 'Memoirs.' His death took place on 12 April 1639 (certificate of John Ryley, Bluemantle, Cal. S. P. Dom.) Carey's 'Memoirs' were first published in 1759 by the Earl of Cork and Orrery. Walpole, in his 'Royal and Noble Authors,' had urged their printing, and Birch had published in 1749 the portion relating to the death of Queen Elizabeth (Historical View of the Negotiations from 1592 to 1617). A fourth edition, with notes by Sir Walter Scott, was printed in 1808.

[Memoirs. ed. 1808; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park; Calendar of Domestic State Papers; Doyle's Official Baronages. The yet uncalendered portion of the Cecil Papers contains several of Carey's letters; there are others in the Border Papers in the Record Office. Lloyd gives a short notice of Carey in his State Worthies; Campion has an epigram on him; and some details with respect to his Spanish Journey may be gathered from Wynne's Brief Relation of the Journey of the Prince's Servants into Spain.]

C. H. F.