Sir George Carew

Carew, Sir George, Earl of Totnes, soldier and statesman, son of Dean Carew, was born in 1558, probably at Exeter. After studying at Oxford, he and his brother Peter came over to Ireland in 1575 under patronage of their kinsman Sir Peter Carew. After Sir Peter's death, both of the brothers are mentioned as being engaged in the Irish wars. They appear as captains of a company of Devon and Cornishmen that landed at Waterford in 1579, and were afterwards appointed to keep the Castle of Adare, where they were besieged by the Earl of Desmond. Peter was slain in a sally, 25th August 1580. In a letter to Walsingham, three months afterwards, George is able to boast that "Hope of revenge did . . breed me comfort: . . it hath been my good hap to kill him that slew my brother." On midsummer eve of 1583, being in Dublin with his company, and hearing that one O'Nasye, a follower of the Cavenaghs. who was in town on Government business (having brought in prisoner Walter Eustace, brother of Viscount Baltinglass) and with a Government safe conduct, had boasted that he was concerned in his brother's death (in battle), George sallied forth and stabbed him mortally. Although, in answer to the representations of the Lords-Justices, Walsingham admitted, "George Carew hath lately committed a very foul act, able to make the Irishmen to enter into an hatred of us, trusting us in nothing, and thinking that there is treachery in any fair promises made unto them," it does not appear to have interfered with his advancement, and by the spring of 1586 we find him knighted and sent on a private mission to Elizabeth by Sir John Perrot. He had already acquired large estates in Ireland.

In February 1588 he was appointed Master of the Ordnance, and returned to Ireland; and in 1590 was admitted to the Privy Council. In 1592 he was Lieutenant-General of the English Ordnance, and in 1596 and '97 he was engaged with Essex and Raleigh in expeditions against Spain; in March 1599 he was appointed to attend the Earl of Essex to Ireland; and on 27th January 1600 he was made President of Munster. His proceedings for the next three years are carefully detailed in Pacata Hibernia, nominally written by Thomas Stafford, but inspired by himself. Of the proceedings detailed in the early part of the work, perhaps the capture of Glin Castle is the most interesting. By his vigour and decision he succeeded in completely crushing within a short space of time the insurrection in the south of Ireland. He was somewhat regardless of the means by which he effected the pacification of the country, and on more than one occasion negotiated for the assassination of Irish leaders, or as it was then termed, he "drew a draft" upon them. When he had settled matters in the south, the civil administration claimed much of his attention, and we find detailed particulars concerning a new Irish coinage.

On 1st October 1601, a large Spanish force under Don Juan d'Aguila, in forty-four vessels, appeared off the south of Ireland, and occupied Kinsale, the vessels returning for additional troops and supplies. The whole south again rose in arms, and O'Neill and O'Donnell hastened to effect a juncture with Don Juan. Carew immediately marched south with a comparatively small force, and blockaded Kinsale. Troops were rapidly sent to him from England, and on 24th December, in conjunction with Lord Mountjoy, he routed the allies, and Don Juan was shortly afterwards obliged to capitulate and return to Spain. Dunboy Castle bravely held out until the 18th June 1602, when Carew, after a regular siege, took it by assault, putting the garrison to the sword. Extraordinary devotion was shown by the besieged under MacGeoghegan, who held the place for O'Sullivan Beare, and who perished in the final assault. Carew says: " The whole number of the ward consisted of one hundred and fortie three selected fighting men, being the best choice of all their forces, of the which no man escaped but were either slain, executed, or buried in the ruines, and so obstinate and resolved a defence had not been seen within this Kingdome." Captain Tyrrill and twelve men were respited in the expectation that they would consent to purchase their lives by doing "acceptable service" in betraying others of their countrymen, but indignantly refusing these terms they were all executed a few hours afterwards. The siege of Dunboy, as related in Pacata Hibernia, is one of the saddest and most picturesque incidents in Irish history.

The end of the war found the country in a deplorable condition of ruin and depopulation. Carew and the other English leaders, and their Irish allies, profited largely by the confiscations that ensued. He returned to England in March 1602-'3 at the earnest request of his friend Cecil. Carew stood in as high favour with James as with Elizabeth, and in the Irish Patent Rolls are recorded the numerous grants bestowed on him from time to time. In 1605 he was created Baron Carew, and was made Governor of Guernsey. In 1611 he was despatched to Ireland as head of the commission for the plantation of Ulster. His correspondence with Sir Thomas Roe, English ambassador to the Great Mogul, extending from 1615 to 1625, contains summaries of news that are of the greatest value to the historian. At the funeral of King James he was attacked by palsy, which proved nearly fatal. The favour which followed him through the reigns of Elizabeth and James continued unabated under Charles I., by whom he was created Earl of Totnes. Much of the leisure of the last years of his life was spent in arranging with indefatigable industry his invaluable collection of papers connected with the history of Ireland, now in Lambeth Palace, in thirty-nine volumes, besides four volumes in the Bodleian Library. Brewer's Calendar, in 6 vols. 8vo., is perhaps the richest store of Irish historical materials connected with the time. Cox drew largely upon them in his history.

Carew died at the Savoy, London, 27th March 1629, aged about 72, and was buried at Stratford-upon-Avon. He left one daughter. His Countess survived him many years. His letters and other manuscripts belonging to Ireland, he left to his natural son, Sir Thomas Stafford. [It may be said that a communication in Notes and Queries, 3rd Series, throws some doubt upon this relationship.] Carew's portrait, prefixed to Pacata Hibernia, is eminently pleasing.


69. Carew Manuscripts, Calendar. 4 vols. London, 1869-'73.

222. MacCarthy Mor, Memoirs: Daniel MacCarthy. London, 1867.

254. Notes and Queries (3). London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

275. Pacata Hibernia: Thomas Stafford. London, 1633.