CAREY, Robert (c.1560-1639), of Moor Park, Herts. and Seppenstone, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. c.1560, 10th and yst. s. of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, by Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Morgan of Arkestone, Herefs.; bro. of Edmund, Sir George, Henry, John and William. m. 20 Aug. 1593, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Hugh Trevanion of Cornw., wid. of Sir Henry Widdrington, 2s. 1da. Kntd. 1591. cr. Baron Carey 1622; Earl of Monmouth 1626.

Offices Held

Member of Sir Thomas Layton’s embassy to Netherlands 1577; envoy to Duke of Alençon in Netherlands 1581, to Scotland 1583, 1588, 1593; dep. warden of west march 1593; j.p. Northumb. from c.1596, q. Northumb. and co. Dur. 1601; dep. warden of east march and capt. of Norham castle 1595; warden of east and west marches 1596-8, of middle march and custos rot. Northumb. 1601-3; gent. of bedchamber Mar.-May 1603, of privy chamber May 1603, of Household 1605; master of robes to Prince Charles 1611-17; chamberlain to the Prince 1617-25; gent. of bedchamber to King Charles 1625; ld. lt. Staffs. 1627-8; member of council in the north 1628; capt. of Tynemouth castle.2


As the youngest son of a large family, and without ‘ability to profit much’ from the tutors his father provided, Carey had to make his way in a competitive society. He entered public life early, taking part in an embassy to the Netherlands when he was only about 17. On his return he threw himself with zest into the life of the court, where he soon became a well-known figure, early gaining the Queen’s favour, and earning her gratitude in 1587 by persuading the Earl of Essex not to join the expedition to Sluys. Having prevailed on the Earl to return, Carey himself hurried off to the Netherlands. When Elizabeth, after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, wished to send an envoy to pacify James VI, she chose Carey, no doubt remembering the favourable impression he had made on the King during a visit to Scotland in 1583. Though James refused to allow him to go further than Berwick, Carey later made two official visits to Scotland, and by 1595 was on good terms with the King. When he became captain of Norham castle in that year, his brother John, who had expected the office, wrote angrily to Burghley that Robert had gained it by unfair means, adding significantly ‘It seems by Sir Robert’s earnest seeking of this, he desires to be near Scotland’. After serving against the Armada at sea under the 3rd Earl of Cumberland, Carey fell sick at Tilbury, and was carried on a litter to London. By this time he was heavily in debt, and in 1589 he accepted a wager to walk from London to Berwick in twelve days: he won a much-needed £2,000 which, he wrote, ‘bettered me to live at court a good while after’. Two years later he joined Essex’s expedition to France, and when Elizabeth ordered the Earl to return, was sent to persuade her to change her mind. Having succeeded in his mission he went back to France, and the Memoirs give a vivid picture of Essex running to meet him and laying a rapier on his shoulder in token of knighthood.3

After another eighteen months of court life, during which the Queen him £1,000 towards paying his debts, Carey went to the Scottish border, where his brother-in-law Thomas Scrope, 10th Lord Scrope, gained for him the deputy wardenship of the west march. His marriage not long afterwards offended the Queen, and for a time he saw no hope of reconciliation. However, the gambler’s instinct came to his aid: he hurried south and spent £400 on a magnificent present for Elizabeth and on his equipment as a ‘forsaken ... solitary knight’ for a tournament at court. The Queen forgave him, and for the rest of the reign he did valuable service on the border. From time to time he spent several weeks or months in the south, but he seems to have enjoyed the rough active life of the marches, and a large section of his Memoirs is devoted to this period. Except in 1593, when for no obvious reason he chose to sit for Callington, though returned also (for the third time) for Morpeth, presumably through his father’s influence, his whole Elizabethan parliamentary career was bound up with the border country where his family was so influential. By 1597 he was important enough in Northumberland to gain a county seat. One of the two committees on which his name is mentioned in the journals was in this Parliament — for a bill about the export of sheepskins and pelts, an important item of north country trade (26 Nov.). As knight of the shire in 1597 he was entitled to attend committees on enclosures (5 Nov.), the poor law (5, 22 Nov.), armour and weapons (8 Nov.), monopolies (10 Nov.) and the subsidy (15 Nov.). In 1601 he was appointed to a committee concerning the penal laws on 2 Nov., and, as knight of the shire, had the opportunity of serving on committees dealing with order of business (3 Nov.), monopolies (23 Nov.), defence (3 Dec.) and regulating the local government of the northern counties (14 Dec.).4

Towards the end of September 1602, Carey asked Robert Cecil for permission to leave his post, where he reported that all was quiet. ‘I have great need to be in London next term’, he wrote, adding that he had a desire to see the Queen and to be among his friends at least once a year. It is not known whether he came to London before the end of 1602, but he was certainly at court by the beginning of March in the following year, when Elizabeth received him in audience, sitting listlessly on her cushions in one of the withdrawing chambers. Nothing he could say would rouse her, and she shook his hand saying, ‘No, Robin, I am not well’. He left her in the same position, apparently only half conscious of her surroundings. Having persuaded his sister-in-law Lady Scrope, a lady-in-waiting, to inform him immediately Elizabeth died, he dragged his brother, Sir George (now Lord) Hunsdon, out of bed between 2 and 3 o’clock on the morning of 24 Mar. to let him out of Richmond Palace, the gates of which had been closed by order of the Council. In spite of a fall from his horse he reached Holyrood on the evening of the 26th, arriving before the official Privy Council messenger. The Council’s view that this was ‘contrary to all decency, good manners and respect’, apparently induced James, who on Carey’s arrival in Scotland had created him a gentleman of the bedchamber, to suspend him from office; but he was soon back in favour, and when his wife was given charge of Charles, Duke of York, he began a close association with the Prince which led to a number of Household offices, and finally to an earldom. He died on 12 Apr. 1639 at Moor Park, Hertfordshire, and was buried at Rickmansworth, not in Westminster abbey as he had asked in his will.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Folger V. b. 298.
  • 2. DNB; CP; Mems. Sir Robert Carey, 33, 157.
  • 3. Mems. passim; Border Pprs. 1560-94, p. 247; 1595-1603, p. 21; Lansd. 56, f. 161; 149, f. 49 seq.
  • 4. D’Ewes, 552, 553, 555, 557, 561, 564, 623, 624, 649, 657, 665, 685.
  • 5. Border Pprs. 1595-1603, p. 798; Mems.; Corresp. Jas. VI with Cecil (Cam. Soc. lxxviii), p. lii; PCC 97 Harvey.