CARLETON, Thomas, of Carleton, Cumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
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Family and Education

Offices Held


This Member was one of two men, father and son, both of Carleton, Cumberland. The father was:

b. 1547, 1st s. of Thomas Carleton of Carleton Hall by Mabel Carlisle alias Graham of Carlisle. m. (1) Barbara, da. of Hugh Lowther of Lowther, Cumb. by Dorothy, da. of Henry, Lord Clifford, 2s. 1da.; (2) a da. of George Graham. suc. fa. 1586.1

Land serjeant of barony of Gilsland 1580-d.; j.p. Cumb. from c.1569, rem. 1587; constable of Carlisle castle by 1592.2

Carleton’s offices gave him considerable power and prestige, both of which, according to his many enemies, he abused. Charges of inefficiency, corruption, and of conniving with Scottish border raiders, particularly his kinsmen, the Grahams, became frequent when the barony of Gilsland passed from the Howards to the Crown. Although reputedly a follower of the Howards, Carleton survived their dispossession by the Queen, much to the annoyance of his enemies. His greatest enemy was his superior, the warden of the west march, Lord Scrope. How and when their feud began is uncertain. Perhaps Carleton’s removal from the commission of the peace in 1587 was the first blow in a battle which, by the middle of the 90s, had split the west border gentry into rival camps, ‘the disquiet of the country’, as Burghley described the state of affairs. On the Carleton side were the Grahams and the Lowthers, while Scrope was supported principally by the Musgraves and men like Edward Aglionby.3

Of the many charges brought by Scrope against Carleton, the most serious involved him in Buccleuch’s famous rescue from Carlisle castle of the notorious border raider William Armstrong, early in 1596. Perhaps to offset the disgrace of a successful attack on his castle, Scrope accused Carleton, the Lowthers and Grahams, of treasonable complicity with the raiders. Such an accusation could not be ignored, and in May 1597 the bishop of Durham and other border commissioners held an inquiry. Evidence was heard which implicated Carleton, but the commissioners agreed to leave the matter to ‘higher wisdoms and truth’. Scrope continued to press his charges strongly: too strongly, as it proved, for his eagerness prejudiced his case. The bishop of Durham suspected his motives, and the council shared his opinion. When the case was brought before them, the councillors accepted a formal submission from the accused, clearly preferring a ‘political’ settlement to a full inquiry, which might further exacerbate conditions in the west march. The feud itself did not die out immediately, but much of its force was lost when Carleton was shot through the head in a border foray, 4 July 1598.4

An important feature of Carleton’s feud with Scrope was his association with Lord Eure, the warden of the middle march. One of Eure’s first acts as warden was to put Carleton’s name forward for consideration as a border commissioner. In August 1596 he gave Carleton a letter of recommendation to Burghley when he visited him to lodge complaints against Scrope. Three months later, Carleton brought the two wardens into open conflict by delivering a prisoner to Eure instead of Scrope, who protested bitterly to Burghley, accusing his fellow warden of supporting Carleton and, later, of sheltering him in his wardenry. Carleton made his position clear in a conversation with Eure’s deputy, Mansfield. He intended, he admitted, to displace Scrope, using Lord Eure ‘as a mean for the purpose’. Nothing, of course, came of this, but one fruit of his association with Eure may have been either his or his son’s return to Parliament for Morpeth.5

The younger Thomas Carleton was:

b. 1568, 1st s. of Thomas Carleton above by his 1st w. educ. I. Temple 1586, called 1595. m. Elizabeth, da. of John Shelley of Woodborough, Notts., wid. of Marmaduke Constable, s.p. suc. fa. 1598. Kntd. 1630.

J.p., dep. lt. Cumb. temp. Jas. I, loan commr. 1626.

In contrast to his father, Carleton avoided border politics and lived quietly on his estates. Perhaps his wife’s blindness was a factor. He certainly obtained exemption from serving as sheriff in 1631 on this ground, the secretary, Dorchester, using his influence so that she should be spared the ‘trouble and thankless charge of entertaining the judges’. Carleton died 11 May 1639 and was succeeded by his nephew William.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: B.D.


  • 1. Border Pprs. ii. 476; Jefferson, Hist. Cumb. i. 97-8; Nicolson and Burn, Hist. Cumb. ii. 404.
  • 2. Lansd. 52, f. 122; Border Pprs. i. 395; ii. 554.
  • 3. Border Pprs. passim; CSP Scot. x. 490; xii. 553; Lansd. 121, f. 71.
  • 4. Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. Soc. n.s. xiv. 141-2; Border Pprs. ii. 122, 477, 546-7 et passim; CSP Scot. xii. 509, 548; APC, xxvi. 470-1; xxvii. 4 et passim; xxviii. 105-6, HMC Hatfield, vii. 319.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, vii. 88-9; Border Pprs. ii. 85 et passim; CSP Scot. xii. 499, 548.
  • 6. Jefferson, loc. cit.; CSP Dom. 1528-9, p. 461; 1631-3, p. 144; Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. Soc. tract ser. ii. 167, 168; C142/778/99.