RALEGH, Carew (c.1550-1626), of Downton, Wilts.

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.1550, 3rd s. (1st by 3rd w.) of Walter Ralegh of Fardel, Devon, by Katherine, da. of Philip Champernown of Modbury, Devon, wid. of Otho Gilbert; bro. of Walter Ralegh and half-bro. of Adrian and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. m. aft. 1580, Dorothy (d.1616), da. of Sir William Wroughton of Broad Hinton, wid. of Sir John Thynne of Longleat, 3s. 1da. Kntd. 1601.

Offices Held

Gent. of the horse to Sir John Thynne bef. 1580; lt. of Portland castle 6 July 1584-1625; keeper (with his bro. Walter) of Mere park, Wilts. 1586, and of Gillingham park, Dorset; dep. warden of the stannaries by 1588; master of St. John’s hospital, Wilton 1589 or 1590; dep. lt. Devon in or bef. 1596; v.-adm. Dorset 1597; j.p.q. Dorset, Wilts. from c.1583.1


When Carew Ralegh came to submit his pedigree to the heralds in 1623 he described his father, and three earlier progenitors, as of Fardel (or Fardle, the spelling varies), Devon. In this he was legally correct, since his father remained the owner of the family residence until his death in 1581. Long before that, however, Walter Ralegh had ceased to live there, being driven by the family’s failing fortunes to settle in Exeter; he leased the ‘barton’ or farmhouse (which still stands) at Hayes in East Budleigh and it was there that he raised his third family. Of these children Carew, named after his maternal grandmother, was the eldest; but he had two Ralegh and three Gilbert half-brothers as well as an elder sister. Brought up in relative obscurity but conscious of belonging to one of the oldest families in Devon, Carew Ralegh had to make his way by his own ability and exertion. His mother, through whom he was allied with the gentry of the shire, must have had exceptional talents to transmit, since all five of her sons were to distinguish themselves. Carew’s three Gilbert half-brothers influenced his young manhood, while his brother Walter remained a life-long friend. It is perhaps a measure of the elderly father’s anxiety for the fortunes of his two youngest sons that he caused Carew and Walter, then both children, to be associated with him in the lease of the tithes of fish at Sidmouth in 1560. While much is known of the progress of the younger boy, it can only be surmised that Carew, who unlike Walter did not go to either university or inn of court, sought adventure early, perhaps serving in France under his cousin Henry Champernown before being taken by Sir Humphrey Gilbert on his first expedition of discovery in 1578, an enterprise which daunted Ralegh so little by its failure that four years later he was one of those who ‘adventured’ with Gilbert in money or commodities. He continued to serve at sea, and in 1585 his name appears, with those of Walter and his two Ralegh half-brothers, on a list of captains drawn up under the threat of war with Spain. By this time he was beginning to reap the advantage of the Queen’s partiality to Walter, sharing with him the keepership of two parks and being made his deputy warden at the stannaries. He commanded Portland castle at the coming of the Armada—when it was grudgingly supplied by the Privy Council with guns out of a Spanish galleon—continued to oversee its armament, and remained its lieutenant until within a year of his death.2

The ’nineties offered greater prizes than those accruing from office, and Carew engaged in privateering expeditions, usually with Walter, during these years of opportunity. The Crown co-operated, but on its own conditions. In 1591 the Raleghs’ fleet was augmented by four of the Queen’s ships, but in the following May the Privy Council ordered Carew to give up prize goods for fear of reprisals from France. No Ralegh gave up winnings easily: by September their lordships were pointing out that, despite ‘our often letters to you’, he had failed to comply with their demand. Carew was more fortunate in receiving money from the sale of prizes at Bayonne in June 1592, and in September he was one of three to whom the customer of London was ordered to give access to the sugar and other merchandise captured in a French ship by a vessel which he had ‘set’ to sea. In the following month, however, he and Sir John Gilbert were again in trouble with the Privy Council, this time over ships of Amsterdam and Middelburg taken by two of their subordinates. His largest windfall came in January 1593 when he was awarded £900 of the £1,000 he claimed as his share of the Madre de Dios, the carrack brought in by the galleon Ralegh. As late as January 1602 he was delivered prize goods by the customer of Weymouth. Like other privateers Carew was not allowed to forget national needs. In September 1596 the Privy Council ordered him to hand over a piece of brass ordnance which he had taken out of a flyboat bringing guns from Calais. In 1594 he was employed in the provisioning of Brest, and three years later he was made vice-admiral of Dorset.3

Some time before the death of Sir John Thynne in 1580 Ralegh had become his gentleman of the horse, and within a year or two he married Thynne’s widow. It is usually said that on his marriage Ralegh sold his Devon lands and set himself up at Downton House in Wiltshire; but both statements probably antedate the changes in question. Ralegh’s father died in 1581, but the eldest son of the first marriage survived until 1597 as the owner of Fardel and Withycombe Raleigh, while the other two family manors had been settled on the widow, who lived until 1594. By the 1580s Carew was certainly in process of transferring his attachment to Wiltshire—in 1582 he was a j.p. in that county, and two years later he was to represent it in Parliament—but not immediately to the exclusion of interests and duties in the west country. His wife’s connexions in Wiltshire, both in her own right as a Wroughton and through the Thynnes, could bring him influence there, but the obscure nature of her first husband’s will makes it difficult to assess the material inducements Lady Thynne’s second husband might have had to offer the electorate. She was left well-dowered with plate and livestock, but there is no mention of a house for her; since the stock was at Corsley, where she also held the tithes, this may have been the house which Ralegh repaired to in the ’eighties. How soon he acquired one of his own is uncertain. Downton rectory had been leased by Winchester College to Thomas Wilkes in 1581 for 40 years, but with a clause against sub-letting. Wilkes lived until 1598, but as he spent his closing years, when in England, at Rickmansworth, he may have sold the lease to Ralegh or his executor may have done so. By 1598 Ralegh was well placed to make the transfer, and his disposal of his Devon patrimony may thus have coincided with his establishment at Downton. He is found writing from Downton from January 1601; he soon acquired many burgage tenements in the borough; and either he or his son Gilbert was returned for it in 1604, 1614 and 1621.4

Ralegh’s earlier elections for Ludgershall and Fowey had been equally in keeping with his position in those years, for Ludgershall returned many parliamentary aspirants with slender local claims and Fowey knew him as deputy warden of the stannaries to his brother, the warden. What is less easy to explain is his securing the knighthood of the shire in 1584 (as such he could have attended the subsidy committee 24 Feb. 1585) and 1586. Even allowing for the Longleat connexion and for the fact that his half-brother Adrian Gilbert was a frequent visitor at Wilton, we are tempted to seek some other explanation of Ralegh’s achievement and to find it in Sir Walter’s credit with the Queen. Conversely, when in the ’nineties the favourite suffered eclipse, Carew missed two consecutive Parliaments for the only time in his career. His name occurs seldom in the journals of the House. When, on 25 Mar. 1585 the Commons discussed as a matter of privilege the arrest of his servant, it was observed that ‘his master came not at the Parliament House all the latter session, but was in the country’. The anonymous journal for this Parliament has two other references to him (unless these are to Walter), one; ‘we come not hither to make laws after the Lacedaemonians or Romans but to make Christian laws’; the other reporting that he thought that bishops should support any ministers they had made ‘until they be in places’. In 1601 he was appointed to the committee discussing the reform of the penal laws (2 Nov.). The man whom D’Ewes notes as speaking on 2 Dec. on the bill for the more diligent resort to church on Sundays was not Ralegh but Carew Reynell.5

For all that Carew Ralegh has been described as ‘mean and acquisitive’, he was not without personal charm. He had ‘a delicate clear voice’ and could accompany himself ‘skilfully on the olpharion’; he may also have tried his hand at verse. He was associated with his brother and his Gilbert half-brothers in those speculative discussions which earned the group the title of ‘Rawley’s Atheistical Academy’ and brought its members before the Privy Council in 1593 to answer for their religious opinions. In speculation, as in their other joint pursuits, Carew was probably less wholehearted than Sir Walter, for his only recorded utterance among these intimates is the laconic inquiry, ‘Soul, what is that?’ Perhaps Queen Elizabeth’s judgment of him, ‘Good Mr. Ralegh, who wonders at his own diligence (because diligence and he are not familiars)’, holds the clue to Carew Ralegh’s career, which reached its peak, in terms of public recognition, by the time he was 50, and that chiefly through the impetus of his brother’s larger ambitions and superior driving power. His personal aspirations appear to have been solid rather than splendid, local rather than general; the knighthood conferred at Basing House honoured a country gentleman, not a national hero. Although he did not desert his brother in prison, he survived Sir Walter’s fall, to carry on the life that he had chosen, as little concerned by James I as James was concerned with him.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Muriel Booth


  • 1. DNB; Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv, cvi), 160; Trans. Dev. Assoc. xxviii. 273-90; Hoare, Wilts. Downton, 29, 30; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxix. 242; Lansd. 100, f. 221; APC, xvi. 149; xxvii. 38.
  • 2. Trans. Dev. Assoc.; A. L. Rowse, Ralegh and the Throckmortons, 129-31; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 192; APC, xvi. 204, 259, 309; xxvi. 316.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1591-4, pp. 15, 231; APC, xxii. 496-7; xxiii. 165, 170, 210, 238; xxvi. 188; xxvii. 38; Lansd. 72, f. 40; HMC Hatfield, iv. 563; xii. 17.
  • 4. M. J. G. Stanford, ‘Hist. Ralegh Fam.’ (London Univ. MA thesis 1955), 341-2; PCC 44 Arundel; Hoare, loc. cit. 32-5; HMC Hatfield, xi. 14.
  • 5. VCH Wilts. vi. 6; D’Ewes, 623, 651, 663; Lansd. 43, anon. jnl., f. 171; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl.
  • 6. Rowse, 130, 176-7; DNB; Wilts. N. and Q. v. 501; Lansd. 85, f. 37; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 193; xvii. 601.