CAREY, George (c.1541-1616), of Cockington, Devon.

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.1541, 1st s. of Thomas Carey of Cockington by Mary, da. of John Southcote, of Bovey Tracey. educ. I. Temple 1558. m. (1) c.1561, Wilmot, da. and h. of John Gifford of Yeo, div. w. of John Bury of Colyton, 2s. 2da.; (2) Lettice, da. of Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich, by Lady Penelope Devereux, da. of Walter, 1st Earl of Essex, s.p. suc. fa. 1567. Kntd. 1598.

Offices Held

Capt., Devon musters by 1572; j.p. Devon from c.1579, dep. lt. from 1587; recorder, Totnes 1598; v.-treasurer and rec.-gen. [I] 15 Mar. 1599, treasurer 1599, ld. justice 24 Sept. 1599, ld. deputy May 1603-16 July 1604.1


By 1572 Carey had taken his place in local affairs. In 1579 a Privy Council order to Vice-Admiral Sir John Gilbert suggested that local justices and ‘principally Mr. Carey of Cockington’ should assist him in suppressing piracy. Carey was known by the Council to be ‘a gentleman of ability and discretion’. He was twice—in 1589 and 1597—appointed collector of the loan in Devon. On the second occasion he found that ‘many of those that did lend last ... are now in decay’, and others of ‘the better sort’ would not pay. His interest in completing the Dover defences, to which he was appointed in 1584, is reflected in his letters to Walsingham, and in his membership, in the 1589 Parliament, of the committee dealing with bills on the Dover and Hartlepool haven repairs.2

Carey was a natural choice for Parliament, first for a borough in 1586, and next—when George Carey of Clovelly was sheriff of Devon—as junior knight of the shire. At this time Carey was involved in a dispute with Sir John Gilbert, which had begun in a disagreement about the disposal of prisoners and booty taken from a captured Armada galleon, and was still continuing in 1592, when Gilbert remarked to Sir Robert Cecil that he ‘did not refuse all service eight years together upon spleen, as Mr. Carey did, because he could not have his will’. In the same year Carey put a bill into Star Chamber against two speculators in concealed lands. On the other hand, Carey invested money in voyages undertaken by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Thomas Cavendish.3

Along with Sir William Courtenay I, his fellow-MP in 1589, Carey was accused by the young lord lieutenant of Devon, the Earl of Bath, of taking sides with the Chichesters and Pollards against him. Bath wrote to Burghley in November 1592: ‘So it is, my good lord, that not long since one Mr. Carey of Cockington (I know not for what drift unless it were to strengthen himself by weakening of me), made variance between me and my wife’. Carey and Courtenay, he said, were ‘relying upon my wife’s favour and her friends, whose credit is great in the court and this it is that makes them presume so much, which I speak to my great grief’.4

Carey was regularly consulted by the ruling group of burgesses at Totnes during their disputes with the common citizens in the 1590s, and when, after the new Totnes charter of incorporation was granted in 1596, trouble persisted between the two factions, he displaced Richard Sparry, who had remained neutral, from the recordership of the town. Carey looked after the interests of the new town rulers for many years, writing letters on their behalf when he was unable to do more because of his absence in Ireland, and more than once receiving the thanks of the corporation. In 1602 he arranged his daughter’s marriage with Richard Edgecombe II, and the high regard the town had for Carey may have strengthened Edgecombe’s position when he later asserted a claim to patronage there. Carey left the everyday legal work to a deputy recorder.5

It is not clear when Carey first became friendly with the 2nd Earl of Essex, though the Earl was supporting an application of his in 1596 and they were both concerned in collecting and spending the loan in the following year. In 1598 Carey wrote to Essex excusing himself for abandoning his regiment, which had just gone to Ireland. The next year both Carey and his son George followed Essex to Ireland, where the son was knighted shortly before he died there.6

The terms of Carey’s appointment to be treasurer in Ireland in 1599 mentioned that he was to hold two other posts in addition ‘which, though they be in all places distinct and in their true natures not very convenient to be all in one hand, yet in regard of the great trust we have in you, we are pleased they shall so continue’. Isaac Oliver’s miniature of him bears the motto ‘free from all filthy fraud’. He became a close friend of Charles Blount, 8th Lord Mountjoy, whose step-daughter Lettice Rich he later married. When Carey asked to be allowed to visit Devon in 1600 Mountjoy wrote: ‘I find a great comfort in your care which I fear we shall miss when you are gone’. Later Carey wrote to Mountjoy, ‘I pray for you and wish the clog and burden of accounts was off my shoulders, and that I could serve the Queen in England in the meanest service’. However, he was to stay in Ireland first as Mountjoy’s deputy and then as the King’s. ‘If his Majesty give away so bountifully as of late his Highness hath done’, he wrote about King James, ‘I shall not be much troubled with the gathering of the revenue’. In 1602 Carey paid £2,000 towards the debts of Peter and Richard Edgecombe when his daughter Anne married the latter. While he was in Ireland he maintained his connexions with Devon, retaining the office of deputy lieutenant until 1616, when Amias Bampfield, who had served under him in musters at Dawlish, was appointed in his room on the ground of his age and infirmity.7

Carey made his will in 1614, leaving £100 to the poor of Cockington and elsewhere. Although his father and brother were Catholics, his own distaste is obvious for the ‘jesuits, seminaries, friars, massing priests and Romish bishops’, of which he found a ‘wicked rabble’ in Ireland. The preamble to his will states that he was ‘nothing doubting’ that his soul would be received ‘in the company of the heavenly angels and blessed saints’. He required ‘a decent and comely monument’ to be erected. He died 15 Feb. 1616, and was buried at Cockington. His inquisition post mortem names as his heir his brother Richard, then aged over 70.8

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler


This biography is based upon the Roberts thesis and F. Harrison, The Devon Carys.

  • 1. C142/147/206; Vis. Devon, ed. Vivian, 151; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 513; APC, xiv. 379, 380; Totnes recs. grant 16 Apr. 1598; CSP Ire. 1598-9, p. 494; 1601-3, p. 611; 1603-6, pp. 96, 183.
  • 2. APC, xi. 147; xiv. 379-80; HMC Hatfield, vii. 471, 482; Devon quarter sess. order bk. 1592-1600, f. 218; D’Ewes, 437.
  • 3. Harl. 186, f. 172; HMC Hatfield, iv. passim; St. Ch. 5/C63/34; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 331; E. St. J. Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton, 222; Voyages of Sir H. Gilbert, ed. Quinn (Hak. Soc. lxxxiv), 332; A. H. Markham, John Davis (Hak. Soc. lix), 116.
  • 4. Lansd. 71, f. 79.
  • 5. Totnes recs. grant 16 Apr. 1598; letters 31 May 1600, 12 Aug. 1600; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 16.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vi. 248; viii. 374.
  • 7. Vis. Devon, 151; W. Harding, Hist. Tiverton, iii. 48; Devon RO, Tingey 1459.
  • 8. Western Antiq. x. 13; C142/366/195.