Authors: Thomas Carew

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Poems, 1640, 1642

Poems, with a Maske, by Thomas Carew Esquire, 1651

Poems, Songs and Sonnets, Together with a Masque, 1671

The Poems of Thomas Carew with His Masque, 1949 (Rhodes Dunlap, editor)


Coelum Britannicum, pr. 1634 (masque)


Thomas Carew (kuh-REW) belongs to the group of young courtier poets who gathered around Charles I during the first decade of his reign. Carew’s family belonged to the minor nobility and the increasingly powerful merchant class; his father, Sir Matthew Carew, was a well-known lawyer knighted by James I in 1603, and his mother was the daughter of a lord mayor of London. Almost nothing is known of the poet’s early childhood. In 1608 he entered Merton College, Oxford; his bachelor’s degree was granted three years later. He apparently intended to follow his father’s profession, for he entered the Middle Temple to begin his legal training in 1612. During his few months at the Inns of Court he undoubtedly enjoyed the company of the numerous wealthy young men who made their study an excuse for expensive amusements in London. However, his father’s financial reverses soon made it necessary for him to take a position as secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton, the ambassador to Venice.{$I[AN]9810000591}{$I[A]Carew, Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Carew, Thomas}{$I[tim]1594;Carew, Thomas}

Because much of Carleton’s correspondence has survived among the English state papers, Carew’s career is well documented. The young man spent a year and a half in Italy with his employer, learning Italian and reading poetry and philosophy. He went to The Hague when Carleton was named ambassador to the Netherlands in 1616, but he lost his position that summer when a paper on which he had written insulting remarks about the Carletons was discovered. Carleton tried to shield Sir Matthew, who was his wife’s uncle, from the knowledge of his son’s folly and ingratitude and simply sent Thomas home. Sir Matthew begged Carleton to take his son back, and the ambassador finally had to reveal the truth. A succession of letters from Sir Matthew to Carleton shows the young poet leading a life of dissipation, apparently unconcerned about his failure to find a new position. He was among the most elegantly and extravagantly dressed attendants when Charles was made Prince of Wales in 1616.

After his father’s death in 1618, Carew went to Paris as undersecretary to Lord Herbert of Cherburg, ambassador to France. During the next decade he was at court, writing witty lyrics and becoming acquainted with many of the poets of his time, among them Sir John Suckling, Aurelian Townshend, Sir William Davenant, and Thomas Killigrew. He won the patronage of Christopher Villiers, Earl of Anglesey, whose sole distinction was that he was the brother of the powerful favorite of James and Charles, the duke of Buckingham.

In 1630 Carew was named a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and he apparently served his king well for the next nine years. His Coelum Britannicum, one of the most elegant masques of the age, was presented by the king and his courtiers at Whitehall in 1634.

Carew mingled little in political affairs, preferring to pass his time living elegantly and writing the slight but graceful lyrics for which he is remembered. Musical and often witty, Carew’s poems reflected the society in which their author moved. There is a suggestion that he repented his pleasure-seeking existence during a serious illness, but his conversion was short-lived. John Hales, who had heard Carew’s first “deathbed” confession and watched his subsequent activities, refused to grant the poet absolution when he really was dying a few years later. Carew went to Scotland with King Charles’s army in 1639. Perhaps weakened by the hardships of the military expedition, he died a few months afterward in London, in March, 1640.

BibliographyBenet, Diana. “Carew’s Monarchy of Wit.” In “The Muses’ Common-Weale”: Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. Argues that Carew, using the absolutist rhetoric of James and Charles, consciously constructs a realm of wit in which the writer reigns supreme. Shows the problems faced by writers in the Stuarts’ attempts to limit free speech.Corns, Thomas N., ed. The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Presents a brief but balanced biography of Thomas Carew and an analysis of his work.Parker, Michael P. “‘To my friend G. N. from Wrest’: Carew’s Secular Masque.” In Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982. Surveys the seventeenth century genre of the country-house poem and places Carew’s piece as the turning point between Jonson’s “To Penshurst” and Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House.” Supplies information about Wrest and its owners, which was for many years obscured through historical error. Shows how the structure of the poem owes much to the masque tradition.Sadler, Lynn. Thomas Carew. Boston: Twayne, 1979. This critical biography presents a straightforward introduction to Carew’s life, times, and works. Covers his entire output, emphasizing the better-known lyrics at the expense of the country-house poems and Carew’s masque. Perhaps the most accessible single work on Carew for the general reader. Includes a well-selected bibliography with annotations.Selig, Edward I. The Flourishing Wreath. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1970. The first full-length serious study of Carew’s verse, this remains the most thorough attempt to justify Carew’s fame in his own time. Selig’s chapter on the poet’s song lyrics is still valuable; he points out that a third of Carew’s poems were written for singing, and sixty settings survive. The book’s examination of patterns of imagery in Carew is also useful.Semler, L. E. The English Mannerist Poets and the Visual Arts. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. Includes an introduction to mannerism as it applies to visual as well as poetic work. Each of the five poets covered, including Carew, is shown to have one or more of the characteristics of the mannerist style.Sharpe, Kevin. “Cavalier Critic? The Ethics and Politics of Thomas Carew’s Poetry.” In Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England, edited by Kevin Sharpe and Steven Zwicker. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Distances Carew from the usual image of the Cavalier and argues that he was a serious writer with an orderly and hierarchical vision of a kingdom of nature and love. Emphasizes Carew’s often misunderstood, positive view of marriage and connects this idea to his political vision.Walton, Geoffrey. “The Cavalier Poets.” In From Donne to Marvell. Vol. 3 in New Pelican Guide to English Literature, edited by Boris Ford. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Stresses Carew’s complexity and range, and singles out for praise the sense of social responsibility shown in Carew’s two country-house poems, “To Saxham” and “To my friend G. N., from Wrest.”
Categories: Authors