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.
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.