23 April 1536 – Nicholas Carew, George Boleyn and the Order of the Garter

Nicholas CarewSt George’s day, 23 April 1536, brought the first outward sign that the Boleyns were losing their influence. George was expected to receive the Order of the Garter, the pinnacle honour of the realm, and his sister strongly supported him. George had been nominated the previous year and had received a reasonable amount of support, but James V of Scotland had beaten him by two votes.1

Despite Anne’s championing of George, much to the delight of Chapuys the honour in 1536 actually went to Sir Nicholas Carew, a known opponent of the Boleyns and the man who was coaching Jane Seymour.2 Carew beat George soundly, receiving twice as many votes, and even Thomas Boleyn had voted for him.3

The choice was at least in part dictated by the King’s earlier promise to Francis I that Carew was next in line.4 In truth, if Henry had wished for George to be awarded the honour then no previous promise made to the King of France would have prevented him granting it; furthermore, if the King had always intended to honour his promise to the King of France why did he allow George’s name to be put forward in the first place? Henry must have known that by allowing George’s name to be put forward, and then awarding the position to an opponent of the Boleyns, he would bring public humiliation to his brother-in-law. George was forced to swallow his very public slight, and hold his head high as the court digested the implications of the King’s choice. Up until now, George had been the golden boy, and he was completely unused to personal failure and rejection. The King’s decision must have hit him hard. Yet neither Anne nor George could possibly have foreseen the manner of their eventual downfall.5

Nicholas Carew was a royal favourite until his arrest on 31st December 1538. He was implicated in a plot to depose Henry VIII and to replace him with Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and cousin of the King through his mother Catherine of York. Carew was tried on 14th February 1539 and executed on 8th March on Tower Hill.

Notes and Sources

  1. The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (The Black Book), 394–395.
  2. LP x. 715, 752
  3. The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (The Black Book), 399-401
  4. LP vi. 555, LP viii. 174: “Presented the letter in favor of the “Grand Escuyer” of England [Carew], to which he replied that the said place of the Chancellor of the Order was filled by the king of Scotland, and the number of 24 could not be excceded. On the first vacancy he would remember the said Grand Escuyer.”, Palamedes Gontier to Admiral Chabot.
  5. Part of this article is taken from George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway, which is due for release very soon.

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7 thoughts on “23 April 1536 – Nicholas Carew, George Boleyn and the Order of the Garter”
  1. Interesting that this happened (a) about a week after Chapuys’s bow that supposedly represents the Emperor’s recognizing Anne as queen; but (b) before Cromwell goes into conference with Dr. Sampson (allegedly about an annulment). Where on the timeline is Henry’s blow-up with Cromwell over making up with the Emperor?

  2. How wicked that Henry put George’s name on the list simply to humiliate him (and send a clear message to Anne in the process.) Let the games begin…

  3. Beginning of the end? Had Henry made up his mind to get rid of Anne? Was he making a warning shot at the Boleyn faction by favouring a champion of Jane Seymour? Where all the pieces of a plot falling into place? If they were then Henry was being cruel by playing such a public hand and a public slight to his brother-in-law. Although George and Anne could not have known the terrible events that lay ahead; they must have worried that something odd was going on. Did they sense the danger or where they just worried? Anne was vulnerable, afraid, not in the best of spirits and George was worried about his sister as well as his own position. One moment they seemed to be in the asendency and the next Henry was changing his mind about awards to the most prestigious order in the country. The numbers at the Order of the Garter are limited; but even so; Henry had just as much reason to advance George Boleyn as he did yet another of his jousting buddies: Nicholas Carew; promises to Francis I not withstanding. Henry had known both men for some time; both had been in royal service and performed long and loyal service; Carew was a great jouster and I believe that George was a fair competitor as well. Henry needed such men around him and had a habit of advancing them for their skills as well as friendship, kinship and service.

    Sir Nicholas Carew, the supporter and coacher of Lady Jane Seymour was also a supporter of Princess Mary and a devout Catholic, a position that was to draw him into a plot that may have been invented by Cromwell; the so called Exeter plot; a few years later involving the Poles et al. For having so called knowledge of that and not telling the King he was executed in 1539. Perhaps it was some kind of Karma?

    The thing that I find interesting is that the article says that Sir Thomas Boleyn voted against his son. He must either have been very politically aware and savy or he was hedging his bets? Anne appeared to be out of favour; the Imperial party was moving into place; the Imperial party also supported or appear to have supported the Seymour family; it would make sense for Boleyn who was aware of that political change being in the air to allie himself with them. He had even asked Anne to insult the French ambassador before the other ambassadors and Cromwell had tried to engineer Chapyrus a special audiance with Anne were he would be invited to kiss her cheek and would be shown favour by the Queen. Was Thomas Boleyn more aware of the winds of change and the dangers than his family and was he trying to save Anne by getting the family to change sides?

    This whole Easter week had seen something that indicated something was afoot at the Tudor court. We, the observers from the 21st century can look back on these events, piece them together and find the clues that point to Anne’s fall; some of the events were confusing, such as Henry demanding that Anne is recognised as Queen by Charles V; but even that may have been a charade to put the victims of Cromwell’s plot and his actions of the scent. Henry was a man who used bluff: this appears to have been yet another of those and a particularly cruel one. The time must have been tense and traumatic; worrying and there was a climate of fear; I do not blame anyone in the family or their supporters for manouvering around and attempting to protect themselves: self preservation was an art at international courts; George, disappointed as he was could only put a good face on and hope that things improved with the May Day Joust approaching.

  4. His father voted against him? That’s rather cold. Of course, it may not have been personal, just bet-hedging so that at least one Boleyn would be on the winning side no matter what, or something similar. Or perhaps there was an idea that it was Carew’s turn but that George could have a shot next time there was an opening.

    I’m unclear as to how the selection process worked; did the men voting receive a lot of heavy hints about which person they should pick? Could the king just overrule the vote and pick the person he thought best?

    1. I think it was a case of people voting for who the King wanted them to vote for. Quite a few of them voted for Carew and George, as they were in different categories due to their status. Each knight could cast 9 votes: 3 “principes”, 3 “Barones” and 3 “Equites”. It wasn’t a case of Thomas voting against George, he just didn’t vote for him and chose Carew as one of the “Equites” (knights). The Dukes of Norfolk and Richmond voted for both men, as did the Earls of Sussex and Oxford, and William Fitzwilliam.

      Here’s an explanation of how knights were chosen:

      “Selection of KGs worked in the following manner. Whenever a vacancy existed an election was held to select a new member, normally at the annual meeting or chapter on St. George’s Day, 23 April, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Each KG present voted for nine men, three in each of the following categories: ‘princes’, ‘barons’, and ‘knights’. ‘Princes’ means earls, marquesses, dukes, and royalty (or, earls and above), while ‘barons’ and ‘knights’ are self explanatory. A viscount, who ranks between an earl and a baron, could be nominated under either category, ‘prince’ or ‘baron’. In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the heir to an earl or above could be nominated under his courtesy title, while a duke’s younger son could be nominated as a ‘baron’. If ten Knights of the Garter were present at a given election, with each KG listing nine nominees, then as many as ninety names could be listed, though the more likely result would be about twenty. Then the votes were tallied and presented to the Queen, who picked whomever she pleased or no one at all.” (The Earl of Oxford and the Order of the Garter, Peter R. Moore)

      The explanation is with reference to Elizabeth I’s reign, but it worked the same in Henry VIII’s. The King could see by the votes who was popular, but he still chose whoever he wanted.

      1. Thanks for the reply! I hadn’t realized it was so involved (though I should have guessed, I suppose — what ritual at this time *wasn’t* involved?) So the voters didn’t really have the final say, then — the quote “Pirates of the Caribbean” the final tally of votes was “more what you’d call guidelines” for the king than anything else.

  5. Self preservation was the name of the game ,you would have had no other choice but to look out for yourself in whichever way the wind was blowing ,not a nice time to have been around and one would have had to have their wits sharpened at all times

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