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A Warning Sign

Posted By on April 23, 2010

Sir Nicholas Carew

On St George’s Day (23rd April) 1536 the annual chapter meeting of the Order of the Garter took place at Greenwich. The following passage is taken from Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10:-

“On St. George’s Day, 23 April 28 Hen. VIII., a chapter of the Order of the Garter was held at Greenwich, at which were present the King, the dukes of Richmond and Norfolk, the earls of Northumberland, Westmoreland, Wiltshire, Sussex, Rutland, and Oxford, lord Sandys, and Sir Wm. Fitzwilliam. It was determined to hold the feast on May 21, the earl of Northumberland taking the Sovereign’s place, assisted by the earls of Rutland, Westmoreland, and Oxford, and Sir Wm. Fitzwilliam. Votes were taken for the election of a knight; and the next day, after mass for the dead, the King declared Sir Nic. Carew elected. He was installed when the feast was kept, on May 21. On this occasion the earl of Northumberland was seized with vertigo and weakness, so that it was feared he would not be able to take his part as deputy, but he recovered. The next day the hatchments of the deceased were offered up.” 1

The appointment of Sir Nicholas Carew was significant because Anne Boleyn had put forward her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, for the post. Was this a warning sign of the trouble to come? Maybe. Sir Nicholas Carew was an enemy of the Boleyn faction and “the man who had been mentoring Jane Seymour.” 2. The Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, wrote that “the Concubine has not had sufficient influence to get it for her brother” 3, seeing it as a sign that Anne Boleyn had lost her influence over the King. Weir does point out that the Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, had voted for Anne’s brother, and that perhaps Chapuys was reading far too much into Carew’s appointment and that it was more to do with Henry VIII promising Francis I that he would consider Carew when a vacancy for Garter Knight arose. However, whatever the reason for it, appointing Carew instead of Rochford was, as Weir puts it, “a public snub to Anne.” 4

With the benefit of hindsight we can see this event as a warning sign of the events to come, as a sign that Anne had lost her influence with the King and that the Boleyn faction was losing favour, but perhaps we, like Chapuys, are reading too much into it.

By the way, Sir Nicholas Carew came to a sticky end. He was implicated in the 1538 Exeter Conspiracy, 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. Courtenay was executed on the 9th January 1539 and Carew was executed on the 3rd March 1539.

Notes and Sources

1 – L&P, x. 715
2 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p88
3 – L&P, x. 752
4 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p89

8 thoughts on “A Warning Sign”

  1. Candice says:

    I’ve always found the appointment of Sir Nicholas Carew as a Garter Knight to be an interesting situation. As with so many of the events leading up to Anne’s arrest, there is never a clear notion about its role in her fall. To the modern eye, Anne’s fall comes so quick; we have to wade through reams of paper and possibilities to get to the heart of the matter. Carew’s appointment alone suggests Anne was on the outs with the King, but because we know her fate, it could be a red herring. However, appointing a known member of the Seymour faction does indicate some disagreements (in private, perhaps) between Anne, members of the Boleyn faction, and the King. I am not sure, though, that Carew’s appointment is enough information to stand alone as evidence for Anne’s downfall. But, compiled with evidence in the months leading up to May 1536, It appears to be supporting documentation as an indication of Anne being replaced by another (either wife of mistress), but not as evidence of her death. I don’t think anyone could have predicted a Queen being beheaded.

  2. Louise says:

    I agree with Candice that no one could have predicted Anne’s death because there was no precedent for it. No Queen of England had ever been beheaded before so who could of considered it as a possibility.

    George’s failure to be awarded the Garter has always puzzled me. If Henry had already decided to award it to Carew because of his promise to Francis then why did he allow George’s name to be put forward in the first place? He must surely of known that it would humiliate his brother-in-law, which was exactly what happened. That makes me think it must have been a deliberate snub. If so, then did Henry already know what was planned for Anne. and did he know that George was going to be a casualty?

  3. miladyblue says:

    One thing that is interesting in this – I read that Carew was part of the anti-Boleyn factioin, but why was Francis I interested in Carew’s appointment as a Knight of the Garter? I thought Francis was familiar with, and liked the Boleyns, because they were pro-French, and encouraged Henry toward friendlier relations with the French. Certainly, Francis was an ally of Henry’s in that he wrote letters to the Pope supporting the annulment with Katharine of Aragon.

  4. gina white says:

    I think carew,s appointment was probably part and parcel of what was to happen, the King definately wanted out from anne boleyn – he wanted a son! and was beginning to think on the lines that he might more easily get one with Jane Seymour and her family were the up and coming faction at court. Anne Boleyn and her faction were loosing their power at the court, Cromwell was sliding away from her, against her and Anne had lost her hold and power over Henry. Yes, I would say she was probably more than worried when her brother lost the appointment to Carew.

  5. Carolyn says:

    But miladyblue has a point – why would Francis I insert himself, and against the Boleyns? He was warring against Charles V in 1536, who would have supported the Seymours. There must have been something else going on.

  6. Louise says:

    Carew was well known to Francis and had been for many years because of Carew’s position as one of Henry’s most trusted foreign diplomats. The promise Henry had made to Francis to appoint Carew the Garter had been made long before the Boleyn’s fall. By 1536 Henry was trying to achieve neutrality witht Spain and France, which had always been his intended foreign policy. The divorce from Catherine had previously made that impossible, but her death had enabled Henry to attempt the foreign policy he had always aimed for. In other words, he not only needed to make amends with Charles but he also needed to keep Francis sweet. Bt appointing Carew the Garter and thereby keeping his previously made promise to Francis, Henry was being diplomatic. Unfortunately, that was at the expence of his poor brother-in-law.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Bingo! Now it makes sense. That’s the part I was missing. Thanks, Louise!

  8. Lisaannejane says:

    I was always curious about how he actually mentored Jane Seymour. She had been a lady in waiting for Catherine of Aragon before Anne and she does not seem to have many admirers at court. So what could he teach her?

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