The Carews of Antony House

by Tom Bowden

I was born in Torpoint in South East Cornwall and am interested in the Carew family who are the “Lords of the Manor”. I therefore wrote this article which then appeared in the Cornish Times on 4th September 1992 and it is shown here for a wider readership.

Richard Carew 1586

On the outskirts of Torpoint, on the Cornish border, is Antony House the home of the Carew family. Richard Carew, the author of “Survey of Cornwall” published in 1602, was perhaps the most famous member of this family, whilst the fate of his grandsons, Alexander and John, is a tale of misfortune and human frailty.

Richard Carew died in 1620 and his eldest son, also Richard, succeeded his father. He had married Bridget Chudleigh and they had six children, the eldest being Alexander. Bridget died in 1611, and Richard married again. His second wife was Grace Rolle and they had four children, with John the eldest. Richard had greatly admired his father but could not compare with him. In fact Richard the younger, was an eccentric busybody who bought his Baronetcy for some £400.

Sir Alexander Carew

During the reign of Charles I, Alexander became a Member of Parliament, and was a supporter of Cromwell when the Civil War started in 1642. When Alexander inherited the title upon his father’s death in 1643, he was already married to Jane Rolle his stepmother’s younger sister, and they had eight children.

Sir Alexander Carew

The people of Plymouth were mainly Puritan and supported the cause of Parliament, whilst most of Cornwall supported the King and his generals who put Plymouth under siege. Cromwell had appointed Sir Alexander to the post of Governor of St Nicholas Island (now Drakes Island) in Plymouth Sound, and this fortress was very important for the seaward defence of the city.

Then came the brilliant successes of the Cornish Royalist army: victory at Stratton in May 1643, then Taunton, Bridgewater, Bath, and Bristol were taken; and Bideford, and Barnstable also fell in August 1643.Exeter would be next, then Plymouth! Alexander must have been concerned for the safety of his family. Also his estates would be taken by the Royalists. He brooded alone and finally decided to change sides!

He wrote to his friends in Cornwall and, through them, offered to surrender the Island Fortress to the King upon assurance of His Majesty’s pardon. The local Supreme Officer immediately replied with his assurance but Alexander unwisely hesitated, awaiting an assurance from the King himself. Before this could be arranged, a servant revealed Alexander’s intentions, and he was arrested on 19th August 1643 and taken to London.

Ironically, Plymouth did not fall to the Royalists. An alliance with the Scots changed Parliaments’ fortunes and in July 1644, Cromwell and the Scots routed the Royalists at Marston Moor.

Sir Alexander was brought to trial on a charge of treason and a Council of War found him guilty and condemned him to death. On 23rd December 1644 Alexander mounted the scaffold at Tower Hill. But his half-brother, John, had disowned him and was not present. Alexander said, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner, I have desired with unfeigned desire and hearty affection to be desolved and to be with Christ”.

Alexander asked them to join with him in singing the Twenty-third Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Then he asked the Executioner to strike with his axe after he had repeated the last words of his mother: “Lord though thou killest me, yet will I put my trust in thee, Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit”. Then the Executioner performed his duty.

If you should visit Antony House, which is in the care of the National Trust, you will see the grand full length portrait of Sir Alexander Carew in the Library. Notice the stitching around the edge of the canvas. No-one really knows how this occurred. It is said that the family cut out this portrait when Alexander took the cause of Parliament. Then when he attempted to take the Royalist cause, they replaced it in this condition. Others suggest that half-brother John, the committed Puritan and Parliamentarian, might have done the deed when Alexander turned to the Royalist side.

John Carew

John Carew seems to have been a fanatical Puritan and a formidable personality. He also became a prominent Member of Parliament and served on Cromwell’s side during the war. In 1649 he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Justice which was set up to try Charles I. John was therefore one of the Judges who signed the King’s Death Warrant.

Antony House c. 1908 (The Victorian wing was later removed)

Cromwell died in 1658 and was succeeded by his son Richard. The new Protector was not as strong as his father and when he allowed the “Rump” of Parliament to be restored in 1659, it promptly abolished the Protectorate! There was an internal power struggle before the House of Stuart was restored to the throne with Charles II landing at Dover in May 1660.

The restored Royalist gentry started to wreak vengeance upon their enemies. Cromwell’s body was dug up and hanged at Tyburn. The new Houses of Lords and Commons wished to punish those responsible for the execution of Charles I. The regicides (those who had killed the King) were ordered to give themselves up. Some of those accused escaped abroad, but John obeyed the summons at once. He was arrested at Looe and brought to London. At his trial he frankly acknowledged that he had signed a Warrant for the King’s execution. He was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

John went to the scaffold at Charing Cross on 15th October 1660. Alexander had said little on the scaffold, but John, talkative like his father, spoke on and on for 20 minutes. The crowd grew restive and the halter was put round John’s neck.

John said in a raised voice: “Lord Jesus receive my soul. Lord Jesus into thy arms I commend my Spirit!”. Then he was turned off the ladder and was soon dead and quartered!

So the lives of half-brothers, Alexander and John, ended. Alexander had wavered in his loyalties whilst John had maintained his beliefs through changing times. Traitors should be punished, but my sympathies lie with Alexander because I can identify with his human weakness. John, with his strong character and closed mind seems somehow much more familiar and less attractive. Perhaps they were just victims of their origins, and their turbulent times.