Sir George Carteret 2

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Sir George Carteret, Bailiff, Lieut-Governor and ardent Royalist supporter and friend of Charles II

Family

The eldest son of Jurat Elie De Carteret, Lieut-Bailiff, and Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Dumaresq, George was born in about 1609 and died in 1680.

When he joined the Navy he dropped the De from his name, because he thought it made him sound French, and his descendants remained Carterets.

According to Lady Fanshawe's memoirs he was "bred a sea-boy". Hence his lack of culture in later life. Marvell sneered at his "ill English". Pepys was shocked, when he asked what SPQR meant, "ignorance not to be borne in a Privy Councillor".

But, whatever else he did not know, he understood seamanship. Hyde described him as "undoubtedly as good, if not the best seaman of England".

Early career

The State Papers trace his steady rise in his profession. On 20 May 1629 he received his first commission as Lieutenant of the Garland. In 1631 he was transferred to the Bonaventure under Pennington, Admiral of the Narrow Seas, who remained his friend for years. When Pennington moved to the Convertine in 1632, he took Carteret with him.

In March 1633 he was given his first command, that of the Eighth Lion's Whelp, one of a group of little vessels designed for chasing pirates. In 1635 he became Captain of the Mary Rose and in 1636 of the Happy Entrance with six ships under him to guard the Straits of Dover.

He complained to the Admiralty that the new cords and cables supplied to the Entrance snapped when used, that a third of the men had never been to sea, and that there were not 12 able to take their turn at the helm.

In 1637 he was given the Antelope and made Vice-Admiral of the expedition against the North African Pirate stronghold of Sallee. The ships proved too large to enter the harbour, but they blockaded it for three months, sending in boats at night to burn the pirate vessels.

In this work Carteret gained a great reputation. Almost every ship in the port was sunk, and at last the King of Morocco made peace by the surrender of his European captives. Carteret returned in September with 270 Englishmen whom he had rescued and a number of Dutch and Spanish sailors.

In 1638 he was given command of his old ship the Convertine, and ordered to take back to Sallee the Moorish ambassador, who had come to ratify the peace treaty. He then presented two silver communion cups to St Ouen's Church as an offering for his safe return. The diary he kept on this voyage has been printed in Philadelphia: A Journall keepte by me George Carteret in His Matie's Shippe the Convertine being bound for the Coast of Barbary.

This shows that, though he might not know the meaning of SPQR, he was able to write good, plain, straightforward, narrative English. In 1639 he was Captain of the Leopard.

Marriage

He was now in love with his cousin Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philippe de Carteret, Bailiff and Lieut-Governor, and was looking for a shore berth which would enable him to marry. By a strange chance some of their love letters are preserved among the State Papers. In March 1639 Elizabeth wrote bemoaning a quarrel between George and her father, for which she blamed their grandmother, "who hates us all".

In July Carteret wrote: "This day I landed the Earl of Leicester at Dieppe, who has given me a chain of gold. How much it is worth I know not, but such as it is I give it to my dear Betty. If you think fit, I will sell it, and put the money in a collar of pearls".

In December 1639 he was appointed Comptroller of the Navy with rooms in the Navy Office. On 6 May 1640 he married Elizabeth in Mont Orgueil.

In 1642, when tension between King and Parliament was near breaking-point, Parliament appointed him Vice-Admiral of the Fleet. He referred the matter to the King, who forbad him to accept. Clarendon considered this a mistake:

"If Captain Carteret had been suffered to have taken that charge, his reputation in the Navy was so great, that it was generally believed he would have preserved a major part of the fleet to their duty to the King".

Later in his book Clarendon continued the story:

"Captain Carteret, having, after he had refused command of their fleets, without noise withdrawn himself and his family to Jersey, and being there impatient of being quiet, while his Master was in the field, transported himself to Cornwall, purposing to raise a troop of horse. Here he was unanimously importuned by the Commanders, after they had acquainted him with their desperate need of powder, to assist them, so that the ports in their power might be of use to them in the supply of powder. Whereupon he returned to France, and, first upon his own credit, and then upon return of such commodities out of Cornwall as they could spare, he supplied them with all kinds of ammunition, so that they never found want after".

He now established himself as King's Faciendary at St Malo, selling captured Parliamentary ships, and buying munitions for the Royalists. When his uncle, Sir Philippe, was besieged in Elizabeth Castle, he kept the Castle and Mont Orgueil supplied, and made it hopeless for the Island militia to try to starve either out.

Bailiff

In August 1643 Sir Philippe died. The King had promised in 1638 that George should succeed him as Bailiff. In October 1643 a messenger from Oxford brought to St Malo a confirmation of this, and also his appointment as Lieut-Governor. On 19 November, with a small force he landed at Mont Orgueil, which his aunt, Lady De Carteret, had been defending for eight months. The Militia, weary of besieging apparently impregnable castles, laid down their arms.

The Parliamentary leaders fled. Carteret gained possession of the island without fighting. He marched to St Helier and dismantled its fortifications. On 24 November he called a meeting of the States in Trinity Church, and was sworn in as Bailiff and Lieut-Governor. He seldom presided over the Court or the States. His duties as Bailiff he left to his Lieutenant, Jean Dumaresq. His work as Lieut-Governor occupied most of his time.

His first care was to secure himself against a Roundhead rising. Though the leaders had fled, more than half the islanders still sympathized with Parliament. One small incident shows the spirit with which he had to contend. A woman was put in the pillory for saying that Lady De Carteret ought to be burnt, and that she would like to be the first to set fire to the faggots. Her niece stood in front of the pillory declaring that her aunt was as true a martyr as Christ.

Carteret imprisoned those most likely to give trouble, including David Bandinel, the Dean, and his son, Jacques the Rector of St Mary. A second group he banished to Normandy. From a third group he took heavy monetary security for their good behaviour.

The rest of the inhabitants were collected by parishes, and made to swear allegiance to the King on a Bible lying on a drum. The castles were filled with English and Irish troops.

Privateers

His next problem was to find funds to carry on his Government, for none could be expected from the King. He seized the income of the exiled Republicans, and raised a forced loan. But he did not solve his difficulty, till he turned back to the sea. He had a swift galley built at St Malo, schooner-rigged with 12 pairs of oars. He put on board one cannon and 36 armed seamen, and sent it out to prey on ships in the Channel.

In six weeks it captured four prizes, one a fine vessel just off the stocks. Each of these was armed and turned into a privateer. By repeating this process he was soon in command of a formidable squadron. But not without protest. Etienne La Cloche, the Royalist Rector of St Ouen, expostulated from the pulpit against Jersey being made "a little Dunkirk".

Carteret imprisoned him for 11 months, and then banished him from the island. In December 1644 the King regularised Carteret's proceedings by creating him Vice-Admiral in Jersey. By this commission his privateers became part of the King's Navy.

What a steadily increasing danger to shipping they were can be seen from entries seven years later in Whitelock's Memorial:

"1651, 26 February - Two Dutchmen laden with salt anchored off Dartmouth, but two Jersey pirates cut their cables and carried them away. 1 March - Jersey pirates very bold off the Western coast. 6 - Several ships taken by Jersey pirates. 17 - Jersey pirates take several merchants' ships. 19 - Letters of piracies committed by those of Jersey. 17 April - Jersey pirates take two boats laden with corn and timber in fight off Portland. 21 - More prizes taken by Jersey pirates."

In this way Carteret not only harassed his enemies, and provided funds for his Government, but also amassed a large personal fortune. Marvell later calls him "Carteret the rich". Dumaresq says that he made a personal profit of "about three score thousand pounds". Pepys says that Carteret told him that at the Restoration he was worth £50,000.

Castle Cornet

One task laid on him by the King was the victualling of Castle Cornet, Guernsey, where gallant old Sir Peter Osborne was still holding out, though the whole island was Parliamentarian. He rather naturally disliked buying supplies for Guernsey out of his own pocket on the doubtful promise that the King would repay some day.

He wrote to Osborne:

"It hath not been without much difficulty that I have sent so much provision as I have. More I cannot do, except you will oblige yourself to repay the sums I have disbursed, one half six months after the reduction of Guernsey to the King's obedience, the other half 18 months after the same, with interest. In case of failing payment upon the revenues of Guernsey, then your estate in England to be liable".

Sir Peter's caustic comment was:

"For a Comptroller of the Navy to misdoubt the King's payment seems to me a presumption I should not dare be guilty of".

A violent quarrel between the two Governors ensued. But for the next three years Carteret grudgingly sent supplies to Guernsey, though protesting that "every tub should stand on its own bottom".

Knighthood

About this time he was made a Knight and Baronet. The date is uncertain. Hoskins, on the authority of ‘a private genealogy’, says that he had been knighted in 1641, but this is improbable. The King in the Patent appointing him Bailiff in 1643 calls him "Captain George Carteret".

Collins, in his History of the Carteret Family states that he was knighted on 21 January 1644. If so, Lord Jermyn, the Governor, knew nothing about it 12 months later, for, when appointing him his Lieutenant on 30 January 1645, he merely calls him ‘le Colonel George de Carteret Esqr’.

Collins may be right when he dates the Baronetcy to 9 May 1645, for soon after this we find Carteret addressed as Sir George. On 18 June Osborne refers to him as "Sir G Carteret". A deed of 5 March 1646, by which he presented a site for a House of Correction to the Island, gives him his full title, "Messire George De Carteret, Chevalier, Baronet", which disproves the frequently repeated assertion that he was knighted and (or) created Baronet by Prince Charles when he came to the island, for the Prince did not arrive until a month later.

The Prince of Wales, a boy of 15, had been driven to Scilly for safety. It was now decided to remove him for greater security to Jersey. This threw a new responsibility on Sir George. Charles landed at Elizabeth Castle on 17 April 1646 with a retinue of 300, most of whom, including the Prince, were almost penniless. Carteret had not only to maintain them, but to provide the Prince with pocket-money from which to distribute largesse.

Fortunately for his exchequer this first royal visit lasted only ten weeks. The Queen was anxious to have her son under her thumb in Paris, and on 25 June he left to join his mother. Many of his Court went with him, but some remained, among whom was Sir Edward Hyde, Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the King's cause in England grew more desperate, others joined them, and Jersey became a refuge for distinguished and destitute Royalists.

In October alarming rumours reached the island from Paris that Lord Jermyn, the Governor, and the Queen were planning to sell Jersey to the French. Loyal though he was, Carteret could not tolerate that. On 19 October he and three of the leading Royalists, Lord Capel, Lord Hopton, and Hyde, signed Articles of Association pledging themselves to appeal to Parliament for help, rather than allow the French to take possession. Nothing more however was heard of Jermyn's supposed plot.

Preparations for attack

Carteret was now preparing for the inevitable Parliamentary attack. He reorganized the Militia, raised a troop of Dragoons, built breastworks at all possible landing places, strengthened St Aubin’s Tower, and protected the approach to Elizabeth Castle by building Fort Charles.

But Parliament had other fish to fry, and the attack was postponed. In December 1647 news came that the King was imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle. Carteret planned a rather desperate stroke to liberate him.

Historian Philippe Falle wrote:

"There appeared a zeal in many of our most resolute islanders to rescue the King by surprising the Castle. The thing, though hazardous, was not thought impossible, because ships going to Southampton pass close to this Castle. It was presumed that four or five vessels with a number of chosen hands concealed under hatches might come so near as to give opportunity to scale the walls".

But Cromwell was not caught napping. He wrote to the Governor of Carisbrooke:

"Sir George Cartwright hath sent three boats from Jersey under the name of Frenchmen to bring the King, if their plot take effect, to Jersey".

Forewarned was forearmed, and the scheme came to nothing.

In February 1649 Jersey heard of Charles' execution. On the 17th Carteret ordered Laurens Hamptonne the Vicomte to proclaim Charles II as King.

In July Sir George was summoned to meet the King in Paris. Here it was arranged that Charles should make Jersey his headquarters. On 17 September he arrived at Elizabeth Castle with his brother, the Duke of York. On 25 September Carteret's daughter Carolina was baptized with the King as godfather. This time he remained five months, most of which were spent in angry debates as to whether the safest route to the throne was via Ireland or Scotland. On 23 February he left Jersey for Holland.

First New Jersey

Carteret now embarked on his first colonial venture. Chevalier says that the King gave him an island off the coast of Virginia called Semis Eslan, to which he gave the name of New Jersey. This was not the later colony of New Jersey, which lies many miles north of Virginia. Chevalier's spelling is in a class by itself: but if, as seems likely, Semis Eslan means Smith's Island, it was not a gift of great value.

The Captain Smith after whom it was named had written:

Smith's Isles are a many of barren rocks. the most overgrown with such shrubs and sharp whins you can hardly pass. Without either grass or wood".

But Carteret prepared to occupy it with the zeal his great-grandfather had shown in the colonization of Sark. He gathered a party of Jersey emigrants under the leadership of Philippe de Soulemont, Advocate of the Royal Court, on one of his boats, which also carried the poet Davenant, the new Governor of Virginia.

On their first day at sea they were captured by a Parliamentary privateer. Whitelock writes:

”14 May 1650: A ship of 5 guns belonging to Sir George Carteret, bound for Virginia with many passengers, all sorts of goods and tools for husbandry for planting an island which the Prince had given him, was taken by Captain Green and brought to the Isle of Wight".

We hear no more of the Virginian New Jersey.

Unpopularity

For some reason Carteret now became unpopular with his fellow Royalists. In April 1650 Richard Watson, one of the leading exiled Divines in Paris, wrote: "There is a general ill opinion of Sir George Carteret.

A few days later Hyde wrote to Secretary Nicholas: "Poor Sir George Carteret is regarded in Paris as a reprobate".

Again in October he asked: "Why do people from all quarters write so bitterly of Sir George Carteret?".

Invasion

On 20 October 1651 the long expected blow fell. The Seigneur of St Ouen sent word that 80 Parliamentary vessels were in St Ouen Bay. Admiral Blake himself directed the naval operations from Carteret's old ship, the Happy Entrance. The 1,000 troops on the transports were under Colonel Heane, Commander-in-Chief of Dorset.

News of the Battle of Worcester and the King's crushing defeat and flight had reached Jersey. Even fervent Royalists felt disinclined to fight further for a cause that seemed hopeless. Sir George knew, says a contemporary account of the landing, "that most of his men desired nothing better than to surrender without fighting".

But he would not give in. Rough weather enabled him to reach St Ouen before the troops could land; but then Blake set to work to tire the defenders out. He sailed round to St Brelade, and they had to follow. Then he doubled back to St Ouen. He sent some of his ships to St Clement. He made a feint at landing at L'Etacq.

For two days and nights he kept the militiamen marching and countermarching. When the real attack came, they proved no match for the veterans of the New Model, who had come to Weymouth straight from their victory at Worcester. Carteret lost most of his guns, and was forced to take refuge in Elizabeth Castle.

His position now was desperate. Blake's fleet cut off all hope of help by sea. The garrison consisted largely of foreign mercenaries, who cared for little but their pay. Carteret sent word to the King that he could hold out eight months, but he was too optimistic. A great bomb from a mortar on the Town Hill fell on the Abbey Church in which gunpowder was stored. The explosion not only destroyed the powder, but two thirds of the provisions, and the troops began to desert.

On 1 December Sir George received a letter from the King, saying that help was impossible, and that he must make the best terms he could. On 3 December his officers insisted on surrender. He opened negotiations with Heane, and after eight days haggling, Articles of Capitulation were agreed on. He was always good at a bargain. and he managed to secure extraordinarily lenient terms for himself.

He was indemnified for all preceding acts of war, and allowed to keep his property, provided he committed no further hostile acts against Parliament, and was given a safe conduct either to France or America. Other persons of position in the Castle were to retain their property on paying 'compositions' of not more than two years' income. The soldiers were given free transport either to France or England. On 15 December the troops marched out with the honours of war. On the 16th Sir George sailed for St Malo.

French Navy

He was far too good a seaman to remain long unemployed. He obtained a commission in the French Navy, apparently as Vice-Admiral, under the Duke of Vendome. On 6 September 1652 Hyde wrote: "Sir George Carteret hath gotten infinite reputation in the late sea-fight with the Spaniard".

In July 1653 Cromwell's Council of State resolved: "We permit ten ships to go to the relief of Bordeaux" (where Frondeurs were in revolt), but, adds the writer, "the Duke of Vendome with Sir George Carteret has so straitly besieged them, that it is thought our assistance will come too late".

In November Hyde wrote again: "Carteret in command of some French ships has captured the Vice-Admiral of Spain. He is gallant, honest man, though Prince Rupert and the Lord Keeper cannot endure him".

In 1657 Cromwell made an alliance with France. and began to press for Sir George's arrest, apparently on a charge of trying to seduce the English troops in Flanders. Mazarin would not surrender him. but in August imprisoned him in the Bastille. On 11 November Lockhart, Cromwell's ambassador, reported an interview with the Cardinal.

Carteret had petitioned to be brought to trial, and the Cardinal had demanded details of the charges against him. A stiff struggle now took place behind the scenes. On 15 December Lockhart wrote:

“I gave the Cardinal the substance against Carteret. He hath promised me justice, but said he would have hard work, for the Duke of Vendome had brigued (beguiled) the Council, and the little Queen (Henrietta Maria) had begged the Queen's friendship in it. I brought him to consider how much his Highness' (Cromwell's) interests lay at stake. At last he promised his least punishment should be to be sent out of France".

On the following day he wrote: "Carteret is banished from France, and is going to Venice". He went, however, to join Charles in the Netherlands.

Letter from Charles II

In 1649 Charles had written, in a letter which remains at St Ouen’s Manor:

"Carteret, I can never forget the good services you have done to my father and to me. If God bless me, you shall find I do remember them to the advantage of you and yours".

At the Restoration he received his reward. He became Vice-Chamherlain of the King's Household, a post promised in 1647, a Privy Councillor, and Treasurer of the Navy with a house in Deptford Dockyard, then so much in the country that he was able to take a pride in his cows and Kentish cherries. He was also given manors in Devon and Cornwall to wipe out a loan made to Charles I.

On 1 January 1661 he resigned the office of Bailifff of Jersey in favour of his brother-in-law, Sir Philippe De Carteret.

When the King rode in state into London on the day before his coronation, Carteret had a prominent place in the pageant. "There followed the Vice-Chamberlain", wrote Pepys, "a company of men all like Turks. I know not yet what they are for". At the Coronation itself he acted as Almoner, the Earl of Essex being absent. In the same year he was elected MP for Portsmouth.

His main work for the next six years lay in the Navy Office, where he had as Clerk (or, as he would now be called, Permanent Under Secretary) Samuel Pepys. The diarist gives many intimate pictures of him.

Navy accounts

This appointment was for him a misfortune. Charles was desperately short of money. The seamen's pay was in arrears, and the ships were seething with discontent. The war with Holland was going badly, and the Dutch sailed up the Medway. For all this the blame was laid on Carteret's shoulders. He was obviously a very rich man and the suspicion spread that he was appropriating money belonging to the Fleet.

In 1666 Parliament called for the Navy Accounts, and appointed a committee to examine them. Pepys unblushingly confesses that the accounts had been cooked. But this was to squeeze more money out of Parliament, not to enrich the Treasurer. The real trouble was the extraordinarily intricate system of accountancy.

The committee could make neither head nor tail of it nor could two Commissions of Accounts appointed afterwards. But eventually a report was presented to the House that more than a million pounds could not be accounted for. Carteret protested that, so far from pocketing a penny, he had borrowed large sums on his own credit to keep the Fleet at sea.

But in 1669 the Commons by 138 votes to 129 found him guilty, and deprived him of his seat in the House. The Lords on the other hand decided that "Sir G Carteret has done nothing contrary to his duty as Treasurer".

True facts

The recent publication of the Calendar of Treasury Books has at last settled this question. The editor, with far more evidence before him than either commission had, entirely acquits Sir George.

"The lasting impression is of an active, capable, honest body of officials struggling vainly against absolutely insuperable financial difficulties. Carteret kept the Fleet at sea by raising yearly a quarter of a million on his own credit at a time when the Treasury Lords were unable to assist him, and when the Fleet would otherwise have had to be laid up".

The King knew this, and would not give him up to the wrath of the Commons. In 1666, when the trouble began, he allowed him to exchange posts with the Earl of Anglesey, and he became Receiver General and Treasurer of War for Ireland, with an office in Dublin, a post he held till 1670. In 1673 he returned to the Admiralty as Commissioner.

Colonial ventures

Part of his wealth came from his colonial ventures. In 1663 he was one of eight Lords Proprietors to whom the King granted all the land between Virginia and Florida, a district to which had been given the name Carolina. In the following year he succeeded in establishing New Jersey.

In 1664 he and Lord Berkeley presented a detailed Report to the King showing how easy it would be to seize the sparsely populated Dutch Colony of New Netherlands, which divided the two blocks of British colonies on the Atlantic coast. An expedition was sent, which occupied the district, and the two originators of the scheme were rewarded with the part which now forms the State of New Jersey.

In 1665 the two Lords Proprietors appointed Philippe de Carteret, a distant cousin of Sir George, as Governor, and sent out the first shipload of colonists. In 1670 the King made a grant to six Lords Proprietors, of whom Carteret was one, of "all those Islands commonly called the Bahama Islands with power to appoint Governors, make laws, wage wars, and transport colonists from England".

Nor did he confine his interests to America. In 1672 he became one of the Foundation Members of the Royal African Company, to which the King granted the whole West Coast of Africa from Sallee to the Cape, in return for a payment of two elephants to be made whenever he visited those dominions. Speculations nearer home also attracted him. In 1665 he obtained a licence to dig for coal in Windsor Forest. In the same year he secured permission to try to reclaim many thousands of acres of land in Connaught which were flooded every tide. On 1667 he became one of the farmers of the Chimney Tax; in the following year one of the farmers of the Import Duties into Ireland.

Pepys' judgment

Wherever an investment looked promising, Carteret jumped at it, for acquisitiveness was one strongly marked feature in his character. He was a very shrewd businessman. Hyde described him as "the most dexterous man in business I have ever known"; and Pepys said of him: "He is diligent, but all for his own ends and profit".

When other Royalists lost their all, he came out of the Civil War with a very large fortune. This more unpleasant side of his nature is seen in his reluctance to help Castle Cornet, unless his hard-pressed fellow-Governor would pledge his estates to repay. His privateering came so near to piracy that at last the King was forced to disown it.

At the surrender of Elizabeth Castle he secured far better terms for himself than for his officers. He was allowed to retain his estates and to remove all his furniture and plate to France. They had to compound for their estates by paying two years income.

In his colonial ventures he was the worst type of absentee landlord, contributing nothing toward the colony, but merely drawing his rents. Yet according to his lights he was no rogue. Pepys, who knew him as well as anyone, said: "I do take him for a most honest man".

He was a tremendous worker. Even his enemy Coventry confessed: "He is a man that do take most pains and gives himself the most to do business of any about the Court without any desire of pleasure or divertisement; and he retained even amid the revels of Whitehall much of his Jersey Puritanism:

"He hath taken the liberty to tell the King the necessity of having at least a show of Religion in the Government and sobriety".

He was proud of his influence over Charles. "I have almost brought things to such a pass", he told Pepys, "as I mean to do, that the King will not be able to whip a cat, but I will be at his tail".

Hyde called him the kindest of friends; but he was a bad man to cross. Pepys described him as "the most passionate man in the world", and he was utterly merciless toward conquered foes. But the fine point in his character was his simple, undeviating, almost dog-like devotion to the Crown, even in its darkest days.

The King was about to raise him to the peerage, when he died on 13 January 1680 at Hawnes, Bedfordshire, in the manor he had bought. His widow was granted by royal warrant the same precedence that she would have had if the promised creation had taken place; and his grandson and heir was created Baron Carteret of Hawnes.

Children

Sir George had three sons: Philippe, James, and George; and five daughters: Anne, who was married to Sir Nicholas Stanning by the Bishop of London in the Savoy Chapel in 1662: Rachel: Elizabeth: Carolina, who married when 15 Sir Thomas Scott: and Louise Margaretta, who when 15 married Sir Robert Atkyns.

It is noteworthy that in the marriage licences his daughters are called de Carteret. In his will Carteret left to each parish in Jersey a legacy for its poor. Portraits of Sir George and his wife by Lely are in St Ouen's Manor.

  • This biography by George Balleine is taken from A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey.
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