The Tudor Society

14 February – Being a royal favourite doesn’t save you

On this day in Tudor history, 14th February 1539, Sir Nicholas Carew, a royal favourite for over 20 years, was tried for treason after being implicated in the Exeter Conspiracy. Spoilers - his trial didn't go well.

But how did a man who'd been in royal favour for so long come to such a sticky end? Find out in today's talk.

You can find out more about Carew's life and career in Claire's video about his execution:

Also on this day in Tudor history, a prophecy was fulfilled as a dog licked up King Henry VIII’s blood. Find out more last year's video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1492 – Death of William Berkeley, Marquis of Berkeley and a man known as “William Waste-all”. He was buried in the Augustinian friary in London with his second wife, Joan.
  • 1556 – Thomas Cranmer was degraded from his office of Archbishop of Canterbury for heresy.
  • 1601 – Execution of Thomas Lee, soldier, at Tyburn. He was hanged, drawn and quartered after being implicated in the failed rebellion of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.


On this day in Tudor history, 14th February 1539, Sir Nicholas Carew was tried for treason after being implicated in the Exeter Conspiracy. It was alleged that a letter had been found at the Marchioness of Exeter’s home, which was evidence of Carew being involved in a conspiracy with the Marquis of Exeter and Baron Montagu, who had been arrested in November 1538, and plotting with Cardinal Pole, Montagu's exiled brother, a man who was seen as an enemy of King Henry VIII. Carew was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed on 3rd March 1539 at Tyburn.

Carew was a royal favourite for 20 years – surviving even though he’d been a support of Princess Mary during the Great Matter - but things started to go wrong for him in late 1538. You can find out all about his court career in my talk from 3rd March last year, for the anniversary of his execution, but let me tell you a bit more about his undoing and his trial.

Carew was arrested on 31st December 1538. In his book “The History of the Worthies of England”, Thomas Fuller explained that according to a Carew family tradition, Carew upset the king during a game of bowls:

“King Henry, then at bowls, gave this knight opprobrious language, betwixt jest and earnest; to which the other returned an answer rather true than discreet, as more consulting therein his own animosity than allegiance.”

Fuller goes on to say that the king was so offended that “Sir Nicholas fell from the top of his favour to the bottom of his displeasure, and was bruised to death thereby.”

In writing of the fall of Carew, imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys put it down to his love for Princess Mary, of whom he had “always shown himself a most devoted servant”, and the fact that the king and his council wanted to leave Mary with “as few such as possible”, i.e. remove her supporters.
Historian Stanford Lehmberg believes that Carew’s fall was actually down to Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s right-hand man at this time, who saw Carew as a threat that needed to be removed. And removed he was!

The king seemed to believe that Carew had plotted with the Poles, writing to Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder on 13th February 1539 “Moreover, after their execution it was found, by their letters, that Sir Nich. Carew was one of the chief of that faction,”

Here is the record of the indictment drawn up against Carew by the Surrey commission:

“that Sir Nic. Carewe of Bedyngton alias of Westminster, knowing the said Marquis to be a traitor, did, 20 Aug. 28 Hen. VIII., at Westhorseley, Surrey, and at other times, falsely abet the said Marquis, and, 24 Aug. ao 28, and at other times, had conversations with him about the change of the world, and also with his own hand wrote him divers letters, at Bedyngton, 4 Sept. ao 28o and at other times, and the said Marquis at that or other times sent divers traitorous letters to the said Carewe from Westhorseley which the said Carewe traitorously received, which letters they afterwards, to conceal their treason, traitorously burnt at Westhorseley and Bedyngton, 1 Sept. 30 Hen. VIII. and at other times; and afterwards, knowing that the said Marquis was indicted as aforesaid, 29 Nov. ao 30o, the said Carewe at Bedyngton traitorously said these words in English, "I marvel greatly that the indictment against the lord Marquis was so secretly handled and for what purpose, for the like was never seen"; contrary to his allegiance, &c.”

At his trial on this day in 1539, Carew pleaded not guilty, but the verdict was guilty and he was condemned to death.
A favourite for 20 years but, like many others before him, he ended his days being branded a traitor to the crown.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    Nicholas Carew was also one of his favourite jousting partners. Of course Henry could not joust any more because of his leg and was becoming more and more grumpy. He was becoming more paranoid and trusted nobody any more. I have always believed the Exeter plot was a load of baloney made up by Thomas Cromwell because Henry could not get at Cardinal Reginald Pole and the rest of the family and their associates were targeted instead.

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14 February – Being a royal favourite doesn’t save you