Sir Nicholas Carew: Tudor Conspirator?

Graham Noble introduces a figure whose career sheds light on the power struggles of Henry VIII’s reign.

Sir Nicholas Carew lived and died at the heart of Henry VIII’s court. Brought up alongside the future King from the age of six, he rose in his service to be groom, sporting companion and, within a dozen years, principal court favourite, the chief amongst the so-called minions. The ignominious traitor’s death that he endured in 1539 shows us, above all, the precariousness of the life of a courtier. They were flattered, privileged and richly rewarded but vulnerable always to the deadly caprice of an unstable monarch.

Carew and a small number of companions formed a youthful coterie about Henry. They drank with him, hunted, diced, played tennis and chased women; they offered him easy camaraderie and a release from matters of state. Their domain was the lavish, set-piece royal entertainments that were a central feature of court life: masked balls, elaborately staged mock-battles and feats of skill, the tourney and especially the joust.

It was the joust that made Carew’s name. Holbein’s superb portrait of him, painted perhaps as late as 1528 when he was nearing retirement from the sporting world, depicts him still in the armoured regalia of the joust. Whereas other courtiers sought to make themselves known to posterity as bookish, wealthy or pious, Carew wanted to be remembered simply as a hero of the tiltyard.

Wolsey and the Minions

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