The stressful life of the warden of the Middle March

The 1st Earl of Monmouth and his family (detail), attributed to Paul van Somer, c. 1617.
The 1st Earl of Monmouth and his family (detail), attributed to Paul van Somer, c. 1617.

In 1597, Sir Robert Carey became warden of the Middle March. It was stressful work and by 1603 he felt the need of a break.

‘When I came to court I found the Queene ill difpofed, and fhee kept her inner lodging; yet fhee hearing of my arrivall fent for me. ... Shee called me to her, I kift her hand, and told her it was my chiefeft happineffe to fee her in fafety and in health.

‘Shee tooke mee by the hand and wrung it hard, and faid, ‘No, Robin, I am not well’, ... This was upon a Saturday night, and fhee gave command that the great clofet fhould be prepared for her to go to chappell the next morning.’

But on Sunday: ‘fhee had cufhions lay’d for her in the privy chamber hard by the clofet doore, and there fhe heard fervice.

‘From that day forwards fhe grew worfe and worfe.... I could not but think in what a wretched eftate I fhould be left, moft of my livelyhood depending on her life. And hereupon I bethought myfelf with what grace and favour I was ever received by the King of Scottes, whenfoever I was fent to him.

‘I did affure myfelfe it was neither unjuft nor unhoneft for me to do for myfelfe, if God at that time fhould call her to his mercy.

‘Hereupon I wrote to the King of Scottes ... and certified him in what ftate her Majeftie was. I defired him not to stirr from Edenborough; if of that fickneffe fhe fhould die, I would be the firft man that fhould bring him newes of it.

‘On Wednefday the twenty-third of March fhe grew fpeechlefs. ... About fix at night fhe made figns for the Archbifhop and her Chaplains to come to her, at which time I went in with them, and fate upon my knees full of teares to fee that heavy fight.

‘The Queene made a figne with her hand. My fifter Scroope (Philadelphia Carey, wife of Thomas, Lord Scrope) knowing her meaning, told the Bifhop the Queene defired hee would pray ftill.... it grew late, and every one departed, all but her women who attended her.

‘I went to my lodging, and left word with one in the Cofferer’s chamber, ... and gave the porter an angell to let me in at any time when I called. Betweene one and two of the clocke on Thurfday morning, he that I left in the Cofferer’s chamber brought me word the Queene was dead. I rofe and made all the haft to the gate to gett in.’

Carey was refused admission, but then a Privy Counsellor came by.

‘I bade him good night. He replied, and faid, ‘Sir, if you will come in, I will give you my word and credit you fhall go out againe at your owne pleafure’.

‘Upon his word I entered the gate, and came up to the Cofferer’s chamber, where I found all the ladies weeping bitterly.

‘Hee led mee from thence to the privy chamber where all the Councill was affembled; there I was caught hold of, and affured I fhould not go for Scotland till their pleafures were farther knowne.

‘I went to my brother’s chamber (George, Lord Hunsdon), who was in bed... I gott him up with all fpeed, and when the Councill’s men were going out of the gate, my brother thruft to the gate.

‘The porter knowing him to be a great officer, lett him out. I preffed after him, and was ftayed by the porter.

‘My brother faid angrily to the porter, ‘Let him out I will anfwer for him’.

‘Whereupon I was fuffered to paffe, which I was not a little glad of.

‘I gott to horfe, and rode to the Knight Marfhall’s lodging by Charing Croffe, and there ftayed (until) ... hearing that all the Lords were in the old orchard at Whitehall, I fent the Marfhall to tell them, that I had ftaide all that while to know their pleafures, and that I would attend them if they would command mee any fervice.’

When the Marshal came out again: ‘Hee bade mee be gone, for hee had learned for certaine, that if I came to them, they would betray mee.

‘I retourned and tooke horfe between nine and ten a clocke, and that night rode to Doncafter.

‘The Fryday night I came to my owne houfe at Witherington, and prefently took order with my deputies to fee the borders kept in quiet ... and gave order the next morning the King of Scotland should be proclaimed King of England, and at Morpit and Anwick.

‘Very early on Saturday I tooke horfe for Edenborough, and came to Norham about twelve at noone ... but I gott a great fall by the way, and my horfe with one of his heels gave mee a great blow on the head that made mee fhed much blood ... that I was forced to ride a foft pace after, fo that the King was newly gone to bed by the time that I knocked at the gate.

‘I was quickly lett in, and carried up to the King’s chamber.

‘I kneeled by him and faluted him by his title of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.’

James asked what letters he had from the Privy Council.

‘I told him, none: and acquainted him how narrowly I efcaped from them. And yet I had brought him a blue ring from a faire lady ...

‘Hee tooke it and looked upon it, and faid, ‘It is enough: I know by this you are a true meffenger’.’

The lady was his sister Philadelphia, and the ring was one that James himself had given her for the purpose.

Carey’s ride was possible because there were inns every 10 miles where post-horses were kept for the royal service.

He rode arrangements with near 40 innkeepers.

The Council’s letter to King James was not ready until Thursday night, when Carey was already at Doncaster.

Nor did their messengers have pre-arranged relays of horses so they only arrived the following Tuesday, three days after him.

March law ended with James’s accession and all wardenships were abolished.

Carey sold Norham to a Scottish nobleman and went there himself to hand it over.

He almost certainly visited Widdrington at the same time.

His last trip to the North was probably in 1604 when he escorted Prince Charles, then aged four, and his entourage to the south.

The prince was weak and backward.

Lady Carey was given charge of him and looked after him lovingly for six years.

James wanted him to have iron boots for his ankles, and his tongue cut to help him speak.

But Lady Carey ‘protefted fo much ... as fhe gott the victory, and the King was faine to yield.’

When Charles I became king, he showed his gratitude by making them Earl and Countess of Monmouth.

Our portrait shows them some time before this, when they were about 60 years of age.

l Acknowledgement: Portrait, © National Portrait Gallery, reproduced by kind permission of NPG under the Creative Commons Licence. For more information visit