Poet and royalist Thomas Carew was born in 1595 in London, brought up in privileged surroundings because his father was master in chancery and his mother the daughter of the Mayor. He was most famous for being the poetic “arbiter elegantiae” at the court of the doomed king, Charles I. He is also noted for his intensely erotic poem A Rapture that managed to shock the aristocratic audience at the time.
Born third of eleven children, Carew was brought up in the West Wickham area of London, and went to Merton College in Oxford where he graduated in1611. This led to his studying for the bar at Middle Temple, though his father was long concerned that Carew wasn’t putting everything into his legal education. By 1616, he was working as secretary to Sir Douglas Carleton in Italy and then the Hague but his attitude was called into question and he was dismissed from the position a couple of years later.
At about the same time, Carew’s father died and the young man went into service for the soldier, poet and diplomat Edward Herbert. In the 1620s Carew returned to England and found himself a regular attendant at the King’s court.
There is a story about Carew which is widely thought to be true that, whilst leading Charles I to the queen’s bedroom, he extinguished a candle when he saw that the queen was in the arms of another. For this he earned the undying affection of the queen and had a number of favors bestowed on him.
Carew’s poetry covered a range of subject areas including love, and the beauty of the female. He also wrote tributes to the major figures of the day such as An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne. A large portion of his poetry is short in length and even his most famous poem, A Rapture, is only 166 lines. He addresses quite a number of his love poems to someone called Celia, a long-time lover, although it has never been properly ascertained who this was in reality.
Around 1630, Carew found a job as the King’s taster and formed close friendships with the likes of Ben Jonson, Edward Hyde and John Suckling. He was known as a fine wit but much of his remaining years are clouded in obscurity. It is known that he was highly influenced by poet and cleric John Donne who died of stomach cancer in 1631.
His exact time of death still remains a mystery, but most academics believe that he died around 1639. This is because the publication of his collection Poems in 1640 has the air of being produced posthumously. However, there are some that say he was more likely to have passed away some five years later. This is supported by the fact that a reprint of his Poems collection had numerous amendments to the verses when it was brought out in 1651.