Sunday, 1 July 2012

Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland..."That Incomparable Young Man"

It is commonly believed that Lucius Cary, the 2nd Viscount Falkland, Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State of Charles I, committed suicide by battle. Whatever his intention on the morning of the Battle of Newbury on 20 September 1642, his death at the age of 33 was a severe blow to any lasting hope of peace and compromise in the bitter English Civil Wars.

How did the privileged courtier, poet and intellectual reach the point that life held so little hope that on the eve of the first battle of Newbury on 20 September 1643, he told his friends that "...he was weary of the times and foresaw much misery to his own Country and did believe he should be out of it ere night..." Riding alone at a gap in a hedge commanded by the enemy's fire, he was immediately killed.

Lucius Cary was born into an influential and ambitious family. His father, Sir Henry Cary was Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1622-1629 and was given a Scottish Peerage (a second class honour for an Englishman). His mother converted to Catholocism and tried to exert an influence on the young Lucius to do the same but after much theological reasoning, he resisted. His affection for his mother and his deep understanding of the Catholic faith at a time when England was resolutely Protestant may have contributed to his uncertainty about his own belief system.

Lettice Morison
In 1625 (at the tender age of 15 or 16), he finished his education at Trinity College Dublin and in the same year inherited, from his maternal grandfather, the manors of Great Tew and Burford in Oxfordshire. Having been brought up in Ireland he arrived in England with no established circle of friends. This gave him the freedom to choose his own friends and he gathered around him a circle of cultured, witty and intelligent men such as the Ben Johnson, John Suckling, John Hales and Edmund Waller. His closest friend, Sir Henry Morison, died of smallpox and he married Henry’s sister, Lettice. His father was furious. He had plans for a much more advantageous marriage. In an endeavour to mend the rift with his father Cary offered him the Oxfordshire estates, an offer refused by his father.

Deciding to turn his hand to the martial art, Cary and his wife, left for the Continent where he sought, unsuccessfully, to become a soldier of fortune in Holland. His father had become a prominent figure at court and in the light of their estrangement Cary did not return to London but retired to Great Tew where he gathered his brilliant friends around him and established a cultured circle which included not only men like Edward Hyde (Earl of Clarendon) but also intelligent women such as Lady Sophia Murray and Lady Dungarvin.  Society at Great Tew paints a picture of a late summer of golden sun and witty and intelligent beings gathered together for discourse and debate. It must have been an idyll for Carey’s intelligent nature (and a tax on Lettice’s housekeeping skills!).

It all ended with the outbreak of the first Scottish War in 1639. Cary felt duty bound to take the part of his King and he fought as a volunteer under Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex. It was all over before it had begun and in 1640 he entered the newly reconvenend Parliament. His parliamentary career is interesting, given his later history. In both the Long and the Short Parliaments he took the part of the opposition, speaking out against the Ship Money tax and supporting the prosecution of the Earl of Stafford. He broke with the opposition over the debates on the episcopacy and the Grand Remonstrance.

His growing opposition to the extremists in Parliament brought him to the attention of the Court and while he may not have seen himself as an advocate for the Court, Edward Hyde saw the advantage of having a man of Cary’s intellectual calibre within the royal circle. On 1 January 1642 Cary was offered and accepted (only on persuasion from Hyde) the role of Secretary of Estate. He did so in ignorance of the King’s disastrous attempt to arrest the five members of parliament, one of the acts that drove England to Civil War.  As Secretary of State he now found himself responsible for the vagaries of the King’s policies without, it seemed, being able to exert any influence over the man.  To his growing distress, he was unable to do anything to prevent England’s inevitable slide into Civil War which began on August 22 1642 with the raising of the King’s Standard at Nottingham.

Falkland by Van Dyck
Hyde writes that from the outbreak of war Cary’s “...natural cheerfulness and vivacity grew clouded, and a kind of sadness and dejection of spirit stole over him...”.  However he had no question in his own mind as to where his loyalties lay. He was a royalist in every sense of the word.   At Edgehill (23 October 1642) he fought with Sir Henry Wilmot (having a personality clash with Prince Rupert).  While he hated the war and everything it stood for, in the thick of battle, he wrote he could forget he was  “...Secretary of State and desired to be where there would probably be the most to do...”.

His hope that Edgehill would be the beginning and the end of the war was soon dashed and Cary must have found himself in an unviable situation. His firm belief in the estate of the crown ran counter to the character of Charles himself. He must have seen that there would be no hope of compromise with Charles. He sank into a deep depression. Hyde writes “...Sitting among his friends, often after a deep silence and frequent sighs he would with a shrill and sad accent ingeminate the word “Peace, Peace”...”

In desperation he became inveigled in a plot to seize the Tower of London and arrest the leaders of Parliament. The King’s Commission was carried to the plotters in London under the skirts of Kate, Lady Aubigny. The plot was discovered, the conspirators hung and Lady Aubigny and Cary’s dear friend, Sophia, Lady Murray imprisoned. The misery of the two women and the loss of many of his old friends, dead on battlefields,  must have compounded his own depression. When news came from London that Sophia Murray was dying of consumption and would not survive her imprisonment, he was grief stricken.

At the siege of Gloucester his friends became concerned that he was unnecessarily exposing himself to danger. With his continued strident advocacy for peace, there may have been an element of not wishing to be seen to be a coward. When his friends tried to remonstrate with him  "...he would say merrily that his office could not take away the privileges of his age, and that a Secretary in war might be present at the greatest secret of danger...”

Site of the First Battle of Newbury
On the morning of the fatal “first” battle of Newbury, Hyde writes that Cary was “very cheerful” and called for clean linen “as though expecting to be slain”.  As he was normally cheerful before battle and putting on a clean shirt may have been a sensible precaution, there is some argument that his fate was just that of a brave and fearless young man until you remember his prophetic words that he should " out of it ere night...".

He volunteered to ride in the front rank of Sir John Byron’s cavalry which was advancing between hedges lined on both sides by Roundhead musketeers. They came to a gap, which Byron ordered to be widened; but before this could be done, Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, spurred his horse through it straight into the teeth of murderous fire. Both horse and rider were killed instantly. His body was not found until the next day, by which time it had been so badly mutilated as to be almost unrecognisable.

Cary shares with Montrose the dubious distinction of being regarded among the noblest of the Cavaliers, the gallant young man, destined never to grow old. Hyde wrote “...Thus fell that incomparable young man in the four and thirtieth year of his life...” Elsewhere he wrote “...that little person and small stature was quickly found to contain a great heart...all mankind could not but admire and love him...”

In an England gone mad Lucius Cary had represented one voice of rationality. With his death, the last hope of peace died.
Inscription on the Falkland Monument at Newbury


Jenny Haddon said...

That is so sad. Charles I, though clearly an intelligent man,kind in some ways and even heroic at his end, destroyed a lot of people with his blind conviction of Divine Right.

Montrose has always been a hero of mine but Cary is a new one on me. Know Great Tew a little. Fabulous pub --The Falkland Arms.

Alison Stuart said...

Jenny, it is a sad story. When you look at his portraits, you can see a sensitive, intelligent man - in some ways well in advance of his time. Charles was unworthy of this loyalty.
I read he ended up having to sell his Great Tew estate to pay his father's debts. His father was another vain, inglorious man, unworthy of his son's affection.
Lucius Cary would be a fabulous subject for a novel, although no happy ending!

Venetia said...

Great post, Alison! I was hooked from the start by your 'suicide by battle' - as you say, Lucius's tale would make a wonderful novel. Has anyone tried to do so? Are you tempted ...

Anonymous said...

Someone should make a film about this man!