Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Carleton, Dudley

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CARLETON, Sir DUDLEY, Viscount Dorchester (1573–1632), diplomatist, was the son of Antony Carleton of Baldwin Brightwell, Oxfordshire, by Jocosa, his second wife, daughter of John Goodwin of Winchington, Buckinghamshire. He was born at his father's seat at Brightwell on 10 March 1573, and was early sent to Westminster School, where Dr. Edward Grant was his master, and in the latter part of his time Camden. He entered at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating B.A. on 2 July 1595. During the next five years he spent his time in foreign travel and in acquiring a knowledge of the continental languages. In 1600 he returned to England, and proceeded M.A. on 12 July of that year. Shortly after this he became secretary to Sir Thomas Parry, and accompanied him on his embassy to France in June 1602. Some disagreements are said to have arisen between the two, and in November 1603 Carleton was again in England, and next month at Winchester was an eyewitness of the butchery of Watson and other victims of the 'Raleigh plot.' In the following March he was elected member for St. Mawes in the first parliament of King James, and he seems to haye been from the first an active participator in the debates. He next became secretary to the unfortunate Henry, earl of Northumberland; but when Lord Norris, in March 1605? determined to make a tour in Spain, he prevailed upon Carleton to accompany him, who thereupon resigned his secretaryship to the earl While on their way home Lord Norris fell dangerously ill in Paris, and Carleton remained at his side till his recovery. Just at this time the Gunpowder plot was discovered, and it appeared in evidence that Carleton, as Lord Northumberland's secretary, had actually negotiated for the transfer of the vault under the parliament house in which the powder was laid. Carleton, in ignorance that his name had been mentioned in the affair, and never thinking that suspicion could light upon himself, still remained in Paris by his friend's side. His prolonged absence from England under the circumstances led to rumours much to his prejudice, and he was at length peremptorily summoned home by an order of the lords of the council, and on his arrival in London was placed in confinement in the bailiff's house at Westminster. Eventually he succeeded in clearing himself of all cognisance of, or complicity in, the abominable conspiracy, and by the favour of Lord Salisbury he was set at liberty, but not till he had been under arrest for nearly a month. His unfortunate connection with the Earl of Northumberland acted seriously to his prejudice for some years and interfered with his advancement, though he had already made powerful friends and had succeeded in producing a general impression of being a man of promise and extraordinary ability.

In November 1607 he married, in the Temple Church, Anne, daughter of Sir Henry Saville, the editor of Chrysostom's works and founder of the Savillian professorship at Oxford. Carleton had already assisted his future father-in-law in collating manuscripts while he was in Paris in 1603, and he continued 'plodding at his Greek letters,' as he calls it, while living in Sir Henry's house with his young wife during the first year of their married life. After this, and when a child was born to him, he took a house at Westminster, and became a diligent debater in parliament when it assembled. Salisbury had an eye upon the young man, and when, in May 1610, Sir Thomas Edmundes was recalled from the embassy to the Archduke Albert, Carleton was appointed to go as ambassador to Brussels. When all preparations were made for his departure, the king's intention changed, and he was ordered to proceed to Venice as successor to Sir Henry Wotton, who was recalled. He received the honour of knighthood in September, and, arriving at his destination about the middle of November, his career as a diplomatist began. From this time till the end of his life Carleton grew to be more and more esteemed as the most sagacious and successful diplomatist in Europe, and a history of the negotiations in which he was engaged would be a history of the foreign affairs of England during more than half of the reigns of James I and his unhappy successor. He returned to England from his Venetian embassy in 1615, shortly after he had carried through the very delicate task of getting the treaty of Asti concluded, whereby the war between Spain and Savoy was brought to an end, and something like peace in Europe was established. He did not remain long at home. In March 1616 he was sent to succeed Winwood at the Hague, and during the next five years he continued ambassador there. His despatches during this period contain a masterly summary of Dutch history and politics, and a graphic account of the extreme difficulties of the writer's position, and of the unfailing versatility and self-command which he displayed in extricating himself from these difficulties as they emerged.

Motley has given a caustic résumé of Carleton's speeches in the Assembly of Estates in 1617, which provoked much discussion at the time, and one of which at least was answered by Grotius in print. But when he attributes to him a bitter hatred of his hero Barneveld, Motley mistakes the man he was writing about. Carleton was of too cool and calculating a nature to be capable of strong hatred. Life to him, and especially political life, was a game to be played without passion; the men upon the board were but pawns or counters; and in playing with the States General at this time, when everybody in Holland was more or less mad with a theological mania, it was idle to speak or act as if they were sane. When four years later Frederic the Elector found himself an exile after the battle of Prague, and took refuge in Holland, he occupied for a time the ambassador's house, and brought in the Princess Elizabeth and her children with their retinue. Carleton was put to very great expense, but he bore it with his usual sangfroid, though he did not forget to mention the fact when subsequently he was seeking for royal favour. Sir Henry Saville died in February 1622. Lady Carleton was his only surviving child, and, possibly with a view to looking after her own interests, and certainly with the hope of getting some large sums of money which were due to the ambassador, in the spring of the following year her ladyship went over to England and was received with much favour. Thomas Murray, the prince's tutor, had succeeded Sir Henry as provost of Eton, but just as Lady Carleton arrived in England Murray too died. The provostship of Eton was again vacant, and Carleton was among the candidates for the vacant preferment; it fell to Sir Henry Wotton, however, and Carleton had to wait some years longer for promotion. In 1625 Buckingham came over to the Hague to attend the congress which was going to do such great things and did so little; and the speech which he delivered at his public audience was written for him by Carleton and delivered totidem verbis. When the duke returned to England, Carleton accompanied him, and was at once rewarded for his long services by being made vice-chamberlain of the household and a member of the privy council; but in a few weeks he was again despatched, in concert with the Earl of Holland, on an extraordinary embassy to France. The mission proved abortive; Richelieu had a policy, Charles had none, and the two ambassadors returned in March 1626, having effected little or nothing. When Carleton landed in England, he found the House of Commons occupied with the impeachment of Buckingham. He had been elected in his absence member for the borough of Hastings, and lost no time in taking his seat and speaking in defence of his patron and friend. He spoke as a diplomatist, and with small success; but it is not improbable that if he had been left to follow his own plans he might have been found a useful member in the house, and have exercised some influence in restraining the violence of the more fiery spirits on the one hand, and in checking the imprudence and rashness of the king and his supporters on the other. By this time, however, the lords had shown a disposition to take a line of their own, and Charles determined to strengthen his party in the upper house. Carleton was accordingly raised to the peerage as Lord Carleton of Imbercourt in May 1626. Shortly afterwards it was found expedient once more to send him on a mission to the Hague. One of the objects of this foolish mission was to prevail upon the States to favour a levy of 1,000 German horse, who were intended to serve in England, and the other was to effect a union of the States against Spain. Carleton must have known before he started that he could only fail in such a project. He was kept in Holland on this occasion for two years, and during his absence Lady Carleton died (18 April 1627). She was buried in St. Paul's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The children she had given birth to had all died in infancy, and Carleton found himself a childless widower. He returned in April, and on 25 July 1628 was created Viscount Dorchester.

Meanwhile Buckingham's miserable incompetency for the position which he now occupied had been showing itself more glaringly every day, and he had at length drifted into the intention of raising the siege of Rochelle. Dorchester could only disapprove of Buckingham's scheme, but things had gone too far to allow of a change of front. Yet on 6 Aug. it seemed as if there might still be a way out of the difficulties, and a peace with France be concluded. Overtures to this effect were made by Contarini to Dorchester, and it was actually while he was walking to the conference which Dorchester had arranged on the morning of 23 Aug. 1628 for settling the terms of this peace that Buckingham received his death-wound. Dorchester was an eyewitness of the whole dreadful scene, and it 'was only through his prompt interference that Felton was saved from being torn to pieces by the bystanders. In the following December Dorchester became chief secretary of state, and from this time till his death he was the responsible minister for foreign affairs, so far as any minister of Charles I could be responsible for the mistakes of a king who the less he knew the more he meddled. Dorchester was now in his fifty-fifth year, and only a little past his prime; he might still hope to leave a son behind him. Paul, first Lord Bayning, died in 1629, leaving a young widow and five children all amply provided for. In 1630 this lady became Dorchester's second wife. Their union was but of brief duration. Dorchester died on 5 Feb. 1632, and was buried four days after in Westminster Abbey, his funeral being conducted with little pomp or ceremony. He left but a small estate behind him, not more than 700l. a year. It is clear that, like many other faithful servants of the Stuarts, he had gained nothing but barren honour by his lifelong services. Lady Dorchester gave birth to a posthumous daughter, Frances, in June 1632, who lived little more than six months. Dorchester's titles became extinct, and a nephew of the same name, and who succeeded him in some of his diplomatic employments, was eventually his heir. Dorchester's letters and despatches testify to the writer's extraordinary facility as a correspondent. They are immensely voluminous. Cecil alone, among his contemporaries, has left behind him a larger mass of manuscript. His style is remarkably fluent and clear; few writers of English have surpassed him in the power of making his meaning obvious without effort and without unnecessary verbiage. A collection of his letters during his embassy in Holland was published by Lord Hardwicke in 1755, which attained a third edition in 1780, and his despatches during his embassy at the Hague in 1677 were printed by Sir Thomas Philipps at Middle Hill in 1841, Some of his letters may be found in the 'Cabala' and other collections, especially in Dr. Birch's 'Court and Times of James I and of Charles I;' but these are only a small portion of the mass of correspondence which has never been printed, and which is to be found in the Record Office and other depositories.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ii. 519; and Fasti Oxon.; Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1603-32 passim; Birch's Court and Times of James I and Charles I; Winwood's Memorials of State; Birch's Negotiations between the Courts of England, France, and Brussels from 1592 to 1617; Historical Preface to Carleton's Letters, by Lord Hardwicke (1780); Gardiner's Hist, of England in the Reigns of James I and Charles I; Forster's Life of Eliot; Motley's Life and Death of John of Barneveld (1874); Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers; Banks's Dormant and Extinct Baronage (1809), iii. 52. Clarendon's account of Carleton (Hist, of the Rebellion, bk. i.) is flimsy and inaccurate. He is included among Horace Walpole's Noble Authors. There is a good account of him and the Carleton family in Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey (i. 456), though there and everywhere else his first wife is said to have been Ann, daughter of George Gerard of Dorney, Buckinghamshire. This curious mistake has been repeated again and again, and has been accepted even by so scrupulous and conscientious a genealogist as Colonel Chester. The origin of the blunder is inexplicable.]

A. J.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.55
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
88 i 27-30 Carleton, Sir Dudley, Viscount Dorchester: for daughter of Sir Henry Saville . . . . Oxford read daughter of George Gerrard of Dorney, Buckinghamshire, by Margaret, whose second husband was Sir Henry Saville
89 ii 28 for 5 read 15
90 i 21-28 omit though there . . . . is inexplicable