Sir George Carew's report 1611

Sir George CarewIn the summer of 1611, Sir George Carew, the Irjsh Elizabethan military commander and former president of Munster, was commissioned by the king and his royal council ln London to conduct an enquiry into all aspects of the Castle adminlstration. Included in that wide mandate was an investigation in to the existing practices and procedures of the Irish exchequer and jUdlciary, the two most important d1visions of the Dublln government.

Sir George Carew visited Ireland in 1611 to report on the condition of the country, with a view to resettlement of Ulster, and described Ireland as improving rapidly and recovering from the disasters of the previous century.

On 11 July 1611 Sir George Carew arrived in Dublin. There he remained for the next seventeen days while he conferred with senior members of the Castle administration. As events were to show, these seventeen days were a crucial period in the time Carew devoted ta an enquiry into the exchequer and Judicial administrations.

One of the principal reasons for this was that it was during this time that Carew decided that the services of Sir John Davies could be utilized best not as a member of his party travelling north to Ulster but as the overseer of the preparation of vital reports sought by the English privy council on matters pertaining to the exchequer and Judiciary.

Sir John Davies, writing on the day that Carew, Arthur Chichester and other senior officers of the Castle left for Ulster, referred to the task that had been handed ta him:

"They have left in my hands many good propositions for the increasing of His Majesty's revenue in this kingdom in order that during their absence I should look into some records and confer with officers of the revenue and thereupon make report of how they may justly and speedily be put in execution."

The assignment that Davies had been given by Carew has to be seen against the background of the London discussions royal officials had with Sir George Carew prior to his departure. When Carew left London that summer he carried with him specific instructions to see that Chichester reduced the crown costs in Ireland by at least twenty thousand pounds a year. At the same time, the royal government was looking to Irish officials to work with Carew to augment the Irish revenues by a like amount. English officials had already determined that military spending was one particular area of disbursements that could be drastically cut back but this was not enough to reduce fiscal burdens; what also had to be done was to find ways to improve the collections of existing Irish income that Irish revenues could help to reduce the number of treasure shipments being sent to supplement the meagre revenues generated in the kingdom.

From the 'The Carew Manuscripts'In th autumn, he reported that John and William Brownlow were residing on their lands and living in an old Irish house, believed to be the old roofless church where the Brownlow Vault is situated today, in Shankill Graveyard. The church must have been of some antiquity as the name Shankill ("Sean Cill") from the Irish language, means "Old Church."

According to the report, the Brownlow's had brought with them six carpenters, one mason, one tailor and six workmen and had placed one freeholder and six tenants upon their lands. There was also preparations to the building of two bawns.

It is clearly evident from the years of the governorship of Thomas Wentworth that the growing import-export trade of Ireland afforded substantial possibilities for the Castle government to improve its deficit position. But such a possibility could only exist if the Irish governor had a final say in the handling of customs revenues. Not until the administration of Thomas Wentworth was the royal government to grant such power.

But apart from the ways that revenues could have been enhanced, there were other factors that inhibited a more efficient financial administration. The wheels of administrative reform moved slowly within all seventeenth-century governments. Many of the inefficient and outdated procedures of the Irish exchequer and ]judiciary were paralleled by similar problems in England, France and other countries in western Europe.

It is important to see the work of Sir George Carew against this background and not to denigrate his efforts that he expended in the summer and autumn of 1611. In fact, if the historian reads back no further than the commission of 1622 it would seem that little was accomplished in 1611 and that ten years later commissioners were still detailing serious neglects within both of the fiscal arms at the Castle.

A more careful study of the 1622 report, however, shows that much had been achieved in the decade prior to the 1622 commission. And in addition to this fact, many of the findings of the commissioners in 1622 were directly related to the reports Carew took back with him to London in late 1611. It is not unreasonable to assume that in 1632 when Thomas Wentworth delayed his arrival in Ireland by some months he not only spent that time studying the 1622 report of the commissioners, he looked also at the reports that Sir George Carew brought back to London with him in late 1611.

For aIl of these reasons, lt is important to view the commission of sir George Carew in 1611 as an important milestone in Irish financial and judicial history.

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