Sir George Carew's report 1611
In 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
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
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
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.
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
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.