A family divided

Buff coat once worn by Sir Alexander Carew, second Baronet, on display in the Library at Antony, Cornwall. ©NTPL/Cristian Barnett

A recent post by Courtney Barnes made me think of buff coats (the coat worn by Ewan MacGregor in Courtney’s image is buff-coloured rather than being an actual buff – i.e. leather – coat, but that’s associational anarchy for you), and that prompted me to look into the history of the coat I showed in one of my own previous posts.

Swagger portrait of Sir Alexander Carew, second Baronet (1608/9-44). English school, c.1630. ©NTPL/John Hammond

That coat once belonged to Sir Alexander Carew, a seventeenth-century member of the ancient Cornish Carew clan. In the 1640s he was caught up in the Civil War, which divided not just the country but also his own family.

Antony in its park. The house was rebuilt in the early eighteenth century (and the rhododendrons are also a later introduction). ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Sir Alexander and his half-brother John were on the side of Parliament. Other members of the family were staunch royalists, and there is a tradition at Antony that in their rage they cut Sir Alexander’s portrait out of its frame and consigned it to the cellar.

Charles I at his trial by Edward Bower (fl.1629-66/67), in the Hall at Antony. ©NTPL/John Hammond

While defending the strategic St Nicholas island near Plymouth against royalist attack, Sir Alexander began to have doubts. Before he could change sides, however, he was betrayed, taken to London and beheaded on Tower Hill.

John Carew also came to a bad end. After the defeat of the royalists, he was one of the 59 Commissioners who signed the King’s death warrant in 1649. At the Restoration in 1660 he was duly convicted of regicide and executed at Charing Cross.

Various ancestors looking down from the stairs at Antony. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Sir Alexander’s kinsmen later took pity on him and had his portrait put back in the frame – the stitches can still be seen.

His eldest surviving son, John, was fortunately too young to be involved in the Civil War, and was allowed to inherit the title and the estate. He was a member of the 1660 Convention Parliament which restored Charles II to the throne.

5 Responses to “A family divided”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Very fine post…from a coat to a family feuding to heads falling to posthumous portrait redemption. Brief & accurate & witty. Thank you.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Barbara. I have to admit that the brevity is mainly because of lack of time! There is a lot more to be said about all of these stories – but then that may provide material for future posts.

  3. style court Says:


    I learn so much with every visit. I love how you were inspired by the movie image and ran in a new direction. Thanks as always for all you offer here!


  4. Janet Says:

    Emile ~ only YOU could segue from buff coats to Antony. Brilliant. I am now more determined than ever to visit. That vista is extraordinary (and underscores my desire to steal Andrew Butler’s job).

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Courtney. Your posts demonstrate how important films are to how we imagine history.

    Janet, I am glad you liked it. I was trying to find an image that showed the house half hidden, so that you can imagine its seventeenth-century incarnation.

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