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The Elusive Robert Carr: A Construction of a Jacobean Favourite, 1598-1612

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posted on 2023-01-05, 01:21 authored by Spence, Steven

This thesis explores the early political career of the Scottish borderer Robert Carr [Kerr], earl of Somerset (1585/6–1645), a courtier and later administrator (1598-1615) in the reigns of James VI and I, King of Scotland, England, and Ireland. For the first time the pervasive contention Carr was a significant Jacobean figure will be challenged. To achieve this, cultural artefacts supplement archival sources to illustrate the era’s ever-growing paranoia about royal favouritism. The first chapter explains how contemporaries and early historians of James’ reign revived classical portrayals of tyranny to transform Carr’s conventional pattern of advancement into something extraordinary. These authors obscured Carr’s origin from the formidable Kerrs of Ferniehirst in favour of a narrative that James ignored his natural advisors and promoted a transgressive, pacifist court. The second chapter demonstrates Carr’s role as a court broker and James’ closest companion. While their friendship conformed to Renaissance norms, Carr struggled for legitimacy in an environment where favouritism was linked to sycophancy. Finally, apprehension about favourites merged with neo-Stoic concerns that James failed to understand or respect English liberties. There were attempts to present Carr as a prop for absolutism. Carr became a conduit for English frustrations about James’ refusal to abandon the Anglo-Scottish union, and he attracted baseless claims of sabotaging the 1610 ‘The Great Contract’ between King and Parliament. This thesis argues that Carr was an unremarkable figure in the milieu of the Jacobean Court. The research findings of this thesis demonstrate the deep-set prejudices against courtiers (especially Scots), which turned an inoffensive figure like Carr into one that threatened to destabilise the Commonwealth.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-ND 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Abou-Nemeh, Catherine