Richard Vaughan
2nd Earl of Carbery (1600? - 1686)

Royalist army officer and owner of Golden Grove

Tomb of Rhys ap Thomas
Richard Vaughan, 2nd Earl of Carbery of Golden Grove, Llandeilo, looking every inch the Cavalier Officer. (Photo Carmarthen County Museum)

The bloody Civil War that engulfed the British Isles between 1642 and 1649 is always called the English Civil War in the history books. But as battles took place on Scottish, Irish and Welsh soil perhaps the British Civil War would be a more accurate title for this great struggle between the forces of an absolutist monarchy and a republican parliament. The execution of a king was just one of its many consequences.

Several battles took place in south-west Wales which was under the royalist command of the Second Earl of Carbery, Richard Vaughan, of Golden Grove, Llandeilo. A general without any military experience whom King Charles I put in command of the three west Wales counties of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, Carbery turned out to be a disastrous choice and he lost the entire region of his command to the parliamentary forces. He soon vanished from view and in 1644 retired to sit out the rest of the Civil War at his idyllic - and palatial - stately home of Golden Grove.

Curiously, Carbery had first been appointed by parliament to execute its militia ordinance in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire when civil war broke out in 1642. But in 1643 he was commissioned lieutenant-general of the three south-western Welsh counties for the king's forces', though a series of defeats caused by his total lack of any military competence made it obvious that he would have to surrender his commission to a proven soldier, which he did in May 1644.

At the Restoration, Carbery's fortunes improved and he was appointed president of the newly re-established council of Wales and the marches, an honour which reflected both his former services as a royalist leader and his status as the foremost resident Welsh peer. He carried out his duties with apparent diligence until 1672, when he was dismissed because of a public scandal concerning his alleged ill treatment, extending to physical mutilation, of servants and tenants on his estate at Dryslwyn, Carmarthenshire. No wonder he'd been called a man of 'pride and menacing insolencies' in 1646.

His reputation is vindicated somewhat by his patronage of two major literary figures of the 17 th century. Carbery gave sanctuary to King Charles's military chaplain, Jeremy Taylor, one of the greatest prose writers of the century, many of whose major works (all religious in nature) were written in Golden Grove while he was chaplain to the Carbery household. Carbery also extended his patronage later on to the 17 th century satiric writer Samuel Butler, so this redeems his name to some extent. Whether the various people he is supposed to have mutilated in Dryslwyn saw it that way we may confidently doubt.

Summary of life and carer

Vaughan, Richard , second earl of Carbery (1600?-1686), royalist army officer , was the principal magnate of south-west Wales during the mid-seventeenth century, and its leading local royalist during the great civil war. The lack of local records in this period makes it impossible to know for certain when he was born and he is one of those for whom a question mark has to replace a birth date. References to his age later on in life are the only way that 1600 can be established as a conjectured year of birth. It is, however, known that he travelled in Spain in 1623, possibly accompanying his father John Vaughan (1574/5-1634) in the entourage of the prince of Wales. His first appearances in the historical record is when he stood for parliament in 1624 for Carmarthenshire and again in 1629. The coronation of Charles I in February 1626 was a notable event for Richard Vaughan too, as he received his knighthood from the newly crowned King on this occasion. He then succeeded to the earldom on his father's death in 1634 and was admitted a member of Gray's Inn on February 15 1638. Carbery's first marriage to Bridget Lloyd, daughter of Thomas Lloyd of Llanllŷr, Cardiganshire, is another event in his life which has no recorded date while the death of Bridget can't be ascertained either, though she was clearly dead by 8 th August 1637 when Carbery married again. His new wife shows his marital choice to be a little more socially ambitious second time around, as Frances Altham (1620/21-1650), was the daughter of Sir James Altham of Oxhey in Watford, Hertfordshire. She bore him two sons: Francis, who died in 1667, and John Vaughan (1639-1713) who was to succeed his father as earl of Carbery.

The person who called Carbery a man of 'pride and menacing insolencies' in 1646 was one John Vicars who, as a parliamentary propagandist, may have been political motivated in pouring scorn on the royalist Carbery, but he was certainly known for having a fiery character. It appears not to have been ambition either which drew this criticism, for there is very little reference to him before the outbreak of civil war, which would argue for a lack of interest in national affairs before then. So little, in fact, that parliament, not the King, appointed him to execute its militia ordinance in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire. But he soon switched over to the King's cause, and a regiment raised by him and led by his uncle Henry Vaughan reached the royal army in January 1643. Then, on 4 April, as part of the establishment of regional royalist commands, Carbery himself was commissioned lieutenant-general of the three south-western Welsh counties and instructed to secure them for the king's cause. But while Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire were firmly royalist, in Pembrokeshire the important ports of Tenby and Pembroke contained a party sympathetic to parliament. At first Carbery chose to observe a truce with these two seaports and sat and waited for developments elsewhere. Until September 1643, that is, when all this changed after Charles withdrew the royal army in Ireland to reinforce the English royalists at home. Tenby and Pembroke now became crucial ports where the troops from Ireland were to disembark, and where the parliamentary supporters in the two towns could disrupt the flow of soldiers to the king.

Carbery set about it on 18 August by persuading most of the Pembrokeshire gentry to declare their intention of helping him to secure Tenby and Pembroke, and provide him with £2,000 towards any necessary military action. Initially this show of strength by Carbery worked and both Tenby and Pembroke declared for the King soon afterwards. Carbery was quickly rewarded for this bloodless victory and on 24 th October he was given an English peerage as Baron Vaughan of Emlyn and was commissioned as governor of Milford Haven on 17 th November, giving him direct military control of Pembroke and any outlying forts along the inlet leading to it. But something next precipitated a military rising among the parliamentary zealots in Pembroke who seized the port and made actual warfare inevitable at last.

Unfortunately Carbery had absolutely no experience of war, or any aptitude to make up for this lack of experience, and didn't even any talented veteran to turn to. In an attempt to re-take Pembroke Carbery called up the militias of the three counties and built a new fort across the Haven in an attempt to blockade the town into surrender without risking a direct attack. His tactics, unfortunately, seriously underestimated the determination both of parliament and its supporters in Pembroke. Parliament relieved the port with a naval squadron and next the town's citizens, reinforced by sailors from the squadron, commenced a series of assaults on the royalist garrisons around Pembroke, taking them one after another, including Tenby. With no forces in reserve Carbery was powerless to halt the parliamentary advances and by March 1644 had lost the whole of Pembrokeshire and was recalled to the royal headquarters at Oxford to account for this disaster. His departure left the local royalists completely demoralized, and in April, the parliamentary forces, under the command of the talented general Rowland Laugharne also took possession of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire without resistance. Carbery had lost the entire region of his command.

Although Carbery was personally exonerated from blame at Oxford, it was obvious that he would have to relinquish his commission to a proven soldier, so on 8 May 1644 he commenced his journey back to Wales as adviser to his replacement as commander in the south-west, Charles Gerard. After this he vanishes from view for the remainder of the war, apparently retiring to his seat at Golden Grove to sit it out. A second, and final, conquest of Carmarthenshire by Rowland Laugharne in November 1645, resulted in Carbery being fined £4,500 for his former actions. But support for Carbery then came from a most unexpected quarter indeed. The fine was later cancelled after the intercession of Rowland Laugharne, no less, who wrote to the speaker of the Commons on 18 November, explaining that the earl promised to be an eager and reliable collaborator and that his local standing would make him very useful to parliament in settling the region.

Carbery remained cautious and non-committal for the rest of the Civil War and the following Cromwellian interregnum (1649-1660), refusing to support a royalist uprising against parliament in south Wales during April and May 1648, when his old enemy Laugharne made common cause with most of the region's royalists and declared for the king. Whatever compelled his decision it proved a wise one, as the uprising was crushed, while he kept his head down at Golden Grove. Throughout the interregnum he led a retired and comfortable life, achieving some indirect literary fame as the patron of Jeremy Taylor. While a guest in his house, this Anglican theologian published several of his most notable works. Carbery's second wife, Countess Frances, died on 9 October 1650, leaving Carbery to make a last and most prestigious match in July 1652, with Lady Alice Egerton, eleventh and youngest daughter of John Egerton, first earl of Bridgewater (1579-1649). She was to outlive him by two and a half years, dying in July 1689.

Carbery's silence in these years paid dividends at the restoration of the monarch in 1660 and he was appointed president of the newly re-established council of Wales and the marches. His former service to the royalist cause, along with being the leading Welsh peer of the day, clearly contributed to this decision. But it was in this period that his second disgrace occurred when, apparently carrying out his duties with due diligence, he was dismissed in 1672 because of a public scandal. This was his alleged ill treatment, including physical mutilation, of servants and tenants on his estate at Dryslwyn, Carmarthenshire.

During his tenure of the presidency he gave valuable support to another literary figure of the day, Samuel Butler, whom he made his secretary, and steward of Ludlow Castle, the seat of the council. It appears to have been there that Butler wrote the first part of his best-known work, the long satirical poem Hudibras .

But after his disgrace Carbery disappears from public view. He died on 3 December 1686, probably at Golden Grove, and is presumed to have been buried in Llandeilo Fawr parish church.

The judgement of Carbery's biographer, Ronald Hutton, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) is an ambivalent one that finally comes down on the critical side:

Carbery deserves some honour as a patron of letters and a conscientious administrator, but it is very clear that his contemporaries felt more respect for his social position than his personality. He never showed any interest in politics, and his role as a general was forced upon him and became one of the most inglorious of the civil war. His conduct in that war can be praised for prudence and realism rather than for any other virtues, and it is clear that his own taste was for a quiet life as a provincial nobleman; his part in national history may almost be described as accidental. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). The sixty-volume DNB is a near-exhaustive survey of 55,000 of Britain's great and good (including plenty of the not-so-good) from Roman times to the present.)