Carte, Thomas (1686–1754), biographer, was born in April 1686 in Warwickshire, son of Samuel Carte, clergyman and antiquary. He graduated BA (1702) from University College, Oxford, and MA (1706) from King's College, Cambridge. After ordination he was appointed reader at Bath abbey, where on 30 January 1714 he preached a sermon defending Charles I from the charge of condoning the Irish rebellion of 1641. A pamphlet controversy ensued and in May 1714 he published The Irish massacre set in a clear light, which later became the inspiration for his Life of Ormond.
Having refused the oaths to George I, Carte adopted lay dress. He was a close associate of the Jacobite prelate Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester; a reward of £1,000 was offered for his arrest when Atterbury was committed to the Tower in 1722. Carte wisely escaped to France, where he lived under a pseudonym, but was allowed to return to England in 1728. Despite this stint in exile his association with Jacobitism continued and he was detained briefly when a French invasion was rumoured in 1744. On his return to England he was almost immediately engaged by the earl of Arran (qv) and began work on a biography of Arran's grandfather, the 1st duke of Ormond (qv). Arran gave him 153 bundles of papers and permission to search the evidence room in Kilkenny castle. In August 1732 he visited the castle and found fourteen large wicker bins of papers, much of which he took back to England.
Seeking papers in other repositories, he came in contact with surviving relatives of the main participants in the events of the Caroline and Cromwellian periods, a number of whom were Jacobite sympathisers like himself. In these endeavours he was helped by Thomas Sheridan (qv), a friend of Jonathan Swift (qv), and Francis MacNamara of Moriesk, Co. Clare. Through the latter he met again Sylvester Lloyd (qv) of Co. Clare, catholic bishop of Killaloe, whom he had first encountered in exile in Paris. Lloyd promised Carte that if he ‘would write very impartially and not pay or offer more incense to a certain family than they had a right to’, he would direct him ‘to find out all the helps that were necessary and useful all the kingdom over' (Russell and Prendergast, 11). Through Lloyd's introduction Carte met Henry McNeil of Church St., Dublin, and gained access to the papers and collection of his kinsman Tully O'Neil, which were finally published as ‘A journal of the most memorable transactions of General Owen O'Neill and his party from the year 1641 to the year 1650, faithfully related by Colonel Henry McTully O'Neill who served under him' in Desiderata curiosa Hibernica or a select collection of state papers (1772). It is likely too that Carte's knowledge of the memoirs of Nicholas Plunkett (qv) was due to Lloyd.
The Life of the duke of Ormond was published in 1736, preceded by a volume of correspondence between the leading participants in the wars of the 1640s and 1650s. There is some truth in Samuel Johnson's criticism that Carte's ‘matter is diffused in too many words, there is no animation, no compression, no vigour. Two good volumes in duodecimo might be made out of one folio' (DNB). Nevertheless, the life aroused considerable interest. When pirated excerpts went on sale in Dublin, Carte asked Jonathan Swift, whom he claimed to know well, to take action on his behalf. Having asserted his rights in law as it then stood, he went on to lobby successfully at Westminster for statutory protection for an author's rights in published work.
He devoted much of his energy in the 1740s and 1750s to the writing of his History of England. The first volume appeared in 1747. He included in it a reference to Christopher Lovel of Bristol, who was purportedly cured of the king's evil (scrofula) by being touched by the Stuart pretender, whom Carte called ‘the eldest lineal descendant of the race of kings who have for a long succession of ages cured by the royal touch’ (DNB). This raised a storm among anti-Jacobites; Carte was attacked in the Gentleman's Magazine, and the common council of London withdrew its grant for his History. Nevertheless two other volumes appeared in 1750 and 1752, and the last one appeared after his death.
Accounts vary as to Carte's appearance. His fellow Jacobite and bibliophile Dr Rawlinson disputed the very precise description given in the proclamation for his arrest in 1722: ‘medium stature, a raw-boned man, goes a little stooping, a sallow complection, with full grey or blue eyes, his eyelids fair, inclining to red and commonly wears a light-coloured peruke’. He died 11 April 1754 in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, leaving his extensive collection of papers to his wife, Sarah, née Brett, who in turn left them to her second husband, who later sold them to the Bodleian Library. These papers, described in C. W. Russell (qv) and J. P. Prendergast (qv), The Carte manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, contain the more significant of Ormond's political papers, as well as the Chichester papers, Fitzwilliam papers, Sir Robert Southwell (qv) papers, Wharton papers, earl of Sandwich's papers, Nairne papers, miscellaneous letters of Sir Toby Bourke (qv), and numerous collections of specifically English interest.