George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore (c. 1580 – 15 April 1632) was an English politician and coloniser. He achieved domestic political success as a Member of Parliament and later Secretary of State under King James I, though he lost much of his political power after his support for a failed marriage alliance between Prince Charles and the Spanish royal family. Rather than continue in politics, he resigned all of his political offices in 1625 except for his position on the Privy Council and declared his Catholicism publicly. He was granted the title of 1st Baron Baltimore in the Irish peerage upon his resignation.
Calvert took an interest in the colonization of the New World, at first for commercial reasons and later to create a refuge for English Catholics. He became the proprietor of Avalon, the first sustained English settlement on the island of Newfoundland. Discouraged by the climate and the sufferings of the settlers there, Calvert looked for a more suitable spot further south and sought a new royal charter to settle the region that was to become the state of Maryland. Calvert died five weeks before the new charter was sealed, leaving the settlement of the Maryland colony to his son Cæcilius. His son Leonard Calvert was the first colonial governor of Maryland. Historians have long recognized George Calvert as the founder of Maryland, in spirit if not in fact.
A decade before George was born, Sir Thomas Gargrave had described Richmondshire as a territory where all gentlemen were "evil in religion", in other words Roman Catholic; it appears Leonard Calvert was no exception. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the principles of royal government over the church and of compulsory religious uniformity were legitimised by acts of parliament and enforced through penal laws which gave the state the right to interfere in the private religious lives of its citizens. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity of 1559 included an oath of allegiance to the queen and an implicit denial of the Pope's authority over the church. This oath was required of any common citizen who wished to hold high office, attend university, or take advantage of opportunities controlled by the state.
The Calvert household was not spared the intrusion of the Elizabethan penal laws. From the year of George's birth onwards, Leonard Calvert was subjected to repeated harassment by the Yorkshire authorities, who in 1580 extracted a promise of conformity from him, compelling his attendance at church. In 1592, when George was twelve, the authorities denounced one of his tutors for teaching "from a popish primer" and instructed Leonard and Grace to send George and his brother Christopher to a Protestant tutor, and, if necessary, to present the children before the commission “once a month to see how they perfect in learning”. As a result, the boys were sent to a Protestant tutor called Mr Fowberry at Bilton. Once again, Leonard was obliged to give a bond of conformity; he was also banned from employing Catholic servants and forced to purchase an English Bible, which was to "ly open in his house for everyone to read".
To what extent Leonard's conformity was genuine cannot be determined; but in 1593, records show that Grace Calvert was committed to the custody of a "pursuivant", an official responsible for identifying and prosecuting Catholics, and in 1604, she was described as the "wife of Leonard Calvert of Kipling, non-communicant at Easter last". George Calvert went up to Trinity College, Oxford, matriculating in 1593–4, where he studied foreign languages and received a bachelor’s degree in 1597. As the oath of allegiance was compulsory there after the age of sixteen, he would almost certainly have pledged conformity while at Oxford.
The same pattern of conformity, whether pretended or sincere, continued through Calvert’s early life. After Oxford, he moved to London in 1598, where he studied municipal law at Lincoln’s Inn for three years. In November 1604, he married Anne Mynne (or Mayne) in a Protestant ceremony at St Peter’s, Cornhill, where his address was registered as St Martin in the Fields. His children, including his heir, Cæcilius, who was born in the winter of 1605–6, were all baptised as Protestants, and when Anne died in 1622, she was buried at Calvert’s local Protestant church, St Martin in the Fields.
In 1606, the king made Calvert clerk of the Crown and Assizes in the province of Connacht, County Clare, Ireland, his first royal appointment, and in 1609, appointed him a clerk of the Signet office, a post which required the preparation of documents for the royal signature and brought Calvert into close contact with the king. Calvert also served in James’s first parliament as a member for the borough of Bossiney, Cornwall, installed there by Cecil to support his policies. In 1610, Calvert was appointed a clerk of the Privy Council. All these positions would have required an oath of allegiance.
With Cecil's support, Calvert came into his own as an advisor and supporter of King James. In 1610 and 1611, Calvert undertook missions to the continent on behalf of the king, visiting a number of embassies in Paris, Holland, and Cleves, and acting as an ambassador to the French court during the coronation of Louis XIII in 1610. A correspondent from France reported that Calvert gave “everyone great contentment with his discreet conversation”. In 1615, James sent him to the Palatinate, whose impoverished elector, Frederick V, had married James’s daughter Elizabeth in 1613. One of Calvert’s tasks was to convey the king’s disapproval that Elizabeth, for lack of money, had given away expensive jewels to a gentlewoman leaving her employ. Frederick’s decision in 1619 to accept the throne of Bohemia triggered a war with the powerful Habsburgs which James attempted to end through a proposed alliance with Spain.
In 1611, James employed Calvert to research and transcribe his tract against the Dutch theologian Conrad Vorstius. The following year, Cecil died, and Calvert acted as one of the four executors of his will. The king’s favourite, Sir Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, assumed the duties of secretary of state and recruited Calvert to assist with foreign policy, in particular the Latin and Spanish correspondence. Carr, soon raised to the earldom of Somerset, was not a success in the job, however, and fell from favour partly as a result of the murder of Thomas Overbury, to which Carr's wife, Frances, the former Countess of Essex, pleaded guilty in 1615. Carr's place as James’s principal favourite was now taken by the handsome George Villiers, with whom James was said to have been infatuated.
In 1613, the king commissioned Calvert to investigate Catholic grievances in Ireland, along with Sir Humphrey Wynch, Sir Charles Cornwallis, and Sir Roger Wilbraham. The commission spent almost four months in Ireland, and its final report, partly drafted by Calvert, concluded that conformity should be enforced more strictly in Ireland, Catholic schools be suppressed, and bad priests removed and punished. The king resolved not to reconvene an Irish parliament until the Catholics "shall be better disciplined". In 1616, James endowed Calvert with the manor of Danby Wiske in Yorkshire, which brought him into contact with Sir Thomas Wentworth, who became his closest friend and political ally. Calvert was now wealthy enough to buy the Kiplin estate in his home parish; and in 1617, his social status received a further boost when he was knighted.
In 1619, Calvert completed his rise to power when James appointed him as one of the two principal secretaries of state, after Sir Thomas Lake's dismissal following scandals, including his wife’s indiscretions with state secrets. Calvert did not emerge as a candidate until the end of the selection process, his appointment coming as a surprise to most observers, including to Calvert himself. Assuming he owed his promotion to the king’s increasingly powerful favourite, George Villiers, he sent him a great jewel as a token of thanks. Villiers returned the jewel, however, saying he had had nothing to do with the matter. Calvert's personal fortune was secured when he was additionally appointed a commissioner of the treasury with a £1,000 pension and a subsidy on imported raw silk which would later be converted to a further £1,000 pension.
Although King James rewarded Calvert in 1623 for his loyalty by granting him a estate in County Longford, Ireland, where his seat was known as the Manor of Baltimore, Calvert found himself increasingly isolated from court circles as the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Buckingham wrested control of policy from the ageing James. Without consulting the diplomatically astute Calvert, the prince and the duke travelled to Spain to negotiate the Spanish marriage for themselves, with disastrous results. Instead of securing an alliance, the visit provoked a hostility between the two courts which quickly led to war. In a reversal of policy, Buckingham dismissed the treaties with Spain, summoned a war council, and sought a French marriage for the prince.
The connection between Calvert's resignation and his conversion to Catholicism was a complex one. George Cottington, a former employee of Calvert, suggested in 1628 that Calvert's conversion had been in progress a long time before it was made public. George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, reported that opposition to Calvert, combined with his loss of office, had "made him discontented and, as the saying is, Desperatio facit monachum, so hee apparently did turne papist, which hee now professeth, this being the third time that he hath bene to blame that way [sic]". Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, later claimed Calvert had been a secret Catholic all along ("infinitely addicted to the Catholic faith"), which explained his support for lenient policies towards Catholics and for the Spanish match.
However, such interpretations of his motives were retrospective: no one had questioned Calvert's conformity at the time, and if he had indeed been secretly Catholic, he had hidden it well. It seems more likely Calvert converted in late 1624, since a Discalced Carmelite priest called Simon Stock reported to the ''Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in Rome on November 15 that he had converted two Privy Councillors to Catholicism, one of whom historians are certain was Calvert. Calvert, who had probably met Stock at the Spanish embassy in London, later worked with the priest on a scheme for a Catholic mission in his Newfoundland colony.
The old king died in March 1625, but the newly crowned King Charles maintained Calvert's barony and his place on the Privy Council. Calvert now turned his attention to his Irish estates and his overseas investments. He was not entirely forgotten at court, however. After Buckingham's dabblings in wars against Spain and France had ended in failure, he recalled Baltimore to court, and for a while may have considered employing him in the peace negotiations with Spain. Though nothing came of Baltimore's recall in the end, he was able to renew his rights over the silk-import duties, which had lapsed with the death of James I, and secure Charles' blessing for his venture in Newfoundland.
Calvert dispatched Captain Edward Wynne and a group of Welsh colonists to Ferryland, where they landed in August 1621 and set about constructing a settlement. Calvert received positive reports from Wynne concerning the potential for local fisheries and for the production of salt, hemp, flax, tar, iron, timber and hops. Wynne also praised the climate, declaring, "It is better and not so cold as England" and predicting that the colony would become self-sufficient after one year. Others corroborated Wynne's reports: for example, Captain Daniel Powell, who delivered a further party of settlers to Ferryland, wrote: "The land on which our Governor planted is so good and commodious, that for the quantity, I think there is no better in many parts of England"; but he added ominously that Ferryland was "the coldest harbour in the land". Wynne and his men began work on various building projects, including a substantial house and the shoring up of the harbour. To protect them against marauding French ships, a recent hazard in the area, Calvert employed the pirate John Nutt.
The settlement appeared to be progressing so well that in January 1623 Calvert obtained a concession from King James for the whole of Newfoundland, though the grant was soon reduced to cover only the Avalon peninsula, owing to competing claims. The final charter constituted the province as a palatinate, officially titled the "Province of Avalon", under Calvert's personal rule.
After resigning the secretariat in 1625, the new Baron Baltimore made clear his intention to visit the colony himself: "I intend shortly," he wrote in March, "God willing, a journey for Newfoundland to visit a plantation which I began there some few years since. However, his plans were disrupted by the death of King James, and by the crackdown on Catholics with which Charles I began his reign in order to appease his opponents. The new king required all privy councillors to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance; and since Baltimore, as a Catholic, could only refuse, he was obliged to step down from that cherished office. Given the new religious and political climate, and perhaps also to escape a serious outbreak of plague in England, Baltimore moved to Ireland; and his expedition to Newfoundland set sail without him in late May 1625 under Sir Arthur Aston, who became the new governor of Avalon. A reference by David Rothe, bishop of Ossary, in Ireland, to a "Joane [also recorded as Jane] Baltimore now wife" of Calvert, reveals that Baltimore had recently remarried.
There is no evidence from before 1625 that Baltimore's colonial ambitions possessed a religious dimension, but from the time of his conversion onwards, he took care to cater for the religious needs of his colonists, both Catholic and Protestant. He had asked Simon Stock to provide priests for the 1625 expedition, but Stock's recruits arrived in England after Aston had sailed. Stock's own ambitions for the colony appear to have exceeded Baltimore's: in letters to De Propaganda Fide in Rome, Stock claimed the Newfoundland settlement could act as a springboard for the conversion of natives not only in the New World but also in China, the latter via a passage he believed existed from the east coast to the Pacific Ocean.
Newfoundland...imports me more than in Curiosity only to see; for I must either go and settle it in a better Order than it is, or else give it over, and lose all the Charges I have been at hitherto for other Men to build their Fortunes upon. And I had rather be esteemed a Fool for some by the Hazard of one Month’s journey, than to prove myself one certainly for six Years by past, if the Business be now lost for some want of a little Pains and Care.
Aston's return to England in late 1626, along with all the Catholic settlers, failed to deter Baltimore, who finally sailed for Newfoundland himself in 1627, arriving on July 23 and staying only two months before returning to England. He had taken both Protestant and Catholic settlers with him, as well as two secular priests, Thomas Longville and Anthony Pole (also known as Smith), the latter remaining behind in the colony when Baltimore departed for England. The land Baltimore had seen was by no means the paradise described by some early settlers, being only marginally productive; but the summer climate was deceptively mild, and his brief visit gave Baltimore no reason to alter his plans for the colony.
In 1628, he sailed again for Newfoundland, this time with his second wife, most of his children, and forty more settlers, to officially take over as Proprietary Governor of Avalon. He and his family moved into the house at Ferryland built by Wynne, a sizeable structure for the time, by colonial standards, and the only one in the settlement large enough to accommodate religious services for the community.
Matters connected to religion were to bedevil Baltimore's stay in "this remote part of the worlde where I have planted my selfe [sic]". He sailed at a time when military preparations were underway to relieve the Huguenots at La Rochelle, and was dismayed to find that the war with France had spread to Newfoundland, and that he was obliged to spend most of his time fighting off French attacks on English fishing fleets with his own ships the Dove and the Ark. As he wrote to Buckingham, "I came to builde, and sett, and sowe, but I am falne to fighting with Frenchmen [sic]". His settlers were so successful against the French that they captured several ships, which they escorted back to England to help with the war effort. Baltimore was granted the loan of one of the ships to aid in his defence of the colony, as well as a share of the prize money.
Adopting a policy of free religious worship in the colony, Baltimore allowed the Catholics to worship in one part of his house and the Protestants in another. This novel arrangement proved too much for the resident Protestant priest, Erasmus Stourton—"that knave Stourton", as Baltimore referred to him—who, after altercations with Baltimore, was placed on a ship for England, where he lost no time in reporting Baltimore's practices to the authorities, complaining that the Catholic priests Smith and Hackett said mass every Sunday and "doe use all other ceremonies of the church of Rome in as ample a manner as tis used in Spayne [sic]". and that Baltimore had even had the son of a Protestant forcibly baptised as a Catholic. Although Stourton's complaints were investigated by the Privy Council, he had not reckoned on Baltimore's support in high places and the case was dismissed.
Meanwhile, Baltimore had become disenchanted with conditions in "this wofull country", and he wrote to his old acquaintances in England lamenting his troubles. The final blow to his hopes was dealt neither by the French nor by the likes of Stourton but by the Newfoundland winter of 1628–9, which did not release its grip until May. Like others before them, the residents of Avalon suffered terribly from the cold and from malnutrition. Nine or ten of Baltimore's company died that winter, and with half the settlers ill at one time, his house had to be turned into a hospital. In addition, the sea froze over, and nothing would grow before May. "Tis not terra Christianorum", Baltimore wrote to Wentworth. He confessed to the king: "I have found...by too deare bought experience [that which other men] always concealed from me...that there is a sad face of wynter upon all this land".
Baltimore now solicited a new charter from the king. In order to found an alternative colony in a less hostile climate further south, he requested "a precinct" in Virginia, where he could grow tobacco. He wrote to his friends Francis Cottington and Thomas Wentworth enlisting their support for this new proposal, admitting the impression his abandonment of Avalon might make in England: "I shall rayse a great deal of talke and discourse and be censured by most men of giddiness and levity [sic]". The king, perhaps guided by Baltimore's friends at court, replied expressing concern for Baltimore's health and gently advising him to forget colonial schemes and return to England, where he would be treated with every respect: "Men of your condition and breeding are fitter for other imployments than the framing of new plantations, which commonly have rugged & laborious beginnings, and require much greater meanes, in managing them, than usually the power of one private subject can reach unto".
Baltimore sent his children home to England in August. By the time the king's letter reached Avalon, he had departed with his wife and servants for Virginia.
Baltimore spent the last two years of his life constantly lobbying for his new charter, though the obstacles proved difficult. The Virginians, led by William Claiborne, who sailed to England to make the case, campaigned aggressively against separate colonising of the Chesapeake, claiming they themselves possessed the rights to that area. Baltimore also found himself short of capital, having exhausted his fortune, and was sometimes forced to depend on the assistance of his friends. To make matters worse, in the summer of 1630, his household was infected by the plague, which he survived. He wrote to Wentworth: "Blessed be God for it who hath preserved me now from shipwreck, hunger, scurvy and pestilence...
His health declining, Baltimore's persistence over the charter finally paid off in 1632. Notwithstanding renewed objections from the Virginians, the king first granted him a location south of Jamestown, but Baltimore asked the king to reconsider in response to opposition from other investors interested in settling the new land of Carolina into a sugar plantation. Baltimore eventually compromised by accepting redrawn boundaries to the north of the Potomac River, on either side of the Chesapeake Bay. The charter was about to pass when the fifty-two-year-old Baltimore died in his lodgings at Lincoln's Inn Fields, on 15 April 1632. Five weeks later, on 20 June 1632, the charter for Maryland passed the seals.
Maryland became a prime tobacco exporting colony in the mid-Atlantic and, for a time, a refuge for Catholic settlers, as George Calvert had hoped. Under the rule of the Lords Baltimore, thousands of British Catholics emigrated to the tobacco plantations of Maryland, establishing some of the oldest Catholic communities in what would later become the United States. Although Catholic rule in Maryland was eventually nullified by the re-assertion of royal control over the colony, only a few decades later Maryland joined twelve other British colonies along the Atlantic coast in declaring their independence from British rule and the right to freedom of religion for all citizens in the new United States.