George Calvert

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CALVERT, GEORGE (1580?1632), secretary of state and privy councillor under King James I of England; the first Lord Baltimore, principally known for his efforts in advancing religious toleration in an age that regarded pluralism as dangerous.

Calvert's commitment to religious toleration was a reflection of his unsettled religious life. Born into a Roman Catholic family that was troubled periodically for its allegiance to a proscribed church, he lived as a Catholic during the first twelve years of his life. In 1592 his father succumbed to the harassment of the Yorkshire High Commission and certified his conformity to the rites of the Church of England. George Calvert soon conformed and for the next thirty-two years lived as a Protestant.

At about the age of fourteen Calvert matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied foreign languages. After earning his bachelor's degree, he spent three years studying municipal law at the Inns of Court. In 1603, while on a continental tour, he came to the attention of secretary of state Robert Cecil, who was in Paris. Employed as one of his many secretaries, Calvert used Cecil's influence to begin a slow but steady climb in the government of James I. He traveled overseas on a number of diplomatic missions. In Ireland he served as a member of a commission investigating the complaints of Irish Roman Catholics. In 1610 Calvert was named one of the clerks of the Privy Council. Later he assisted James in writing a tract refuting the Dutch theologian Conrad Vorstius. Two years after knighting him in 1617, James appointed Calvert as one of the secretaries of state and made him a member of the Privy Council.

During the negotiations to marry heir apparent Prince Charles to the Spanish Infanta, and to cement an alliance between Spain and England, Calvert, as secretary of state, became closely identified with both the Spanish and Roman Catholic causes. Laboring diligently to achieve the king's goal, Calvert reached the pinnacle of his power in 1621 and 1622. However, when the government scuttled the marriage treaties in 1624, Calvert lost favor at court and came under intense pressure to resign his office. During this crisis, he resolved his religious commitments, declaring his intention to live and die a Catholic. He resigned his office, selling it for three thousand pounds. James elevated him to the Irish peerage by creating him baron of Baltimore.

Out of office, Lord Baltimore turned his attention to his Irish estates and to the supervision of his Newfoundland colony, for which he had received a charter in 1621. In 1628 he returned to Newfoundland intending to colonize the region with a religiously diverse population. However, the forbidding climate and the hostility of the French convinced him to abandon his plans of permanent residency in Newfoundland. Baltimore subsequently journeyed to Virginia and, impressed by what he saw there, returned to England in 1630 to secure a charter for a colony along Chesapeake Bay.

Despite the opposition encountered from some of the Protestant settlers in Newfoundland to his policy of religious toleration, the Catholic Baltimore drew upon his own experiences in government and rejected the dominant concept of cuius regio eius religio, namely that the local ruler's religion must be the religion of the region. Rather, he sought to found a colony where Catholics and Protestants could work together to achieve an economically viable enterprise. He died in April 1632, shortly before the Maryland Charter passed its final seals. The founding of the colony in 1634 was left to his son Cecil, the second Lord Baltimore.


There is to date no modern biography of George Calvert. The most thorough biography is Lewis W. Wilhelm's Sir George Calvert, Baron of Baltimore (Baltimore, 1884). It must be used cautiously, however, as it contains many errors. The Maryland Historical Society published the first four chapters of James W. Foster's uncompleted biography under the title George Calvert: The Early Years (Baltimore, 1983). Calvert's letters, mostly official, are scattered throughout the State Papers in the Public Record Office (London) and in The Calvert Papers in the Maryland Historical Society (Baltimore).

For Calvert's conversion to Roman Catholicism, see my short study "'The Face of a Protestant, and the Heart of a Papist': A Reexamination of Sir George Calvert's Conversion to Roman Catholicism," Journal of Church and State 20 (Autumn 1978): 507531. For his religious problems in his Newfoundland colony, see R. J. Lahey's "The Role of Religion in Lord Baltimore's Colonial Enterprise," Maryland Historical Magazine 72 (Winter 1977): 492511. For the role of religion in the colony founded by his heir, Cecil Calvert, see my articles "Lord Baltimore, Roman Catholics, and Toleration: Religious Policy in Maryland during the Early Catholic Years, 16341649," Catholic Historical Review 45 (January 1979): 4975, and "'With Promise of Liberty in Religion': The Catholic Lords Baltimore and Toleration in Seventeenth-Century Maryland, 16341692," Maryland Historical Magazine 79 (Spring 1984): 2143.

John D. Krugler (1987)

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George Calvert

The English statesman George Calvert 1st Baron Baltimore (ca. 1580-1632), was the founder of the colony of Maryland in America.

George Calvert was born in Yorkshire about 1580, the son of Leonard and Alice Crossland Calvert. He matriculated at Oxford in 1594 at the age of 14, graduating in 1597. Later, he became secretary to Robert Cecil, a leading figure in the English government. With Cecil's support and encouragement from the King, Calvert advanced rapidly, attaining a seat in Parliament, membership on the Privy Council, and the position of secretary of state. Prominent public service, however, brought difficult responsibilities. He was obliged to defend in Parliament the unpopular Continental diplomacy of James I, especially the rapprochement with Catholic Spain. His active part in examining Irish grievances led to knighthood in 1617. Following his conversion to Catholicism, Calvert resigned as secretary of state. As a reward for his service, James I gave him the Irish title of Baron Baltimore.

Calvert's interest in America was of long standing. He had held stock in the Virginia Company and was a member of the Council for New England. In 1623 Calvert obtained a royal charter to found a private colony in Newfoundland. He received the powers of a "Bishop of Durham," a medieval authority, which meant that the proprietor could exercise feudal control over the land, award titles of nobility, and dominate the government of any colony he established. Known as Avalon, the new colony received Lord Baltimore's firm support. He visited it in 1627 and later returned with his second wife and children, leaving in England only his eldest son Cecilius. Because of the bitter arctic cold and French attacks, the colony proved a failure. Without giving up his proprietary hopes, Baltimore looked southward, arriving in Jamestown, Va., in 1629. However, his religion and interest in a proprietary colony antagonized the Virginians, who forced Baltimore to return to England. There he prevailed on Charles I to grant him another colony north of the Potomac River, with proprietary features similar to Avalon. Shortly before the charter gained final approval in 1632, Calvert died at the age of 52. The grant was completed in the name of his heir, Cecilius, who proceeded with the colonization of Maryland.

Lord Baltimore's activities in America indicate the profound impact which the New World had made in England. Some of the most influential men in the mother country were directly involved in western expansion. Moreover, the proprietary grants which Baltimore sought reveal that an interest in establishing feudal estates in America provided important motivation for colonization.

Further Reading

A biographical account of Calvert by a noted authority is Clayton C. Hall, The Lords Baltimore and the Maryland Palatinate (1902). For the English background of Calvert's life consult Godfrey Davies, The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660 (1937; 2d ed. 1959). An excellent and concise interpretation of the background to the Maryland proprietorship is in Charles M. Andrews, Our Earliest Colonial Settlements (1933). □

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Calvert, George. See Baltimore, 1st Lord of.