Philadelphia Carey Scrope: Keeper of the Scottish King James's Sapphire Ring

In September 1596, Philadelphia Carey Scrope wrote to her husband that, having interviewed the men he had sent to report to the Privy Council regarding a land deal gone awry, she had decided they were untrustworthy and so would ‘kepe them from coming before the Cunsel’. As a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth and member of the powerful Carey-Knollys kinship network, she was completely confident in her ability to manipulate the Privy Council’s agenda.


Philadelphia was the tenth child of Anne Morgan Carey and Henry Carey Baron Hunsdon, granddaughter of Mary Boleyn Carey, and therefore a cousin to the queen who was also her godmother. Philadelphia received her first formal court appointment at the age of 16. She was promoted to lady of the privy chamber four years later, coincident with her marriage, and then was promoted again to the inner sanctum as lady of the bedchamber in 1590.


Her father and the 9th baron Scrope arranged her marriage in 1584 as a means to ally the two families. She was 21. Her groom, Thomas, was 17 and spent most of his time on his estates in the north with his mother while Philadelphia split her time between court and her father’s northern garrison Berwick-upon-Tweed. They had one son Emmanual, later 1st earl of Sunderland. It may be commentary on the character of their marriage that they had only one son and that the most famous surviving portrait from the family during this time is of Thomas with his mother, as opposed to his wife. We don’t know for sure if the marriage lacked affection, but we do know that it worked in terms of family business and dynastic ambition.


Thomas Scrope, 10th Baron Scrope and his mother, Margaret Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.


Philadelphia did not confine her activities to the Privy Council. Her involvement in public affairs extended to the church, obliging Thomas Cecil to place her candidates in church office including the valuable and prominent office of the dean of Windsor.  She was an ardent supporter of her cousin, the Earl of Essex, during the run up and aftermath of his rebellion despite some harsh treatment from the queen in return. She nevertheless maintained her godmother’s trust and confidence serving her until her death.


In anticipation of the changing of the crown from Tudor to Stuart, Philadelphia had corresponded directly with King James of Scotland in French. At Elizabeth’s death, it was Philadelphia who leaned out the window of the palace and dropped the sapphire ring James had given her to her brother Robert Carey who rode through the night and the following two days to tell James he was now king of England as well as Scotland. She was rewarded with a position in the new court as lady in waiting to Anne of Denmark and took part in some of the early theatrical events sponsored by the queen.


Philadelphia also figures prominently in the fictional Sir Robert Carey Mysteries by P.F. Chisolm where she is portrayed as cheerful, loyal to a fault, and full to the brim with common sense.