THOMAS CARTE, the son of a nonjuring clergyman of some antiquarian fame, was born at Clifton in Warwickshire, of which place his father was then vicar. He was admitted of University college, Oxford, in 1698; but appears to have afterwards transferred himself to Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1706. Having been appointed reader in the Abbey church at Bath, he preached a sermon on the 30th January, 1714, which drew him into a controversy with Dr. Chandler, and led to his first publication, entitled "The Irish massacre set in a true light," which is inserted in Lord Somers's tracts.
Upon the accession of George I. Carte declined taking the necessary oaths to the government, and was suspended in consequence from clerical functions; he now assumed a lay habit, but used to perform divine service in his own family every Sunday, duly arrayed in gown and cassock. On the breaking out of the rebellion in 1715, Carte appears to have incurred the suspicions of government, as warrants were issued for his apprehension. He had the good fortune, however, to escape the vigilance of his pursuers. He had been for some time secretary to Bishop Atterbury, and was involved in the charge of high treason brought against that prelate; but he had again the good fortune to escape pursuit, and get himself conveyed to France, where he remained several years.
He returned to England about the year 1729, Queen Caroline having interceded for him, on learning that his habits were strictly those of a student. He had employed his exile in France in preparing an edition of Thuanus, which he proposed to publish in English. His diligence and erudition had enabled him to collect some very valuable materials for such an undertaking; but Dr. Mead prevailed on him to part with them for a valuable consideration, and having placed them in Mr. Buckley's hands, they were employed in the splendid edition of Thuanus completed in 1733, in seven volumes folio. A few years after his return to England, Carte published The history of the life of James, Duke of Ormonde, in three volumes folio. Of this work Lord Orrery, in a letter to Carte from Dublin, writes in the following terms: "Your history is in great esteem here. All sides seem to like it. The dean of St. Patrick's, (Swift) honours you with his approbation."
Carte long contemplated writing a history of England. Rapin's work was already before the public, but its principles were not such as Carte and others of his way of thinking on certain points could approve of. It appeared to him that the cause of truth required that another historian should narrate the progress of public events in England, and he undertook the task himself. He received considerable encouragement from the public generally, and from several of the public companies in the metropolis, and also from the universities. Under such auspices he set to work, and in 1747 the first volume of the projected history appeared. A note in this volume nearly proved fatal to the undertaking. Speaking of the popular superstition of the royal touch as a cure for scrofula, the historian had the imprudence to relate that one Christopher Lovel had been cured at Avignon by the touch of the exiled king. This indiscretion lost him many patrons, but he proceeded with the work, and in 1750 brought out a second volume. The third was published in 1752; the fourth, which Carte did not live to complete, in 1752. It was his design to have brought down the work to the Restoration, but it only reaches to 1654. Carte died in 1754. His papers were purchased by the university of Oxford; Macpherson appears to have had the use of them in his history. Carte was the author of several pieces besides his great historical work. His two brothers, Samuel and John, were also men of considerable erudition and parts.