Thomas Carew was the son of a well-connected official and was educated at Merton College, Oxford and the Middle Temple in London. He worked as a diplomatic secretary in Italy, Holland and France, and soon gained a reputation as a poet.
His talent secured him a place at court, and he was privileged to serve at Charles I's table. In 1634 his masque Coelum Britannicum was performed before the King. His poems, like those of other gentlemen of the era, were not published in his own lifetime but hand-written copies were circulated among his friends. These included Ben Jonson and John Donne, who both exercised a strong influence on Carew's poetry; in his Elegy Carew proclaims Donne 'the universal monarchy of wit'. Another poet he admired greatly was the Italian Giambattista Marino, whose wit and extravagant lifestyle resembled Carew's own.
Though he never achieved the stature of Donne or Johnson, Carew was an elegant writer whose contribution to literature was typical of the stylish Cavalier school. A collected edition of his poems appeared shortly after his death.