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Engraving of Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester

Signature of Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester

Sir Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester (1563?-1642)

SIR HENRY MONTAGU, first Earl of Manchester (1563?-1642), judge and statesman, fourth son of Sir Edward Montagu, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Harington of Exton, Rutland, and grandson of Chief-justice Sir Edward Montagu, was born at Boughton, Northamptonshire, about 1563. He entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1583, and was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, where he was elected autumn reader in 1606. In the autumn of 1601 he entered parliament as member for Higham Ferrers. At first he took the popular side so far as to protest against the doctrine that the king could impose taxes at will. Nevertheless, by the recommendation of King James, he was elected recorder of London 26 May 1603, and on 23 July following he was knighted at Whitehall. He displayed his gratitude in a courtly speech on occasion of James's visit to the city, 15 March 1603-4, nor did he fail to turn to account several other opportunities which his office afforded of ingratiating himself with the king. He was appointed king's counsel 11 Sept. 1607, called to the degree of serjeant-at-law 4 Feb. 1610-11, and made king's serjeant a few days later (11 Feb.), retaining the recordership by express leave of the king.

In 1612 he distinguished himself by the zeal and ability with which, in conjunction with Bacon, then solicitor-general, he investigated the frauds committed by the farmers of the customs. In the parliaments of 1604-11 and 1614 he sat for London, and was one of the managers of the conferences with the lords on commutation of tenures (1610) and impositions (1614). He was one of the examiners, 18 Jan. 1614-15, and afterwards one of the judges (7 Aug.) of the puritan, Edmund Peacham, and opened the case against Lord and Lady Somerset [see Carr, Robert, Earl of Somerset] on their trial for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, May 1616. On 16 Nov. following he resigned the recordership, to succeed Coke as Chief Justice of the King's Bench. On the 18th he rode in great state, attended by 'earls, lords, and others of great quality, to the number of fifty horse,' to Westminster Hall, where he was installed by Lord-Chancellor Ellesmere in a speech full of bitter reflections on Coke and commendations of subserviency, to which Montagu replied in a tone of due humility.

Montagu's tenure of this office was brief, and the only case of great public interest which came before him was that of Sir Walter Raleigh, against whom, in a speech not unworthy of the occasion, he made award of execution on 28 Oct. 1618. He was one of Bacon's colleagues in the commission for the protection of the gold and silver thread monopoly appointed 22 April 1618, but whether by accident or design did not sign the general search-warrant, the issue of which was one of the first, and not the least arbitrary acts of the commissioners. In 1620 he exchanged Westminster Hall for the council table, being made Lord High Treasurer of England, by delivery of the white staff of office, at Newmarket on 3 Dec., and as he paid £20,0001 for the place, which was tenable only during the royal pleasure, the bon mot was current that wood was very dear at Newmarket. The transaction was afterwards made the subject of the tenth article of the impeachment of Buckingham, who admitted the receipt of the money, but represented it as a mere loan to the king. The value of the place varied with the conscience of the holder. Montagu himself estimated it at 'some thousands of pounds to him who, after death, would go instantly to salvation, twice as much to him who would go to purgatory, and a nemo scit to him who would adventure to a worse place.' It carried, however, a peerage with it, and after taking the oaths (16 Dec.) Montagu, who had recently bought Kimbolton Castle, the ancient seat of the Mandevilles, was created Baron Montagu of Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire, and Viscount Mandeville (19 Dec.)

Mandeville was a member of the committee of Lords and Commons which sat in the Painted Chamber to confer on Bacon's case (19 March 1620-1), and one of the commissioners of the Great Seal in the interval (1 May-10 July) between the disgrace of the Chancellor and its delivery to his successor, Lord-Keeper Williams. At Buckingham's instance he resigned the Lord-Treasurership, to make way for Lord Cranfield, in the following September, and was sworn president of the council, upon which Bacon punningly remarked that, as the king had made a strange example of him, so he had made a strange precedent (president) of Mandeville.

In 1624 Mandeville was appointed Master of the Court of Wards (21 May), and placed at the head of the Virginia Commission (15 June). By Charles I he was continued in office as Lord President, and created Earl of Manchester 5 Feb. 1625-6. He so far sympathised with those who refused to subscribe the forced loan of 1626-7, though himself one of the commissioners for raising it, as to procure their enlargement from the Gatehouse during the summer. In 1628 he sat on two commissions nominated the same day (29 Feb.)—one to treat with the Dutch ambassadors, the other to devise ways and means of raising money, known as the Commission of Excise, and soon afterwards dissolved in deference to the remonstrances of the Commons. On 30 June he was made Lord Privy Seal. As Lord-Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire he was commissioned to take compositions in lieu of compulsory knighthood within the county, and among others took in 1631 that of Oliver Cromwell, whose quarrel with the newly elected mayor and recorder of Huntingdon he had composed the preceding year.

Manchester was one of the most assiduous members of the Court of Star-Chamber, and equally resolute in enforcing the law against puritan and papist. In 1634 he was placed on the legislative council for the colonies (28 April). In 1635 he was made a commissioner of the treasury (15 March), and on 6 April placed on the committee for trade.

Manchester was one of Charles's most trusted advisers and loyal adherents. Though far from wealthy for his station, he subscribed, in 1639, £4,0002 for the public service, and in the following year exhausted all his eloquence in endeavouring to raise a loan of £200,0003 in the city of London. The aldermen, however, were very shy, and he only succeeded in obtaining a fourth of the amount. The same year he sat on a special commission, appointed 20 May, to collect arrears of ship-money, and on the commission of peace and safety, in which the executive was vested on the king's departure for the north (12 Sept.). On 9 Aug. 1641 he was appointed one of the guardians of the realm during the king's absence in Scotland, and one of the commissioners for giving the royal assent to bills. During part of May 1642 he acted as Speaker of the House of Lords. He died on 7 Nov. following, and was buried at Kimbolton.

Besides Kimbolton, Manchester held, by royal grant of 1631, the adjacent estate of Naybridge Park in fee farm. He had also a villa at Totteridge, Hertfordshire. His town house was in Aldersgate Street. Though hardly in the front rank, either as a lawyer or as a statesman, Manchester was a man of high and various ability and untarnished honour. Clarendon justly praises his great 'industry and sagacity,' his ' integrity and zeal to the protestant religion as it was established by law,' and his 'unquestionable loyalty.' He is the subject of a somewhat ponderous elegy in Glapthorne's 'Whitehall,' 1643.

He married thrice: first, Catherine, daughter of Sir William Spencer of Yarnton, Oxfordshire; secondly, in 1613, Anne, daughter of William Wincot of Langham, Suffolk, and relict of Sir Leonard Haliday, Lord Mayor of London in 1606; thirdly, on 26 April 1620, Margaret, daughter of John Crouch of Cornbury, Hertfordshire, and relict of John Hare, clerk of the Court of Wards, who survived him, and died in 1653. By his first wife he had issue four sons—Edward, who succeeded him as Earl of Manchester, Walter, who became a Roman catholic and abbot of Pontoise; James of Lackham, ancestor of the Montagus of Wiltshire; and Henry, master of St. Catherine's Hospital, near the Tower, London—and three daughters. By his second wife he had no issue; by his third he had two sons, George, father of Sir James and of Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, and Sidney, who died in infancy, also two daughters, the second of whom, Susannah, married, 14 Dec. 1637, George Brydges, sixth Lord Chandos.

Manchester is the author of a piece of devout moralising entitled 'Contemplatio Mortis et Immortalitatis,' published anonymously in 1631, London, 12mo; reprinted under the title 'Manchester al Mondo. Contemplatio Mortis et Immortalitatis,' 1633, 12mo; 3rd edit., much enlarged, 1635, 12mo; other editions, 1639, 1642, 1676, 1688, 1690, 12mo. It exhibits much learning, patristic and philosophical, and considerable command of dignified English. A copy of Manchester's letter to his son Walter Montagu, on his conversion to the church of Rome, is preserved in Harl. MS. 1506, No. 8. Some of Manchester's letters are printed in the late Duke of Manchester's 'Court and Society from Elizabeth to Anne,' and 'Hist. MSS. Comm.,' 8th Rep. App. pt. ii. pp. 10, 50-9; others are preserved in the State Paper Office, and a few are at Hatfield (see Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App.).

1. £20,000 in 1620 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £3,250,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
2. £4,000 in 1639 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £527,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.
3. £200,000 in 1640 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £27,800,000 in 2010.
Source: Measuring Worth.

Rigg, J. M. "Sir Henry Montagu, first Earl of Manchester."
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol XXXVIII. Sidney Lee, Ed.
New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894. 249-251.

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This page was created on May 24, 2012. Last updated March 6, 2023.

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