Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montagu, Charles (1661-1715)

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1329575Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38 — Montagu, Charles (1661-1715)1894George Fisher Russell Barker

MONTAGU, CHARLES, Earl of Halifax (1661–1715), said to have been born at Horton, Northamptonshire, on 16 April 1661, was fourth son of George Montagu of Horton, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Anthony Irby, knight, of Boston, Lincolnshire. His father was son of Sir Henry Montagu, first earl of Manchester [q. v.], by his third wife, and Sir James Montagu [q. v.] was his brother. Charles was baptised at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 12 May 1661, and in 1675 entered Westminster School, where in 1677 he was admitted on the foundation as the captain of his election. At Westminster he distinguished himself by his 'extempore epigrams made upon theses appointed for the king's scholars at the time of election, and had more presents made him, according to custom, on that account than any one of his contemporaries' (Life, p. 4). Leaving school before he was entitled to compete for the scholarships, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1679 as a fellow commoner. Here he commenced his lifelong friendship with Isaac Newton, whom he assisted in an unsuccessful attempt to establish a philosophical society at Cambridge in 1685. Montagu's ingenious and fulsome verses on the death of Charles II, which were published in 'Mœstissimæ ac Lætissimæ Academiæ Cantabrigiensis affectus,' &c. (Cambridge, 1684-1685, 4to), attracted the attention of the Earl of Dorset, by whom he was invited to London and introduced to the wits of the town. Previously to the publication of this book Montagu had been created a Master of Arts and elected a fellow of Trinity. In 1687 he wrote in conjunction with Matthew Prior [q. v.] 'The Hind and the Panther transvers'd to the Story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse' (London, 4to), a clever burlesque of Dry den's poem, which was received with great applause. In the following year he signed the letter of invitation to William, prince of Orange, and joined the rising in Northamptonshire in the prince's favour (Hatton Correspondence, Camd. Soc. Publ., 1878, ii. 116). He now abandoned his original intention of taking orders, and in January 1689 was returned to the Convention parliament for the borough of Maldon, which he continued to represent until October 1695. In February 1689 he became one of the clerks of the privy council, a post which he purchased for 1,500l. Shortly after William's coronation Dorset is said to have introduced Montagu to the king, with the remark that he had 'brought a Mouse to have the honour of kissing his hand,' to which the king replied, 'You will do well to put me in the way of making a man of him,' and thereupon ordered him a pension of 500l. a year until the opportunity should arise (Life, p. 17, but see Johnson, Works, x. 44-5). In December 1691 Montagu was elected chairman of the committee of the House of Commons appointed to confer with a committee of the House of Lords on the amendments to the bill for regulating trials in the cases of high treason.

In consequence of the great ability which he displayed as a debater on this occasion, Montagu was appointed a lord of the treasury on 21 March 1692. His proposal to raise a million by way of loan was approved by the House of Commons in committee on 15 Dec. 1692, and a bill was ordered to be brought in. By this bill new duties were imposed on beer and other liquors, on the credit of which a million was to be raised by life annuities. As the annuitants died their annuities were to be divided among the survivors until their number was reduced to seven, when the remaining annuities as they fell in were to lapse to the government. The bill was rapidly passed through both houses (4 William and Mary, c. iii.), and the loan which it authorised was the origin of our national debt (Macaulay, Hist. of England, iv. 325-326). Adopting Patterson's scheme for a national bank, Montagu in the spring of 1694 introduced the Tonnage Bill, by which a loan was to be raised to meet the expenses of the French war. In order to induce the capitalists to advance the 1,200,000l. required, the subscribers were to be formed into a corporation, known as the Governor and Company of the Bank of England, and were to be allowed to treat the loan to the government as part of their capital, the interest on which, at 8l. per cent., was to be secured by taxes. In spite of considerable opposition in both houses, and a furious paper warfare outside, Montagu's bill, by which the Bank of England was established, became law (5 William and Mary, c. xx.) So eagerly was the new investment taken up in the city that in ten days after the books were opened it was announced that the whole of the money had been subscribed (Luttwell, iii. 331-2, 333, 338). As a reward for his brilliant services Montagu was promoted to the office of chancellor of the exchequer on 30 April 1694, and was sworn a member of the privy council on 10 May following. On 20 Feb. 1695 he was appointed a commissioner of Greenwich Hospital. At the general election in October 1695 Montagu was returned to parliament for the city of Westminster. While supporting the bill for regulating trials in cases of high treason, which had been reintroduced early in the first session of the new parliament, Montagu suddenly 'seem'd to be so surpriz'd that for a while he could not go on ; but having recovered himself, took occasion from his very surprize to enforce the necessity of allowing Council to Prisoners, who were to appear before their Judges, since he who was not only innocent and unaccus'd, but one of their own members, was so dash'd when he was to speak before that wise and illustrious Assembly' (Life, p. 30). The use of this oratorical device is, however, attributed to Anthony, third earl of Shaftesbury, by Horace Walpole and others (Cat. of Royal and Noble Authors, iv. 56 ; see also Parl. Hist. v. 966, and Macalay, Hist. of England, iv. 644).

Aided by Somers, Locke, Newton, and Halley, Montagu determined to remedy the alarming depreciation of the currency. To such an extent had the nefarious practices of clipping and counterfeiting been carried, that the current coinage throughout the country was on an average but little more than half its proper weight, After much controversy, Montagu, on 10 Dec. 1695, carried eleven resolutions, by which it was agreed that the new coinage should be 'according to the established standard of the mint both as to weight and fineness,' that the loss on the clipped silver should be borne by the public, that all crowns and half-crowns should be in future milled, and that a day should be fixed after which no clipped money should pass (Journals of the House of Commons, xi. 358). Owing to the amendments made in the House of Lords to the Re-coinage Bill, which had been framed in conformity with these resolutions, Montagu was obliged to bring in a fresh bill in a slightly modified form, which he succeeded in passing through both houses (7 & 8 William III, c. i.) To provide for the expense of the re-coinage, which occupied four years, and was not completed until 1699, Montagu instituted the window tax (7 & 8 William III, c. xviii.) While the provisions for the new currency were being carried out the credit of the government reached its lowest ebb. Most of the old silver had been withdrawn, and but little of the new had got into circulation. At this crisis Montagu availed himself of the clauses which he had succeeded ingrafting on Harley's National Land Bank Bill (7 & 8 William III, c. xxxi.), empowering the government to issue negotiable paper bearing interest at the rate of threepence a day on a hundred pounds, and he issued the first exchequer bills. They were drawn for various small amounts varying from five to one hundred pounds, were rapidly distributed over the kingdom by post, and were everywhere welcome. By this ingenious scheme credit was revived, and ever since 'the issue of Exchequer bills has been the form in which Government gets its first credit from the House of Commons' (Thorold Rogers, Historical Gleanings, 1st ser. p. 33, and First Nine Years of the Bank of England, p. 67 ; cf. art. Lowndes, William). In the autumn of 1696 Montagu warmly supported the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick, and still further increased his reputation in the House of Commons as a consummate debater. In the same session he carried his scheme popularly known as the General Mortgage, whereby a consolidated fund was formed for the purpose of meeting the interest on the various government loans (8 & 9 William III, c. xx.) By the same act the capital stock of the Bank of England was enlarged by a new subscription, which was immediately taken up by the public, and afforded a further proof of Montagu's commercial sagacity.

Sir Stephen Fox having withdrawn his claim to the post, Montagu was appointed first lord of the treasury on 1 May 1697 in the place of Godolphin, whose resignation had been accepted in the previous October. With the object of damaging Montagu, Charles Duncombe [q. v.] accused the treasury board of tampering with exchequer bills. An inquiry was instituted and the board acquitted ; while Duncombe, who confessed under cross-examination to being a party to an infamous fraud when receiver of excise, was committed to the Tower (Journals of the House of Commons, xii. 63). On 16 Feb. 1698 Colonel Granville charged Montagu in the House of Commons with having obtained for himself a grant, in the name of one Thomas Railton, of certain securities forfeited to the king in Ireland of the value of about 10,000l. A warm debate ensued, during which Montagu avowed the truth of the charge and defended his conduct. The question that he should withdraw from the house after his speech was defeated by 209 to 97, and it was resolved that 'the Honourable Charles Mountague, Esquire, Chancellor of the Exchequer, for his good services to this Government does deserve his Majesty's Favour ' (ib. xii. 116). In the same year Montagu's bill for the promotion of the General Society, to which the monopoly of the Indian trade was to be given, and by which a loan of 2,000,000l., bearing interest at 8l. per cent, was to be advanced to the government, was carried through both houses (9 & 10 William III, c. xliv.) In spite of the forebodings of his opponents, who predicted the immediate failure of the scheme, the whole sum was subscribed in a few days. At the general election in July 1698 Montagu was again returned for Westminster, and the petition which was lodged against his return was dismissed as 'frivolous, vexatious, and scandalous' in the following December (ib. xii. 365-6). On the death of Sir Robert Howard, Montagu secured the auditorship of the exchequer, and placed his brother in the post until he should want it himself (5 Sept. 1698). The reversion of this place, worth some 4,000l. a year, had been granted by Charles II to the Marquis of Carmarthen (afterwards second Duke of Leeds), who, however, failed ultimately to establish his title to it (Luttrell, iv. 423, v. 185, 190-l, 290, 308-9, 314). Montagu was a lord justice in the king's absence in 1698-9.

Hitherto Montagu's career had been one of uninterrupted success, though his overbearing conduct and his extreme vanity had made him many enemies. Fortune now rapidly began to desert him. He was assailed on all sides by a crowd of libellers, who accused him of boundless corruption gave him the nickname of 'Filcher,' and invented fabulous stories of his extravagant mode of life. Even in the House of Commons, where he 'had gained such a visible ascendant over all that were zealous for the king's service that he gave the law to the rest' (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, iii. 397-398), Montagu now found himself thwarted and opposed at every turn. Having lost his position as leader of the house, he resigned the office of chancellor of the exchequer in May, and that of first lord of the treasury in November 1699. He took his seat as auditor of the exchequer on 18 Nov. 1699 (Luttrell, iv. 583), and was created Baron Halifax of Halifax in the county of York on 13 Dec. 1700 with remainder on failure of male issue to his nephew George, the son and heir of his elder brother, Edward Montagu. Halifax took his seat in the House of Lords on 11 Feb. 1701 (Journals of the House of Lords, xvi. 593). On 14 April 1701 a motion declaring Halifax to be 'guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor' on account of his share in the Partition Treaty was carried in the House of Commons by 186 votes to 136, and a unanimous resolution that he should be impeached was subsequently passed (Journals of the House of Commons, xiii. 490). A few days afterwards an address was presented to the king from the House of Commons praying him to dismiss Halifax, Somers, Orford, and Portland from his 'Council and Presence for ever' (ib. p. 497), while a counter-address was presented from the House of Lords beseeching him not to pass any censure upon the four lords until judgment had been given on the impeachment (Journals of the House of Lords, xvi. 655). On 14 June six articles of impeachment against Halifax were brought up from the House of Commons. The first five articles mainly related to the grants which Halifax had obtained from the king in the names of Thomas Railton, Hemy Seager, and Christopher Montagu in trust for himself, while the sixth charged him with advising and promoting the conclusion of the Partition Treaty. In his answer Halifax acknowledged obtaining these grants, but denied that he had ever advised, or had even been consulted about the treaty (ib. pp.750-2), and on 24 June the House of Lords dismissed the impeachment for want of prosecution (ib. p. 769). During the debate on the third reading of the Occasional Conformity Bill in December 1702, Halifax carried a resolution declaring that 'the annexing any clause or clauses to a bill of aid or supply, the matter of which is foreign to and different from the matter of the said bill of aid or supply, is unparliamentary and tends to the destruction of the constitution of this Government' (ib. xvii. 185), and as one of the managers of the subsequent conferences he successfully resisted the passing of the bill.

Halifax had now been struck off the list of privy councillors, but this was not considered enough by the more violent tories who regarded him with abhorrence. In January 1703 a resolution was passed in the House of Commons charging Halifax with neglect of his duty as auditor of the exchequer (Journals of the House of Commons, xiv. 140, 143). A committee of the House of Lords was appointed to consider this charge, which arose out of a recently delivered report of the commissioners of the public accounts. Halifax was examined before the committee, and on 5 Feb. a unanimous resolution was passed approving of his conduct as auditor (Journals of the House of Lords, xvii. 270-1). This led to an interminable wrangle between the two houses, and an address was presented by the House of Commons to the queen repeating the charge against Halifax, and requesting her to order the attorney-general 'effectually to prosecute at law the said Auditor of Receipt' (Journals of the House of Commons, xiv. 188-91). After much delay the case against Halifax was heard on 23 June 1704, and a nolle prosequi entered, 'so no verdict was given' (Luttrell, v. 438-9, 443 ; see also 483, 487, 488, 518). On 14 Dec. 1703 Halifax successfully moved the rejection of the Occasional Conformity Bill, and in the following year wrote 'an answer' to Bromley's speech in favour of tacking the Occasional Conformity Bill to the Land Tax Bill (Life, pp. 113-30). In March 1705 Halifax served as one of the managers on the part of the lords in their conference with the commons on the Aylesbury case. He continued out of office during the whole of Anne's reign, but on 10 April 1706 he was appointed one of the commissioners for negotiating the union with Scotland, and in the same month was selected to carry the insignia of the order of the Garter to the electoral prince. On 3 June 1709 he was made keeper of Bushey Park and Hampton Court. In 1710 he published 'Seasonable Questions concerning a New Parliament' (ib. pp. 157-9). He was appointed joint plenipotentiary to the Hague in July 1710, a post from which he had hitherto been excluded by Marlborough (see Coxe, Memoirs of the Duke of Marlborough, ii. 253-5, iii. 7-8, 268-70). On 15 Feb. 1712 Halifax carried, in the House of Lords, an address to the queen against the French project of treaty. In May 1713 he declared himself in favour of dissolving the union with Scotland, provided the Hanoverian succession could be secured (Parl. Hist. vi. 1219). He unsuccessfully opposed the passing of the Schism Bill in the following year and drew up an elaborate protest against it (Rogers, Complete Collection of the Protests of the House of Lords, 1875, i. 218-21). The 'queries,' which he handed in to the House during this debate, for 'the serious consideration' of the bishops, were written by Edmund Calamy, and not by Halifax as the author of Halifax's 'Life' would seem to imply (Life, pp. 236-9, and Calamy, Hist. Account of his own Life, ii. 284, 543-6). On the death of Anne, Halifax acted as one of the lords justices of Great Britain until the arrival of George I. On 11 Oct. 1714 he was appointed first lord of the treasury, and on the 16th of the same month was invested with the order of the Garter. By letters patent dated 19 Oct. 1714 he was raised to the dignities of Viscount Sunbury and Earl of Halifax, and as such took his seat in the House of Lords on 21 March 1715 (Journals of the House of Lords, xx. 26). On 13 Dec. 1714 he became lord-lieutenant of Surrey. Disappointed at not being made lord high treasurer, Halifax is said to have commenced negotiations with the tories (see Coxe, Life of Sir Robert Walpole, i. 81, and Lord Mahon, History of England, 1858, i. 133), but of this there seems to be little or no evidence. Halifax was taken suddenly ill on 15 May 1715 at the house of Mynheer Duvenvoord, one of the Dutch ambassadors, and died of inflammation of the lungs on the 19th. He was buried on the 26th of the same month in the Duke of Albemarle's vault on the north side of Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster Abbey, where a monument was erected to his memory (Neale, Westminster Abbey, vol. i. pt. 11. pp. 63-4).

Halifax possessed great administrative ability and keen business faculties. As a finance minister he achieved a series of brilliant successes. As a parliamentary orator his only rival was Somers. His ambition was great, his vanity excessive, and his arrogance unbounded. He was president of the Royal Society from 30 Nov. 1695 to 30 Nov. 1698, and he was a munificent patron of literature. Addison, Congreve, Newton, Prior, Stepney, were all indebted to him for preferment. Pope, however, holds up Halifax's patronage of men of letters to the bitterest scorn in the 'Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot' (lines 231-248)

Proud as Apollo on his forked hill
Sat full-blown Bufo, puff'd by every quill, &c.,

and Swift declares that the only encouragements which Halifax ever gave to learned men were 'good words and good dinners' (Swift, Works, x. 303). Halifax seems, however, to have made some effort to retain Swift's services on the whig side in 1710. 'He was,' says Swift, 'continually teasing me to go to his house,' He went to see him at Hampton Court in October 1710 (Halifax was then ranger of Bushey Park), and the statesman proposed as a toast 'the resurrection of the whigs,' which, Swift remarks, 'I refused, unless he would add their reformation too ; and I told him he was the only whig in England I loved or had any good opinion of' (Journal to Stella). He was the last of Swift's friends among the prominent whigs. The Duchess of Marlborough, in a most unflattering account of his character, spitefully declares 'he was so great a manager 'that when he dined alone' he eat upon pewter for fear of lessening the value of his plate by cleaning it often,' that 'he was a frightful figure, and yet pretended to be a lover, and followed several beauties, who laughed at him for it,' and that 'he was as renowned for ill-breeding as Sir Robert Walpole is' (Private Corr. of the Duchess of Marlborough, ii. 147-8).

He married, in February 1688 (Luttrell, i. 432), Anne, daughter of Sir Christopher Yelverton, hart., of Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, and widow of Robert, third earl of Manchester [see under Momtagu, Edward, second Earl], by whom he had no issue. His wife died in July 1698. After her death Halifax formed an extraordinary intimacy with Isaac Newton's niece, 'the gay and witty' Catherine Barton. She was the second daughter of Robert Barton of Brigstock, Northamptonshire, by his second wife, Hannah, daughter of the Rev. Barnabas Smith, rector of North Witham, Lincolnshire. Whether the attachment was purely platonic or not it is now impossible to say. The scandal of the day stigmatised her as his mistress. Professor De Morgan, who minutely investigated the subject in 'Newton, his Friend, and his Niece' (1885), came to the conclusion that she was privately married to Halifax. Colonel Chester gives some cogent reasons to show that she was not his wife (Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 354). That she was his mistress it is difficult to believe, seeing that her uncle, whose character is above reproach, must have connived at such an intimacy had it existed. His earldom and viscounty became extinct upon his death, but the barony of Halifax devolved upon his nephew, George Montagu, who was created Viscount Sunbury and Earl of Halifax on 14 June 1715, died in 1739, and was father of George Montagu Dunk, second earl of Halifax of the second creation [q. v.] Halifax acted as chairman of the committees of the House of Lords appointed from time to time to inquire into the state of the records, and is said to have suggested the purchase of the Cotton. MSS. with a view to the formation of a public library. He appears also to have been one of the principal promoters of Rymer's 'Fœdera,' the origin of which has been erroneously attributed to Harley (Hardy, Syllabus of Hymens Fœdera, 1869, i. vii-xiv). His collection of prints, medals, and coins was sold in 1740, and his collection of manuscripts relating to public affairs in 1760. His poems, which have little merit (in spite of Addison's description of their author as 'the greatest of English poets'), were published in a collected form, under the title of 'The Works and Life of the Right Hon. Charles, late Earl of Halifax, including the History of his Lordship's Times,' London, 1715, 8vo ; second edition (with a slightly altered title), London, 1716, 8vo. They are to be found in Chalmers's 'English Poets ' and similar collections. There is a half-length portrait of Halifax by Sir Godfrey Kneller at Trinity College, Cambridge. It has been engraved by Smith (1693), G. Vertue (1710), Vandergucht (1715), T. Faber (1782), Pierre Brevet, and others.

[The Works and Life of the Right Hon. Charles, late Earl of Halifax, 1715; Burnet's History of his own Time, 1883, vols. iv. v. vi. ; Luttrell's Brief Relation, vols. iii. iv. v. vi. ; Swift's Works, 1814 ; Coxe's Memoirs of the Duke of Marlborough, 1818-19; Coxe's Shrewsbury Correspondence, 1821 ; Private Corr. of Sarah. Duchess of Marlborough, 1838; Diary of Mary, Countess Cowper, 1864 ; Calamy's Historical Account, 1830 ; Sir David Brewster's Memoirs of Isaac Newton, 1855; Lord Macaulay's History of England, 1st edit. vols. ii. iv. v. ; Lord Stanhope's Reign of Queen Anne, 1872 ; Ranke's History of England, 1875, vol. v. ; Rogers's Historical Gleanings, 1869, Istser. pp. 3-45 ; Macky's Memoirs, 1733, pp. 51-4; Biographia Brit. 1760, v. 3149-57; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. 1815, xxii. 256-60; Johnson's Works, 1810. x. 43-8; Park's edition of Walpole's Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, 1806, iv.

62-70; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope; Howell's State Trials, 1812, xiv. 233-50; Weld's History of the Royal Society, 1848, i. 305-6, 331-7, 399; Ruding's Annals of the Coinage of Great Britain, 1840, ii. 36-59; Rogers's First Nine Years of the Bank of England, 1887; Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biog. Hist. 1806, i. 250-3; Alumni Westmon. 1852; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, 1876, pp. 283, 354; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, ii. 95-6; Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1866, p. 373; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. i. pp. 559, 566, 574, 581; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 429, 543, 590, ix. 18, 2nd ser. ii. 161, 265, 390, iii. 41, 250, ix. 420, x. 188, 521, xi. 443, 3rd ser. ii. 404, 4th ser. ii. 413, 517, 8th ser. ii. 166, 167, 189; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.