MUNCK, Levinus (c.1568-1623), of London and Mortlake, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1568. m. Elizabeth, da. of Peter Tryon, London merchant, 1s. 2da.
Sec. to Sir Robert Cecil c.1596-1612; clerk of the signet in reversion 1603; keeper of state papers 1610-14; commr. to accompany Princess Elizabeth to Germany 1613.1
Munck was born in Ghent, coming to England before 1592 and entering Robert Cecil’s service by 1596. He was returned for Great Bedwyn in 1601 by the Earl of Hertford, to whom he had lent money. A passage in the Commons Journals (i. 732), makes it clear that he sat in the 1601 Parliament as a denizen—that is before his formal naturalization, which took place in 1610.2
As secretary to Cecil, Munck bore a heavy load of work and carried much responsibility. He was employed in a variety of tasks, such as transmitting messages from Cecil and drawing up memoranda for him, but his main duties lay in the field of foreign affairs. He was the most important of Cecil’s secretaries, probably a reflection of the fact that he was so intimately concerned with matters of state. In November 1608 (Sir) Walter Cope extolled his ‘honesty and sufficiency’ and a few months later it was rumoured, without foundation, that he was to be appointed ambassador to the United Provinces. In the year before the Queen’s death Cecil maintained contacts with Scotland through George Nicholson, English agent at the Scottish court, and also through the sinister Master of Gray, James VI’s favourite and confidant, exchanging information with them about foreign as well as Scottish affairs. Munck played an important part in these exchanges, drafting many of Cecil’s letters to both Nicholson and the Master. He also concerned himself with Irish affairs. In 1598, when the government was considering asking for a ‘voluntary’ contribution because of the Irish troubles, it was Munck who drew up reasons which could be put forward to justify the demand, and he who conducted Cecil’s correspondence with the lord deputy.3
Munck played an important part in the transaction of business with the United Provinces. In 1602 Gilpin, English agent at The Hague, died and Sir William Browne, anxious to obtain the vacant post, successfully approached Cecil through Munck. When, in 1605, Caron, the agent in England of the States General, had bad news to give to Salisbury, he did not present it in person but sought out Munck who, equipped with the papers, was expected to present things in the best possible light. From 1603 Sir Ralph Winwood was England’s representative at The Hague and letters to him from John More, his agent in London, and from Munck himself contain proof of Munck’s interest in Dutch business between 1603 and 1611.4
Munck was also concerned with the other half of the divided Netherlands. In September 1601 the Archduke sent a private representative, Coamans, to England, to engage in tentative and unofficial peace negotiations. Unable to approach Cecil, Coamans went to Munck, in whose presence he spoke to Thomas Edmondes, clerk of the Privy Council, a man who had already engaged in peace negotiations with the Archduke. In 1604, on the conclusion of peace with Spain, Edmondes became ambassador to the Archduke. Munck continued to communicate with him and kept him informed of diplomatic developments elsewhere. Some indication of the relatively free hand which he possessed can be gained by noticing that he sometimes passed such news on to Edmondes without prior reference to Cecil himself.5
Munck concerned himself too with Spanish affairs, and indeed at one time or another with almost every area in Europe which was significant in the conduct of English foreign policy: France, Lorraine, German principalities, Florence and the Ottoman Empire. It is uncertain whether or not his work took him frequently to the Continent. He certainly went abroad at times, as when he visited Brussels in 1600.6
After his master’s death in 1612, Munck continued for a time to deal with foreign affairs, acting as assistant to James I, who temporarily assumed the duties of secretary of state. In 1613 he was one of the commissioners who accompanied Princess Elizabeth to Germany after her marriage to see that she was well settled in her new home. He was little concerned with the business of the state paper office, soon surrendering the keepership, and devoting the rest of his life to his duties as clerk of the signet, except in 1618, when he was licensed to spend a year in Spain with his wife, son and servants. He died 27 May 1623, John Chamberlain reporting that he was ‘very rich for a clerk of the signet, his state falling out they say toward forty thousand pounds’. He left considerable property, and bequeathed £12,000 in cash to his children, £6,000 to his son Robert and £3,000 to each of his daughters. The residue of his personal estate went to his wife. He had, in addition, houses in London and at Mortlake in Surrey and considerable landed property in Buckinghamshire, which he held by free socage as of the manor of East Greenwich—a tenure that brought considerable practical advantages, notably freedom from wardship if the heir was under age, as he was in this case. Munck is an interesting and unusual figure in this period, the foreign adventurer whose acumen enabled him to accumulate vast wealth through successful service in an official position.
In the pious preamble to his will, in which he stated that he was aged ‘about 55 years’, he expressed his personal conviction that he was one of the elect. He made bequests of money to the French and Dutch churches in London and asked his wife and friends not to permit his children to marry other than persons of ‘honest and godly behaviour, such as are not infected with popish superstition and irreligious atheism’.7
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. Vis Essex, (Harl. Soc. xiii), 303; EHR, lxviii. 236; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 429, 433; SP84/69/60; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 14; 1611-18, p. 248; F. S. Thomas. Hist. State Paper Office, 7.
- 2. EHR, lxviii. 234; PCC 36 Swann; Statutes of the Realm, iv. p. lxviii.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 241; 1603-10, 512; CSP Ire. 1600-1, p. 201; HMC Hatfield, xi. 509; SP14/26/27; Chamberlain Letters, i. 268; Hatfield mss 78/26(2), 79/73, 97/3(2), 213/114, 116, 118, 120; 24/66.
- 4. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 602, 613; Hatfield mss 191/6; HMC Buccleuch, i. 44, 49-50, 59, 85, 87, 98, 104.
- 5. SP12/281/79; HMC Hatfield, xi. 393; DNB (Edmondes, Thomas); Hatfield mss 227/8.
- 6. SP78/54/130-1; 94/10/97; 94/11/152-6, 192-4; 94/12 passim; 97/5/72; Hatfield mss 100/142, 113/122, 116/66; HMC Hatfield, xv. pp. xxviii, 152, 154-5; xviii. 187; HMC Buccleuch, i. 93; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 392.
- 7. Chamberlain Letters, i. 359; ii. 502; PRO Index 6805; PCC 36 Swann; C142/406/27.