MONCK, Sir Thomas (1570-1627), of Potheridge, nr. Merton, Devon
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Family and Education
bap. 9 Apr. 1570, 1st s. of Anthony Monck of Potheridge and Mary, da. of Richard Arscott of Ashwater, Devon.1 educ. King’s, Camb. 1587;2 I. Temple 1591.3 m. 17 June 1601 (with £1,200),4 Elizabeth, da. of (Sir) George Smith* of Madworth House, Exeter, Devon, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (2 d.v.p.).5 kntd. c.June 1603;6 suc. fa. 1620.7 d. 30 June 1627.8 sig. Tho[mas] Monck.
The Monck family ranked amongst the oldest in Devon, their roots allegedly stretching back to the Conquest. During the twelfth century they settled at Potheridge, a few miles from Great Torrington. In 1609 Monck was joint plaintiff in a Chancery suit concerning an almshouse founded by his ancestors at nearby Taddiport 300 years earlier. His father Anthony, ‘a gentleman of competent estate’, was a Devon j.p., deputy lieutenant and commissioner of oyer and terminer.11 In about 1600 Anthony was approached by George Smith, a wealthy Exeter merchant, who proposed a union between his eldest daughter and Anthony’s heir. However, once Monck became infatuated with his future bride, Smith drove a hard bargain, reducing the size of dowry on offer, and insisting that all the money be invested in a jointure estate. Anthony also settled on Monck lands with an estimated sale value of £30,000 in trust for his wife and children. Although Smith allegedly hinted at a substantial future inheritance, in 1603 he turned down his son-in-law’s request for help in repaying a £500 debt. On the strength of unspecified past service to the Crown, the duke of Lennox intervened on Monck’s behalf and obtained a letter from James I asking Smith to reconsider, though the latter obliged only after further government pressure. Thereafter, presumably impressed by Monck’s show of strength, Smith proved more conciliatory, bringing up his grandson George, the future General Monck†, in his own home.12
In April 1610 Monck signed a petition from a group of Devon gentry in support of a bill then in Parliament for improving the county’s agriculture.13 On intimate terms with his cousin Sir Robert Bassett†, he subsequently spent a year abroad tending him through a long illness. Sir Robert’s severe financial difficulties, which had prompted his flight overseas, continued after his return to England, and Monck again came to his aid in about 1615 when he purchased Bassett’s manor of Beaford, partly with money borrowed from Smith.14 Monck later claimed that this purchase lost him over £4,000 through spiralling debts and falling land prices. He also found himself sucked into the Bassett family’s internal disputes, as Beaford had earlier been conveyed to trustees for the benefit of Bassett’s wife and children. In the spring of 1615, Monck, with Sir Robert’s private backing, launched a Chancery suit to assert his rights over the manor, but it took three years to obtain a favourable verdict. It was probably shortly before the end of this case that the marquess of Buckingham approached the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*) on Monck’s behalf, following a request by Lord Norris, Monck’s ‘special friend’.15 It was subsequently alleged in the 1621 Parliament that Bacon had accepted a bribe of £1,220 from Monck and Bassett, but Bacon admitted only to receiving £110 from Monck, and then only after he had delivered his judgment.16 Monck and the Bassetts had barely resolved their differences when, in May 1618, Sir Robert breached his family’s latest trust agreements and mortgaged three more manors to Monck and Sir Henry Helmes*. It was probably this conveyance which forced Monck later that year to borrow £1,400 from a London merchant, Richard Wyche, using Potheridge and Beaford manors as collateral.17
Monck’s finances were now in a perilous state, and they received a further severe blow in March 1619 when Smith died leaving nothing to Monck and his family. Monck claimed that Smith’s son Sir Nicholas* had suppressed an earlier will which would have entitled him to £10,000, but without documentary proof his case rested on arcane arguments about Exeter’s inheritance customs which three years of Chancery suits subsequently failed to resolve. He finally secured two manors originally promised in his marriage settlement, but Sir Nicholas hounded him for repayment of the Beaford loan, on which Monck had defaulted.18 By 1620 he was having difficulties satisfying minor creditors, and had to restructure his payments to Wyche. He also began to clear his debts by selling land.19
The Bassett family remained a major distraction as Monck battled to stabilize his own affairs. During the 1621 Parliament, Sir Robert’s son Arthur* pursued Monck over the alleged bribing of Bacon, but Monck excused himself on the grounds of sickness from coming to London to answer the charge, and the investigation collapsed after Bacon’s submission on 24 April.20 In 1623 Arthur Bassett again challenged Monck’s title to Beaford, which was being used to keep Wyche at bay. This may have encouraged Wyche a few months later to demand a further restructuring of his debts, and Monck had to hand him control of a third manor. Luck was not on Monck’s side. In 1624 he found himself liable for sums incurred by his brother-in-law, and by June 1625 his own sisters were pursuing him over a settlement he had promised them five years earlier.21 He subsequently defaulted on a payment to Wyche, who obtained a writ to extend his lands. Monck is said to have bribed the under-sheriff of Devon in a vain attempt to avoid arrest. A confused situation was further complicated when Wyche died shortly afterwards, leaving behind him a number of rival claimants to Monck’s estates.22
In January 1626 Monck was returned to Parliament at Camelford, on the interest of his cousin Sir Richard Carnsew.23 His objective in obtaining a seat was almost certainly to emulate the example of Arthur Bassett, who in 1625 had secured his release from prison by having himself elected to Parliament. However, when a select committee reported on Monck’s case on 24 Mar., it concluded that his election was not valid because he had been imprisoned under a writ of extent and was ‘in execution’ at the time of his return.24 This ploy having failed, Monck launched a Chancery suit against Wyche’s executors, but this took a year to run its course. In the meantime, he was approached by another Exeter merchant, William Gould, who offered to clear his debts and secure his release on certain stringent conditions. These included the surrender to Gould of Potheridge, Beaford and two other manors for 21 years, and the marriage of his heir to Gould’s daughter. In desperation Monck agreed to these terms in early November 1626, but Gould then delayed taking steps to free him, either through malice, as Monck’s son alleged, or because he was awaiting the outcome of the Wyche case. This verdict, which restored Monck’s lands in return for a final repayment, was delivered on 1 June 1627, but it came too late for Monck, who died at the end of the month while still in gaol.25 No will or administration has been found. His son George sat for Devon in 1653 and 1660.