MONCK, Christopher, Earl of Torrington (1653-88).
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Family and Education
b. 14 Aug. 1653, o. surv. s. of George Monck. educ. privately; G. Inn, entered 1662. m. 30 Dec. 1669 (with £20,000), Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, da. and coh. of Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle, 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Duke of Albemarle 3 Jan. 1670; KG 4 Feb. 1670.1
Capt. of ft. 1666-7, col. 1673-4, col. Queen’s Horse 1678-9, 1 Horse Gds. 1679-85.
Commr. for assessment, Devon 1667-9, freeman, Harwich 1674, Exeter 1675, Plymouth 1676, Preston 1682, Portsmouth 1683, Plympton Erle 1685; ld. lt. Devon and Essex 1675-85, Wilts. 1681-3, custos rot. Devon 1675-85; recorder, Colchester 1677-Feb. 1688, Tiverton 1683-Jan. 1688, Sandwich 1684-d., Harwich Saffron Walden and Great Torrington 1685-d.; chancellor, Camb. Univ. 1682-d., high steward, South Molton and Totnes 1684-d., Barnstaple and Colchester Sept. 1688-d.2
Gent. of the bedchamber 1673-85; PC 15 Oct. 1675-d.; gov. Jamaica 1686-d.3
A question-mark hung over Lord Torrington’s birth, for his mother was never able to prove that her first husband was dead before she married his father. His political career was of unique precocity. In 1659 his mother was assuring the godly Scottish ladies of her social circle ‘My son Kit is for the Long Parliament and the good old cause’. His father’s chaplain relates how, as ‘a child then between six and seven years of age’ early in 1660, he was wheedled by the City matrons into revealing that ‘his father and mother in bed had talked of the King’s coming home’. ‘The dull head of General Monck’, according to Burnet, ‘would have his son instructed no further than to make speeches in Parliament.’ At the age of 13 he was returned as knight of the shire, probably without a contest, and took his seat at once, being named to a committee on 17 Jan. 1667. On 25 Oct. he was ordered by the House, with Sir Charles Berkeley I and (Sir) William Morice I, to represent to the King the danger of theft and robbery on the highway, and to ask his father, as lord general, to provide a guard. On the same day, he was named to the committee to consider the charges against Mordaunt, and later in the same session he took part in the debate on the impeachment of Clarendon, urging the House to adhere to the general charges and not ‘depart from the liberties of England’, in spite of the judges’ opinion. He was not yet 15, and thus probably the youngest Member ever to speak on the floor of the House. On 1 May 1668 Torrington acted as teller for the Government against a motion to appropriate tunnage and poundage to the use of the navy. He was moderately active during his short period of membership, sitting on seven committees, and was listed by Sir Thomas Osborne among those who usually voted for supply.4
Torrington was unable to take his seat in the Lords as 2nd Duke of Albemarle till he was 21. He supported the court candidate in the by-election, but for some years took little part in politics, devoting himself to extravagance and pleasure. His interest was first exercised personally in the Clitheroe by-election of 1675, and in 1676 it was hoped to use his influence to secure Sir Richard Everard for the Court. In the elections to the Exclusion Parliaments his interest in Devon was at the Court’s disposal. He was active in Essex and its boroughs, and in 1685 also in Cambridge University and Hertfordshire. As lord lieutenant of Devonshire he did not distinguish himself in the campaign against Monmouth, and on 31 July he threw up all his employments out of jealousy of Lord Feversham and John Churchill II. In 1686 he accepted the post of governor of Jamaica, though the income was only £2,500 p.a. and he was warned that he would be surrounded by spies and subject to misinterpretation, as in Whitehall and the western campaign. He left for the island on 5 Oct. 1687, red-eyed and yellow-faced from the effects of life at Court. His principal achievement was the recovery of a wrecked Spanish treasure-ship, the first successful salvage operation of modern times, which brought him in an estimated £48,000 for an investment of £800. But he did not enjoy his wealth for long: drink and the climate finished him off on 6 Oct. 1688. With him, the Moncks of Devonshire became extinct; his heir was the Earl of Bath, whose rights were however challenged on the ground of Albemarle’s illegitimacy.5