MONTAGU, Hon. William (c.1618-1706), of Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx. and Little Oakley, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1618, 2nd s. of Edward Montagu† (d.1644), 1st Baron Montagu of Boughton by 2nd w. Frances, da. of Thomas Cotton† of Conington, Hunts.; bro. of Edward Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Boughton. educ. Oundle; Sidney Sussex, Camb. adm. 13 Apr. 1632, aged 13; M. Temple 1635, called 1642. m. (1) 18 June 1646, Elizabeth (d.1647), da. of Ralph Freman of Aspenden, Herts., s.p., (2) 7 Dec. 1651, Mary (d. 10 Mar. 1700), da. of Sir John Aubrey, 1st Bt. of Llantrithyd, Glam., 2s. d.v.p. 1da.1
Commr. for assessment, Northants. 1657, Lincs. and Northants. 1661-80, 1689, Mdx. 1665-79, Cambs. 1677-9, Lincs. 1690, militia, Northants. Mar. 1660, oyer and terminer, Midland circuit July 1660; j.p. Northants. July 1660-?d., Mdx. 1664-bef. 1680, Lincs. (Kesteven) aft. 1664-85; commr. for sewers, Lincs. Aug. 1660; freeman, Stanford 1661; bencher, M. Temple 1662, reader 1663, treas. 1663-4; commrs. for enclosures, Deeping Fen 1665, recusants, Lincs. 1675.2
Attorney-gen. to Queen Catherine of Braganza 1662-76, KC 1670; chief baron of the Exchequer 12 Apr. 1676-86; serjeant-at-law 1686-d.3
Montagu, a professional lawyer, sat in the Short Parliament for the family borough of Huntingdon. During the Civil War his father was imprisoned as a Royalist, but his elder brother supported Parliament, while he himself, though obviously of a conservative temperament, remained neutral and was not appointed to local office till 1657. As a cousin of the Earl of Manchester, chancellor of Cambridge University, he was returned to the Convention at a by-election. A moderately active Member he probably served on 21 committees and made four recorded speeches. On 9 July he was among the Members appointed to consider the case of the royalist sufferer, Judge Jenkins. Two days later he seconded the motion to except the queen mother’s lands from the bill for confirming sales. In August he was appointed to four drafting committees, two in connexion with the college leases bill and two for the judicial proceedings bill. Although not appointed by name to the committee for the Royston vicarage bill, he took the chair as one of the Cambridgeshire ‘burgesses’ and reported on 28 Aug. 1660. In the second session he was appointed to the committee for attainting Oliver Cromwell. He received from Lord Wharton a copy of the case for modified episcopacy, and on 28 Nov. spoke in favour of adjourning the debate. Three days later he urged the recommitment of the excise bill because the penalties were too severe. He acted as chairman for the bill empowering Sir Harbottle Grimston to grant leases as master of the rolls and for drafting a proviso to the repeal of the Statute of Wards and Liveries.4
At the general election of 1661, Montagu was returned after a contest at Stamford, some 15 miles from his Northamptonshire residence. Although his record cannot be wholly distinguished from those of the Hon. Edward Montagu and George Montagu, especially in the earlier sessions of the Cavalier Parliament, he was certainly an active Member, and may have sat on as many as 20 committees, taking the chair in seven. Some 26 of his speeches have been recorded. He was appointed to the committee for the security bill and acted as teller against an amendment to it on 28 May. He was also on the committee for the corporations bill, bringing in a proviso for the commissioners’ better security. He was named to the committees for the uniformity bill and the bill of pains and penalties, and on 13 July was the first of the Members ordered to bring in a proviso to the bill to prevent the unlawful killing of deer. He was in favour of the execution of those under attainder, and was appointed to the committee for the bill. On 3 Apr. 1662 he was ordered with (Sir) John Bramston and Sir Edmund Peirce to bring in a bill repealing the Triennial Act. Two days later he reported from the committee for the bishop of London’s estate bill. He helped to manage two conferences towards the end of the session, and was one of the four Members sent to the lord treasurer on 12 May to ask for the survey of the Forest of Dean. Four days later he was appointed to a committee to consider the Lords’ proviso to the bill for loyal and indigent officers.5
On Charles’s marriage, Montagu was appointed attorney-general to the Queen. After the first Declaration of Indulgence he was among those ordered to attend a conference on 26 Mar. 1663, and to unite the Commons’ resolution and the Lords’ petition on the subject. He attended another conference on the King’s reply. On 25 July he acted as teller for the unsuccessful motion to agree to the additional clause from the Lords for relief from the Act of Uniformity. He was among those appointed to the committee for the conventicles bill and to bring in a bill for the prevention of profanity in 1664, and was listed as a court dependant. In the Oxford session he was appointed to the committee for the five mile bill, took the chair of the committee for the rent recovery bill, and prepared reasons for a conference on the plague bill. After the Great Fire of London he introduced a bill to prevent suits between landlords and tenants. Although the proposed divorce of Lady Roos was generally considered detrimental to the Queen’s interests, Lord Roos (John Manners) was Montagu’s nephew, and on 12 Nov. 1666 he moved to allow Heneage Finch and Robert Milward to appear as his counsel in the House of Lords. He acted as chairman for the bill to illegitimate Lady Roos’s children, and carried it to the Upper House. On 22 Jan. 1667 he was appointed a manager of Lord Mordaunt’s impeachment, and on the fall of Clarendon he was among those ordered to search for precedents of impeachments, but took no further ascertainable part in the proceedings. In 1668 he helped to manage a conference on the petition from the East India merchants and to amend the articles of impeachment against Henry Brouncker. On 18 Nov. 1669 he was given special responsibility for the private bill to settle the differences between Lady Lee and the coheirs of Sir Thomas Pope. As a supporter of Ormonde, he considered the charge against Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle) to fall within the Statute of Treasons, and was entered on both lists of the court party. He called the dissenter Jekyll ‘a turbulent spirit’ for defying the ruling of the House in November 1670. He was appointed to the committee to consider the amendments to the Coventry bill, helped to manage one conference on impositions and draw up reasons for another in April 1671.6
In the debates on the test bill in 1673, Montagu twice intervened to protect the interests of the Queen’s Roman Catholic servants, and his name appeared on the Paston list of court Members. He was appointed to the committee for the general test on 6 Feb. 1674, and three days later spoke against the bill to prevent illegal exactions, by which ‘the King’s officers will be put upon difficulty’. He defended Danby in the spring session of 1675; ‘no man walks by rule of law in his place more than this lord treasurer’. He was concerned with two of the conferences on Shirley v. Fagg, and urged the House not merely to thank (Sir) John Robinson I for refusing to release the Four Lawyers, but also to assist and protect him. He was included in the lists of officials and of government speakers prepared for the autumn session, in which he was one of the four Members given special responsibility for preparing a declaratory bill against the suspending power in religion. But this was his last session, for in the following April he was promoted to the bench as chief baron of the Exchequer, a court which Danby was always careful to keep in reliable hands. He was still expected to use his influence over Lord Roos and his son-in-law, Sir William Drake, when Parliament reassembled.7
As a judge, Montagu helped to conduct some of the Popish Plot trials, though he later said that he ‘had never any great faith’ in Titus Oates, and the trial of Lord Russell (Hon. William Russell) after the Rye House Plot. He offended James II by giving his opinion that the grant of excise required parliamentary renewal after Charles II’s death, but continued in office, accompanying Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys on the Bloody Assizes until he was dismissed for opposing the dispensing power. After the Revolution, he was nominated one of the assistants of the House of Lords, and was seen ‘very busy in discoursing several lords in the lobby, and many thought that he was turned solicitor for his old place’. Such an appointment would have outraged the Whigs, in whose eyes Russell had been a martyr, and Montagu resumed his practice at the bar, being returned to the Officers’ Parliament for Amersham when Drake died in 1690. He himself lived to a great age, dying on 26 Aug. 1706.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Paula Watson
- 1. Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 138; Clutterbuck, Herts. iii. 348; Survey of London, iii. 37; Bridges, Northants. ii. 329.