MONTAGU, Edward Wortley (1678-1761), of Wortley, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1705 - 1713
1715 - 1722
1722 - 1734
1734 - 21 Jan. 1761

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1678, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Hon. Sidney Wortley Montagu*; bro. of Francis*.  educ. Westminster; Trinity Coll. Cambridge 1693; M. Temple 1693, called 1699; I. Temple 1706; travelled abroad (France and Switzerland) 1700–1.  m. lic. 17 Aug. 1712, Lady Mary (d. 1762), da. of Evelyn Pierrepont*, 1st Duke of Kingston, 1s. 1da.  suc. fa. 1727; cos. James Montagu III* at Newbold Verdon, Leics. 1748.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Bath 1707; jt. high steward of Northallerton, Yorks. by 1713.2

Ld. of Treasury 1714–15; ambassador to Turkey 1716–18.3

Biography

The son of a staunch Whig, Wortley Montagu became a leading spokesman for the party’s Country wing. Although he later exaggerated both his own and the Country Whigs’ importance as a group in the later years of Queen Anne’s reign, Wortley Montagu did attain political prominence in this period, most notably through his championship of a series of place bills, leading to a brief elevation to high office under George I. The great wealth and political influence of his father provided a strong foundation for Wortley Montagu’s political career and, having trained for the law and spent time on the grand tour, some of it in the company of Joseph Addison* with whom he formed a lasting friendship, Wortley Montagu was returned in 1705 upon the Whig interest for the Montagu-dominated borough of Huntingdon.4

Classed as a gain by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) and as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the new Parliament, Wortley Montagu spoke in support of, and subsequently voted for, the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct., but he appears to have made little further impact in the 1705–6 session. Analysis of Wortley Montagu’s parliamentary activity is complicated by the presence of his father in the Commons from 1705 until 1710, but the low parliamentary profile maintained by Wortley Montagu snr. suggests that most if not all references can be attributed to his more prominent son. Wortley Montagu’s return was petitioned against, but he was declared elected on 22 Jan. 1706. On 23 Nov. 1705 he was named to draft an estate bill. The contemporary historian Alexander Cunningham later included Wortley Montagu among those Whigs who ‘did not conform to the Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) in everything’ during the 1705 Parliament, and the first indication of Wortley Montagu’s independent inclinations came in February 1706 when he was one of the Whigs absent from the Court side in a division, probably on the 18th, on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. His only significant action in the 1706–7 session was on 28 Feb. 1707 when he was a teller for the passing of the Union, but his activity increased notably in the first Parliament of Great Britain. His Country inclinations became evident when he spoke, at some point late in November or early December, for the abolition of the Scottish privy council, rejecting proposals to limit its powers. On 11 Dec. he told against an amendment to prevent the East India Company trading with Scotland until they had settled the debts of the Company of Scotland. He was classed as a Whig in an analysis of the Commons early in 1708, and the accuracy of this judgment was borne out by his behaviour in the remainder of the session. He was, for example, a prominent supporter of the cathedrals bill, a measure designed primarily to bolster the position of the Whig Bishop Nicolson in his conflict with Francis Atterbury over the visitation of Carlisle Cathedral. On 28 Feb. he told in favour of committing this bill, which had been sent to the Commons from the Lords, and was reported to have spoken ‘incomparably well in the controversy about the church statutes’ on 9 Mar. The same day he was teller against receiving an amendment which would have preserved the visitation rights of the crown, and chaired the committee of the whole on the bill. He reported from this committee on the 11th, and six days later carried the bill to the Lords. Wortley Montagu’s partisan loyalties were also evident on 11 Mar. when the Commons considered the Queen’s message concerning the threatened Jacobite invasion. At his instigation the Commons’ resolutions on this topic included condemnation of individuals who had created divisions in the nation and who had ‘attempted to raise jealousies in her Majesty of those who have served her in the most eminent and distinguishing manner’, comments which Addison described as ‘glances’ at Robert Harley*, and Wortley Montagu was appointed the same day to prepare an address embodying this particular resolution. His prominent role in the House over the threatened invasion was emphasized with his appointment on 1 Apr. to thank Prince George for directing the navy against the Jacobite forces.5

Returned unopposed for Huntingdon in 1708, and classed as a Whig, Wortley Montagu’s parliamentary activity notably increased in the 1708–9 session. He was, for example, included among those named on 18 Mar. 1709 to draft a bill concerning the payment of seamen’s wages. He also told against the second reading of the bill encouraging tobacco exports (24 Feb.), the third reading of the bill to enlarge the capital stock of the Bank of England (8 Apr.), and a motion to proceed with a committee of the whole on the bill to appoint commissioners to survey Portsmouth, Chatham and Harwich harbours (14 Apr.). However, by far the most important aspect of Wortley Montagu’s activity was his advocacy of the bill for a general naturalization of foreign Protestants. He moved for this measure on 5 Feb., pointing out that ‘the king of Prussia’ had, by encouraging the settlement of such refugees, ‘fertilized an almost barren country, improved trade and vastly increased his revenue’, and ‘that if foreigners were induced to settle under a despotic government, where they found protection and encouragement, they would undoubtedly be the more inclined to bring their effects, at least their industry, into Great Britain, where they would share the privileges of a free nation’. Wortley Montagu was the first-named member of the drafting committee appointed the same day, and he presented the bill on the 14th. On the 28th he was a teller against the Tory-sponsored motion to instruct the committee of the whole considering the bill to continue the provisions of the General Naturalization Act of 1610 requiring naturalized Protestants to take Anglican communion and the oaths of supremacy and allegiance within a month of naturalization. This motion being defeated, Wortley Montagu chaired sittings of the committee of the whole upon the bill, during which the requirements to take Anglican communion and the oaths, along with a declaration against transubstantiation, were approved. He told on 7 Mar. against an amendment that would have prevented those naturalized under the terms of the bill from voting or standing in parliamentary elections, and the same day carried the bill to the Lords. He was naturally included in the subsequently published list of those who had supported the measure. Cunningham later noted that Wortley Montagu was among those Whigs who often voted against the Court in the 1708 Parliament, which is apparent in other areas of his activity in the 1708–9 session. On 30 Nov., for example, he told against the Court in the Dumfries Burghs election case, and in March and April 1709 joined (Sir) Peter King and Richard Hampden II in proposing that the Court-sponsored Scottish treason trials bill be amended to restrict the forfeiture of the estates of those convicted solely to the life of the offender. This amendment was accepted and on 9 Apr. he told for the bill. Cunningham also claimed that Wortley Montagu supported the failed attempt by Robert Benson to have secret ballots introduced for Commons’ decisions on contested elections, and it was in this session that Wortley Montagu’s interest in place legislation became more apparent. On 9 Feb. he was teller to adjourn a Commons’ debate on the election of Sir Richard Allin, 1st Bt.* Allin had held the post of collector of customs at the time of his election and had subsequently surrendered it; following the failed adjournment motion his surrender was read to the House, enabling his election for Dunwich to be confirmed.6

Concern for the expansion of the executive and its effects on the independence of Parliament was the most prominent feature of Wortley Montagu’s activity in the 1709–10 session. On 25 Jan. 1710 he moved for the introduction of a place bill, claiming that such a measure was the necessary corollary of the continental war; the latter being conducted to ‘secure our liberties against a foreign enemy’, while the former was necessary to ‘prevent the danger of being undermined at home’. He contended that despite previous attempts to limit the influence of the executive upon the Commons, placemen were ‘more numerous than ever’, drawing particular attention to the effect of the war, and complaining of the influence afforded to the Court by the presence in the Commons of

those who have no other fortune . . . than the command of a regiment, having nothing else to do but to make a proper disposition in the clothing of it . . . The number of such Members therefore is so far from being restrained, that it seems likely to increase as long as the war lasts.

Wortley Montagu argued that the expansion of military patronage at the disposal of the Court meant that it was now possible for the executive to take advantage of the ‘corruption of the boroughs’ to ensure the return of enough civil and military officers to ‘make up a majority’, and that ‘when a majority can be commanded here, despotic power may be established by law, and resistance made illegal’. Alluding to the right to resistance asserted in the articles of impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, he argued that ‘to render it, at the same time, lawful for the subject to resist, and easy for a prince to become absolute, is bringing the nation into perpetual danger of war between the king and people’, and asserted that a Member dependent upon a place was unlikely to oppose arbitrary measures ‘if the liberty of the subject comes in competition with the prerogative’. Even if such Members were able to see beyond their self-interest, Wortley Montagu argued, place legislation was necessary to ensure that such imputations could not be made, and he ended by claiming that the burden of taxation on country gentleman by the war meant that their interest in the ‘country’ was being transferred ‘to persons who receive their pay out of those taxes’. He was teller for the bill’s introduction and was the first-named Member of the drafting committee appointed the same day. He subsequently guided the bill through the Commons, chairing it in committee of the whole and carrying it to the Lords on 4 Feb. Given the contents of his speech of 25 Jan., it is surprising that Wortley Montagu was included in a black list of those who supported the impeachment of Sacheverell. In addition to his preoccupation with place legislation he was also appointed to prepare bills to strengthen author’s copyright (12 Dec.) and to allow the estate of his cousin Lord Hinchingbrooke (Edward Montagu*), to be settled (25 Jan.).7

The summer of 1710 saw Wortley Montagu travel to the Low Countries, a visit prompted by ill-health and the breakdown of negotiations for his marriage to Lady Mary Pierrepont, daughter of the then Marquess of Dorchester (later 1st Duke of Kingston). The negotiations floundered on Dorchester’s insistence that Wortley Montagu should settle £1,000 a year on an heir, a demand which Wortley Montagu thought would require him to make a settlement of £10,000. Unwilling to do this, though he was wealthy enough at this time to own over £2,000 of Bank stock, his resentment of Dorchester’s demands became evident in articles printed by the Tatler in July and September 1710, castigating current practice relating to marriage settlements, which were either written, or suggested to Richard Steele*, by Wortley Montagu. Montagu was elected for Huntingdon while abroad, but had returned to England by 20 Oct. when he dined with Addison and Swift. Classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’, Wortley Montagu’s main preoccupation in the 1710–11 session was again a place bill. Having arrived in London in late November, he moved on 6 Dec. for a new bill and presented it the following day. When the second reading was moved on 12 Dec. Wortley Montagu dismissed calls that supply be considered first, but the question of whether the place bill’s second reading should take precedence, in which he told for a second reading that day, was lost in division. Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, forecast that ‘the place bill in the terms first proposed will not pass the House of Commons, most of the Whigs and Tories being against it, and part of both for it’. Yet Wortley Montagu successfully steered the bill through the Commons, chairing the committee of the whole and telling for its third reading on 29 Jan. 1711, a success he later attributed to the efforts of the Country Whigs. It was defeated, however, in the Lords. He was appointed on 21 Dec. to draft an estate bill relating to Lord Hinchingbrooke (Edward Richard Montagu*), and Mungo Graham* reported that in the debate of 2 Jan. on the Queen’s message upon troop losses in Spain Wortley Montagu ‘insinuated a distrust . . . that the intention was to strengthen the war in Spain, by weakening the army in Flanders’. He remained active in the new year, and helped in the initiation of several bills, including an estate bill (18 Jan.), and a Huntingdonshire road bill (3 Feb.). He also told in two disputed elections, in favour of Thomas Millington’s* petition upon the Tregony election being referred to the elections committee rather than heard at the bar of the House (10 Jan.), and on the Whig side in a division upon the disputed Rutland election (23 Jan.). Having spent time in Yorkshire during April, he had returned to London by the 28th only to find himself having to defend his family’s interests in the coal industry. His father’s extensive mining interests in north-east England and involvement in the cartel which controlled the coal trade in this region were threatened by the appearance of a bill to prevent ‘combinations’ in the coal trade. Wortley Montagu became involved in organizing the cartel’s defence, sending to the north-east a copy of the bill after its introduction on 3 May. The cartel was successful in preventing the bill from causing obstruction to themselves, and on 19 May Wortley Montagu even acted as a teller in favour of the measure, while the north-east cartel remained unscathed.8

Wortley Montagu spent the summer in the country, and it seems that he was unwilling to return to London for the 1711–12 session despite being urged to do so by Addison who pointed out that with the debates upon the peace a certainty, Wortley Montagu would not ‘have a better opportunity to show yourself’, and even offered to take a house in London and provide him with both rooms and a cook. Perhaps taking this advice to heart, Wortley Montagu had returned to London in time to vote on 7 Dec. for the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, but he was noticeably less active in proceedings. His partisan loyalties were much in evidence on 24 Jan. 1712 when he told against the motion of censure against the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), and five days later he was appointed to draft a bill to make free a ship taken as a prize. His commitment to place legislation had not, however, abated, as in February he once again piloted a bill through the Commons as well as receiving appointment on the 15th to a committee to inquire into new offices created since 1705, though despite Junto support in the Lords his bill was again defeated in the Upper House. This ebbing in Wortley Montagu’s parliamentary activity may have been, at least in part, a consequence of his relationship with Lady Mary Pierrepont. After periodic meetings and correspondence in 1711, the relationship was renewed in earnest in early 1712. Though Lady Mary had agreed to marry the son and heir of Viscount Massereene [I], she eloped and married Wortley Montagu in August, who was described by one observer as ‘the knight errant that has rescued the lady’. Despite efforts by Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) to effect a reconciliation, Wortley Montagu and his wife remained estranged from her family, and though he claimed to have an adequate income to support his wife, in later life Lady Mary wrote that they had to live on less than £800 a year at the beginning of their marriage. Despite his changing personal circumstances, Wortley Montagu remained politically active. In early 1713 he had asked his wife to prepare a critique of the fifth act of Addison’s Cato, Addison deciding to incorporate many of her suggestions into the political satire which opened successfully on 14 Apr. Wortley Montagu’s actions in the 1713 continued to conform to his Country Whig sympathies. On 1 May he was the first-named Member of the committee appointed to draft a place bill. He presented this bill on the 2nd, and on the 14th told for it to receive its second reading that day. This proposal was defeated, and though it received its second reading on the 15th, Wortley Montagu was again unsuccessful in telling for a motion to tack the measure to the malt tax bill. Partisan loyalty explains the remainder of Wortley Montagu’s significant activity in this session. On 9 May he told in favour of adjourning consideration of the commission of accounts’ report upon the alleged misconduct of the Earl of Wharton (Hon. Thomas*), and he was one of the leading opponents of the French commerce bill. On 14 May he spoke against the introduction of this measure, being among those Whigs who demanded that the committee of the whole divide on the question of whether there should be a reading of the Acts that would be negated by the bill, and on 4 June told against its committal. On 18 June he spoke against the bill, his wife being informed that he had made a ‘glorious speech’ in the course of which he had bested Arthur Moore, and in the subsequently printed division list he was noted as a Whig opponent of the bill. His later claim that the measure was thrown out by the Country Whigs, ‘the Court Whigs having no credit to do anything’, was a self-serving exaggeration, but it is clear that he played a prominent part in its defeat.9

Wortley Montagu was forced to yield up his Huntingdon seat to his father in 1713, and instead sought election at Aldborough on the interest of Lord Pelham. He was recommended by the other Member William Jessop as someone who ‘has been instrumental as any man in the House in throwing out the bill for establishing the 8th and 9th articles of the treaty of commerce of France’, which Jessop claimed was a particular threat to the Yorkshire wool industry. Although Wortley Montagu spent most of the summer in the borough, on one occasion engaging his opponent Paul Foley II* in a two-hour debate, his campaign was unsuccessful, as was the petition he and Jessop presented to the Commons on 5 Mar. 1714. He nevertheless returned to London for the final Parliament of Queen Anne, corresponding with Steele about the latter’s expulsion from the House and again proposing his wife as toast at the Hanover Club. The nature of his political ambitions at the Hanoverian succession are difficult to discern. His wife later claimed that Wortley Montagu coveted appointment as secretary of state and was disappointed when denied the post, though a letter from her dated 12 Oct. 1714 suggests that he had previously expressed concern about reconciling his previous advocacy of place legislation with accepting office in the new ministry. He nevertheless felt able to accept appointment as a lord of the Treasury on the accession of George I, and having considered standing at Aldborough, York and Newark, he was elected in 1715 for Westminster and remained in the Commons for the rest of his life. In 1716 he was appointed ambassador to Constantinople, but after his return his political career went into decline. Unwilling to align himself with Robert Walpole II*, he attached himself to the opposition from the late 1720s. He remained an opposition Whig for the remainder of his career, writing bitterly when aged 70 that the Country Whigs had been ill-rewarded for their services to the Hanoverian succession in the last Parliament of Anne. In later years his primary concern became the preservation and augmentation of his family’s wealth. His success in this respect was evident at his death on 22 Jan. 1761, when he left a large fortune to his daughter, having in 1755 cut off his son Edward† with a small allowance.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison

Notes

  • 1. Addison Letters, 22, 29–30; R. Halsband, Life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 26, 286; PCC 336 Strahan.
  • 2. Bath AO, Bath council bk. 3, p. 475; T. Lawson-Tancred, Recs. of a Yorks. Manor, 257.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 16, 323.
  • 4. Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1882) ed. Ld. Wharncliffe, ii. 20–21.
  • 5. BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 53, John Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 26 Oct. 1705; Cunningham, Hist. GB i. 460; ii. 137; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 83; Addison Letters, 101; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 461.
  • 6. Boyer, Anne Annals vii. 290; Cunningham, ii. 211, 213, 284–5; Statutes, ix. 339.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iv. 531; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 888–92; Bull. IHR, xxxix. 59–61.
  • 8. Halsband, 10–18; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters ed. Halsband, i. 48–49, 51, 67, 102–5; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); Swift Stella ed. Davis, 65; Scots Courant, 11–13 Dec. 1710; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/2, Dunbar to Ld. Grange (James Erskine†), 12 Dec. 1710; Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1882) ed. Wharncliffe, 20–21; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/1a, Graham to Duke of Montrose, 2 Jan. 1711; E. Hughes, N. Country Life i. 181–90; J. M. Ellis, A Study of the Business Fortunes of William Cotesworth c.1668–1726, 121–3.
  • 9. Addison Letters, 265–6; Halsband, 21–27, 31–33; Add. 61475, f. 45; Bull. IHR, 64; Wentworth Pprs. 334