WORTLEY MONTAGU, Edward (1678-1761), of Wortley, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Feb. 1678, o. surv. s. of Hon. Sidney Wortley Montagu of Wortley. educ. Westminster; Trinity, Camb. 1693; M. Temple 1693, called 1699; I. Temple 1706; Grand Tour 1700-3. m. (lic. 17 Aug.) prob. 20 Aug. 1712, Lady Mary Pierrepont (the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley Montagu), da. of Evelyn, 1st Duke of Kingston, 1s. 1da. (who m. John, 3rd Earl of Bute [S]). suc. fa. 1727 and cos. James Montagu at Newbold Verdon, Leics. 1748.
Ld. of the Treasury 1714-15; ambassador to Turkey 1716-18.
In a memorandum written at the age of 70 Edward Wortley claims that
in the four last years of Queen Anne he was one of the most active members and was successful in his endeavours to weaken those who were supposed to have formed a design to bring in the Pretender. In concert with the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Godolphin and Lords Somers and Halifax, he brought in a place bill, on which occasion Sir T. Hanmer and his party divided against Lord Bolingbroke. He had the principal share in throwing out the bill of commerce with France.1
At George I’s accession he was disappointed to receive only a lordship of the Treasury under his kinsman, Lord Halifax, instead of a secretaryship of state which he considered his due. Elected for Westminster in 1715, he lost his post after Halifax’s death, when the Treasury board was reconstituted under Walpole, of whose conduct as leader of the House of Commons and appointment as first lord he strongly disapproved.2 In compensation he was promised an auditorship of the imprest as soon as one became vacant. Meanwhile he was sent as ambassador to Constantinople, from which he was recalled as a failure after little more than a year, the blow being softened by the grant of a reversion to the auditorship. On his return he put in a claim for arrears of pay and for extraordinary expenses during his embassy. He states that Lord Sunderland, then at the head of the Treasury, offered him £10,000 in discharge of this debt, and the immediate possession of an auditorship, ‘on condition he would be for the peerage bill, which he refused to be’, speaking and voting against it. ‘On this they paid him no more than £5,000’, that is to say, his arrears of pay, but not his extraordinary expenses, and he was required to surrender his reversion to the auditorship. In 1721 he was elected to the secret committee of the House of Commons on the South Sea bubble.
After the Earl of Sunderland’s death, Wortley refused to ‘declare himself a friend to Sir Robert Walpole’, though, according to his own account, offered ‘carte blanche’ if he would do so.3 From 1727, when his father’s death put him into possession of a vast fortune, he was in active opposition. On 3 Apr. 1728, after a speech by Pulteney in a debate on hawkers and pedlars,
Sir R. Walpole answered him and took notice that the gentleman had put himself in a ‘rant and ramble’ in his discourse, upon which Wortley Montagu said he never knew such parliamentary discourse and language and took down the words, and said no man was above parliamentary censure, and for less words than those people in former parliaments had been called to the Bar and upon their knees asked pardon, and that he perceived by the gentleman’s silence to whom it was applied, meaning Pulteney, that he designed to take notice of it in another manner, upon which the Speaker took him down to order, and said he dared say the gentleman intended no such thing, nor could the words bear that interpretation, and that, if any one deserved to be taken notice of in the House, it was he, and expressed himself with great warmth as if Wortley had designed to set people by the ears, and Wortley was forced to explain and ask pardon of the House.4
In a debate on a bill to prevent loans to foreign princes without the consent of the King, on 24 Feb. 1730, he said that ‘he was sorry to hear the King’s name made use of to influence our debates [and] ... that according to the bill it was put into the King’s power to restrain all the trade of the kingdom’. Two days later he supported John Barnard’s petition against the monopoly of the East India Company. He spoke against the Hessians on 8 Feb. 1731 and for the outright rejection of the excise bill on 11 Apr. 1733.5
In 1734 Wortley was returned for his father’s seat at Peterborough, standing also for Yorkshire, with a view to keeping out one of the government candidates, in which he was successful, though he himself came out bottom of the poll. He was a member of a committee appointed to prepare a place bill, 19 Mar. 1735, and of another in March 1737 to propose a bill for giving effect to Barnard’s scheme for converting the national debt, in support of which he had spoken. In 1741 he spoke strongly in support of the motion for Walpole’s removal, proposing unsuccessfully that Walpole should be ordered to withdraw from the House during the debate.
After Walpole’s fall Wortley is not recorded as voting till 1746, when he supported the Government on the Hanoverians but was classed as an opposition Whig, though according to his own account he ‘constantly voted in support of the measures of the Government and acted the part of one attached nowhere unless to the King’.6 In 1747 he instructed the mayor of Bossiney, where he had purchased property carrying with it a major interest in the borough,7 to return him, together with such person as should be recommended by Thomas Pitt, explaining that
as I am likely to be chosen again for Peterborough, I should have named to you another person rather than myself, if I had fixed on a proper person. But as the dissolution of this Parliament will be earlier by almost a year than I supposed it would be, I am not yet prepared; and shall, after Parliament has met, recommend a proper person to serve in my place.8
Electing to sit for Peterborough, he was again classed as Opposition, but took no further active part in politics, though retaining his seat for the rest of the reign. A confirmed miser, about 1748 he considered applying to George II for compensation for the failure to pay the debt which he regarded as owing to him in respect of his embassy and to implement the promise to appoint him to an auditorship. In a long draft memorandum, parts of which have already been quoted, he assessed his financial loss as follows:
If the odds were five to one that the debt would not be recovered after 28 years the having run that hazard may be estimated at five to one and make the debt £500,000. If one half of this be due it is a sum too great to be asked.
£10,0009 doubled in 14 years £20,000 £20,000 doubled in 14 years £40,000 £1,500 a year for 28 years for interest upon it may reasonably be computed at £60,000
The upshot was that he would be prepared to settle for a viscountcy, but he seems not to have pursued the matter. Devoting the rest of his long life to hoarding health and money, he died 22 Jan. 1761, leaving over a million to his only daughter, Lady Bute.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. In the possession of Prof. R. Halsband.
- 2. Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ed. Ld. Wharncliffe, i. 122-8, 214-15.
- 3. Letters of Joseph Addison, ed. Graham, 376-8; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714-19, p. 413; 1735-8, p. 394; Wortley’s memo.
- 4. Knatchbull Diary.
- 5. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 58, 128, 148, 360.
- 6. Wortley’s memo.
- 7. Maclean, Trigg Minor, iii. 203, 245.
- 8. HMC Fortescue, i. 112.
- 9. This figure ignores his own statement that he had recovered Â£5,000 out of the Â£10,000 owing to him.