MONCK, Sir Charles Miles Lambert, 6th Bt. (1779-1867), of Belsay Castle, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Apr. 1779, 3rd but o. surv. s. of Sir William Middleton, 5th Bt.* educ. Rugby 1787.m. (1) 11 Sept. 1804, his cos. Louisa Lucy (d. 5 Dec. 1824), da. of Sir George Cooke, 7th Bt., of Wheatley, Yorks., 2s. 4da.; (2) 26 July 1831, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, da. of Charles, 4th Earl of Tankerville, s.p. suc. fa. as 6th Bt. 7 July 1795; gdfa. Lawrence Monck to Caenby, Lincs. 1798 and took name of Monck by royal lic. 25 Feb. 1799.
Sheriff, Northumb. 1801-2.
From his grandfather, whose name he took, Monck inherited a Lincolnshire estate which his elders had planned to make the family’s principal property. With characteristic waywardness, he took up residence at the Middletons’ Northumberland home at Belsay and sold Caenby. An enthusiastic classical scholar, Monck spent his honeymoon in Greece and from the visit derived the inspiration for his personal supervision of the rebuilding of Belsay in neo-Grecian style.
While he was abroad in 1805, Monck was invited to stand for Northumberland on the independent interest, of which his family were traditional leaders, in the event of the sitting Member, the Foxite Charles Grey, succeeding to the peerage. He agreed, with the strict proviso that he was not prepared to sustain the expense of a contest, in which event he would support any suitable independent candidate willing to go to a poll. He held to this position for the next seven years, during which he remained the leading prospective independent candidate.1
Monck’s devotion to the notion of independence was strong and he told Grey, his friend and supporter, 27 Mar. 1808:
I think it impossible for a man who comes forward upon the independent interest and offers his services to the county to come before them shackled by any promise whatsoever to any man or set of men.
In a subsequent letter, 26 Apr. 1808, he conceded the utility of acting with a party in certain circumstances, but insisted that
if it should be found necessary in practice as much as it was expected to be found so by theory, to combine with others systematically in a course of public conduct and to sacrifice to the well or ill founded objections of your associates points of minor importance in detail and expedience, it is absolutely necessary as the representative of a free body of people to go to Parliament with free power to adopt whatever line of conduct may then appear most advisable to promote the welfare of the kingdom in general, and of those who send me there in detail.2
Sir John Swinburne, another leading county independent of Whig persuasion, shared Grey’s evident fear that Monck might take a politically irresponsible line of self-righteous independence:
It is the fashionable creed at present, and I know it to be that of many of his friends (Cobbett is the great apostle of it) in spite of the manifest absurdity of it, united as it generally is with the really Jacobin doctrine, that no man can be honest in place.3
While Monck admired Grey and was in natural sympathy with opposition, he had some affinity of feeling with Sir Francis Burdett, on the question of whose conflict with the House of Commons in 1810 he thought Grey and the Whig hierarchy had ‘taken all the wrong side’. At the same time he was no doctrinaire radical, and although he favoured parliamentary reform in principle, his stance was essentially moderate.4
When the Duke of Northumberland’s son, Lord Percy, one of the sitting Members, was raised to the peerage in February 1812, Monck agreed to stand for the county, with his usual caveat. Rather to his surprise no opposition materialized and he retained the seat unopposed at the two following general elections. He wrote in 1818 that he had entered the House resolved
to sustain the liberties which we inherit from our ancestors, under the most perfect constitution in Church and State which any nation has ever had the happiness to possess, to promote the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests of the kingdom at large and of this county in particular, and to obtain a reform of the abuses which have crept into our government, with security by legislative provisions against the growth of others in future.
More precisely, he told Grey, 29 Mar. 1812:
I think with your lordship that the national independence of this country outliving its present struggle with France depends much upon the concession of emancipation to the Catholics ... if this reign has to proceed as it has begun ... it will be more honourable, safe, and pleasant to all really good statesmen to be in opposition than in employ.5
Monck was elected to Brooks’s on 17 June 1812 and voted regularly with opposition throughout his career in the House. The only issues of importance on which he is known to have sided with government were the corn bill of 1815, Brougham’s motion for interference on behalf of the Spanish Liberals, 15 Feb. 1816, and the Duke of Clarence’s marriage allowance, 15 Apr. 1818.6 He subsequently opposed similar provision for the Duke of Kent, 15 May 1818. He opposed the renewal of war in 1815—not, so he later claimed, because he questioned ‘the justice or necessity of it’, but because he doubted the chances of success7—and joined in opposition attacks on unpalatable aspects of the peace settlement in 1816. He was an active supporter of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.
Monck, an assiduous attender and conscientious constituency Member, spoke on a wide range of issues, which were mainly outside the mainstream of party conflict. The one which was peculiarly his own was his campaign for the independence of the Ionian isles, which sprang from his love of Greece, but which foundered when his motion for inquiry, 21 May 1816, was negatived. On 26 May 1819 he successfully moved for information on Parga, a continental adjunct of the islands, after pleading that it should be kept out of Turkish hands. Among his other initiatives were an unsuccessful motion against the extension of the Order of the Bath, 22 Mar. 1815, abortive demands for investigation of the management of the Greenwich Hospital estates in Northumberland, 7 June 1815 and 15 May 1816, and an attempt to amend the laws relating to insolvent debtors, 17 June 1816. He also took a leading part in the opposition to the East India ships registry bill and the stamp duties in 1815 and showed a keen interest in Poor Law reform.
On 1 Jan. 1817 Monck wrote to George Tennyson*:
How general this cry for parliamentary reform is becoming! I am desirous of reform in general, but very far from prepared to admit universal suffrage or annual parliaments nor indeed any great and fundamental change to be suddenly made but I think some reduction of decayed boroughs might be made to advantage and the larger counties more fully represented.8
He backed the reform petitioning movement of early 1817, paired in favour of Burdett’s reform motion, 20 May, supported Hamilton’s campaign for Scottish burgh reform in 1819, but did not vote for Burdett’s motion of 1 July. He opposed the repressive legislation of 1817 and the spy system and the indemnity bill in 1818.
Monck, who signed the requisition calling on Tierney to take the Whig leadership in the Commons, agreed with Grey, 11 Oct. 1819, that it was vital for the Whigs to take the initiative in organizing protest against Peterloo, but he was reluctant, as county Member, to take the first step in Northumberland: ‘I am a member of opposition and the subject of the meeting affects the existence of the administration which I join in opposing’. He went up for the emergency session of Parliament, having written to Grey, 5 Nov. 1819:
I trust ... [Tierney] will keep our plans of operation rational, moderate and firm—it is our only chance of conciliating the confidence of the proprietary classes ... who alone can decide this most perilous struggle if they will support the Whigs and the latter stand with discretion at their head.
At the same time, he hinted strongly that, if reaction triumphed, he would be tempted to withdraw from Parliament.9 Monck voted for Tierney’s amendment to the address, 24 Nov., but not for Althorp’s motion on the state of the nation, 30 Nov., and his only recorded votes against the subsequent repressive legislation were to limit the operation of the seditious meetings bill, 6 and 8 Dec., and against the night searches clause of the seizure of arms bill, 14 and 16 Dec. 1819. On the Penryn bribery bill, 17 Dec. 1819, he advocated extension of the franchise to freeholders in the adjoining hundreds. While he remained convinced of the need for moderate reform to arrest ‘the decay of the confidence of the main body of the people in the House of Commons’, he shared Grey’s view that no move could be made without a spontaneous demonstration of respectable popular support, of which he saw little prospect at the turn of the year.10
The indications are that Monck, who was financially stretched, had grown tired of Parliament, and on the death of George III he decided to retire at the dissolution, stating as his main reason, unwillingness to face ‘the prospect of a repetition of the same sacrifices of domestic comfort by long separation from my wife and family, which I have borne with patience in hopes of better times’. The threat of a contest strengthened his resolution, which he refused to break, despite the entreaties of Grey and others. He remained a force in county politics for many years, but eventually drifted into an idiosyncratic, independent Toryism and came out against the reform bill.11
For all his singularities of character and behaviour, Monck was an astute and able man. Sydney Smith, with whom he was ‘a great favourite’, described him as ‘quick, shrewd, original, well-informed, eccentric, paradoxical, and contradicting and occasionally somewhat tedious’.12 He died 20 July 1867.