MONSON (MOUNSON), Sir Thomas (1565-1641), of Burton, Lincs. and High Holborn, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 21 Dec. 1565,1 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir John Monson of South Carlton, Lincs. and Jane, da. of Robert Dighton† of Little Sturton, Lincs.; bro. of Sir Robert* and Sir William†.2 educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1579; MA 1605; G. Inn 1583.3 m. July 1590, Margaret (bur. 3 Aug. 1630), da. of Sir Edmund Anderson of Eyworth, Beds., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (2 d.v.p.).4 suc. fa. 1593; kntd. by Nov. 1597;5 cr. bt. 29 June 1611.6 d. 21 May 1641.7
J.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) by 1592-1616, (Kesteven, Holland) 1597-1616;8 sheriff, Lincs. 1597-8,9 surveyor of Crown lands 1599-1616,10 col. militia horse 1599;11 commr. oyer and terminer, Midland circ. by 1602-16,12 sewers, Gt. Fens 1604,13 subsidy (Lindsey) 1608,14 admlty. causes, Lincs. 1608;15 recvr. honour of Bolingbroke, Lincs. 1614-23;16 clerk of bills and letters, Council in the North 1626-30;17 dep. lt. Lincs. 1629-d.18
Member, Virg. Co. 1609.24
Monson could trace his ancestors in Lincolnshire back to 1378, but the family was of little account before Tudor times, and the only previous Member of Parliament was his great-uncle Robert, a judge and zealous Protestant.25 Several of Monson’s kinsmen were Catholics, and Monson himself was reputed to be either a papist or an atheist.26 Certainly he aided his brother-in-law Sir Edward Dymoke† in his great feud with the puritan 2nd earl of Lincoln.27 A great lover of music, Monson sent his singers to Italy to be trained.28
On the accession of James I, Monson attached himself to the Howards, especially the crypto-Catholic Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, and he was briefly in the running to become chancellor to the queen. Considered by Sir Anthony Weldon to be the best falconer in Europe, Monson stood high in the king’s favour, although a royal recommendation of his petition for a new office to survey the goods of felons and fugitives seems to have taken no effect.29 He was, however, appointed a gentleman usher, granted the lease of a Lincolnshire rectory, and elected for Castle Rising on the Howard interest in 1604.30 His duties at Court may have prevented him from assuming an active role in the first Stuart Parliament, although the authors of the ‘Parliament Fart’ suggested that he observed a stony silence in debate to avoid endangering his reputation for sagacity.31 In the opening session he was one of the Members appointed to administer the oaths, and was named to manage the conference of 26 Mar. on wardship and purveyance.32 His other committee appointments included a bill for the restitution in blood of his patron’s nephew, Lord William Howard (15 May), and two bills to strengthen the game laws (23, 30 May).33 Monson’s own bill to confirm an exchange of lands with Trinity College, Cambridge was rejected on its third reading after a long debate on 7 June.34
In the second session, Monson was chosen as an arbitrator over a private bill concerning a Norfolk gentleman named John Holdich, who was in dispute with his tenants (23 May 1606); however, he failed to attend the meeting, at which only one committeeman was present, and the bill was subsequently allowed to sleep.35 In the third session Monson was appointed to attend the conference of 25 Nov. on the Union with Scotland, and was added to the committee for privileges to consider a bill for better attendance (28 May 1607). He was also among those named to committee on 30 May for a bill to enable the king and his chief minister to exchange Hatfield and Theobalds.36
During the recess which followed the third session, Monson was granted the benefit of six recusancies.37 The Midland enclosure riots of 1607 resulted in his dry-stone walls at Burton being thrown down, and he brought the corporation of Lincoln into Star Chamber on a charge of encouraging the rioters.38 He also accused two members of the leading puritan family of Ayscough of organizing the destruction of his enclosures at Owerby.39 In April 1609 Monson engineered a by-election for Lincolnshire on behalf of his nephew, Sir Valentine Browne*, who was anxious to use parliamentary privilege to avoid appearing in Star Chamber. Through his influence at Court, Monson arranged for a peerage to be bestowed upon the county’s Member, Thomas, Lord Clinton*, thus making an opening for Browne.40 He later paid Browne a pension of £200 p.a.41 In the fourth session Monson was named to attend the conference on supply of 15 Feb. 1610, at which the Great Contract was proposed, and was appointed to seven legislative committees, including one concerned with preventing damage to crops by hawking at unseasonable times (29 March).42 He continued to receive proofs of royal favour, including the mastership of the armoury; a patent to collect fees paid to clerks of the peace for alehouse licences; a baronetcy; and a life pension of £44 per month.43 He was given powers to obtain provender for the royal hawks by purveyance, but wisely refrained from exercising them. As Master Falconer his annual fees totalled £542 10s.44
At the 1614 general election Monson tried to re-establish his family’s political influence in Lincoln by putting up his brother, Sir Robert, but the antagonism roused by the recent Star Chamber case and the established interest of Sir Thomas Grantham* proved too strong and the attempt failed.45 He himself was also defeated in the county, but brought in at Cricklade on the interest of Northampton’s nephew, lord chamberlain Suffolk, as one the latter ‘might command and have power over’.46 However, he was completely inactive in the Addled Parliament.
Monson’s political career was brought to an end by his alleged involvement in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. It was claimed that, to oblige the future countess of Somerset and the earl of Northampton, he had procured the appointment of Richard Weston, who administered the poison, as under-keeper at the Tower. Moreover, in his speech beneath the gallows, Sir Gervase Elwes, the lieutenant of the Tower, implicated Monson in the plot, and evidence from other sources indicated that some of the poisoned food had certainly passed through his house. He was arrested and arraigned at the Guildhall on 4 Dec. 1615, where Sir Edward Coke* accused him of atheism, and hinted at the existence of as yet unrevealed crimes and plots against the state. Monson pleaded for Suffolk, now lord treasurer, to be present at his trial to answer two questions, but Suffolk claimed he could neither help nor hinder the case. The trial was deferred, and Monson, protesting his innocence, was stripped of office and remanded to the Tower, where he remained for a year. Coke had agreed to the delay because he hoped to obtain evidence from Monson to prove that Overbury’s murder was an attempt to hide the existence of a pro-Spanish, pro-Catholic plot involving Somerset. The reported view of James that the evidence against Monson was weak, coupled with Coke’s fall from favour, eventually led to Monson’s release on bail and then to his pardon in January 1617.47 Rumours continued to circulate, however, that the failure to bring him to trial was part of a cover-up for some wider conspiracy involving eminent men.48
Monson’s fortunes were now at a low ebb. His unsuccessful attempt in January 1618 to present his nephew, William Monson*, as a rival to Buckingham for the king’s affections, together with the fall of the Howards, prevented a speedy return to favour. He was not re-admitted to Court until July 1620, and was not restored as master falconer or to his other former offices. He also fell into difficulty as a result of standing surety for the defaulting ordnance official Sir Roger Dallison*.49 In 1620 lands to the value of £3,000 were seized and assigned to Dallison’s creditors.50 The matter subsequently became involved in a complicated transaction between (Sir) Arthur Ingram* and Sir Lionel Cranfield*. Cranfield took over the Dallison lands, promising to compensate Monson for his losses with £3,000, the right to sell six baronetcies and to support any suit he preferred to the king. However, Monson subsequently claimed that he only ever received the £3,000. He complained to the House of Lords in May 1624 and brought an unsuccessful Chancery suit against Cranfield. His petition for the right to enfranchise the copyholders of the royal manor of Wakefield was granted by James just before he died, but disallowed by Charles I.51 He did eventually receive some compensation when he was awarded the sole right to draft writs of summons for the Council in the North, although the patent had been voted a grievance in two parliaments.52 To compensate him for the loss of the Wakefield franchises, referees recommended that he should be given the right to make one English baron. He intended to use this for his own advancement, but Charles resolved to end the sale of titles, and he continued to petition in vain for some recompense for his ‘ancient services and many sufferings’.53 His three younger brothers all seem to have become Catholics, and Monson himself, with his deceased wife, son and four daughters, was listed as a recusant in a survey of the London suburbs in 1632. He died intestate at his house in Holborn on 21 May 1641, and was buried at South Carlton. His heir was his son John*.54
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Paula Watson / Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. Diary of John Dee ed. J.O. Halliwell (Cam. Soc. xix), 2.
- 2. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 682.
- 3. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
- 4. Lincs. Peds. 682.
- 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 80.
- 6. C66/1942.
- 7. GL, ms 6673/2, unfol.
- 8. C231/4, ff. 13v, 14.
- 9. List of Sheriffs, 80.
- 10. E315/309, f. 122; 315/310, f. 16; Lansd. 171, f. 397; Lansd. 168, f. 182.
- 11. APC, 1599-1600, p. 74.
- 12. C181/1, ff. 18v, 30v.
- 13. Ibid. f. 74v.
- 14. SP14/31/1.
- 15. HCA 14/39, no. 217.
- 16. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 188; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 606.
- 17. C66/2386; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii pt. 2, p. 163.
- 18. Lincs. AO, Yarb. 8/2/3; CSP Dom. 1637, p. 176.
- 19. Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 64.
- 20. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 227; Lincs. AO, Worsley 1/30.
- 21. C66/1950; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 301.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 15, 153.
- 23. HMC Hodgkin, ii. 278; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 205.
- 24. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 363.
- 25. Lincs. N and Q, xv. 198; G.A.J. Hodgett, Tudor Lincs. 64.
- 26. HMC Downshire, v. 383-4; H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. i. 247.
- 27. HMC Hatfield, xii. 234, 344-5; xx. 279.
- 28. W. Scott, Secret Hist. of Jas. I, i. 415; HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 151.
- 29. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 449; Illustrations of British History ed. E. Lodge, iii. 64; Scott, i. 412.
- 30. Lansd. 1217, f. 59v; L.L. Peck, Northampton, 173.
- 31. J. Mennes, Musarum Deliciae, 70.
- 32. CJ, i. 140b, 154b.
- 33. Ibid. 211a, 224a, 229a.
- 34. Ibid. 226b, 233a, 234a.
- 35. Ibid. 312a.
- 36. Ibid. 324b, 376a, 377a.
- 37. Add. 34765, f. 15; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 184, 386.
- 38. STAC 8/219/20.
- 39. STAC 8/18/9; C78/321/8.
- 40. Bodl. Tanner 283, ff. 81,183; Tanner 285, ff. 69, 87; CJ, i. 452a.
- 41. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 324.
- 42. CJ, i. 393b, 416a.
- 43. C66/1985, 1999; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 486, 512, 1611-18, p. 15; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 227; CD 1621, vii. 311-12.
- 44. CJ, i. 864b; Lansd. 165, f. 252.
- 45. C. Holmes, Seventeenth-Cent. Lincs. 103.
- 46. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 518; C78/363/5.
- 47. State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 950-1; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 6, 10, 26, 54, 313; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 307, 312-14, 320-1, 324, 331, 333, 335-6, 343-9, 372, 398, 411, 426, 436; Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 371, 378-9; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 379-81, 383, 460; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 22-3, 27-28; Carew Letters ed. J. Maclean (Cam. Soc. lxxvi), 17, 19-20, 44, 47-48; Add. 32092, f. 228, Add. 15476, ff. 58-60; Lincs. AO, Mon. 19/7/1/2; HMC Downshire, v. 369, 373, 382-4, 400, 419; HMC 7th Rep. 672; Letters and Life of Sir Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 118-20; C231/4, f. 32; A. Somerset, Unnatural Murder: Poison at Ct. of Jas. I, 146, 174-5, 182, 192, 194, 281-2, 290, 304, 311, 316, 322, 328, 349-52, 401-3, 420, 426, 444-5, 446
- 48. Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I.H. Jeayes, 179-80.
- 49. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 127, 144, 313; APC, 1618-9, p. 412; 1619-21, pp. 237-8.
- 50. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 163.
- 51. Add. 35832, f. 119; C78/278/8; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 293, 363, 369, 389-90, 485; LJ, iii. 333-4, 420b, 421b, 525b, 527a, 534a, 540b.
- 52. C66/2386; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 290; CD 1628, i. 127; iii. 345; iv. 7, 9, 22-23, 490; HLRO, Lords parchments box 4, 28 Mar. 1626; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 290; Lansd. 494, f. 73; HMC Cowper, iii. 150.
- 53. Lincs. AO, Mon. 19/7/1/1-5; HMC 4th Rep. 308, 313; L. Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy, 108-9; A.F. Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, 100-1, 164, 166, 168; J.W.F. Hill, Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, 122; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 437; 1633-4, p. 376.
- 54. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 494; C142/606/42.