MORTON, Sir Albertus (c.1584-1625), of Cannon Row, Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

b. c.1584, 4th s. of George Morton† (d. c.1613) of East Stour, Chilham, Kent and Mary, da. of Robert Honeywood of Henewood, Postling, Kent.1 educ. Eton Coll. Bucks. 1596; Westminster sch. (king’s scholar); King’s Camb. 1602, aged 18, fell. 1605-18, BA 1607, MA 1610; G. Inn 1625.2 m. 13 Jan. 1625,3 Elizabeth (admon. 29 Dec. 1626), da. of Sir Edward Apsley of Thackham, Suss., s.p.4 kntd. 29 Sept. 1617.5 d. 6 Sept. 1625.6 sig. Alb[ertus] or Albertus Morton.

Offices Held

Sec. (jt.) to amb. to Venice, Sir Henry Wotton*, 1603-11, 1612-13, to Electress Palatine 1616-19; agent, Savoy 1613-15, protestant princes of the Union 1617-21; clerk (extraordinary), Privy Council 1614-19, (ordinary) 1619-23; member, Privy Council and sec. of state, 9 Feb. 1625-d.; amb. (extraordinary), Utd. Provinces 1625.7

Patentee, soap-boiling [I] by 1624;8 commr. to compound for defective titles 1625, trade 1625.

Commr. new buildings, London 1625.9


Descended from a family settled at Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, Morton was the youngest son of an impoverished soldier who lived near Canterbury and twice represented Hythe in Parliament. Despite his father’s limited means, Morton was educated at Eton and perhaps also at Westminster. He was subsequently refused admittance to Trinity College, Cambridge, despite a testimonial from the king, but obtained a scholarship at King’s.10 By 1603 he was a secretary to his father’s half-brother, Sir Henry Wotton, whose family may have paid for his education and who became ambassador to Venice in the following year. In November 1606 Wotton, who wished to send a dispatch to England regarding the republic’s quarrel with the pope, introduced him to the Venetian cabinet as ‘well born, a close relation and dear friend of one of the king’s most intimate councillors’, Edward, Lord Wotton, comptroller of the king’s Household. After a hurried journey, Morton persuaded James to support Venice despite the advice of some of his Council.11

Morton was awarded his BA in 1607, and by June 1609 he was back in Venice, when he was again dispatched to England, this time with testimonials addressed to the king, Prince Henry and Robert Cecil†, earl of Salisbury.12 Following the award of his MA in 1610, he returned to Italy, accompanying Wotton on his journey home as far as Paris.13 After briefly returning to his Cambridge college,14 where he held a fellowship, he travelled in March 1612 to Turin with Wotton, the new ambassador. There Wotton and Morton laboured unsuccessfully to effect a marriage alliance with Savoy. A grateful Charles Emmanuel I bestowed 1,000 ducats on Morton in February 1613, having earlier rewarded him with 1,000 crowns.15

On returning to England, Morton was almost killed at Charing Cross when, on 21 May 1613, the coach’s horses suddenly bolted. Attempting to leap clear, he became entangled with ‘one of the pins of the boot, from whence struggling to get loose, he broke the waist-band of his hose behind, and so fell with the greater violence on the ground’. He briefly lost the power of speech, and the left side of his body suffered partial paralysis.16 Less than a month later, though, Wotton attempted to obtain for him a clerkship of the Privy Council.17 In the event, this position eluded Morton until December 1614, but on 1 July 1613 he received his first diplomatic posting as agent to Savoy. However, the parlous state of the royal finances prevented his departure until May 1614.18 His initial stay at Turin was brief as Morton had obtained prior permission from James to return home to attend to his personal affairs after presenting his credentials.19 The outbreak of hostilities between Spain and Savoy over the small north Italian fiefdom of Montferrat in the summer of 1614, however, soon made it imperative that Morton, who was contemplating marriage, should return. That December he accompanied the homeward-bound Savoyard ambassador to Paris, where the two men attempted to persuade the French to intervene on Savoy’s behalf. He arrived in Turin in mid-January, but his stay lasted just six months as he was plagued by his earlier injuries. Dispirited and ‘longing after the hot baths’, in April he was granted permission to return, though he evidently remained until June.20

Morton was not recalled to diplomatic duty until March 1616, when he was appointed secretary to James’s daughter Elizabeth, the Electress Palatine, though he did not leave until October.21 At The Hague he was observed by (Sir) Dudley Carleton* to be ‘in better state of health than I could have expected of his crazy constitution’.22 He reached Heidelberg in December, where Elizabeth soon came to regard him as ‘my honest Morton’, and stayed until June 1617. On his return he reported to the king in Scotland.23 James was so pleased with his performance that he knighted him and increased his duties, appointing him agent to the Protestant princes of the Union, whose headquarters were at Heidelberg.24 After ‘some delays whereof I am no whit guilty’, Morton returned to the Palatine capital, and in the following March he represented Prince Charles at the christening of the Elector’s second son, Charles Louis. However, for two weeks ‘a vertiginous pain in my head’ deprived Morton of all feeling in the left-hand side of his body, and he was advised to take the waters of the local spa by his German physicians.25 By September 1618 he had returned home to seek treatment from Gaspero Despotini, a Venetian physician now settled in Suffolk whom he had encountered while in Wotton’s service. By the beginning of December it was reported that he was now ‘past all danger, for he eats and sleeps well, and grows fatter and looks cheerfully [sic]’.26

Morton remained in England until at least mid-June, ostensibly to receive the proceeds of a Benevolence intended to pay the cost of raising 4,000 troops for the Bohemian cause.27 During this time, Morton, already an extraordinary clerk of the Privy Council, was appointed one of the clerks in ordinary in succession to (Sir) George Calvert*, who became secretary of state. Although not fully recovered, he subsequently travelled to Prague, where he witnessed Frederick and Elizabeth’s coronation as king and queen of Bohemia, returning to England by the beginning of December.28 Following the invasion of the Lower Palatinate in the autumn of 1620, and the disastrous defeat of the Bohemians at White Mountain in October, Morton was again dispatched to Germany, with instructions to persuade the princes of the Protestant Union not to falter in their support of Frederick, and to assure them of England’s commitment to the Palatine cause.29 He took with him £30,000 in cash, but the princes were unimpressed and threatened to come to terms with the emperor unless they received £25,000 a month and 6,000 infantry. Evading capture, Morton arrived in London in mid-March 1621, where he privately conveyed the princes’ demands to the king.30 James was so incensed that he directed his anger at Morton,31 who had already incurred his displeasure for failing to acquaint the Spanish ambassador in London with the purpose of his mission before his departure. Morton’s omission had laid James open to the charge that he was conducting his Palatine diplomacy behind Spanish backs.32 James also suspected Morton of exceeding his brief by obtaining money from Savoy for the English troops in Bohemia.33 Morton’s place in Palatine diplomacy was now taken by Lord (Sir John) Digby* and Sir Edward Villiers*, and for the next two years he was confined to his duties as a Council clerk.34 In November 1622 an attempt was made to secure for him the provostship of King’s College, but its beleaguered incumbent refused to quit.35

Morton resigned his clerkship in January 1623 in protest at being excluded from sensitive negotiations over the Spanish Match. He nevertheless continued to expect employment, and indeed hoped to succeed Wotton at Venice, a country he greatly admired.36 However, as the Venetian embassy was promised to Sir Isaac Wake*, he reluctantly accepted the offer of the Paris embassy in April 1624.37 This posting was undoubtedly arranged by his new patron, Buckingham, whose favour he had sought through the duke’s servant, Sir Robert Pye*.38 Despite his advancement, Morton spent the summer of 1624 waiting for the king to sign his commission.39 Early in November he set out for Gravesend to meet his fiancĂ©e, Elizabeth Apsley, one of the queen of Bohemia’s maids-of-honour, but he fell off his horse, bruising his face and head so badly that it was reported that ‘it is very unlikely he will escape with his life’. Not for the first time he made an almost miraculous recovery,40 and the wedding took place in January 1625. A few weeks later Morton paid £3,000 to (Sir) George Calvert to purchase his office of secretary of state, and promised a similar sum to come.41 Although the Paris embassy was now conferred on Sir Edward Barrett*, it was Morton rather than Barrett who accompanied Buckingham to France in May 1625 to negotiate a military alliance with Louis XIII.42

Before Morton left England a Parliament was summoned. Not being a peer, Morton was obliged, as a secretary of state, to seek election. He looked both to his alma mater, Cambridge University, which was rapidly becoming established as a safe constituency for holders of his office, and his former home county, Kent. In the run-up to the Kent election he enjoyed the support of Buckingham, who as lord admiral ordered the navy’s servants at Chatham and Rochester to be mobilized on his behalf, and the county’s lord lieutenant, the earl of Montgomery (Sir Philip Herbert*).43 Despite this powerful backing, it was rumoured that Morton’s bid for a county seat cost him at least two or three hundred pounds in buying votes.44 Returned for both constituencies, Chamberlain naturally assumed that Morton would serve for the county, but Morton never took his place at Westminster and so formally at least he failed to determine which constituency he would represent.45

While en route to France Morton was appointed extraordinary ambassador to the United Provinces, and on the conclusion of his business in Paris he travelled to The Hague, where he was instructed to clarify the arrangements for the forthcoming Anglo-Dutch naval expedition against Spain and begin negotiations for a concrete military alliance. However, though fluent in Italian Morton knew little Dutch, and made such a poor impression that he was soon recalled, ostensibly to allow the negotiations to continue in London.46 He reached Dover on 21 Aug. and proceeded to Southampton, where the king had fled following a severe outbreak of plague in London. He fell sick on the 28th, and kept to his chamber. Intestate and childless, he died at around 7pm on 6 Sept., ‘not without suspicions of plague’, and was buried two days later in Southampton.47 His widow subsequently obtained administration of his estate and was promised an annuity of £500 which had been conferred on Morton by the king four months before his death in addition to his annual salary of £100. Though she apparently received an offer of marriage shortly after her bereavement, Lady Morton never recovered from her loss, and died in 1626.48 Her demise, and that of her husband, was the subject of poetic mourning by Sir Henry Wotton.49

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 360.

  • 1. Top. and Gen. i. 400.
  • 2. Eton Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry; Recs. of Old Westminsters comp. G.F. Russell Barker and A.H. Stenning, ii. 663; Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 3. Memorials of St. Margaret’s Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 332.
  • 4. Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. liii), 8.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 166.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 100.
  • 7. APC, 1613-14, p. 661; 1621-3, p. 387; 1623-5, p. 453; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 34; 1625-6, p. 2; Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 141, 197, 229, 289.
  • 8. APC, 1623-5, pp. 336, 350.
  • 9. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, pp. 32, 59, 70.
  • 10. W.W. Rouse Ball, Camb. Pprs. 53. The precise sequence of events is unclear.
  • 11. CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 435, 451, 462.
  • 12. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, i. 457, 459-60.
  • 13. Ibid. i. 114, 503.
  • 14. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 312.
  • 15. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, i. 120, 132n; Chamberlain Letters , i. 360.
  • 16. Chamberlain Letters, i. 457, 468; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ii. 27, 475.
  • 17. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ii. 30.
  • 18. Chamberlain Letters, i. 566.
  • 19. CSP Ven. 1613-15, p. 332.
  • 20. Ibid. 335, 436; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 179, 185; Chamberlain Letters, i. 595; SP92/2, ff. 268-71.
  • 21. HMC Downshire, v. 442; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 360; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 30.
  • 22. Carleton to Chamberlain, 225.
  • 23. HMC Downshire, vi. 68, 82, 126, 144; HMC Buccleuch, i. 177, 193, 198; Carleton to Chamberlain, 236; M.A. Everett Green, Elizabeth, Electress Palatine and Queen of Bohemia, 419-20.
  • 24. HMC Downshire, vi. 300.
  • 25. SP81/15, ff. 56, 62, 138r-v, 142, 174v.
  • 26. HMC Downshire, vi. 514, 598; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 585. On Despotini, see Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ii. 505.
  • 27. CSP Ven. 1617-19, p. 490; APC, 1618-19, pp. 438, 477.
  • 28. Relations Bet. Eng. and Germany 1618-19 ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. xc), 207; Everett Green, 422; CSP Ven. 1619-21, p. 94.
  • 29. Chamberlain Letters, i. 330; SP81/19, ff. 278-79v.
  • 30. CSP Ven. 1619-21, pp. 583, 614-15; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 198, 233.
  • 31. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 3.
  • 32. SP81/20, ff. 104v-5, 158r-v; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 233-4.
  • 33. Ibid. ff. 300r-v, 350-1.
  • 34. APC, 1621-3, pp. 47, 50, 80; Add. 22865, f. 25.
  • 35. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 467; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 349.
  • 36. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 587.
  • 37. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 472, 552.
  • 38. Harl. 1581, f. 124. For Morton’s friendship with Pye, see HMC Cowper, i. 214.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 327; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 425.
  • 40. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 588; Add. 33935, ff. 69, 71.
  • 41. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 600; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 568.
  • 42. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 617.
  • 43. Procs. 1625, p. 686; Gent. Mag. lxviii. 116-17.
  • 44. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 142, but the author mis-dates the duke’s election as chan.; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 615.
  • 45. Procs. 1625, pp. 598, 604, errs in stating that Morton plumped for Kent. The Crown Office list indicates that he technically remained the Member for both constituencies: C193/32/16, ff. 6v, 8.
  • 46. CSP Ven. 1625-6, pp. 93, 102, 110-11, 129, 136-7.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 90-1, 100; HMC 11th Rep. i. 33.
  • 48. J.H. Morrison, PCC Letters of Admon. 1620-30, p. 76; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 23; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 110; Everett Green, 420-1.
  • 49. Poems by Sir Henry Wotton ... and others ed. J. Hannah, 40-2, 44.