MONTAGU, Frederick (1733-1800), of Papplewick, Notts.
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Family and Education
b. July 1733, o. surv. s. of Charles Montagu. educ. Eton 1742-8; Trinity, Camb. 1751; L. Inn 1751, called 1757, bencher 1782. unm. suc. fa. 1759.
Ld. of Treasury Mar.-July 1782, Apr.-Dec. 1783.
Montagu was second cousin to Lord Halifax, related by marriage to Lord Dartmouth and Lord North, and on friendly terms with Newcastle. He sat on Halifax’s interest at Northampton, and in 1761 received the whip from Newcastle. He followed Halifax and supported the Bute and Grenville Administrations. In November 1763 Halifax recommended Montagu to Grenville for a seat at the Board of Trade, describing him as ‘my near and dear relation’ and ‘a most unexceptionable worthy man’.1 Montagu was not appointed, but seems to have voted with Government on general warrants. In 1764 his relations with Halifax began to cool. Although he supported Sandwich in his contest for the high stewardship of Cambridge University, he became ‘disgusted with his practices, and with the factious confusion he had caused in the University’.2 In November 1764 he displeased Halifax by refusing the place of groom porter, ‘saying it was no office of business, which was the line in which he wished to move’.3
Montagu supported Rockingham’s Administration, 1765-6: his attachment at this time was primarily to Newcastle, to whom he wrote on 8 Jan. 1766 after Pitt had declared he would not sit in Cabinet with Newcastle:
Mr. Montagu hopes it may not be impertinent in him to assure the Duke of Newcastle that he has the greatest esteem and most profound respect for his Grace, and that he is most sincerely attached to him at all times, and at this time particularly.
And on 11 Jan. 1766:
Mr. Pitt’s attack is not only upon your Grace, it is upon your numerous friends, your connexions, and the cause of which you have been so long the head. If age, rank, uncommon disinterestedness, and an immense fortune spent in the service of the cause of liberty, the Whig cause, cannot in this country prevent an indignity being offered, nothing can.4
Montagu followed Newcastle and Rockingham into opposition in November 1766, and in 1768 was returned by Rockingham at Higham Ferrers. On 18 Mar. Montagu, referring to the ‘riotous, extravagant, and ridiculous’ scene at the Northampton election, wrote to Rockingham: ‘You have piloted me into a safe port, where I laugh at the storm.’5 From 1768 he belonged to the inner circle of the party, was consulted on all important occasions, and was a frequent speaker in the Commons. Yet when in 1772 Dartmouth (whose loyalty to Rockingham was already suspect) was offered the place of secretary of state for the colonies, Montagu advised him to accept.6 Apparently Dartmouth proposed that Montagu should take a seat at the Board of Trade: this he could not accept ‘without the approbation of Lord Rockingham, which could never be obtained’. But he offered his services ‘otherwise than in this’.
He was particularly concerned to remove the disabilities of the Protestant Dissenters. On 3 Mar. 1772 he moved for a bill to abolish the observance of the anniversary of Charles I’s death; on 23 Apr. 1773 supported Meredith’s motion for the abolition of the subscription to the 39 Articles at the universities; and on 10 Mar. 1779 seconded a motion to consider the relief of Protestant Dissenters. He was foremost among those who opposed the American war, and in 1779 was chairman of the committee on the conduct of the war. In June 1780 North sent him to Rockingham with an offer of a Coalition ministry.7 His role was that of a go-between, trusted by both sides and anxious to find a settlement. He had no share in determining Rockingham’s terms, and could do little to bring about agreement.
In October 1780 North, wishing ‘most earnestly to have some opportunity of showing his attachment to his old friend’,8 offered him the Speaker’s chair.
You are sure to succed if proposed [wrote North9] and to succeed in the most honourable manner, by the suffrages not only of a party, but the whole House. Indeed I believe nobody (not excepting Mr. Onslow) ever came into that situation with so universal a concurrence as you would do.
Montagu consulted Rockingham:
I must refer the matter entirely to your Lordship, as you certainly have of all men the best right to determine for me. If I consider the state of my health and fortune, I certainly ought to decline the office; at the same time, if I really and truly can be of essential service to the country, I ought and am willing to risk both... Your friendship for me will make you judge better for me than I can for myself, and my obligations to you make it absolutely necessary that I should take no step in an affair of such consequence without your direction and approbation.
Rockingham wished him to accept, provided it was clear that his election was by ‘the free, unbiassed choice of the House’, and that he did not accept a sinecure to supplement his income as had hitherto been the custom. His election, wrote Rockingham,
would not only redound highly to your own honour as an individual, but would also redound to the honour of that select and virtuous body of men, whose line of conduct and whose principles you have supported and united yourself to ... Your sitting in the Chair of the House of Commons as Speaker can have no more effect upon your vote as a Member of Parliament than your sitting upon any of the benches ... Your continuing Member for Higham Ferrers admits of no doubt.
He wished Montagu to consult his friends before making his decision. But Montagu, worrying about his health and finding too much ‘ministerial management’ in the business, declined. North regretted his decision, and so did Henry Dundas,
not only from his being a man of honour, candour, and integrity, but because he is the personal friend of the minister, and because in his person both sides would concur in maintaining the decency, dignity, and order of the House.10
Montagu’s letter of refusal, wrote the King to North on 25 Oct. 1780, ‘shows the same temper of mind that had made me respect his character and convinces me that nothing but want of health prevents his stepping forth on the present occasion’.11
Montagu became a lord of the Treasury in Rockingham’s Administration, resigned in July 1782 and opposed Shelburne’s ministry, and returned to the Treasury Board with the Coalition. He voted for parliamentary reform in 1783. He remained in Opposition with Portland after 1783, and in 1787 was a member of the committee which prepared the articles of Hastings’s impeachment.
He died 30 July 1800.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Grenville mss (JM).
- 2. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 315.
- 3. Grenville Diary, 1 Nov. 1764, Grenville Pprs. ii. 520-1.
- 4. Add. 32973, ff. 63, 102.
- 5. Rockingham mss.
- 6. HMC Dartmouth, ii. 87.
- 7. I. R. Christie, ‘Mq. of Rockingham and Lord North’s Offer of a Coalition, June-July 1780’, EHR, 1954, pp. 388-407.
- 8. Lady North to Lady Guilford [Oct. 1780], E. Hughes, ‘Lord North’s Corresp. 1766-83’, EHR, 1947, p. 235.
- 9. Copy of North’s letter to Montagu [Oct. 1780], Rockingham mss.
- 10. Dundas to Robinson, 3 Nov. 1780, Abergavenny mss.
- 11. Fortescue, v. 143.