WORTLEY MONTAGU, Edward (1713-76), of Borehamwood, Herts.
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Family and Education
Cornet 7 Drag. 1743; capt.-lt. 1 Ft. 1745; ret. 1748.
Sec. at congress of Aix-la-Chapelle 1748.
Edward Wortley (as he was usually called) was a man of good education and considerable talents, but wildly eccentric. By 1754 his exploits were so well known that there was no possibility of his standing again for Huntingdonshire. His father returned him for Bossiney after he had agreed to cut off the entail on an estate recently inherited from a cousin.2 For the next few years he lived in ‘country retirement’, devoting himself to the study of history: ‘I have bid a final adieu to the hurry and dissipation of a town life’, he wrote.3 His income was derived chiefly from a moneylender, John Bridger of Lewes, who advanced him nearly £7,000 at 10% interest against his expectations at his father’s death. But his father lived to be nearly 83, and when he died, 22 Jan. 1761, left his vast fortune to his daughter, Lady Bute. Wortley was allowed a rent charge of £1,600 during his mother’s life, and £2,200 thereafter; and provision was made for any son he might have ‘by some wife other than his present one’.
The will was a crushing blow to Wortley:
What is to become of him [wrote Edward Montagu] I do not know. I suppose he is not to come into Parliament again, and if so, I cannot see what he can do but leave his native country and live in pauperly banishment abroad.4
Lord Bute gave him immunity from arrest by re-electing him at Bossiney, but parliamentary privilege did not extend to property, and his creditors no longer had any reason to be patient. Accordingly Wortley left England early in 1762, without troubling to take his seat in the new Parliament.
He spent the rest of his life abroad, travelling in Italy, Asia Minor, and Egypt. In 1763 he was annoyed to learn that a Miss Ashe, with whom he had gone through a form of marriage on 21 July 1751 at St. George’s Chapel, Mayfair, had won an action against him for provision for her son, under the terms of his father’s will:
I was extremely shocked, and indeed more surprised at the verdict in favour of Miss Ashe ... as she knew I was married, since it was only done that there might be something to say to the father in case of a surprise.
His most famous escapade was in 1764, when he went off with the wife of the Danish consul at Alexandria, deceiving her into believing that her husband had died. For this ceremony he became a Roman Catholic. Some years later, ‘smitten with a beautiful Arabian’, he embraced Mohammedanism, to which he had long been attracted. The Duke of Hamilton, who visited him at Venice towards the end of his life, found him with a beard down to his waist:
He desired us to seat ourselves on a sofa, while he placed himself on a cushion on the floor, with his legs crossed in the Turkish fashion ... This posture, by long habit, is now become the most agreeable to him, and he insists on its being by far the most natural and convenient; but, indeed, he seems to cherish the same opinion with regard to all the customs which prevail among the Turks.5
In 1776, informed that his legal wife had died, he hit upon a plan to improve his finances: the Public Advertiser, 16 Apr. 1776, carried an offer of marriage to ‘any widow or single lady of genteel birth, polite manners, and five, six, seven, or eight months in pregnancy’. To this advertisement he appears to have had several replies, but the plan was frustrated by his sudden death on 29 Apr. 1776.
Wortley was a Member of Parliament for twenty-one years without speaking, and was abroad for more than half the time, using his seat purely as a security against his creditors—the last refuge of the aristocratic vagabond.