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MONSON, Sir THOMAS (1564–1641), master of the armoury at the Tower, eldest surviving son of Sir John Monson, knight, by Jane, daughter of Robert Dighton of Little Sturton, Lincolnshire, and elder brother of Admiral Sir William Monson [q. v.], was born in 1564 at his father's manor at South Carlton, Lincolnshire. Robert Monson [q. v.] was his granduncle. Thomas matriculated, aged fifteen, 9 Dec. 1579, from Magdalen College, Oxford, but left the university without a degree. He was created M.A. on 30 Aug. 1605, when he accompanied James I on a visit to Oxford. He was knighted the year of the Armada (1588), and in 1593 succeeded to all his father's estates in Lincolnshire and to Dunham Manor in Nottinghamshire. He first entered parliament on 10 Oct. 1597 as member for Lincoln county, sat for Castle Rising in 1603-4, and Cricklade in 1614 (Official Returns).

He became a favourite with James I, who made him his master falconer early in his reign, 'such a faulconer,' says Weldon, 'as no prince in Christendom ever had, for what flights other princes had he would excell them for his master, in which one was at the kite.' Weldon adds an account of a trial of skill between Monson and some French falconers (Secret History of James I, pp. 412 sq.) One preferment rapidly followed another. He was at first appointed chancellor to Anne of Denmark, then keeper of the armoury at Greenwich, and in June 1611 master of the armoury at the Tower. On 29 June 1611 a baronetcy was granted to him, and the next year he was made keeper of the naval and other warlike instruments at the Tower.

But his posts at the Tower proved his temporary ruin, for he was accused of complicity in the Overbury poisoning case in October 1615, and imprisoned [see Overbury, Sir Thomas]. The chief indictments were that he recommended Weston as Overbury's keeper by the Countess of Somerset's desire; that he was a friend of Northampton, and concerned in the correspondence between Overbury and Somerset; but beyond the fact that Sir Gervase Helwys [q. v.] died openly accusing Northampton and Monson of complicity, there is no circumstantial evidence against him, and he 'stedfastly affirmed his innocency.'

The case, however, proved more complicated than at first appeared. On 30 Nov. Monson appeared at the bar in the Guildhall, but was remanded till 4 Dec., when the indictment was read, and he pleaded not guilty. Coke abused him as a papist, and hinted that he was accused of worse crimes,, alluding mysteriously to Prince Henry's sudden death. The trial was stopped and Monson remanded to the Tower 20 Dec. 1615. Weldon's story that James had interrupted the trial for fear of disagreeable revelations is refuted by the fact that the king was then at Newmarket, too far off to interpose. Coke certainly had a personal spite against Monson, and finding the evidence insufficient to condemn him probably hurried him back to the Tower for fear of a favourable verdict. The story that he made him walk on foot in the rain is denied by an eye-witness who saw him in Sir George More's [q. v.] coach. The acquittal might also have been unfavourable to the prosecution of Somerset. Though the king is reported to have seen 'nothing worthy of death or bonds' in Monson's case, he remained some months in prison, 'evermore discoursing of his innocency.’ He had the liberty of the Tower in August 1616, and in October was let out on bail for a year. Coke's fall operated in his favour. On 12 Feb. 1617 Bacon and Yelverton both agreed that a fresh trial was unadvisable, since the evidence was purely conjectural, and to ‘rip up those matters now’ would be a mistake on the king's part. They therefore advised that Monson should plead his innocence again publicly and receive pardon. Accordingly, Monson was brought to the bar of the king's bench; his pardon was read; he affirmed his innocence, and reflected on Coke's treatment of him (22 Feb. 1617).

Although released, he was not restored to royal favour till 1620, when he was allowed to kiss hands. His posts had all been taken from him in 1615, and his affairs seem to have become embarrassed. In 1620 he had to lease his lands in Lincolnshire to pay his debts, and there are various petitions about his money matters in the state paper office. In 1625 he received the small office of clerk for the king's letters, bills, and declarations before the council of the north; about 1618 he and his son John had a grant of the stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster.

Monson spent his old age in retirement. He amused himself by writing a book of advice for his grandson: ‘An Essay on Afflictions,’ printed 1661–2, and another on ‘Fasting, Adoration, and Prayer.’ He was an accomplished man, ‘a great lover of music.’ He seems to have educated young musicians ‘as good as England had,’ especially singers, in his household, and ‘was at infinite charge in breeding some [singers] in Italy.’ His enemies called him ‘proud and odious.’ He died at South Carlton in May 1641, aged 77, and was buried 29 May in the church there. By his wife Margaret (d. 1630), daughter of Sir Edmund Anderson [q. v.], lord chief justice of the common pleas, he had four sons, three of whom lived to maturity, and four daughters. His eldest son, Sir John (1600–1683), and the second, Sir William (d. 1672?), are separately noticed.

[Collins's Peerage, 1779, vii. 284; Carew's Letters, pp. 17, 20, 363; State Trials, ii. 949; Amos's Great Oyer of Poisoning, p. 213, &c.; Wilson's Truth brought to Light; Nichols's Progresses of James I, i. 164, 555, ii. 24n., 452; Oxf. Univ. Registers, i. 237, ii. 89; State Papers, James I, 1603–36; Gardiner's History, ii. 180, 334, 345, 363; Lives of Bacon and Coke, &c.]

E. T. S.