Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montagu, Ralph
MONTAGU, RALPH, Duke of Montagu (1638?–1709), born about 1638, was the second son of Edward Montagu, second lord Montagu of Boughton [see under Montagu, Edward, first Baron Montagu of Boughton], by Anne, daughter of Sir Ralph Winwood, knight (Doyle, Official Baronage, ii. 521). Montagu began his career as master of the horse to the Duchess of York, and on the death of his elder brother Edward succeeded him as master of the horse to Queen Catherine (28 Dec, 1665; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1665-6, p. 120; Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. p. 279). In the court of Charles II he speedily distinguished himself by his successes in gallantry, and Grammont describes him as the favoured lover of the beautiful Mrs. Myddelton [q. v.] As a rival, says Grammont, he was ‘peu dangereux pour sa figure, mais fort à craindre par son assiduité, par l'addresse de son esprit, et par d'autres talens’ (Memoires de la Vie du Comte de Grammont, ed. 1716, p. 98). Dartmouth, in one of his notes on Burnet, attributes Montagu's rapid rise to female influence (Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 616). On 1 Jan. 1669 Montagu was appointed ambassador extraordinary to Louis XIV (for his instructions see Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 316, and Bebington, Arlington's Letters to Temple, p. 393). It is evident, however, that Montagu was not yet initiated in the secrets of his master's foreign policy, and he first learnt from the mouth of the Duchess of Orleans that Charles II intended to make a secret alliance with Louis XIV against the Dutch (Mignet, Negotiations relatives a la succession d'Espagne, iii. 88, 91; Bebington, p. 440). He was present in June 1670 at the deathbed of the duchess, received her last messages to her brother, and diligently inquired into the rumour that she was poisoned (ib. pp. 438-47; Lafayette, Henrietta d'Angleterre, ed. Anatole France, 1882, p. 142). Charles II was so satisfied with his conduct that at his return Montagu was admitted to the privy council (2 Jan. 1672), and backed by the king in a quarrel with the Duke of Buckingham (Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. 1790,i. 127). On 12 Aug. 1671 Montagu purchased from his cousin, the Earl of Sandwich, for 14,000l., the mastership of the great wardrobe (Doyle, ii. 522; Boyer, Annals, viii. 369).
A lucky marriage now crowned Montagu's fortunes. The great match of the day was Elizabeth Wriothesley, daughter of Thomas, earl of Southampton, and widow of Joceline Percy, eleventh earl of Northumberland, who was reputed to be worth 6,000 a year. She was unsuccessfully wooed by Harry Savile and others, and was reported to be reserving herself for the widowed Duke of York (Hatton Correspondence, i. 68; Savile Correspondence, pp. 32, 38). Tradition represents her as flying to France to avoid the designs of Charles II against her honour, and marrying Ralph Montagu during this enforced exile. But the marriage really took place at Titchfield, Hampshire, on 24 Aug. 1673, and was forwarded by the king in spite of the opposition of the lady's relatives (Letters to Sir Joseph Williamson, Camd. Soc., i. 164, 176, 179, 184). Two months later the countess and her husband began to quarrel, she alleging that he spread a report that he had 'bought her of her maid for 500l. per annum,' and a separation was talked of (ib. ii. 35, 63, 71). In December Montagu was sent to the Tower for challenging the Duke of Buckingham in the king's drawing-room, but released a few days later (ib. ii. 89).
On 1 Sept. 1676, and again in the following year, Montagu was appointed ambassador extraordinary to Louis X IV, and took a very active part in the bargains about the price of England's neutrality during the war between France and Holland (Dalrymple, i. 153; Mignet, iii. 529, 572). He aimed, however, higher than an embassy, and in the spring of 1678 was negotiating for the post of secretary of state, and had agreed with Henry Coventry to give him 10,000l. for his place. But Danby, whose assent was necessary, held himself pre-engaged to Sir William Temple, and refused to sanction the bargain. In the end Coventry was succeeded by Sir Leoline Jenkins [q. v.] (Letters written to and from the Earl of Danby, 1710, 8vo, pp. 83, 88). While his ambition was thus checked; Montagu's diplomatic career was brought to a close by a quarrel with the Duchess of Cleveland. She had left England, and had established herself at Paris with her daughter, the Countess of Sussex. During the mother's temporary absence Montagu, apparently at the instigation of Charles II, persuaded the daughter to leave the convent where she had been placed and to take up her residence at the English embassy. Eager for revenge for this and other wrongs, the duchess wrote to Charles II denouncing Montagu, and revealing his political intrigues, with which their previous intimacy had made her acquainted. Montagu had told her, she declared, that he meant to make the secretaryship merely a stepping-stone to the treasurership; then he would easily supply Charles with money for his pocket and his women, and lead him by the nose. A French astrologer in whom the king believed had been corrupted by Montagu that he might mould the king to his designs. 'He has neither conscience nor honour, and has several times told me that in his heart he despised you and your brother, and that for his part he wished with all his heart that the parliament would send you both to travel, for you were a dull, governable fool, and the duke a wilful fool. So that it were yet better to have you than him, but that you always chose a greater beast than yourself to govern you' (Harris, Lives, ed. 1814, v. 372; Life of the Duchess of Cleveland, by G. Steinman-Steinman, p. 154; cf. Burnet, ii. 143). Montagu hurried back to defend himself without waiting for leave to quit his post, and found himself struck out of the privy council (12 July 1678) and superseded as ambassador by the Earl of Sunderland. To secure immunity from further punishment and to retaliate on Danby, Montagu now entered into a negotiation with Barillon, the French ambassador, offering to cause Danby's fall within six months, on promise of a pension of forty thousand livres a year, or one hundred thousand crowns in hand (Dalrymple, i. 249). The proposal was accepted, and he then stood for the borough of Northampton, beat the government candidate, and prepared to accuse Danby in the House of Commons (Grey, Debates, vi. 186). Danby resolved to be beforehand with his accuser, and on 19 Dec. 1678 the chancellor of the exchequer informed the house 'that his majesty having received information that his late ambassador in France, Mr. Montagu, had held several private conferences with the pope's nuncio there, has, to the end that he may discover the truth of the matter, given order for the seizing Mr. Montagu's papers.' But the house took up the cause of its member, and ordered the sequestered papers to be brought to Westminster and examined there. Montagu selected from them two letters in which Danby demanded six million livres from Louis XIV as the price of peace with France and the prorogation of parliament. Before the sitting closed it was voted by 179 to 116 votes that there was sufficient ground for the impeachment of the lord treasurer. And though Danby's defenders produced letters of Montagu's proving that he was equally guilty, parliament refused to pay any attention to the countercharge (ib. pp. 337-87; Reresby, Memoirs, ed. Cartwright, p. 155; Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. p. 389).
The dissolution of parliament (30 Dec. 1678) was a momentary check to Montagu's triumph. He was greatly afraid of being sent to the Tower, and 'swore he had no mind to eat meat of others dressing, where he must either eat poison or starve.' After lying concealed in London for three weeks, he endeavoured to escape to France in disguise, but was arrested at Dover, and obliged to give security not to leave the kingdom (Danby, Letters, pp. 116-22; Hatton Correspondence, i. 170). According to Barillon this attempted flight to France was also part of a new intrigue. Montagu had taken up the cause of Monmouth, and hoped to induce Louis XIV to get him declared Prince of Wales by his father, urging that a disputed succession in England would be an advantage to France. Montagu was also Barillon's chief agent in his dealing with the English opposition. In these negotiations he was greatly aided by his sister, Anne Montagu, the wife of Sir Daniel Harvey. 'She is a woman of a bold and enterprising spirit,' wrote Barillon, 'and has interest and connections with a great number of persons of the court and parliament' (Dalrymple, i. 312, 341, 355). As deep in the political intrigues of the day as her brother, she was equally famous for her gallantries, and both were at this time members of the cabal which met at the Duchess of Mazarin's (Forneron, Louise de Keroualle, 1886, pp. 94, 138; Manchester, Court and Society from Elizabeth to Anne, i. 275). But in spite of his skill and unscrupulousness Montagu's schemes were far from successful. Barillon and his master refused to support the plan for Monmouth's elevation, though encouraging Montagu just enough to prevent Monmouth from losing altogether the hope of French protection (Dalrymple, i. 349). Shaftesbury repudiated the alliance offered him, saying that he had never had anything to do with Mr. Montagu, and never would (Sidney, Diary, ii. 13). He found great difficulty in obtaining the money which Barillon had promised him, and received in the end only fifty thousand out of the one hundred thousand crowns for which he had sold his services (Dalrymple, i. 334, 384). The ambassador reported in December 1680 that Montagu would willingly be reconciled with the court, 'and have a great place if it were possible' but the court showed no willingness to accept his terms (ib. p. 355; Sidney, Diary, ii. 11). Accordingly, when the exclusion movement failed, he thought it best to consult his own safety and retired to the continent.
In 1683 he was at Paris, where he vainly sought a private audience with Louis XIV and further payments for his past services (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 202). On 10 Jan. 1683-4 he succeeded his father as third Lord Montagu of Boughton. At the accession of James II he lost the post of master of the robes, which was given to Lord Preston. Nevertheless he still hoped for employment, and boldly announced to Lord Rochester his intention of attending the coronation. 'I know not how unfortunate I may be as to be under his majesty's displeasure, but I know the generosity of his nature to be such, that, as Louis, duke of Orleans, when he came to the crown of France, said it was not for a king of France to remember the quarrels and grudges of a duke of Orleans, so I hope his majesty will be pleased to think the king is not to remember anything that has passed in relation to the Duke of York, for whatever my opinions were when I delivered them, being trusted by the public, they are altered now I am become his subject, knowing myself obliged, by the laws of God and man, to hazard life and fortune in the defence of his sacred person, crown, and dignity' (Singer, Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, i. 114). Montagu was allowed to return to England, and was very well received by James. It was even reported that he was to be made secretary of state, or again employed as ambassador to France (ib. i. 522; Ellis Corresp. i. 154-9).
At the revolution Montagu was one of the first to embrace the cause of William III. He was made one of the privy council (14 Feb. 1689), and William created him Viscount Monthermer and Earl of Montagu (9 April 1689). But Montagu, who had taken an active part in the debates on the deposition of James II, did not regard this as sufficient reward. On 18 May 1694 he wrote to William, setting forth his claims to a dukedom at length. He represented the oldest branch of one of the oldest English families; he had been one of the first, and had held out to the last, in that cause which had brought William to the crown. Lastly, he had won over three wavering peers to vote against the proposed regency, and thus decided the question whether William should be king (Dalrymple, ii. 256). This request was refused, but a suit at law restored to Montagu his lucrative mastership of the wardrobe (Luttrell, Diary, ii. 48). He increased his wealth still further by a second marriage. The Countess of Northumberland died in September 1690, and on 8 Sept. 1692 Montagu married Elizabeth Cavendish, eldest daughter of Henry Cavendish, second duke of Newcastle, and widow of [[Christopher Monck, second duke of Albemarle [q. v.]]] She was very rich and very mad, and was said to have declared that she would give her hand to nobody but a crowned head. Montagu wooed and won her in the character of Emperor of China (Granger, Biographical Hist. ed. 1804, iv. 158; Walpole, Letters, ed. 1880, viii. 514; Luttrell, Diary, ii. 563). The mad duchess lived till 1734, and was kept in such close seclusion that it was rumoured she was dead, and that her husband concealed her death in order to retain the enjoyment of her 7,000l. a year (Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 341; Cartwright, Strafford Papers, p. 79). The marriage resulted in several lawsuits concerning the Albemarle property, one of which, between Montagu and the Earl of Bath, lasted for seven years, and cost the two litigants 20,000l. between them. It was finally settled in October 1698 by a compromise, but not until four or more of Montagu's witnesses had been convicted of perjury, suborned, as it was asserted, by one of his chaplains (James, Vernon's Letters to the Duke of Shrewsbury, i. 240, 287, 303; Luttrell, iii. 140, iv. 78, 355, 443).
On 2 March 1705 Montagu's son [[John (1688?-1749) [q. v.]]], who succeeded him in the dukedom, was married to Lady Mary Churchill, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Marlborough (Boyer, Annals of the Reign of Anne, viii. 373; Luttrell, Diary, v. 537). The marriage was a political alliance, dictated by Marlborough's desire of making his political position secure against a possible combination of whigs and tories (Thompson, Memoirs of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, ii. 9-16). As a consequence Montagu at length attained the goal of his ambition, and was raised to the dignity of Marquis of Monthermer and Duke of Montagu (12 April 1705). He survived his promotion four years only, dying at the age of seventy-one on 9 March 1708-9 (Doyle, p. 522).
Montagu left, besides his son John, a daughter, Anne, who married Alexander Popham of Littlecote, Wiltshire. An elder son, Ralph Winwood, died in May 1702 (Collins, Peerage, iii. 469; Luttrell, v. 170). Two engraved portraits of Montagu are among the Sutherland collection in the Bodleian Library (Catalogue, i. 648). Macky describes him as 'of a middle stature, inclining to fat, of a coarse, dark complexion.' Swift adds the very just comment, 'as arrant a knave as any in his time' (Macky, Secret Services, &c., 1733, p. 44; Swift, Works, ed. 1824, xii. 237). If Montagu was perfectly unscrupulous in obtaining money, he at least knew how to spend his wealth with dignity. His public entry into Paris as ambassador in 1669 'was so magnificent that it has scarce ever been since equalled' (Boyer, viii. 366). He built two great houses, 'which remain still as the best patterns of building we have in England, and show the genius of the great contriver' (ib. p. 371). One of these was Boughton House in Northamptonshire, 'contrived after the model of Versailles.' The other was Montagu House in Bloomsbury, 'without comparison the finest building in the whole city of London or county of Middlesex, Hampton Court alone excepted' (ib.) Evelyn, who describes it at length in his 'Diary,' under 10 Oct. 1683, terms it 'a fine palace, built after the French pavilion way, by Mr. Hooke' [see Hooke]. It was burnt down on the night of 19 Jan. 1686, owing to the negligence of a servant; but Montagu, after an unsuccessful lawsuit with his tenant, the Earl of Devonshire, rebuilt the house with very little alteration. The second Montagu House was purchased by the government in 1753 to establish the British Museum, and was demolished between 1840 and 1849, and replaced by the present museum building (Evelyn, Diary, ed. 1879, ii. 319, 421, iii. 16; Ellis, Correspondence, i. 25; Wheatley, London Past and Present, i. 251, ii. 555).
[Lives of Montagu are contained in Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne, viii. 363-74, and in Memoirs for the Curious, February and March 1709. Montagu's correspondence with Lord Arlington and Sir H. Coventry is in the possession of the Marquis of Bath; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 245. His correspondence with Danby between 1676 and 1678 was printed by Danby in his own vindication: Copies and Extracts of some Letters written to and from the Earl of Danby, now Duke of Leeds, in 1676, 1677, and 1678, with particular Remarks upon some of them. Published by his Grace's direction, 8vo, 1710. The original letters are now in the possession of Mr. Alfred Morrison, and are reprinted in the catalogue of his autographs. Other authorities are cited in the article.]