Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Halifax
KG, PC, FRS, PRS
1stEarlOfHalifax.jpg
First Lord of the Treasury
In office
13 October 1714 – 19 May 1715
Monarch George I
Preceded by The Duke of Shrewsbury
as Lord High Treasurer
Succeeded by The Earl of Carlisle
In office
1 May 1697 – 15 November 1699
Monarch William III
Preceded by The Earl of Godolphin
Succeeded by The Earl of Tankerville
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
3 May 1694 – 15 November 1699
Monarch William III and Mary II
Preceded by Richard Hampden
Succeeded by John Smith
Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
21 March 1692 – 3 May 1694
Monarch William III and Mary II
Preceded by Thomas Pelham
Succeeded by John Smith and William Trumbull
Personal details
Born 16 April 1661
Horton, Northamptonshire
Kingdom of England
Died 19 May 1715(1715-05-19) (aged 54)
Spouse(s) Countess Dowager of Manchester
Relations fifth son of the 1st Earl of Manchester
Profession poet

Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, PC, FRS, PRS (16 April 1661 – 19 May 1715) was an English poet and statesman.

Early life[edit]

Charles Montagu was born in Horton, Northamptonshire, the son of George Montagu, fifth son of 1st Earl of Manchester. He was educated first in the country, and then at Westminster, where he was chosen as a Queen's Scholar in 1677, and entered into close friendship with George Stepney.

Montagu was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1679, graduated MA in 1682, and became a Fellow of Trinity in 1683.[1] His relation, Dr. John Montagu, was then Master of Trinity College, and took him under his wing. At Cambridge he began a lasting association with Isaac Newton.

In 1685, Montagu's verses on the death of King Charles II made such an impression on the Earl of Dorset that he was invited to town and introduced to other entertainments. In 1687, Montagu joined with Matthew Prior in "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse," a burlesque of John Dryden's The Hind and the Panther. He sat in the Convention Parliament of 1689. At about the same time he married the Countess Dowager of Manchester, and intended taking Holy Orders, but changed his mind and purchased for £1,500 a position as Clerk of the Council.

Political office[edit]

In 1691, having become a member of the House of Commons, he argued in favour of a law to grant the assistance of counsel in trials for high treason. He became flustered in the middle of his speech, and upon recovering himself, observed "how reasonable it was to allow counsel to men called as criminals before a court of justice, when it appeared how much the presence of that assembly could disconcert one of their own body."

After the House of Commons he rose quickly, becoming one of the Commissioners of the Treasury and a member of the Privy Council. In 1694 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reward for having devised the establishment of the Bank of England, the plan which had been proposed by William Patterson three years before, but not acted upon. In 1695 was involved in the successful recoinage project. In 1698, having been appointed to the first Commission of the Treasury, he was also one of the regency in the King's absence. The next year he was made Auditor of the Exchequer, and the year after created Baron Halifax, of Halifax in the County of Yorkshire, with remainder to his nephew George Montagu. His impeachment by the Commons failed, when the Articles were dismissed by the House of Lords.

John Macky, relates a short description of the circumstances leading up to Charles, Lord Halifax's impeachment, in the Secret Service Papers published by his son in 1733. Memoirs of the Secret Services of John Macky Esq. on pages 51–54."...But as all courtiers, who rise too quick, as he did, are envied, so his great Favour with the King, and powerful Interest in the House, raised a great Party against him, which he strengthened, by seeming to despise them. The Deficiency of Parliamentary Funds, and the growing Debts of the Nation, by the great Interest of Paper Credit, laid him but too much open to these Attacks, he having the whole Administration of the Revenue. When he saw the Party growing too strong for him in the House of Commons, he prudently got himself made a Lord; and as a Screen from all Objections against his Administration, quitted his Management of Commissioner, to serve as Auditor: But his Enemies did not quit him so, they followed him into the House of Peers with an Impeachment, and so left no Stone unturned, to get him out of his Employ, bespattering him every Day with Pamphlets."

On the accession of Queen Anne, Montagu was dismissed from the Council, and in the first Parliament of her reign was again attacked by the Commons, and again escaped by the protection of the Lords. In 1704 he wrote an answer to Bromley's speech against occasional conformity. He headed the inquiry into the danger of the Church. In 1706 he proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland and when the Elector of Hanover received the Garter, after the Act had passed for securing the Protestant Succession, he was appointed to carry the ensigns of the Order to the Electoral Court. He sat as one of the judges of Henry Sacheverell, but voted for a mild sentence. Being now no longer in favour, he obtained a writ for summoning the Electoral Prince to Parliament as Duke of Cambridge.

Earl of Halifax[edit]

At the Queen's death Montagu was again appointed one of the regents. At the accession of George I, he was made Viscount Sunbury and Earl of Halifax, with remainder to heirs male, a Knight of the Garter, and First Lord of the Treasury, with a grant to his nephew of the reversion of the Auditorship of the Exchequer. Shortly afterwards he died of an inflammation of his lungs. The viscountcy and earldom became extinct on his death as he had no sons while he was succeeded in the barony according to the special remainder by his nephew George Montagu.

Halifax is reported to have left Catherine Barton, Newton's niece, a sizable inheritance for "her excellent conversation," as John Flamsteed wryly reported at the time.[2]

Alexander Pope commemorated the Earl's death in his unpublished poem 'Farewell to London in the Year 1715':

"The love of arts lies cold and dead

In Halifax's urn,

And not one Muse of all he fed

Has yet the grace to mourn."

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs [self-published source][better source needed]

  1. ^ "Montagu, Charles (MNTG679C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ See Westfall, Life of Isaac Newton, p. 240

See also[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Sir John Bramston
Sir Thomas Darcy
Member of Parliament for Maldon
1689–1695
With: Sir John Bramston 1689–1693
Sir Eliab Harvey 1693–1695
Succeeded by
Irby Montagu
Sir Eliab Harvey
Preceded by
Sir Walter Clarges, Bt
Sir Stephen Fox
Member of Parliament for Westminster
1695–1701
With: Sir Stephen Fox 1695–1698
James Vernon 1698–1701
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Crosse
James Vernon
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Hampden
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1694–1699
Succeeded by
John Smith
Preceded by
The Lord Godolphin
First Lord of the Treasury
1697–1699
Succeeded by
The Earl of Tankerville
Preceded by
Christopher Montagu
Auditor of the Exchequer
1699–1714
Succeeded by
George Montagu
Preceded by
The Duke of Shrewsbury
(Lord High Treasurer)
First Lord of the Treasury
1714–1715
Succeeded by
The Earl of Carlisle
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Northumberland
Lord Lieutenant of Surrey
1714–1715
Succeeded by
The Duke of Argyll
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Earl of Halifax
1714–1715
Extinct
Peerage of England
New creation Baron Halifax
1700–1715
Succeeded by
George Montagu