1902 Encyclopedia > George Monk, 1st Duke of Albemarle

George Monk, 1st Duke of Albemarle
(George Monck)
English soldier


GEORGE MONK, (1608-1669), duke of Albemarle, the second son of Sir Thomas Monk, a gentleman of good family but in embarrassed circumstances, "was born at Potheridge, near Torrington in Devonshire, on 6th December 1608. An exploit which brought him within the reach of the law compelled him to begin his career as a soldier of fortune at the age of seventeen. He acted under Sir E. Grenville as a volunteer in the expedition to Cadiz, and the next year did notable service at the Isle of Elie.

In 1629 Monk went to the Low Countries, the training-ground for military men, where in Oxford's and in Goring's regiments he obtained a high reputation for courage and for a thorough knowledge of his trade. In 1638 he threw up his commission in consequence of a quarrel with the Dutch civil authorities, came to England, and obtained the lieutenant-colonelcy of Newport's regiment during the operations on the Scottish border. Here he showed his-skill and coolness in the dispositions by which he saved the English artillery at Newborn, though himself destitute of ammunition ; and in the councils of war he confidently voted with Strafford for fighting, and against retreat or composition. One of Monk's biographers relates that he now thought of joining the adventurers who proposed to colonize Madagascar. The Irish rebellion, however, offered more congenial employment, and in February 1641 he landed at Dublin as colonel of Lord Leicester's regiment. Here he greatly increased his reputation. Under the most difficult circumstances he was ever cool, patient, vigorous. A rigid disciplinarian, he was always attentive to the wants of his men, and completely won their confidence and affection. All the qualities for which he was noted through life, the calculating selfishness which kept him ever on the winning side and by which he accomplished his great historic success, the imperturbable temper and impenetrable secrecy, were fully displayed in this employment. He had but one interest, that of George Monk; and to secure that interest he laboured, while retaining his free-dom from party ties, to make himself indispensable as a soldier. The governorship of Dublin was vacant, and Monk was appointed by Leicester. But Charles I. overruled the appointment in favour of Lord Lambert, and Monk, with great shrewdness, gave up his claims. Ormond, however, who viewed him with suspicion as one of the two officers who refused the oath to support the royal cause in England, sent him under guard to Bristol. He now deemed it safest to affect Royalist views. His value caused him to be received at once into Charles's confidence; he was appointed major-general of the Irish brigade, and served under Byron at the siege of Nantwich. Here he was taken prisoner by Fairfax, on 25th January 1644, in one of the most skilful operations of the war. After a short captivity in Hull he was placed in the Tower, where he remained for three years (during which his father died), beguiling his imprisonment by writing his Observations on Military and Political Affairs.

So long as the war lasted Monk could not be released. Charles, however, became a prisoner; the troubles in Ireland made the parliament anxious to secure Monk's services, and he was told that if he would take the Cove-nant he might have an important command. With some show of hesitation the terms were accepted, and, after a service of two months in Lord Lisle's abortive expedition, Monk was placed in command of the British forces in the north of Ireland. Compelled in 1649 to conclude a pacifi-cation with the rebel O'Neill, he returned to England after the king's execution. In the same year he succeeded, by his elder brother's death, to the family estate. His idleness lasted but a short while. Cromwell gave him a regiment and the command of the ordnance in the Scotch war of 1650, and after the battle of Dunbar, in which he led the attack, he was left with 6000 men to subdue the country, which, after taking Edinburgh, Tantallon, and Stirling castles, he did most completely in a few weeks. In 1651 he was seized with fever, but recovered at Bath, and in the same year was appointed on the commission for pro-moting the Union. In 1653, with Admiral Dean, he commanded the British fleet against the Dutch, and on 2d and 3d June and 29th July fought two of the most sanguinary naval battles on record, in which both his colleague and Van Tromp were slain. A peace on very humiliating terms to the Dutch was concluded, but policy shortly led Cromwell to allow milder conditions,—a conces-sion against which Monk strongly remonstrated. On his return he married his mistress, Anne Clarges, a woman of the lowest extraction, " ever a plain homely dowdy," says Pepys, who, like other writers who mention her, is usually still less complimentary. Monk was now sent to quell the revolt headed by Middleton in Scotland, and, when this service was over, settled down to a steady government of the country for the next five years. For fanaticism in any shape he had no sympathy, and he set himself to diminish the influence of the Presbyterian clergy—Cromwell's chief opponents,—taking from them the power of excommuni-cation and their general assemblies, but allowing them to retain their presbyteries. Equal repression was exercised against the nobility and gentry. The timely discovery of a plot fomented by Overton for killing Monk on New Year's Day gave him an excuse for thoroughly purging his army of all Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy men, and other danger-ous enthusiasts. It is doubtful whether at this time Monk had proposed to himself the restoration of the king. He probably had it always in his mind as a possibility, but he would run no risks. His very reticence, however, caused alarm on one side and hope on the other. In 1655 he received a letter from Charles II., a copy of which he at once sent to Cromwell, whom, however, we find writing to him in 1657 in the following terms : "There be that tell me that there is a certain cunning fellow in Scotland called George Monk, who is said to lye in wait there to introduce Charles Stuart; I pray you, use your diligence to appre-hend him, and send him up to me."

During the confusion which followed Cromwell's death Monk remained silent and watchful at Edinburgh, careful only to secure his hold on his troops. In July 1659 direct and tempting proposals were again made to him by the king. His brother Nicholas, a clergyman, was em-ployed by Sir J. Grenvil to bring to him the substance of Charles's letter. No bribe, however, could induce him to act one moment before the right time. He bade his brother go back to his books, and refused to entertain any proposal. But .when Booth rose in Cheshire for the king, so tempting did the opportunity seem that he was on the point of joining forces with him ; and a letter was written to the Rump parliament threatening force if it did not at once fill up its numbers. His habitual caution, however, induced him to wait until the next post from England, and the next post brought news of Booth's defeat. On 17th October he heard of Lambert's coup d'état. From that moment his plan of action seems to have been settled. In most vehement language he dis-carded the idea of restoring Charles, and, with admirable perception of the state of English feeling, took for his principles that in all cases the army must obey the civil government, and that the civil government must be parliamentary. At present the Rump was crushed by the military party; the first thing, therefore, to be done was to free it. His army underwent a second purging of disaffection, and he then issued a declaration embodying the principles mentioned above, and wrote to Lenthall the speaker, and to the military party to the same effect. In a treaty with the Committee of Safety his commissioners, who were to treat only on the basis of the restoration of parliament, were outwitted. Monk at once refused to accept the terms proposed, and marched to Berwick, having received an offer from Fairfax of assistance if he would promise that the secluded members should be restored. Meanwhile Lambert had marched northwards to oppose his advance.

Monk's action gave fresh heart to the adherents of the parliament. The old council of state met, and named him general of all the forces; the fleet and the Irish army, hitherto hostile, came round to his side, and so did Whetham at Portsmouth. Monk now, in the depth of winter, crossed the Tweed at Coldstream and marched by Morpeth to Newcastle, receiving letters on his way from the lord mayor and corporation of London urging him to declare for a free parliament. On his approach Lambert's army fell away from their general, and no obstacle re-mained on the path to London. At York, when urged by Fairfax, he refused to declare for the king, and is said to have caned an officer who affirmed that such was his design. The parliament now ordered him to come to London. Fleetwood's army which occupied the city wTas, however, a great obstacle; and it was not until the parliament, in accordance with his desire, had arranged for its dispersion that he would enter with his troops. Even now his intentions were strictly concealed; the spies set upon him by the various anxious parties were baffled by his impenetrable reserve. He was careful to appear only .as the servant of parliament, but when he was desired to take the oath of abjuration he skilfully evaded the request. The city, always jealous of the Rump, now refused to pay taxes except at the orders of a free parliament. Monk, in consequence, was ordered to march his troops into the city, take down the chains and posts, and unhinge the gates. He obeyed these unpleasant orders to the letter on 10th February, thus permitting the hatred against the Rump to rise to the height, while he showed how unwilling an instrument of its will he was. On the 11th, however, he threw off the mask, and wrote to the Rump, peremp-torily ordering them to admit the secluded members, and to arrange for the dissolution of parliament by 6th May. On 21st February he conducted the secluded members to their seats. At the same time he refused to restore the Lords, and issued an order disowning Charles Stuart to all officers commanding garrisons. Every day brought him fresh opportunities for tact or evasion. His partisans urged him to take the protectorate himself; another party pressed upon him to accomplish the restoration by the army alone; a body of his officers sent him a declaration expressing their fears that his action would lead to the restoration of monarchy; the parliament tried to make him their own by the offer of Hampton Court. His trained habits of dissimulation and evasion, assisted now and again by downright lying, carried him triumphantly through all these dangers, and at length the dissolution of parliament on 17th March removed his greatest difficulties.

It was now that, with the utmost secrecy, he gave an interview for the first time to the king's agent Grenvil, and by him sent to Charles the conditions of his restoration, afterwards embodied in the Declaration of Breda. For himself at present he would accept nothing but a royal commission as captain-general, which he carefully kept to himself. All parties were anxious to gain the credit of the now certain restoration. The Presbyterians in parti-cular, fearful of the king being restored without terms, did their best to discredit Monk and to impose the old Isle of Wight conditions; but in vain. The new parliament was elected, and the House of Lords restored; an insurrection by Lambert, who had escaped from the Tower, was quelled by Monk's prompt measures, and on the 25th of April he received the solemn thanks of both Houses, and the title of captain-general of the land forces. Even yet the farce was kept up. Monk received with feigned surprise the king's official letter from Grenvil, denied all knowledge of its contents, and handed it over sealed to the council, who decided to defer opening it until the meeting of parliament on the 1st of May.

With the Restoration the historic interest of Monk's career ceases. The rude soldier of fortune had played the game with incomparable dexterity, and had won the stakes. He was made gentleman of the bedchamber, knight of the Garter, master of the horse, commander-in-chief, and duke of Albemarle, and had a pension of £7000 a year allotted him. His utmost desires were satisfied, and he made no attempt to compete further in a society in which neither he nor his vulgar wife could ever be at home, and which he heartily despised. As long as the army existed of which he was the idol, and of which the last service was to suppress Venner's revolt, he was a person not to be displeased. But he entirely concurred in the measure for disbanding it, and thenceforward his influence was small, though men's oeyes turned naturally to him in emergency. In the trial of the regicides he was on the side of moderation, and his interposition saved Hazelrig's life; but his action at the time of Argyll's trial will always be regarded as the most dishonourable episode in his career. In 1664 he had charge of the admiralty when James was in command of the fleet, and when in 1665 London was deserted on account of the plague, Monk, with all the readiness of a man accustomed to obey without thinking of risk, remained in charge of the government of the city. Once more, at the end of this year, he was called upon to fight, having a joint commission with Prince Rupert against the Dutch. The whole burden of the preparations fell upon him. On 23d April 1666 the admirals joined the fleet, and on the 1st of June began a battle near Dunkirk which lasted four days, followed by another on 23d July, in which Monk showed all his old coolness and skill, and a reckless daring which had seemed hitherto foreign to his character. His last service was in 1667, when the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames, and Monk, ill as he was, hastened to Chatham to oppose their further progress. From that time he lived much in privacy, and died of dropsy on the 3d of December 1669.

See the Lives of Monk by Dr Gumble, his chaplain (London, 1671), and Dr Skinner (London, 1724), and Guizot's Essay, which contain all necessary information concerning his life up to the Restoration. The numerous and amusing notices of him in the court of Charles in Pepys's Diary should on no account be omitted. (O. A.)

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