1902 Encyclopedia > Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth

Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth
English nobleman and military leader
(c 1658 - 1735)

CHARLES MORDAUNT, EARL OF PETERBOROUGH AND MONMOUTH, (c. 1658-1735), a man whose whole life was passed in the turmoil of excitement, was born about 1658. His father, John Mordaunt, was created Baron Mordaunt of Reigate, Surrey, in 1659; his mother was Elizabeth, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Cary, the second son of Robert Cary, earl of Monmouth. He entered upon a long career of warfare when only about sixteen years of age by joining Sir John Narborough's fleet in the Mediterranean, and won his first distinction in arms in Cloudesley Shovel's destruction of the dey's fleet under the very guns of Tripoli. On two subsequent occasions— the first in September 1678, the second in June 1680—he embarked in expeditions for the relief of Tangier, but the adventure met with little success, and that troublesome possession was soon after abandoned. His father died 5th June 1675, and Charles Mordaunt succeeded to the peerage. On his return from the second expedition to Tangier he plunged into active political life as a zealous Whig and an unswerving opponent of the duke of York. But his con-tinued hostility to James II. forced him to retire to Holland, when he proposed to William of Orange to invade England. The disposition of the cold and cautious William had little in common with the fierce and turbulent English peer. His plan was rejected, though the prudent prince of Orange deemed it judicious to retain his fiery adherent by his side. When William sailed to Torbay his friend accom-panied him, and when the Dutch prince was safely estab-lished on the throne of England honours without stint were showered upon Lord Mordaunt. He was sworn of the privy council 14th February 1689, made a lord of the bedchamber in the same month, created lord-lieutenant of Northamptonshire shortly after, and in April of the same year appointed first lord of the treasury and advanced in the peerage to be earl of Monmouth. In less than a year he was out of the treasury, but he still remained by the person of his monarch. He was with William in his dangerous passage to Holland in January 1691; and in June 1692, when crossing from England to the same country, he narrowly escaped shipwreck. Although the English king had refused his consent to a bill for triennial parliaments in the previous session, Lord Monmouth did not shrink from reintroducing it in December 1693. This led to a disagreement with the court, though the final breach did not take place until January 1697, when Mon-mouth was accused of complicity in Sir John Fen wick's con-spiracy and of the use of " undutiful words " towards the king. He was committed to the Tower, staying in confine-ment until April 1697, and deprived of his employments. Some consolation for these troubles came to him in June of the same year, when he succeeded to the earldom of Peterborough. The four years after his release from the Tower were mainly passed in retirement at Parson's Green, Fulham, at a house long since pulled down, but famous for its " extraordinary good rooms " and its spacious gardens. At the close of William's reign Lord Peterborough emerged from his suburban retreat for a time to take part in the prosecution of Lord Somers, and on the accession of Anne he plunged into political life again with avidity. His first act was to draw down on himself in February 1702 the censure of the House of Commons for the part which he took in the attempt to secure the return of his nominee for the borough of Malmesbury. In the same year he was appointed governor of Jamaica, but he never visited the island over which he ruled, preferring to remain in a part of the world where he could play a more active part in the government of affairs. Through the fear of the ministry that his restless spirit would drive him into opposition to its measures if he stayed at home, he was appointed early in 1705 to command an expedition of English and Dutch troops in Spain. He was created sole commander of the land-forces and joint-commander with Sir Cloudesley Shovel of the fleet, and at the same time was reinstated a member of the privy council. His first exploit was to seize Denia in Valencia; then, with all the impetuosity of his char-acter, he urged upon the Austrian claimant to the throne the expediency of dashing for Madrid, less than 250 miles distant, only to find that he was overruled by his col-leagues in council. After this repulse he sailed for Bar-celona (August 1705) and commenced to besiege that town. For three weeks the siege languished, until, by a sudden night-attack on 14th September, Peterborough seized the outworks of Montjuich, and three nights later captured the citadel itself. On 14th October the city was his. This was his greatest feat, and in this enterprise he showed, what was usually wanting in his character, both tact and conciliation. After this victory Catalonia declared for the Austrian prince, and Peterborough advanced into Valencia with the object of reducing it to subjection. By threats, cajolements, intrigues, and plots he obtained pos-session of its chief towns, but the prince for whom he was fighting allowed himself to be surrounded in Barcelona. Peterborough's advice, that Charles should travel by sea to Lisbon and march against Madrid with the allied force of 25,000 men, was disregarded, and the English commander with his little body of 2000 foot and 600 horse then ad-vanced towards Barcelona, which was besieged by a greatly superior force of the enemy. The city was on the point of being captured, when Peterborough, warned of the approach of the English fleet—it is said that the signal of its arrival was a blank sheet of paper—put off in an open boat, and, after journeying to and fro, met with his country's vessels. On 8th May he brought the leading ships into the port of Barcelona, and three days later the French beat a retreat. Again did the English commander urge upon the Austrian claimant of the Spanish throne the expediency of imme-diately advancing to Madrid, and again was the advice rejected, although the capital was occupied by the allied forces under Galway and Das Minas. Charles remained at Barcelona for some weeks, and when at last he did move towards Madrid it was by a route which Peterborough dis-approved of. When difficulties beset Charles on his way the earl joined him, but he soon retired to Valencia in disgust, and then left the country to raise money at Genoa. In a short time he returned to Spain once more, but during his absence the prospects of the allied forces had passed from bad to worse. The leaders of the army differed in their views, and Lord Peterborough quitted the country for ever (March 1707).

On his return to England he allied himself with the Tories, and received his reward in being contrasted, much to his advantage, with the Whig victor of Blenheim and Malplaquet. The differences between the three peers, Peterborough, Galway, and Tyrawley, who had served in Spain, formed the subject of angry debates in the Lords, when the majority declared for Peterborough; after some fiery speeches the resolution that he had performed many great and eminent services was carried, and votes of thanks were passed to him without any division. His new friends were not desirous of detaining him long on English soil, and they sent him on a mission where he characteristically engaged the ministry in pledges of which they disapproved. His resentment at this disagreement was softened by the command of a cavalry regiment, and by his appointment as a Knight of the Garter. A few months before the close of Queen Anne's reign (November 1713) he was despatched as ambassador-extraordinary to the king of Sicily, but was recalled by the Whigs as soon as they obtained the reins of power. With the accession of George I. Lord Peter-borough's influence was gone. Hatred of Marlborough be-came the ruling passion of his mind. His last twenty years of life were passed with the recollection of disappointed hopes and with the continual presence of disease. Worn out with suffering, he died at Lisbon, 25th October 1735. His remains were brought to England and buried at Turvey in Bedfordshire, 21st November.

Lord Peterborough was short in stature and spare in habit of body. His activity knew no bounds. He was said to have seen more kings and postilions than any man in Europe, and the whole point of Swift's lines on " Mordanto " consisted in a description of the speed with which he hastened from capital to capital. Nature had bestowed many gifts upon him, but had denied him more. He was eloquent in debate and intrepid in war, but his influence in the senate was ruined through his inconsistency, and his vigour in the field was wasted through his want of union with his colleagues. He could do nothing like other men. His first wife, Carey, daughter of Sir Alexander Fraser of Mearns, died 13th May 1709, and was buried at Turvey 20th May. Some years later he married Anastasia Robinson, a dramatic singer of great beauty and sweetness of disposition ; but she was unrecognized as his wife, and lived apart from him at her mother's house at Parson's Green. Nor was it until a few months before his death that she was introduced to society as the countess of Peterborough. (W. P. C.)

The above article was written by: W. P. Courtney.

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