Today, another post inspired by our recently-published volumes on the House of Lords. In this blog the editor, Dr Ruth Paley, discusses the hotly-contested will of the 2nd Duke of Albermale…
Christopher Monck, 2nd duke of Albemarle, was an alcoholic who had been warned by his doctor, Hans Sloane, to take care of his diseased liver. He didn’t listen. In 1688, shortly after he arrived in Jamaica to take up the post of governor, news arrived of the birth of a son to James II. Albemarle celebrated rather too well. He was only 35 when he died on 6 October 1688, having literally drunk himself to death.
A year earlier, in anticipation of his voyage to the Caribbean, the childless Albemarle had made a new will. It was a long and complex document which made generous provision for his widow during her lifetime and directed the bulk of his enormous fortune to his namesake, an Irish teenager whom he believed to be a distant cousin.
Closer relatives were understandably annoyed and disappointed. The care of the Albemarle estate, and the considerable political interest that went with it, had long been entrusted to John Granville, earl of Bath, who was first cousin to Albemarle’s father, General George Monck. Granville had been named as principal legatee in an earlier will. Shocked to discover that the new will effectively cut him out, he challenged its validity by advancing the somewhat bizarre assertion that Albemarle had drawn it up as an elaborate bluff to keep his mentally unstable wife happy. When he failed to have the 1687 will overturned in the church courts, Bath took his case to chancery instead.
An even closer relative was Thomas Pride, descendant and namesake of the regicide. Albemarle was intensely proud of his father’s reputation as the architect of the Restoration, and either did not know or chose to ignore that his father had once not only supported Olivier Cromwell but had allied his family with that of a regicide. He was horrified by the prospect of his fortune falling into the hands of the Prides. Thomas Pride however now claimed that he was George Monck’s common law heir. He alleged that George Monck’s marriage was bigamous, that Albemarle was therefore illegitimate and should never have inherited his father’s fortune and honours. The Prides too sought the assistance of the courts.
Matters got even more complicated when the unscrupulous and chronically indebted Ralph Montagu, earl (later duke) of Montagu, persuaded Albemarle’s widow to marry him – allegedly pandering to her delusions of grandeur by courting her disguised as the emperor of China. He now claimed the Albemarle fortune in right of his wife. Whether the duchess of Albemarle was sufficiently mentally competent to enter into a valid marriage remains a subject for speculation. After the marriage she disappeared from sight, reappearing only after Montagu’s death, when all those who saw her agreed that she was insane.
The various legal actions continued for some 20 years. The actions brought by the Prides had considerable nuisance value, but the major protagonists were Bath and Montagu. Allegations of fraud and perjury abounded. Members of the House of Lords, where several appeals were debated, were so horrified by the costs and associated acrimony of the dispute that in 1698 they attempted to introduce a bill to limit ‘the exorbitant fees of the lawyers’ – as though it were the lawyers rather than the litigants who had caused the problem.
The clear loser in the dispute was the young Irishman, Christopher Monck and, after his death, his younger brother and heir, Henry Monck. Neither had the money, knowledge or contacts with which to defend their rights. Both were courted, and probably defrauded, by Bath and Montagu.
Bath died in August 1701; his son and heir committed suicide a month later, apparently horrified by the legacy of debt and deceit engendered by the dispute. Montagu’s death in 1704 then opened the way for their heirs to agree a compromise – one that could not be fully implemented until the death of the duchess. The estate was finally wound up at her death in 1734 at the age of 80.
The History of Parliament has recently published our first set of volumes focusing on the House of Lords. Covering the period 1660-1715, this five-volume work is available from Cambridge University Press.