Sometimes a dukedom is created to commemorate a national hero, a member of ancient well-born family, but his progeny simply doesn’t last, and the exalted title disappears after only the briefest of existences. Such is the case for the dukes of Albemarle, created for General George Monck in 1660 but extinct by 1688 with the death of his son. Sic transit gloria mundi!
One of the more interesting things about the title given to General Monck by a grateful King Charles II is its name, since there isn’t really any place in England or Scotland (or even Ireland) with the name ‘Albemarle’. It in fact has ancient roots in France, to Normandy in particular. The town of Aumale is in the northeast corner of the province, and takes its name from the local stone, a white clay called marle (we also call it kaolin or china clay), which is a pale white, or ‘alba marla’. Monck was from an ancient Devon family, a place where there certainly are marl cliffs to be found.
The district around the town of Aumale was designated a county by William II, Duke of Normandy, in 1070. It was ruled by a powerful dynasty of counts until confiscated by the king of France, Philippe II Auguste, in 1196, and the title was given out a few more times by the French Crown before it was elevated to a dukedom in 1547 for the House of Lorraine-Guise, which then passed to the houses of Savoy-Nemours, Maine and Bourbon-Orléans, where it remains today (in pretence). Nevertheless, medieval English kings, still claiming to be dukes of Normandy, continued to recognise the old line of counts, transmitted to the Lords of Forz in 1214, who retained the older form of the name, Albamarla, now as an English earldom, with estates mostly in Yorkshire (Holderness in the east, Craven in the west) and Lincolnshire. The earldom passed to the Crown in 1274, and was given out again, now as a dukedom (of Aumale or Aumerle) in 1385, for the Duke of Gloucester, and again (as Albemarle or Aumale) in 1397, for the son of the Duke of York. Both of these creations had quite brief existences. Finally the ducal title was created again in 1412 for the Duke of Clarence, but was similarly short-lived. Richard de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was created earl of Albemarle in 1423, but for life only.
Meanwhile, in the far southwest of the Kingdom, a member of the Devon gentry known as William le Moyne (or ‘the monk’), fortified a manor house in the 13th century, on an estate known as Potheridge, on a bluff overlooking the meandering River Torridge. The Torridge flows northward through northwest Devon, passed the town of Great Torrington, and joins the River Taw at its wide mouth on the Bristol Channel. To the south lies the great mass of Dartmoor. Not far away is Okehampton, one of the seats of the powerful Courtenay family, earls of Devon. Just across the border in Cornwall is Kilkhampton, seat of the Grenville/Granville family, later earls of Bath. These powerful neighbours would also be important relatives, useful in the ascension of the Le Moyne family, who, sometime in the 15th century, adopted a more English sounding name of Monk or Monke, and eventually Monck.
Marriage to another Devon gentry family, Champernown, and then to a daughter of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, the illegitimate son of King Edward IV, probably brought the Moncks closer to court and service to the Crown in the early Tudor era: Kat Ashley, Elizabeth I’s early favourite was born a Champernown; and Lady Frances Plantagenet brought just a smidgeon of royal blood into the Monck family veins. A bigger step up, however, at least potentially, was the marriage of Lady Frances’s grandson, Sir Thomas Monck, in 1619, to Elizabeth Smith, the daughter and co-heiress of Sir George Smith, one of the richest men in Exeter (the county town of Devon) and three times its mayor. But Thomas had to dispute his wife’s dowry in court with is father-in-law, and ended up in debtor’s prison in 1625, dying there two years later. (another source contradicts this however, and says he was elected as MP for Camelford, Cornwall, in 1626—could both be true?). His eldest son, also called Thomas, became a colonel in the English army, but was superseded in reputation by his younger brother George.
George Monck, born in 1608, did what many second sons have to do, impoverished father or not, and joined the military (and the third son, Nicholas, naturally joined the church—we’ll encounter him again later). He took part in some of the tepid English participation of the early years of the Thirty Years War, a raid on Cadiz in 1625, an attack of the Isle de Ré in 1627, then joined the troops of the Dutch Republic in their ongoing struggle against Spain. The Dutch army at that time was amongst the most advanced in Europe, and young George learned a lot. When he was later deployed by King Charles I to suppress the Irish Rebellion of 1641-43, he immediately was noticed by his superiors for his efficiency, even ruthlessness. Back in England, he at first fought for the Royalists, but was captured at Nantwich in 1644 and sat in prison for two years (where he wrote a manual on modern military efficiency), before being named a Parliamentarian commander in Ulster in 1647. Here he managed to stay out for the most part of the Second Civil War and the politics surrounding the execution of the King.
Under the Protectorate, Monck became a favoured general of Oliver Cromwell, who sent him to Scotland, then to sea in the war against the Dutch, then again as Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Scotland, 1655. Meanwhile, he had been elected as MP for Devon in 1653, so had a voice in Parliament, and married that same year Anne Clarges, daughter of a London farrier (a specialist in equine hoof care), and widow of a London milliner. Her social status would come back to haunt Monck later on (as would indeed rumours that her first husband wasn’t even dead at the time of her second marriage). The General’s stay in Scotland again kept him away from the turmoil of London politics, but from afar he supported the rising influence of the moderates, and shortly after the radical wing of the military took over the government in 1659, he marched south, in February 1660, joined by troops led by Parliamentary hero Sir Thomas Fairfax, and supported the moderates now pressing for a restoration of the monarchy. Monck’s support turned the tide, new elections were held, and Parliament formally invited Charles II to return to his throne in April 1660.
General Monck’s brother, Nicholas, a clergymen and political moderate, had been in touch with the royalist faction in Parliament and indeed with those exiled royalists in the Netherlands. In July 1659, he had brought a letter to George in Scotland from Charles II which may have been very influential in Monck’s decisive actions the following spring. In the early days of the Restoration, a grateful king named Nicholas to the bishopric of Hereford, and also named him Provost of Eton College. He lived only a year, however, so his potential as a powerful player during the Restoration was unfulfilled.
George, however, remained a dominant figure, as 1st Duke of Albemarle, from July 1660. His subsidiary titles were Earl of Torrington and Baron Monck of Potheridge, County Devon. He’s also listed in the letters patent as Baron Beauchamp and Baron Teyes, both also listed as ‘in the County of Devon’ but these, like Albemarle itself, are a fantasy: there was a medieval Baron Teyes (with lands in Wiltshire, at Chilton Foliot) whose heiress passed his lands on to the L’Isle family, whose ultimate heiress married the Beauchamp earl of Warwick and Albemarle (above), and whose ultimate heiress in turn married Arthur Plantagenet, created Viscount Lisle (also above). So these titles were in a way constructing (or more generously re-constructing) a more illustrious aristocratic genealogy for George Monck. In fact, much of the dukedom was not based in Devon, nor in Wiltshire or Warwickshire: a significant part was to be found in the ancient feudal barony of Bowland, in Lancashire, with its caput or seat at Clitheroe Castle. This lordship had been part of the Duchy of Lancaster, ie, owned by the Crown, since 1399, and Charles II gave it, and its great revenues, to the man so useful for his restoration.
The new Duke of Albemarle was now a grand patron, able to obtain posts and titles for his friends and relations, notably the Granville cousins who had helped get his military career started: John Granville was created 1st Earl of Bath. Albemarle was also given lands in Ireland and a pension of £700 a year. He was named Lord Lieutenant of Devon, a member of the Privy Council and a Knight of the Order of the Garter. In 1661, King Charles asked him to return to Ireland as Lord Deputy or Viceroy, but he was becoming old and infirm, so was named Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex instead. His wife, the daughter and widow of tradesmen, was mocked by society, sometimes called the ‘Monkey Duchess’ (get it?), and seen as grasping and greedy, as only someone of ‘her sort’ could be (they said).
Still the King kept piling on the gifts: in 1663 Albemarle was given lands in the New World in the new Carolina Colony, where Albemarle Sound was named in his honour. He was one of the eight proprietors of the colony, and one of its first counties was named Albemarle County. This no longer exists, but the one in Virginia does, though it was created later, and named after a later Earl of Albemarle (see below). Monck was also given shares in the Royal Africa Company and thus profited from the slave trade.
From 1660, the Duke used his wealth to completely rebuild the old family seat at Great Potheridge, turning it into a great Carolean mansion. It did not survive very long, and was mostly demolished in the 1730s, leaving only one wing, which was sold by the Granville heirs to the Rolle family (barons from 1796), then the Trefusis family, and later became part of a college in the 1950s, then leased out as a farmhouse. I explored what was left of the house in this very isolated corner of rural Devon several years ago when it was being used as a kind of ‘outward bound’ facility to get inner city kids out into the countryside. The lone employee, slightly startled by my visit, received me cheerfully and proudly showed me their great hidden treasure: a beautifully preserved wood panelled room and a gorgeous wooden staircase with painted roundels on the ceiling, all dating from the 1660s. Sometimes it is worth it to leave the garden path to smell more distant flowers.
In the last years of his life, the 1st Duke of Albemarle continued to play a key role in the court of Charles II and the city of London: he helped run the Admiralty in the Second Dutch War, and kept order in London by his commanding presence during both the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. He was named First Lord of the Treasury in 1667, but was already weakening and he died in January 1670. He was buried in great pomp in Westminster Abbey.
His only son Christopher became the 2nd Duke of Albemarle. As heir he was known as the Earl of Torrington, and started a career in Parliament as MP for Devon in 1667, though he was only 14. In 1670 he succeeded to his father’s peerage so moved into the House of Lords, and was named to the posts of Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Privy Councillor, and colonel of a regiment of cavalry—though he never had much of a military career. In 1675 he was named Lord Lieutenant of Devon, then in 1682, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. In 1687, the 2nd Duke was named Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, where he got involved in hunting for sunken treasure, and became quite rich, before he died in 1688.
With his rising fortune, the 2nd Duke purchased in 1675 the huge London mansion, Clarendon House, built by Edward Hyde in the 1660s. He renamed it Albemarle House and at first made it a sparkling centre of London social life. But he sold it in 1683 to a developer named Bond, and today the site underlies both Albemarle and Bond streets in Mayfair.
Another great London house can be associated with the Moncks, but only tangentially. The 2nd Duke’s wife from 1669 was Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, co-heiress of the Duke of Newcastle. When her husband died, she seems to have gone mad, and as a very wealthy woman (receiving all that gold from Jamaican sunken treasure) was a much sought after bride. But she considered that no man was worthy of her unless he was a crowned head—so the wily and ambitious Ralph Montagu wooed her as the ‘Emperor of China’, and she reigned over his house in Bloomsbury as ‘Empress’. He was created a duke himself in 1705, but died in 1709, leaving her to ‘reign’ until her death in 1734. The ‘palace’, built with much of her Cavendish and Monck money but known as Montagu House, was sold in the 1750s to form the first home of the British Museum, though the site was rebuilt completely in the 1840s.
Though much of the Monck estates passed to their Granville cousins, the Montagus also acquired the Lordship of Bowland from the 2nd Duchess of Albemarle, and the vast wild estates in the North passed from them to the Buccleuch family, then the Towneleys of Burnley (in Lancashire). After that family died out in 1885, nobody claimed the feudal title, until it was revived in 2008 and sold to an anonymous Cambridge don.
The Albemarle title was revived in 1697, as an earldom, for one of William III’s Dutch favourites, Arnold Joost van Keppel. He was also Viscount Bury in Lancashire and Baron Ashford in Kent. His son, the 2nd Earl, was Governor of Virginia from 1737, though he never visited there—and it is he for whom the County of Albemarle (known for the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello) was named. The earldom continues to the present.
This new earldom notwithstanding, the deposed James II decided to re-create the dukedom of Albemarle for the younger of his two sons by Arabella Churchill (sister of the future Duke of Marlborough). Born in 1673, Henry FitzJames was created Duke of Albemarle in 1696, Earl of Rochford and Baron Romney (so, like the earldom, with a Kentish connection—perhaps in an effort to reflect the white (alba) of the cliffs of Dover?). He married a French heiress in 1700, and was named a lieutenant-general in the French army in 1702, but died later the same year, so was unable to prove himself as a military commander like his older brother the Duke of Berwick.
Not to be outdone, James II’s son, the Old Pretender (‘James III’) created the dukedom of Albemarle once more, in 1721, this time for George Granville, 1st Baron Lansdown, a Monck cousin and potential heir. Lansdown though a staunch Tory was not an outright Jacobite, but had corresponded with the Old Pretender during the rising of the ‘15. His other titles (in the ‘Jacobite peerage’) were Marquis of Monck and Fitzhemmon, Earl of Bath and Viscount Bevel. He died childless in 1735, so his titles (not recognised by anyone) passed to his nephew, Bernard Granville, and then became extinct with the death of this ‘2nd Duke of Albemarle’ in 1776.
There were to be no more Albemarle dukes, official or Jacobite, and while the earldom of Albemarle continues in the Keppel family, the Monck family was not entirely extinct. The senior line died out in 1688, as we have seen, but a junior branch, founded in the later 15th century, had emigrated to Ireland in the early 17th century, and became important landowners in County Wexford (on the southeast coast). Charles Monck was created 1st Baron Monck of Ballytrammon (Wexford) in 1797, then a few years later raised to a Viscounty in 1801, as thanks for voting in favour of the Act of Union with Great Britain. His son became 1st Earl of Rathdowne (also Co. Wexford) in 1822, but had no sons, so this title became extinct. The line of Viscounts Monck continues, however: the 4th Viscount, another Charles, became a significant politician and was named Governor-General of British North America and of the Province of Canada, in 1861, a title which morphed into the title of 1st Governor-General of Canada with the creation of the federation in 1867. He returned to Ireland and was named Lord Lieutenant of Dublin by Queen Victoria in 1874, an office he held until just before his death in 1894. The line of Viscounts Monck continues to the present.
In the long run, a mostly ephemeral title yearning back to romanticised Norman links continues to be used by those grasping for historical legitimation: the current Duke of Aumale, Prince Foulques d’Orleans (b. 1974) is a cousin of the Orleanist pretender to the French throne. Meanwhile the town of Aumale itself sits idly by, based firmly on its white stone foundations, the alba marla.
(images Wikimedia Commons, my own, or from other public websites)