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Issue 83 - Kingmaker Monck

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015

 

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Kingmaker Monck

Gerald Urwin revisits the career of the man who ruled Scotland and restored the Monarchy

Had it not been for General George Monck, second son of a Devon baronet, the British Monarchy would have ended with Charles I. As an early Royalist supporter, he spent two years in the Tower of London before being made a General in the Commonwealth army. When the exiled Charles Stuart was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649, Monck came north with Oliver Cromwell to fight, and be victorious, at the Battle of Dunbar. He was subsequently made Commander-in-Chief in Scotland.

To be fair, George Monck considered only what he believed to be best course of action. It was a turbulent age and he was the complete patriot. Beset on all sides by the opinions of others – from extreme Puritanism, an immovable Rump Parliament in England, and the constant nudges of his own family who were Royalist supporters, he refused to commit to any cause until he was sure of the outcome.

The time for positive action, followed the death of Cromwell and the departure to France in 1659 of Richard Cromwell, Oliver’s son, from the role of Lord Protector of England.

In December of that year, General Monck set off from his headquarters at Dalkeith Castle, from which he had ruled Scotland for ten years, and on the banks of the River Tweed, he arranged his 6000 Coldstreamers (later to become the Coldstream Guards).

Waiting for them on the other side in Northumberland was General John Lambert, veteran of the Civil War and Battle of Dunbar, with 8000 men opposed to the restoration of the monarchy. Lambert had recently opposed the reinstatement of the Rump Parliament and instead had created a Committee of Safety. Suspicious of Monck's motives, he was determined to hold him in check.

However, Monck’s key advantage lay in the fact that, at his insistence, his men, unlike Lambert's soldiers, were paid up to date. Far from home, in poor weather, suffering from the hostility of the local population and with no prospect of reimbursement, mutterings grew into angry outburst and then to desertion.

On 24 December, Lambert realised the game was up when his army refused to obey his orders and he fled into hiding. Monck heaved a huge sigh of relief. This was a major obstacle removed and now he could march south.

All were wondering what would be his next move but he remained silent. It was nevertheless a confident Monck who sent Colonel Morgan back to Scotland with four regiments of foot to deal with any insurgency.

On 24 January 1660, Monck reached Market Harborough where he was handed a petition from Devon asking for former MPs to be readmitted to Parliament. He knew full well that he was walking a political tightrope.

On a more positive note, the now reinstated Rump Parliament voted him £1000 per annum, but wanted him to swear that he would not restore Charles Stuart to the throne. He agreed to nothing.

At Somerset House in London, William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, was there to greet him. The following day, he was asked to attend the Council of State and take an Oath of Abjuration against any future king but, wily old fox that he was, refused saying he must first consult his Coldstreamers.

Thrust among politicians of all persuasions, George Monck was now about to be tested to the limit. He knew it would be fatal to commit himself unreservedly to any single cause for the time being. As a simple, honest man who preferred to deal candidly and openly, it was difficult for him to hold his course, or his tongue, without exploding with irritation.

On Monday 6 February, he was called upon to address the House of Commons. Speaker Lenthall thanked him for the assistance of the army in ensuring the return of the Parliament and Monck responded by listing the pleas he had received from all parts of the country during the march south from Scotland.

Monck was convinced that the Rump should continue along this path but it needed to admit some of the ‘sober gentry’ who would probably support it, there being no place for either Cavalier or fanatical Puritan.

On 8 February, freemen and householders of London petitioned the Lord Mayor and the Common Council of London, requesting that they should under no circumstances recognise the Rump unless, and until, it became a full, free Parliament. The Rump responded by ordering Monck to move his troops into the city, dissolve the Common Council, destroy the city gates, and raise the portcullises.

However, having obeyed orders, Monck expressed his concerns, stressing that to remove the suspicion that the Rump Parliament was to be perpetuated indefinitely, it must be dissolved to make way for another.

The letter came as a bombshell to the sitting members who, nevertheless, reassured him that the filling of the empty Parliamentary places would soon be implemented. Nevertheless they still went ahead with their plan to replace him with Charles Fleetwood, another Civil War veteran, a move which infuriated Monck.

At dinner with the Lord Mayor and Common Council, he explained that he had been forced to take the action ordered by the Rump against the City of London for, had he resigned, others would have assumed power who were not inclined to the settlement of political issues. He added that he had issued writs to the Rump insisting that it fill the Parliamentary vacancies within a week and, moreover, cease the current sitting on, or before 6 April, when a full and free Parliament would be summoned. All recognised this as a measure that would virtually seal the return of the monarchy. Approval poured in from around the country.

On 15 February 1660, the Rump issued writs, to counties, cities and boroughs, for by-elections to be held rather than re-admitting the same MPs secluded in 1648. Monck responded by telling the Rump he was seeking the return of those same secluded MPs, and summoned 73 of them to London. They reaffirmed Monck as Commander-in-Chief, confirming that all pay arrears would be met, and that a new Parliament would be formed not later than 20 April. New members now outnumbered the remaining Rump.

The new Parliament kept its promises. Monck was appointed Commander-in-Chief for England, Scotland and Ireland, was made a member of the Council of State, a General at Sea, was gifted Hampton Court as a residence, and was to be paid £20,000 a year.

The elections for Parliament membership brought in a majority of Presbyterian Royalists and Anglican Cavaliers who voted almost unilaterally for a restoration of the monarchy. Monck was elected Member of Parliament for Cambridge University.

On 22 March, Monck recommended that Charles should proceed to leave Spanish territory for Holland immediately.

On 1 May 1660, the Declaration of Breda was signed by Charles agreeing to all the terms set out by Monck. It was read out to the House of Lords and to the House of Commons. All were happy to accept.

On 16 May, Monck's brother-in-law, Thomas Clarges, went to Holland to urge Charles to come to England.

On 25 May, 1660 the Royal Charles arrived at Dover. That same day, King Charles II of Scotland (yet to be crowned King) set foot on English soil for the first time in ten years. His first action was to embrace General George Monck, Kingmaker.