Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 1
Montagu House. Great Russel Street, Bloomsbury.
Montagu House. Great Russel Street, Bloomsbury.
The noble family whence this stately mansion took its name, traces its descent from the ancient family of Montacute (in Latin, De Monte Aucto), or more properly, Montagu in Normandy, which had an increase of honour by a matrimonial alliance with Ralph de Monthermer, who having married the Princess Joan de Acres, daughter of Edward I. King of England, without her father's consent, was committed prisoner to the castle of Bristol, where he remained, till, by the intercession of Anthony de Bec, Bishop of Durham, he was not only reinstated in the King's favour, but restored to all his former possessions, which were increased; besides being summoned to parliament by the Title of Earl of Gloucester and Hereford.
The descendant, in a right line, from the above most honourable alliance, was Ralph, Lord Montagu, who succeeded his father, as Lord Montagu, in .
This nobleman had received his education in school, where he wrote a Latin elegy, under the title of , in memory of Henry, Lord Hastings, eldest son of Ferdinando, Earl of Huntingdon, which was published in . In he was sent ambassador extraordinary to the French king, and made his public entry into Paris, on the , in a splendid and magnificent manner, having pages, and their footmen in rich liveries; led horses, with their furniture; gentlemen on horseback; with eighteen English noblemen and gentlemen of quality, in rich coaches, each drawn by horses, and stately chariots, made as beautiful and costly as art and workmanship could contrive, each drawn by horses. The ambassador himself was conducted to his audience in the French king's coach of state. In France he formed his ideas of building and gardening; and his house at Boughton, in Northamptonshire, as well as that we are about to describe, the models of which were taken from the royal palace of Versailles, amply indicate his taste for magnificence.
On the site of Montagu House, in Bloomsbury, had stood a very stately mansion; and, during Lord Montagu's retirement into France, at the latter end of the reign of Charles II. and the commencement of that of James II. for whose Bill of Exclusion his Lordship had been very active, Lord Montagu had lent that mansion to the Earl of Devonshire, reserving some rooms for his own use; unfortunately the whole was consumed by an accidental fire, -, by which his Lordship sustained a loss of ;[*] and, to complete his misfortune, James II. meanly bestowed his Lordship's place, of Master of the great Wardrobe, on his favourite, Lord Preston, though Lord Montagu had purchased it of the Earl of Sandwich, and had a patent for it for life. During the remainder of that inauspicious reign, Lord Montagu was indefatigable in rebuilding the mansion as it now stands, and
In , having been reinstated in his place of Master of the great Wardrobe, which had been wrested from him, he was by King William and Queen Mary, for his eminent services and great abilities, advanced to higher honours, by being created Viscount Mounthermer and Earl of Montagu. Queen Anne increased these honours, in the year of her reign, by raising his Lordship to the highest dignity of nobility, by the titles of Marquis of Mounthermer and Duke of Montagu; which dignities he maintained with a spirit equal to his high titles and vast fortune, and lived in as great splendour and magnificence as any person in Great Britain; and when he deceased, at Montagu House, Bloomsbury, on the -, he left a princely estate and fortune to his son, John, Duke of Montagu, who died , without male issue, by which the titles of Duke, Earl, and Viscount became for that period extinct.
George Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan, having married Lady Mary, youngest daughter of the late Duke, assumed the name and arms of Montagu, and was created, , Marquis of Monthermer, and Duke of Montagu, and deceased ; dying without male issue, the titles of Duke and Marquis again became extinct. This, with those of Northumberland and Wellington, were the only ducal dignities conferred during the present reign.
Having traced the history of this noble family, and given some anecdotes of their stately mansion, as Montagu House, we will endeavour to continue its history, and give a concise account of its valuable contents as
[*] The circumstance is thus related by Collins, in his Peerage, vol. i. p. 339, edit. 1749: But my Lord Montagu, not liking the measures of the Court, retired to France, where he resided till a sad accident brought him to England. He had lent his noble house in Bloomsbury to the Earl of Devonshire; but reserving some of the rooms for his own use, in airing of them a fire broke out, Jan. 20, 1685-6, which burnt it to the ground, and the loss was computed at upwards of £ 30,000.