unknown artist; General George Monck (or Monk), 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608-1670); National Army Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/general-george-monck-or-monk-1st-duke-of-albemarle-16081670-182924

Histories and Mysteries: The Devonian General who Restored the Monarchy

Ben Fox
Ben Fox
unknown artist; General George Monck (or Monk), 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608-1670); National Army Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/general-george-monck-or-monk-1st-duke-of-albemarle-16081670-182924

Almost exactly 360 years ago, in the spring of 1660, the new ‘Convention’ Parliament was called.

The job of the members was to set in motion the restoration of the monarchy which had been abolished following the Civil War (1642-1651) and the execution of the previous king, Charles I, in 1649.

As Oliver Cromwell ruled this new republic as its ‘Lord Protector’, the heir to the throne bided his time on the continent, hoping one day to reclaim the throne for the House of Stuart. It would be the son of an impoverished landowner from Great Potheridge near Torrington that would make this happen.

George Monck became a professional soldier when he began his military career at the age of 16, joining the English expedition against Cadiz in 1625.

When he eventually returned to England he reacted badly to seeing his father, Thomas Monck, being arrested and sent to debtors’ prison. He ended up stabbing the Under-Sheriff for Devon. To escape prosecution, however, he returned to fight for his country on the continent, taking part in English attacks on La Rochelle in 1627 and 1628.

In 1629 he volunteered for the Dutch Army under the Prince of Orange, fighting against the Spanish in the 30 Years’ War.

He spent nine years in Dutch service before returning to England to take up a position in King Charles I’s army in the Bishops’ Wars against Scotland as lieutenant-colonel in the Earl of Newport’s regiment. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Newburn by saving the English Artillery from a Scottish attack.

In the Irish Rebellion of 1641 Monck served as colonel of Lord Leicester’s regiment, though his subsequent appointment as Governor of Dublin was overturned by Charles I. Charles did, however, give Monck command of the Irish Army brought over to support the Royalist cause in the English Civil War.

However, by January 1644, the war was going badly for the King and worse for George. He was captured by the Parliamentary Army at the Battle of Nantwich, and spent two years as a prisoner: time he put to good use writing his book, Observations on Military and Political Affairs.

Despite fighting on the Royalist side during the Civil War, he had a sincere friendship with Oliver Cromwell and, upon his release, he was given a command in the Parliamentary Army and sent, unsuccessfully, to quell a rebellion in Ireland. In 1651 he took part in Cromwell’s conquest of Scotland, commanding Monck’s Regiment of Foot.

This had been formed on 23rd August, 1650, from elements of existing regiments, which had been unhappy to be led by him because of his Royalist background. Monck and his regiment both distinguished themselves at the Battle of Dunbar on 3rd September, 1650.

The most prominent years of his life came when he was given command of the Parliamentary Army in Scotland to complete the conquest of the country. Monck was in charge of the Parliamentary troops that took Stirling Castle on 14th August, 1651 after a ten day siege, and captured Dundee on 1st September.

He made an example of the latter city, standing by while his troops sacked it, killing up to 2,000 of its 12,000 population and destroying the 60 ships in the city’s harbour. In 1652, the last remains of organised Royalist resistance in Scotland was overcome, and Dunnottar Castle became the last stronghold to fall to Monck’s troops, on 26th May, 1652.

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth Republic, died.  Through his military prowess, he had managed to hold the country together, relatively at least, in one of the most turbulent times in its history. He was replaced by his son, Richard, who shared none of his father’s abilities and was forced out by the army.

There was now a power struggle. Monck quietly watched the competing factions jockey for position from Edinburgh while keeping in touch with Charles II, who was still in exile in Holland. On 24th November, 1659, Monck was appointed the commander in chief of all Parliamentary forces in Britain, an unmatched amount of power at the time.

In December 1659, he gathered an army of 5,000 foot and 2,000 horse at Coldstream, right on the Scottish-English border. The troops included Monck’s Regiment of Foot, which, as a result, later adopted the title of the Coldstream Guards and which survives as one of the world’s oldest military formations.

On 1st January, 1660, Monck started his march south, arriving in London on 2nd February. He kept his intentions entirely to himself, but having assumed effective control of London, and accepted Charles II’s Declaration of Breda, he recommended to Parliament on 1st May, that they should invite Charles II to resume power.

When the King landed at Dover on 25th May he was met by Monck. The new King was duly grateful, rewarding him with a vast pension of £7,000 per year and a one-eighth share of the Province of Carolina.

The young lad from rural Devon masterminded the complete restoration of the monarch, without blood being spilled. Not bad.

Monck died on 3rd January, 1670, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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