Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax (1661 – 1715)

English poet and statesman Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax (1661 – 1715), a nephew of the 1st Earl of Manchester was educated at Westminster, where he was a Queen's Scholar (1677), and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he began a close and lengthy association with Isaac Newton, graduating with an MA in 1682, and becoming a Fellow of Trinity in 1683.

After his verses on the death of Charles II made an impression on Charles Sackville, sixth Earl of Dorset, a noted patron of literature in 1685, Montagu enjoyed a degree of literary success. In 1687 he joined with Matthew Prior to pen "The City Mouse and the Country Mouse," a parody of John Dryden's The Hind and the Panther. In the 1689 election, he successfully contested the seat of Maldon in Essex and was returned unopposed the following year.

In the House of Commons, Montagu was a rising star, arguing in favour of a bill to regulate trials for high treason and grant the accused the right to be assisted by counsel. He went on to become one of the Commissioners of the Treasury, a member of the Privy Council and a government spokesman in the House of Commons. 

Montagu's proposal in 1693 to borrow a million pounds sterling established the national debt, and when money was required again the following year, he supplied it by implementing William Paterson's earlier suggestion for a Bank of England. His reward for the role he played in the negotiations that established the Bank was an appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the Tories returned to power in 1699, he became Auditor of the Exchequer and withdrew from the Commons the following year after being created Baron Halifax. The Commons impeached him in 1701 and 1703, but on both occasions, the Articles were dismissed by the House of Lords.

Along the way, he was elected to the Royal Society on 30 November 1695 and served as the Society's president for the next three years.

Montagu's political fortunes waned when Queen Anne acceded to the throne, but he proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland 1706, and when the Queen died Montagu was one of the appointed regents appointed by to govern the kingdom until the new king's arrival in England. His fortunes revived under George I, as he became Viscount Sunbury and Earl of Halifax, a Knight of the Garter, First Lord of the Treasury and lord lieutenant of Surrey. He was visiting the house of one of the Dutch ambassadors when he was taken ill on 15 May 1715 and died of an inflammation of the lungs four days later.

Sources: The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, Chambers Biographical Dictionary; Stuart Handley, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax (1661–1715); The Oxford Companion to British History; Wikipedia

© Ian Hughes 2017