VENABLES-BERTIE (formerly BERTIE), Montagu, Lord Norreys (1673-1743), of Rycote, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Feb. 1673, 1st s. of James Bertie, 1st Earl of Abingdon by 1st w.; bro. of Hon. Henry II*, Hon. James* and Hon. Robert*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1685. m. 22 Sept. 1687 (with £4,000 p.a.) Anne (d. 28 Apr. 1715), da. and h. of James Gould of Dorchester, Dorset, and wid. of Charles Churchill*, 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Abingdon 22 May 1699.1
Freeman and common councilman, Woodstock 1686; freeman and bailiff, Oxford 1687, 1689; high steward, Malmesbury 1699–1701, Oxford and Wallingford 1699–d.; ld. lt. Berks. 1701–2, Oxon. 1702–6, 1712–15, Tower Hamlets 1702–?5; freeman, Chester 1712; commr. sewers, Tower Hamlets 1712.2
PC 21 Apr. 1702–May 1707, 9 Feb. 1711–1 Aug. 1714, 1 Oct. 1714–d.; constable of the Tower 1702–5; c.j. in eyre, s. of Trent 1702–6, 1710–15; ld. justice 1 Aug.–18 Sept. 1714.3
Although only 16 when William and Mary were crowned, Lord Norreys had already tasted electoral success, and was clearly anxious to play a forceful role in both local and central politics. In 1690 he was defeated in Berkshire, but was successful for Oxfordshire, where his father was lord lieutenant. A strong Tory, in the early sessions of the 1690 Parliament he was identified as a Court supporter by his kinsman the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Robert Harley* thought him a Country Member in April 1691, but Carmarthen confirmed him as a government ally the following year. He was not an active Member initially, although on 19 Nov. 1691 he was chosen for the committee to examine Lord Danby’s (Peregrine Osborne†) account of captured French papers.
In the fourth session Norreys was more prominent in war-related issues. On 23 Nov. 1692, during a debate on a motion to remove all foreign-born officers from the army, he spoke in favour of employing only those who had been naturalized, and demanded the insertion of words to that effect. He was also a member of the drafting committee on the mutiny bill. On 13 Dec. he argued on the principle of equality that the land tax be levied by pound rate rather than by assessment. The following day he made two speeches against committing the bill for the preservation of their Majesties’ person and government, observing ‘those gentlemen that have spoke for the bill urge nothing that is good in it but the title’. On 21 Jan. 1693 he supported a move to have Bishop Burnet’s pamphlet, A Pastoral Letter, burnt, and four days later was nominated for the conference on another controversial work on the succession, Charles Blount’s King William and Queen Mary Conquerors. Ill-health helped to limit his contribution to Commons business, and on 23 Feb. 1695 he was allowed to return to the country to recuperate.4
Returned unopposed for Oxfordshire in 1695, Norreys was classed as a probable opponent of the Court in a forecast of a division on the proposed council of trade in January 1696. However, he refused the Association at first, and in March voted against the government on setting the price of guineas at 22s. He later subscribed to the Association in Oxfordshire. In the second session he proved a stubborn adversary of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†, speaking on 13 Nov. in favour of allowing the conspirator’s counsel more time to produce their witnesses, and on 17 Nov. against committing the bill. On the latter occasion he bitterly criticized the Commons for its high-handedness in the affair, commenting:
I will not pretend to tell you what the authority of this House is. It is what they please to make it, but I am sure they will ground it upon good reason; but I think the reason chiefly given for the commitment of this bill, leaves you a latitude to do what you please, and give no reason at all; for it is only to say, I am convinced in my conscience this man is guilty, no matter upon what proof, no matter whether any proof or not; you may believe it from his life and conversation, and the company he keeps or from his interest, and that may be argument enough to find a man guilty. But till I know a reason better grounded than this, I cannot be for the commitment of this bill.
On 25 Nov. he spoke and voted against the third reading, arguing that the House was providing a defence for all who would overthrow the government by establishing a precedent that conscience alone was sufficient justification for condemning Fenwick. Two days later he told in favour of the House proceeding on the bill for regulating elections, and was reported to have refuted William Cowper’s claim that the industrious merchant had as good a right to sit in the House as the impoverished country gentleman, commenting that ‘he was one of those country gentlemen, but thought himself as fit to sit there as those who were used to take money for their opinion’. On 8 Dec. he was ‘vehement’ in demanding that the House go to the vote on ‘allowing a premium for loans’, and told two days later in favour of an adjournment. He also acted as a teller on 17 Feb. 1697 to block a duty on leather intended to make up for deficiencies in supply. His activity in that session doubtless influenced King William’s complaints in April concerning the behaviour of the Berties, and it was royal displeasure that led to the dismissal of his father from his offices as chief justice in eyre and lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire.5
Taking upon himself a leading role in opposition, Norreys fiercely attacked the appointment of Sunderland to the lord chamberlainship, condemning him in the Commons as
a man whose actions had been so scandalous during his whole life, that he never had any way to excuse one crime but by accusing himself of another; therefore hoped they would address to his Majesty to remove him from his presence and councils, which, though not seconded, was universally well received.
He threatened to renew the attack on Sunderland the next session, James Vernon I* writing to Shrewsbury on 23 Dec.:
It was expected this day that my Lord Norreys would have begun a debate against my lord chamberlain, and that several others were prepared to carry it on. I know not who gave him the alarm, but the King was acquainted with it, and spoke to my Lord Wharton [Hon. Thomas*] to engage his friends to stand by my lord chamberlain . . . I know not what may be intended hereafter, but nothing had happened today that looked in the least angrily, though my Lord Norreys was in the House.
The Christmas recess prevented him from pushing further, but such pressure helped to bring about Sunderland’s subsequent resignation. He contributed twice to debate on 8 Jan. 1698 when the government unsuccessfully sought a grant of £500,000 to supply guards and garrisons, during which proceedings he demanded that the chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Montagu*, appear at the bar for suggesting that ‘there were some that were for allowing the King no guards as well as no army’. His other recorded activity in the session was not remarkable, however, and was confined to the conference committee on the bill to prevent correspondence with King James, and to the passage of a private estate bill.6
Having topped the poll at the Oxfordshire election of 1698, Norreys was classed by one political analyst as a member of the Country interest, and his name also appeared on a list of probable opponents of the standing army. During discussion on the election of the Speaker on 6 Dec. he supported an attack on the Treasury, and acted as a teller against Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, taking the chair. On 18 Jan. 1699 he spoke in the debate on the third reading of the disbanding bill, and on 18 Mar. was first-named to the committee to prepare a response to the King’s plea on behalf of the Dutch guards. The following day he was one of the Members who met at the house of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, to discuss the draft, and presented the uncompromising address on 20 Mar., which could have only further soured his reputation at court. He was subsequently teller on two occasions: on 15 Apr., against putting Henry Chivers*, a fellow Tory, into custody; and on the 24th to debar counsel for the Whig petitioners in the Malmesbury election case from proceeding. At the end of the session he succeeded his father to the earldom of Abingdon, and to considerable electoral influence in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and the Wiltshire borough of Westbury. In the Lords he continued to support the Tories, most notably over the impeachment of Lord Somers (Sir John*) in June 1701.7
Abingdon’s loyalty to the Hanoverian cause was probably instrumental in securing his appointment as one of the lords justices between the death of Anne and the arrival of George I. However, he soon moved into opposition, speaking out against the septennial bill in 1716, and subsequently proving a stubborn adversary of Robert Walpole II*. He continued to wield great interest in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and was described by Macky as ‘a gentleman of fine parts’ who ‘is very high for the monarchy and Church’. Swift was less generous regarding the Earl’s qualities, dismissing him as ‘very covetous’. Abingdon died on 16 June 1743 at Chesterton, Oxfordshire, and in the absence of any surviving offspring was succeeded by his nephew Willoughby, who had briefly represented Westbury in 1715. His will bore witness to extensive property holdings, including residences at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Rycote, and Wytham, Berkshire. Moreover, his attachment to the Church of England was demonstrated by his stipulation concerning the Anglicanism of his principal heirs, and by a bequest of £200 for catechizing poor children in Thame, Oxfordshire.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci
- 1. F. G. Lee, Church of Thame, 443, 455; Ath. Ox. i. pp. cii–ciii.
- 2. Woodstock council acts 1679–99 (18 Sept. 1686); Oxford Council Acts (Oxf. Hist. Soc. ii), 189, 206, 287; Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 298; J. K. Hedges, Hist. Wallingford, ii. 241; Chester RO, corp. assembly bks. A/B/3, f. 198; HMC Townshend, 211.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 488; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 349.
- 4. Luttrell Diary, 255–6, 312, 315–16, 380.
- 5. Wood, Life and Times, iii. 493; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 121; Cobbett, v. 1007, 1019, 1110, 1132; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 86, 111; Shrewsbury Corresp. 479.
- 6. Burnet, iv. 377; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 446; Cam. Misc. xxix. 358–9; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Biscoe-Maunsell newsletter 15 Jan. 1698.
- 7. Bodl. Tanner 22, f. 99; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 227; Cam. Misc. 387; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(1), Brydges’ diary 19 Mar. 1699; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 425.
- 8. HMC Stuart, ii. 124; info. from Dr C. Jones; London Mag. 1743, p. 358; Macky Mems. 73; Swift Works. ed. Davis, v. 259; PCC 220 Boycott.