MORTON, George (b.c.1540), of East Stour, Chilham, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. c.1540, 1st s. of Robert Morton (d.1559), of Molesworth, Hunts. and Holborn, Mdx. by Eleanor, da. of Sir Richard Finch of the Mote, Maidstone, Kent. m. Mary, da. of Robert Honywood of Charing, Kent, 4s. 2da.3
J.p. Kent from c.1561-c.87; capt. of cavalry, Low Countries by 1589; capt. in Brittany by 1591.
Morton belonged to a family of Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, of which Cardinal John (‘Morton’s Fork’) Morton, was the most famous. Morton’s father inherited property in Somerset and also owned the manor of Molesworth, Huntingdonshire, but lived mainly in Holborn. His marriage to Eleanor Finch must have ended in some form of divorce or annulment, and when she re-married the young George Morton went to live at Boughton Malherbe, near Maidstone, Kent, the seat of her second husband, Thomas Wotton. Robert Morton left his property to his second wife Dorothy, and made no mention of his first, Eleanor, or of the son George whose wardship was nevertheless granted jointly to the two ladies. There was no love lost between them and legal proceedings took place, the exact nature of which is now obscure, and, whether as a result of these, or because of Dorothy’s death, which occurred in 1565, George Morton came into possession of Molesworth and his father’s other estates. This, together with his mother’s second marriage and his own into a Kent county family, should have assured his quiet future as a country gentleman.
Perhaps the litigation had been a drain on the estate; perhaps Morton regarded the Huntingdonshire property as expendable; or perhaps, as his stepfather thought, he was a spendthrift. At any rate, in 1571 he conveyed Molesworth to two Huntingdonshire men, one of whom had been his father’s servant, in circumstances suggesting that this was as security for a loan. Three years later he mortgaged the property for £2,000, and the mortgagee died possessed of it in 1585. Letters addressed to Morton from his stepfather in the early 1580s are of interest, though inconclusive evidence on the reasons for Morton’s financial difficulties. After complaining that Morton was enjoying himself in London while his wife and children remained in the country, Wotton went on:
Smally do you regard or esteem me, when to my great grief I may plainly see that you spend so precious a thing as time idly (which is ill), or in lewd play (which is worse) and that play many times accompanied with wicked oaths (which is worst of all). From the eyes of me alone, being but one and often from you, you may sometime hold these things: from the eyes of all men, and from the eyes of Almighty God ... you can never hide ... any of these things. I do in this place, in this time, hereupon straightly charge you that I may not hereafter with my eyes see, or by true report hear, that you do with any of my servants play at dice, tables or cards, or upon any occasion use any wicked oath ... And if yet, against that that I have already often said, and do now say unto you, you will still from your book spend your time idly, or with ... rascal boys accompany yourself basely, the grief is now mine: the shame already is, and the loss will hereafter be, yours.
The threat was carried out: Wotton excluded Morton from his will.
It must have been in the midst of these other diversions that Morton found time to attend Parliament, having been returned at a by-election for Hythe in 1581 in place of Thomas Honywood, deceased. No direct evidence of such a by-election has been found, but as a ‘Mr. Moreton’ was appointed to a committee on Dover harbour on 4 Mar. that year, it is a fair assumption that this was the same man who certainly was returned in 1584 after Thomas Bodley had preferred Portsmouth. By this time Morton had been able to buy (how does not appear) the East Stour estate, near Canterbury, and it was presumably because of his own and his in-laws’ local standing and connexions that he was selected. For, though Bodley had been nominated by the warden of the Cinque Ports, there is no evidence that this official had anything to do with Morton.
Like so much of Morton’s life the dates of his service as a j.p. are conjectural. His name is in two lists, but is crossed out on the first and has ‘deleted’ written next to it on the other, referring to the period 1584-7. However, he was active in local affairs, signing a protest against the ejection of a Kent puritan minister, and was a member of the deputation from the county to Archbishop Whitgift in 1584, urging greater toleration of dissident clergy.
By 1586 Morton was acting as a diplomatic messenger between Utrecht and London and by 1589 was a captain of cavalry in the Low Countries. Two years later, when he was stationed at Bergen-op-Zoom, he was commissioned by the Privy Council to join the Brittany expedition led by Sir John Norris and Sir John Wingfield. For the next two or three years he spent much of his time raising troops in England and transporting them to Brittany, together with fresh supplies. By 1595 he was back in the Low Countries, at Flushing, with Sir Robert Sidney. No further references to this restless man have been found and no will. He may have died in 1613, when his heir was given special leave to return home from Flushing to attend to some ‘business concerning his private estate’. Three of his sons were knighted for services to the Crown. Sir Robert and Sir Thomas both followed their father into the army, while the youngest son, Sir Albertus, sat in Parliament for Kent in 1625 and became secretary of state to Charles I.4
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Authors: M.R.P. / P. W. Hasler
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), ii. 79, 105; Fam. Min. Gent. (Harl. Soc. xl), 1298.
- 4. HMC 4th Rep. 430-1; Hythe ass. bk. f. 116; CJ, i. 131; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 594-5 table; iv. 34; PCC 54 Chaynay, 4 Spencer; L. P. Smith, Life and Letters Sir Henry Wotton, i. 3; CPR, 1558-60, p. 328; 1563-6, p. 318; Cal. Feet of Fines, Hunts. (Camb. Antiq. Soc. xxxvii), 164; Lincoln Episcopal Regs. ed. Foster (Cant. and York Soc. xi), 65, 272; VCH Hunts. iii. 94; Kentish Wills, ed. Clarke, 79; Collinson, Somerset, iii. 130; Thos. Wotton's Letter Bk. ed. Eland, 41, 47, 48-9; Hasted, Hist. Kent, vii. 279-80; Peel, Second Parte of a Register, i. 115; Collinson thesis, 444 n. 5; CSP For. 1586-7, p. 48; 1589 (Jan.-July), p. 377; APC, xxi. 21, 25; xxii, 361-2; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 542; HMC Hatfield, v. 507; APC, 1613-14, p. 448; DNB.