By Jeannine Kerwin
Biographies and Portraits
Edward Mountagu (also referred to as Montagu), the Earl of Sandwich as depicted by artist Peter Lely here and from the National Portrait Gallery, was the generous benefactor and patron of Samuel Pepys. Several wonderful websites offer excellent short biographies and related background information on Lord Sandwich: British Civil Wars; 1911 Encyclopedia; Mountagu’s Regiment site; Montague Millennium; Hinchingbrooke House. For those subscribing to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the biography by J.D. Davies is well worth reading.
Sandwich’s surviving papers and letters are located in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. In the Clive Powell article referenced below, it appears that the Montagu family sold the remaining family papers to the National Maritime Museum. Powell tells us that the 5 volumes acquired from the family cover the period of 1656-1669 (overlapping Sam’s Diary) and provide “many insights into a soldier, politician, diplomat and naval commander who moved from one side to the other of the political divide”. In addition, there are letters between Pepys and Sandwich in the Maritime collection.
“My Lord” in the Diary
Prior to the Diary Mountagu was a strong supporter of Oliver Cromwell and upon his death, supported his son Richard for the role of Protector. With the overthrow of Richard in April 1659, Mountagu slipped out of the political whirlwind, moved back to Hinchingbrooke, and remained publicly silent as the political factions maneuvered for control. In the first few months of the Diary, Mountagu secretly transitioned his loyalties to the Royalist cause and supported the reinstatement of Charles II. He was elected as a member of the Council of State, co-General at Sea (a role he shared with Monck), and Commissioner of the Admiralty. He prepared the fleet for the Restoration of the King and set sail (with Pepys on board), welcomed Charles II on board the Naseby on May 23, 1660 and arrived in Dover two days later. In return for this dutiful service Charles II made Mountagu the first Earl of Sandwich, Knight of the Garter and Master of the Wardrobe.
Sandwich was given honorable naval duties including bringing other Royal exiles home to England, arranging for the cession of Tangier and bringing the betrothed Queen, Catherine of Braganza (and a portion of her promised dowry) from her homeland of Portugal. These activities, captured so well by Pepys in his Diary were also recorded first hand by Sandwich in his own Journal.
In 1663, Sandwich, who had been ill early in the year, spent visibly less time at the King’s Court. During much of this time away he was taking care of family matters, although gossip began regarding an alleged relationship with a girl in Chelsea. As the gossip became more rampant, Sam decided to send his Lord a letter of reproof, which brought an abrupt stop to Sandwich’s visits to Chelsea, but perhaps damaged the closeness between the two men.
In early 1665 during the Second Dutch War Sandwich had great success as a naval commander in the first Battle of Lowestoft . Later that year his reputation was unfortunately marred by the “prize-goods” incident and Sandwich was subsequently relived of his command. In 1666 he was sent to Spain as an Ambassador, where he remained until 1668. During this time he proved his value through his tactful negotiation and mediation, which led to an end to the ongoing war between Spain and Portugal.
After Sam’s Diary ended, Sandwich returned to Naval duty and took an active role commanding a squadron in the Third Dutch War. He died aboard the Royal James during the Battle of Solebay in May of 1672. He was given a well-deserved hero’s funeral, regaining in his death the grand status that his lifetime of achievements so well deserved.
Sandwich’s biographers and contemporaries offer interesting insights into Sandwich’s character. In his ODNB article, J. D. Davies states that:
If Sandwich was often the subject of popular and political attack in life, his reputation was fortunate in death. The publication of Pepys’s diary presented a picture of his “my lord” almost as a true Renaissance man: the generous patron, the cheerful if sometimes moody companion, the hopeless manager of money, the competent artist and musician. He had an ear for languages, mastering Spanish by the end of his embassy, and his fascination with topography, mathematics, astronomy, and navigation emerges clearly from his manuscript journals.
The F.R. Harris biography offers a detailed character sketch of Sandwich, from which the following condensed sections are quoted:
The interest in Lord Sandwich’s life lies in achievement rather than in character, but some fragments of evidence may be collected to show what manner of man he was… He was excellent company, even for the King; though he made no epigrams like Buckingham or Rochester, he could deliver himself of an occasional droll remark, which balanced the want of a ready and scintillating wit. He was tolerant in opinion… For political intrigue he had no relish. His lonely youth gave him a certain detachment of opinion, and an independence of judgment, which made him appear a trimmer. In reality he lacked finesse; he put his country first, and followed whom he liked; he put principles before persons. He hated disorder, and he hated persecution. Three times he chose his path, and each time for security and good government. He left Manchester, who was weak, for Cromwell, who was strong; he left Cromwell when the law was outraged; he left Richard when he felt that Richard was incapable. His passion for order made him a monarchist; it mattered little whether Cromwell or Charles Stewart were King. And since he saw the Stewart monarchy was bound up with settled law and an established Church, he favored uniformity. Dissent spelt difference, and to Sandwich a settled horizon was all that mattered. He had been in England throughout all her troubles, and detested those who bade fair to shake the settlement.
To his friends he was kindly and affectionate, not one of those who, in fickle times, rejoiced over the misfortunes of others. He bore no malice, and forgave as he had been forgiven… His friends were young and well-informed, and were not chosen for their political influence. Sandwich was as happy with John Evelyn, Sam Pepys… as he was with the most influential statesman… Any estrangement that came between Sandwich and Pepys was not due only to my Lord… The politician whom Sandwich best knew was Lord Clarendon, and everywhere in Clarendon’s writings Sandwich is spoken of with the greatest warmth, and not as one who ever acted the part of an enemy.
It is a pity that he was careless over money matters, but it was a carelessness which quickly brought its own punishment, and for which he suffered and paid… The mistake over the prize-goods came of this flaw in Sandwich’s character, and can be excused upon no other grounds… Kind as a father, affectionate as a husband, it would scarcely be necessary to touch upon My Lords’ moral character were it not that he is the victim of an unfortunate mistake. The indictment brought against him [see Wheatley’s, Samuel Pepys And the World He Lived In, page 175], that he was of ‘a committee with somebody else for getting of Mrs. Stewart for the King’ does not refer to Lord Sandwich [but to his cousin Edward Mountagu], and the indictment breaks down (see the November 6, 1663 entry). Pepys, in addition to the Becke incident, gives some gossip about Lady Castlemaine, but in no case has he anything to offer worthy of credence. …Evelyn speaks of Sandwich as sober and chaste, while the Puritans regarded him as one who could check the spirit of profaneness then upon the nation.
The mists of enmity cannot obscure his ability as a naval commander. He began his career at the age of thirty, without any previous training; he was conjoined in the command with one of our greatest Admirals, and proved a ready and an apt pupil, worthy of a higher place than that allotted to him in the ranks of our great seaman. His sailors appreciated, loved, and revered him. His powers of discipline were at once shown to be effective; through he never treated the men with undue harshness. In later years, he was looked upon as rather too lenient to them, but that was when cruelty was rife. From the age of eighteen he had been accustomed to leadership; he had the necessary sympathy and power, and his jovial personality gave him the right temper for the work.
To state his exact contribution is impossible, but the man who outmaneuvered the Dutch in the Sound, who anticipated the Vicomte de Morogues’ idea of tactical concentration, who led through the enemy’s line off Lowestoft, who drew up the instructions for 1665, and who endeavored to save our fleet from the errors perpetrated in the third Dutch war, must be allowed at least a flash of the genius which inspired the greatest of his successors. In the end he showed that he was of the stuff of which seamen are made. His career was fitly crowned by the bravery of his last fight: the way in which he bore the brunt of the battle, and the manner of his death, are eloquent of his tenacity and courage. He wiped out all stains, and the pageantry of his funeral was a worthy memorial. In a conclave of seamen he need no longer sit below the salt.
Both Ollard and Davies leave the final words about Lord Sandwich to his contemporary and friend, the dignified and highly perceptive John Evelyn who recorded in his diary on May 31, 1672:
My L: Sandwich was prudent as well as Valiant, & allways govern’d his affairs with successe, and little losse, he was for deliberation & reason… Thus this gallant Person perish’d … & deplorable was the losse, of one of the best accomplish[ed] persons, not onely of this Nation but of any other: He was learned in Mathematics, in Musique, in Sea affaires, in Political: Had ben divers Embassies, was of a sweet obliging temper, Sober, Chast, infinitly ingenious & a true noble man, an ornament to the Court & his Prince, nor has he left any that approach his many Virtues behind him … I am yet heartily griev’d at this mightly losse, nor do I call it to my thoughts without emotion.
Biographies about Lord Sandwich and his Journal are listed below. These books tend to be rare and may be available through your local library (with the help of the research department) or are sometimes available through the used book search.
- The Life of Edward Mountagu, K.G. First Earl of Sandwich, (1625-1672) by Frank Reginald Harris
- Cromwell’s Earl: A Life of Edward Mountagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich by Richard Ollard
- The Journal of Edward Montagu: First Earl of Sandwich, Admiral and General at Sea, 1659-1665 (Publications of the Navy Records Society)
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article entitled ‘Montagu, Edward’ by J. D. Davies, (note: this is an online paid subscription service)
- ‘The papers of Edward Montagu, first Earl of Sandwich (1625-72)’ by Clive Powell of the National Maritime Museum appearing in the Mariner’s Mirror volume 84 issue 4 (November 1998): 470 ff.