Vice-Adm. Sir William Monson, Kt., MP

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Vice-Adm. Sir William Monson, Kt., MP

Birthdate: (95)
Birthplace: Kinersley, Surrey, England
Death: February 13, 1662 (91-99)
South Carlton, Lincolnshire, England
Place of Burial: City of London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir John Monson and Jane Monson
Husband of Dorothy Monson
Father of Lady Jane (Monson) Howard; William Monson, 1st and Last Viscount Castlemaine; Elizabeth Monson; Francis Monson and John Monson
Brother of Sir Thomas Monson, MP, 1st Baronet; Sir Robert Monson, Kt., MP; Anne Dymoke; Elizabeth Browne; John Monson and 6 others

Managed by: Private User
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About Vice-Adm. Sir William Monson, Kt., MP

The following information comes from an introduction in the front of, The naval tracts of Sir William Monson in six books‎ - Page xxxvi, by Sir William Monson, Michael Oppenheim -1902 (the same basic information is contained in the Dictionary of National Biography)

William Monson was the first English seaman to write a historical account of the wars he fought in. He was from a family of Lincolnshire squires, who lived at South Carlton, about three miles from Lincoln. He was the third son of Sir John Monson, (d. 1593) and Jane Dighton. He was born about 1567-68. He attended Balliol College for at least two years around 1581. He ran away to sea at about age sixteen. In 1587 he was a captain, and went to Salee with “two pinnaces and a small Spanish prize”, which I take to mean that he captured a Spanish vessel.

The book says that he went to the Canaries and traveled to Cezimbra. He went into Setubal to get supplies with his crew disguised as Portugese, having only one Portugese sailor on board. On their return voyage, they were almost shipwrecked and nearly starved.

After the 1587 voyage as a privateer, he served durign the Armada campaign on the Queen's ship 'Charles'. After that time, around 1589, he was in the royal navy serving under the Earl of Cumberland, and must have obtained a good reputation as a sailor to serve under him, as he was still a very young man.

The books introduction says that he referred to himself as the Vice-Admiral under Cumberland in 1589. Sometime during that year he became ill and was forced to remain on land during 1590. But he was back at sea in 1591 and was taken prisoner on a galley ship until July 1592. He did not write how he managed to be freed from the Spanish. In 1593 he was again serving under Cumberland. His writings indicate that he no longer thought so highly of Cumberland and may have considered him imcompetent.

His father died in 1593 and he inherited some property in Lincolnshire. On 9 July 1594 he received an M.A at Oxford. In 1595 he married Dorothy Wallop, daughter of Richard Wallop.She was the widow of Richard Smith of Shelford and had a son by him.

He went back to sea under Cumberland, but had a falling out with him, because Cumberland left another sailor in command when he believed it should have been him. So, in April 1596, he was commanding another ship called the Rainbow. He then served at Cadiz under Earl of Essex, as a flag-captain. He was given this position ahead of older and perhaps more qualified officers. He was also knighted, indicating that he had found favor in some way with Essex. It may also have been partly prompted by a rivalry between Essex and Cumberland.

In 1597, he went with Essex on the 'Islands Voyage'. In 1599 he was in command of a ship called the 'Defiance'. During the following two years, Essex was losing political power and he served on two ships called the 'Garland' and the 'Nonpareil'. In Leveson's squadron on the coast of Ireland.

It was during this time that he became attached to the Howard family, who were connected to Sir Robert Cecyll. Sir Richard Leveson was a son-in-law of Charles Howard, the Earl of Nottingham and Lord Admiral and an old friend of the Queen.

In December 1601, he sat in Parliament in the House of Commons. In 1602,he served as Levinson's Vice-Admiral. He captured the St. Valentine in Cezimbra Bay. When he returned from this voyage he was called to London, to a conference with the Queen, Nottingham, Buckhurst and Cecyll. They sent back to sea with his own command. In 1603, he served again as Leveson's Vice-Admiral but also had his own command during the same year. Leveson's fleet was to secure the Channel to avoid any problems due to Elizabeth's death that year. He wrote that Leveson was not trusted by the Privy Council and that they intended to have him replace him under the command of Thomas Howard.

The book says that Sir William Monson had an older brother, Sir Thomas, who was Chancelor to the Queen and the King's Master Falconer. He also had a younger brother named Robert that was knighted.

In 1604 William Monson was placed in charge of the Channel Guard. Despite all of this honorable service, the book says that he was taking bribes from the Spanish.

In 1613, Sir John Digby, Ambassador to Spain wrote to James I,

'I must humbly crave Your Majesty's permission to utter some few words by way of apoloby, for that I well understand how ill it befitteth a gentleman or an honest man to put jealousies int the heads of princes against their ministers upon circumstances that have not strong possibilities; but when the present danger or inconvenience will not fittingly admit of the delay which is requisite for the sifting of those suspicions, which are not without cause concerned, then I suppose that the prejudice of particular men is rather to be adventured than Your Majesty's service or safety in the least manner hazarded. And this is now the case: for I see a person employed in Your Majesty's service in a place of so great consequence and trust, and that in times of danger if he should be disloyal unto Your Majesty might have so great power to do hurt, being indeed one of the guards of Your kingdom, as may well excuse my giving Your Majesty a caveat to have him carefully looked unto, although my suspicions are not yet come to certain and direct proof. The party is Sir William Monson, Admiral of the Narrow Seas, whom by diverse circumstances and collections I gather to be a pensioner of the King of Spain, as I fear (before it be long) I shall plainly make it appear unto Your Majesty.'

In another letter, he wrote that William Monson 'hath been the ambassador's instrument to negotiate therein, himself being and having been, a pensioner to the King of Spain ever since the year 1604.' And that he had been allotted 4,000 crowns a year pension. And had received bonuses of 1,500 crowns.

The book indicates that his actual service in return for the bribes was to negotiate prices with other more influential people the Spanish sought to bribe. He may have also been payed to let Spanish ships pass un-harassed and to assist messengers and priests traveling to and from England. The period during which he was in command of the Channel was from 1604-1616.

In 1614 he owned a house in Charterhouse Square, 'adoining the west gate of the Charterhouse that opens into the old churchyard.' He did not buy Kinnersley until later. He wrote that he did not receive compensation for distinguished passengers that he sometimes had on board his ships. He also wrote that he was never given any 'recompense or preferment' for his services. However, this is not entirely accurate. He did have his command of the Channel and he had a lease given to him for service to the Queen, of a manor called Gimingham in Norfolk.

He was dismissed from his command in January of 1616, just after the December 1615 letter from Digby. Those in power who had helped him obtain his command, had died or lost political influence and he ended up in the Tower.

He was suspected of Popery, carrying forbidden passengers, contraband goods, secret communication for Spanish officials and taking bribes. He asked that a preacher be allowed to come to him in the Tower, indicating that he was not a practicing Catholic. Because of the political situation, the King decided that he did not want the pensions that Monson and others took to become public knowledge, and he was freed from the tower in July.

Due to his arrest, he lost his estates to forfeiture. In letters that he wrote, he says that he was charged because he had complained about the state of the navy and his opinion that there should be reform.

In 1614, his daughter Jane married Sir Francis Howard, of Lingfield, the nephew of Nottingham. In 1624, he owned Kinnersly, three miles south of Reigate. The book says that his children were all born before he bought Kinnersly. John Monson, born Bugbrooke, 10 September 1597; William Monson, born London, 2 February 1599; Francis Monson, baptized Boston, 27 February 1607; Anne Monson, baptized 27 February 160?; Elizabeth Monson, baptized St. Dunstan's in the West, 27 June 1605. In 1617 he was called before the Privy Council to give advice about how best to attack Algiers, in order to stop Algerian piracy. He had nine daughters in total.

His eldest son, John was supposed to have been an avowed Papist and was committed to the Gatehouse for arguing on some points of Popery. His son William, was asked to leave court, in part because his family was suspected of Popery, but he was later knighted.

Sir William Monson spent the latter years of his life at Kinnersley. During that time he put the finishing touches on his 'Tracts” so that they could be published. He was sometimes employed as a consultant. In 1637 he was part of a commission to appoint officers to defend England. He was ordered along with William Lynch in 1639 to make inquirey into 'insolences' committed by the Dutch.

He died in 1642-43, before his manuscripts were printed. He was buried 13 February, at St. Martin's in the Fields. His wife survived him. His second son William, having married Nottingham's widow and become Viscount Monson, was administrator of his estate. His eldest son John, died 20 August 1645. William Monson's estate besides Kinnersley, consisted of 120 acres of land in the parishes of Minster and Eastchurch in Kent; the manors of Croft and Skegness in Lincolnshire.


Sir William Monson (1569 – February 1643) was an English admiral and politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1601 and 1626.


Monson was the third son of Sir John Monson of South Carlton, Lincolnshire. He matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, on 2 May 1581 at the age of 14.

Monson ran away to sea in 1585, being then according to his own account sixteen. His first services were in a privateer in an action with a Spanish ship in the Bay of Biscay, of which he gives an account in his Naval Tracts. In the Armada year he served as Lieutenant of the "Charles," a small ship of the Queen's. There being at that time no regular naval service, Monson is next found serving with the adventurous Earl of Cumberland (1558–1605), whom he followed in his voyages of 1589, 1591 and 1593. During the second of these ventures Monson was taken prisoner by the Spaniards in a recaptured prize after an engagement off Berlengas Islands, and was for a time detained at Lisbon in captivity. He was awarded MA at Oxford on 9 July 1594 and was also a student of Gray's Inn in 1594. His cruises must have brought him some profit, for in 1595 he was able to marry. The Earl offended him by showing favour to another follower, and Monson turned elsewhere. In the expedition to Cádiz in 1596, he commanded the Repulse. From this time till the conclusion of the war with Spain he was in constant employment. He was knighted at the sacking of Cadiz in 1596.

Monson was elected Member of Parliament for Malmesbury in 1601. In 1602 he commanded the last squadron fitted out in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In 1604 he was appointed Admiral of the Narrow Seas, the equivalent of the Channel Fleet of modern times. In 1614 he was sent to the coasts of Scotland and Ireland to repress the pirates who then swarmed on the coast. Monson claimed to have extirpated these pests, but it is certain that they were numerous a generation later. After 1614 he saw no further active service till 1635. He was elected MP for Reigate in 1626. In 1635 he went to sea as vice-admiral of the fleet fitted out by King Charles I with the first ship money. He spent the last years of his life in writing his Tracts.

Monson died in February 1643 and was buried at St Martin in the Fields.


His claim to be remembered is not based on his services as a naval officer, though they were undoubtedly honourable, but on his Tracts. These treatises consist in part of historical narratives, and in part of argumentative proposals for the reform of abuses, or the development of the naval resources of the country. They form by far the best account by a contemporary of the naval life and transactions of the reign of Elizabeth I and the beginning of the reign of King James. Monson takes care to do himself full justice, but he is not unfair to his contemporaries. His style is thoroughly modern, and has hardly a trace of the poetry of the Elizabethans. He was the first naval officer in the modern sense of the word, a gentleman by birth and education who was trained to the sea, and not simply a soldier put in to fight, with a sailing master to handle the ship for him, or a tarpaulin who was a sailor only. The one authority for the life of Sir William Monson is his own Tracts, but a very good account of him is included by Southey in his Lives of the Admirals, vol. v. The Tracts were first printed in the third volume of Churchill's Voyages, but they have been edited for the Navy Record Society by Mr Oppenheim.


Monson's elder brother, Sir Thomas Monson (1564–1641), was one of James I's favourites, and was made a baronet in 1611. He held a position of trust at the Tower of London, a circumstance which led to his arrest as one of the participators in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. He was, however, soon released. His eldest son was Sir John Monson, Bart. (1600–1683), a member of parliament under Charles I, and another son was Sir William Monson (c. 1607-1678), who was created an Irish peer as Viscount Monson of Castlemaine in 1628. Having been a member of the court which tried Charles I the viscount was deprived of his honours and was sentenced to imprisonment for life in 1661. Sir John Monson's descendant, another Sir John Monson, Bart. (1693–1748), was created Baron Monson in 1728. His youngest son was George Monson (1730–1776), who served with the English troops in India from 1758 to 1763. The baron's eldest son was John, the 2nd baron (1727–1774), whose son William Monson (1760–1807) served in the Mahratta War under General Lake. William's only son William John (1796–1862) became 6th Baron Monson in succession to his cousin Frederick John, the 5th baron, in October 1841. His son William John, the 7th baron (1829–1898), was created Viscount Oxenbridge in 1886. When he died without sons in 1898 the viscounty became extinct, but the barony descended to his brother Debonnaire John (1830–1900), whose son Augustus Debonnaire John (b. 1868) became 9th Baron Monson in 1900. Another of Viscount Oxenbridge's brothers was Sir Edmund John Monson, Bart. (b. 1834), who, after filling many other diplomatic appointments, was British ambassador in Paris from 1896 to 1904.

amily and Education b. c.1567, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir John Monson of South Carlton by Jane, da. of Robert Dighton of Little Sturton; bro. of Sir Thomas. educ. Balliol, Oxf. May 1581, aged 14; MA 9 July 1594; G. Inn 8 Aug. 1594. m. 1595, Dorothy, e. da. of Richard Wallop of Bugbrooke, Northants., wid. of Richard Smith of Shelford, Cambs., 3s. 9da. Kntd. at Cadiz by Earl of Essex ?22 June 1596.

Offices Held Privateer capt. 1587; on pinnace Charles 1588; sailed with Earl of Cumberland 1589-95; in command Rainbow Apr. 1596; flag-capt. Cadiz expedition 1596; Islands voyage 1597; in command Defiance 1599; v.-adm. to Richard Leveson . 1602-3; adm. Narrow Seas July 1604-Jan. 1616; v.-adm. of fleet 1635; member, council of war May 1637; commr. to investigate Dutch naval activities 1639.

J.p.q. Lincs. (Lindsey) 1601.

Biography From Balliol Monson ran away to sea, ‘led thereunto’, he later wrote, ‘by the wildness of my youth’. Between 1585 and 1587 he engaged in privateering, but from 1588, when he first served in a Queen’s ship, he was to interrupt his service in the Royal Navy only by voyaging with the Earl of Cumberland. On his second voyage with Cumberland in 1591 Monson was captured, and he remained a prisoner, first in the galleys and then in Lisbon castle, until July 1592. He was at sea again with Cumberland in 1593, but his father’s death towards the close of that year, which brought him some property in Lincolnshire, and a return of the ill-health which had troubled him in 1590 appear to have inclined him for a time to life ashore. In the summer of 1594 he took his MA at Oxford and entered Gray’s Inn, and early in the following year he married a widow who brought him a stepson and perhaps some property. A possibility of his succeeding (Sir) John Hawkins. as treasurer of the navy did not materialize, and after a final voyage with Cumberland in 1595, leading to a quarrel which put an end to their association, Monson’s appointment to the command of the Rainbow in the spring of 1596 marked the beginning of 20 years’ almost continuous service with the Royal Navy.1

It also marked the beginning of Monson’s attachment to the Earl of Essex. He was to be the Earl’s flag-captain on the Cadiz expedition, and he received his knighthood from Essex probably on the morrow of the city’s capture. He sailed again with Essex on the Islands voyage of 1597, and it was Cumberland’s hostile comments on his conduct during that expedition which led Monson to challenge Cumberland to a duel, apparently without result. Although Monson was not to be implicated in the decline and fall of Essex, he seems to have suffered some interruption of employment in 1600-1; and his return to the Parliament of 1601 signalled a fresh allegiance. His new patrons were the Howards. For his professional prospects he looked chiefly to Charles Howard I, Earl of Nottingham, the admiral, and his son-in-law Sir Richard Leveson, with both of whom he had served at Cadiz; it was they who were to bring him fresh activity, as Leveson’s vice-admiral in 1602-3, and to occasion the greatest of his naval exploits, the capture of the carrack St. Valantine, which earned him and Leveson ‘great commendation both for courage and advice’. His return to Parliament he owed to Thomas, Lord Howard de Walden, whose marriage to Catherine, eldest daughter of (Sir) Henry Knyvet, had given him, on Knyvet’s death in 1598, control of the borough of Malmesbury. Neither Monson nor his fellow-Member, Sidney Montagu, had any personal connexion with that borough, and apart from Sir Robert Cecil, to whom both could have looked for support, no one was in a position to procure their return save Thomas Howard. There was to be much discussion of sea affairs in that Parliament, but Monson is not known to have contributed to it.2

With the accession of James I Monson’s prospects must have appeared bright. Even if he had not been, as one source claims, in touch with James beforehand, Robert Cecil was his friend, and he might hope to advance in step with his elder brother Thomas, who, under the patronage of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, was rising at court. In fact Monson did obtain the command of the Channel squadron, which he retained for 11 years; but in the years 1613-15 Sir John Digby, the ambassador in Spain, obtained and transmitted evidence that Monson was among those who had been since 1604 in receipt of Spanish pensions. Damaging as it was, this revelation might have had less consequence but for the circumstance that in January 1616, when the final proof was received, Cecil and Northampton were both dead, the remaining Howards were in disgrace in consequence of the Overbury affair, and Monson’s brother Thomas was in the Tower as a suspected accomplice in that murder. Monson’s imprisonment in the Tower, which lasted from January to July 1616, was generally believed to be connected with the same episode. His own explanation of it, that he had incurred enmity by his advocacy of naval reforms, his arrest of Arbella Stuart, and his hostility to the Dutch, is unconvincing; a set of questions put to him relate only to the pension and to subversive activities into which it might have drawn him. Whatever Monson’s culpability, it was James’s devotion to the Spanish alliance which saved him from worse disaster. His only punishment was the loss of his command.3

Nearly 20 years were to pass before Monson, then in his late sixties, was given his next and last command; in 1635 he sailed as vice-admiral in the fleet under Lindsey. After that he retired to the estate at Kinnersley near Reigate which he had had since at least 1624 and where his neighbours included his patrons the Howards. Although he was appointed to the council of war established in May 1637, the preoccupation of his closing years was the compilation of the ‘Tracts’ which he had begun about 1624. It is upon these, in which he combined naval history with an exposition of policy, strategy and administration, that his fame rests.

Monson died intestate in February 1643 and was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on the 13th of that month. Administration was granted to his second son William. Besides Kinnersley, he possessed land in Kent and the manors of Croft and Skegness in Lincolnshire. The bulk of his property went to his eldest son John, a Catholic who died in 1645 and whose daughter Anne, the wife of Sir Francis Throckmorton, sold Kinnersley in 1666. The second son, William, went to court and gained an Irish viscounty of which he was deprived, together with his freedom, as one of the surviving regicides at the Restoration. Since this William’s son was childless, and the admiral’s third son Francis died young and unmarried, the male line failed.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603 Author: S. T. Bindoff Notes Except where stated otherwise, this biography is based upon Naval Tracts of Sir William Monson (Navy Recs. Soc. xxii, xxiii, xliii, xlv, xlvii).

1.DNB; Collins, Peerage, vii. 241. 2.CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 275, 283, 285-6, 484; 1598-1601, p. 463; 1601-3, pp. 102, 152, 208, 210, 220, 298; HMC Hatfield, vi. 355; ix. 427; xii. passim; HMC Sackville, i. 49-52; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 328. 3.HMC Hatfield, xvi. 329, 331-2, 346; xvii. 146-8, 297-8, 306-7, 411-12, 415-16, 417, 517-18, 522; xviii. 148-50, 150-2; HMC Downshire, ii. 113; iv. 223-47; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 150, 190; iv. 276; Lansd. 139, f. 94.

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Vice-Adm. Sir William Monson, Kt., MP's Timeline

Kinersley, Surrey, England
Age 21
Kinnersley, Surrey, England
February 2, 1600
Age 33
Age 38
Age 40
February 13, 1662
Age 95
South Carlton, Lincolnshire, England
City of London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom