International Museum Day: 30 Objects – Edward Wortley Montagu

23 May 2017

For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself!

Edward Wortley Montagu (1713-1776) seen here in a painting from the collection was the only son and eldest child of the staunch Whig; Edward Wortley Montagu (1678-1761) and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). It would appear Montagu inherited his mother’s quick wit and eccentricity (yet none of his father’s self-discipline or control); for despite his parent’s unsuccessful efforts to subdue his wild nature; he grew to be an avid traveller, author and criminal – racking up huge debts in his colourful wake.

Montagu, at the age of 17, was secretly married  to a washerwoman known only as Sally, to his parent’s utmost horror. With his outraged parents behind him, Edward very quickly left his new wife and the whole affair was quietly hushed up. Yet this was only the start- in the years to come Edward was to marry of other women and father a number of illegitimate children. It was, therefore, perhaps with some foresight that his father began to look at cutting Edward out of the extremely large family inheritance.

This caused problems for Montagu as he had already accumulated a number of large debts, which he blamed on his meagre income. However, despite his small allowance, his father was already paying the annuities of two women- both of whom Montagu had rapidly discarded. Sent to Europe armed with a Scottish tutor, Montagu’s bouts of drinking, women and wild behaviour were interrupted by dreams of joining a monastery and long prayer sessions often lasting for days. However these seemingly good intentions did nothing to appease his father, declaring his only son was forbidden to approach him until he acted ‘with more prudence than a downright Idiot.’

 Edward Wortley Montagu

After a short spell spent in a debtor’s prison in 1742 London, Edward decided to enroll in the War against the Austrian Succession.  Here he was commissioned command of a cornet and quickly rose to become a Captain Lieutenant, then a Captain and finally a 1st foot.  Distinguishing himself in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, he became aide-de-camp to the British commander-in-chief. However, after being captured by the French a year later and being traded in an exchange, he resigned.  Shortly after his resignation, after two years of forming political friendships and making political manoeuvres, in 1748, Montagu secured himself a position as secretary of the Congress.

However, this burst of success and apparent conformity to the typically political lifestyle of an aristocrat was short-lived. In July 1751, Montagu bigamously married a fellow-traveler,   Elizabeth Ashe, who was well-known in London society. However, much like the fate of all his other previous marriages, this too ended after 3 months and left Montagu horrified that he should have to contribute towards the upbringing of his son (Edward Wortley Montagu III). His son, Edward, was only one of his several children; Mary, George, an unnamed daughter and a reportedly adopted boy-called Massoud.

Having failed to gain his father’s approval and with responsibilities piling up Montagu continued his travels; spending a large amount of his time in Greece and Venice, before returning once more to Turkey where he stayed with Massoud, and his mother Alyssa.  Here he stayed for a while, for long enough that he started dressing as a Turk, wearing a turban and naming himself a Muslim.  In 1775 he changed his will to include Massoud, as part of several preparations before his journey to Mecca. However; this trip was never to be. In 1776, after hearing false reports of his first wife- Sally’s- death, he placed an advertisement in the Public Advertiser stating he wanted a wife.  But it would seem another marriage for Montagu was not on the cards; after eating a sharp bone which had cut the insides of his throat, an abscess formed, and despite being nursed by Massoud he died shortly after. Prior to his death, his advertisement in the Public Advertiser also revealed his before-unknown whereabouts.  As a result his death was followed by many articles attempting to summarise Edward Montagu’s wild and exciting life of rebellious non-conformity to polite society and his utter disregard for conventional –if any- rules.