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 Archibald William Montgomerie, 1st Baron Ardrossan (UK) 14th Earl of Eglinton (Scotland) (1812-61)

 

 

 

 

Privy Councillor, KT, DCL, LL.D. Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1852 and 1858-9, Lord Lieutenant & Sheriff Principal of Ayrshire. Created Earl of Wilton (UK) in 1859. Seats: Eglinton Castle, Irvine; Skelmorlie Castle; Coylsfield House, Ayrshire; Polnoon Lodge, Renfrewshire and Redburn, Irvine.

 

Montgomerie, Archibald William, thirteenth earl of Eglinton and first earl of Winton (1812–1861), politician and racing patron, was born on 29 September 1812 at Palermo, Sicily, the second surviving son of Major-General Archibald Montgomerie, Lord Montgomerie (1773–1814), and his cousin, Lady Mary Montgomerie (1787–1848). As heirs of, respectively, Hugh Montgomerie, twelfth earl of Eglinton, and Archibald Montgomerie, eleventh earl, the Montgomeries' combined rights to the family estates and title ensured that considerable wealth would pass undivided to their heir. Lord Montgomerie died of consumption at Alicante, Spain, in January 1814, and in January 1815, against the wishes of the twelfth earl, his widow married Charles Montolieu Lamb (1785–1860), who became second baronet in 1824 and knight marshal of the royal household the following year. In retaliation the twelfth earl took away guardianship of her two sons and brought them up at Eglinton Castle, his Gothic-revival seat in Ayrshire. There the elder boy, Hugh (b. 1811), died of croup on 13 July 1817, and Archibald became Lord Montgomerie and heir, succeeding as thirteenth earl at his grandfather's death on 14 December 1819.

By his grandfather's will Eglinton's upbringing and management were controlled by five trustees, against whom he and his mother frequently rebelled. He was educated ineffectually by tutors at Eglinton Castle, wretchedly at a private school in Mitcham (1821–5), and riotously at Eton College (1825–8). In 1826, at fourteen, enabled under Scottish law to take partial control of his own affairs, he firmly did so, and in 1828 left Eton to live and travel with his mother and stepfather, spending the next five years mainly in claret drinking, debauchery, and steeplechasing. When he reached his majority, on 29 September 1833, he settled at Eglinton Castle to devote himself to sport. In token of future earnestness, however, he took his seat in the Lords as Baron Ardrossan on 1 May 1834, and became colonel of the Ayrshire militia (1836–52) and lord lieutenant of Ayrshire in 1842. At this time, although he reputedly drank nothing but champagne, he was robust and fit, with a lively eye and fine dark mutton chop whiskers.

Eglinton's wealth and interest in horses coincided happily with a large-scale expansion of horse racing as a popular recreation. He bought well, employed good trainers and jockeys (who had to ride in patriotic tartan), and won many classic races, including the Derby and St Leger. His best horse, The Flying Dutchman, beat Lord Zetland's Voltigeur in a historic match at York in May 1851. Elected to the Jockey Club in 1838, he helped to establish organized steeplechasing in England, and campaigned with Lord George Bentinck against betting fraud. Both he and Bentinck, however, heavily backed their own horses, and in 1843 two victims of their reforms, the Russell brothers, brought an action against Eglinton, Bentinck, Charles Greville, and other Jockey Club members under the obscure Qui tam statute (9 Anne c.14), which technically limited wagers to minute amounts. Closing ranks, the sporting establishment rushed a bill through parliament in February 1844 which removed all limits.

The Eglinton Tournament of 1839, the outstanding example of early Victorian medievalism in action, secured his fame. Beginning as a private gesture, it so catered to public appetite for pageantry and heroism that it grew into a national event. In June 1838 the whig government had for reasons of economy omitted some traditional ceremonies from Queen Victoria's coronation. In Conservative reproof, Eglinton, enthusiastically urged on by friends and family, announced in August a medieval tournament and banquet at Eglinton Castle. He originally planned only an amusement for his race meeting in the spring of 1839, but the unexpected public response forced postponement for adequate organization and for rehearsal of unskilled knights. The number of these gradually fell from an initial 150 to thirteen, but on 28 August 100,000 spectators gathered, their presence at this medieval spectacle made possible by the prime symbols of Victorian mechanical progress, railways and passenger steamers. Unfortunately, the prevailing weather pattern of western Scotland held: torrential rain fell, and knights, ladies, and spectators fled the field. Eglinton's fortitude (or obstinacy) redeemed what might have been total fiasco—he hospitably detained his guests until the weather improved, and on 30 August successfully held his tournament, banquet, and ball. The costs were enormous, Eglinton's own expenditure probably approaching £40,000. But, although the tournament was ridiculed by some critics, its enactment of chivalric metaphor is now seen to have inspired Victorian imagination in art and literature, as well as public and private standards of behaviour.

Eglinton himself owed his subsequent political career to the fame of his Tournament. Before that, however, he married, on 17 February 1841, Theresa (d. 1853), widow of Richard Cockerell RN, and one of eight illegitimate children of Thomas, second and last Viscount Newcomen, and Harriet Holland. Lady Eglinton's pathological jealousy made it an unhappy marriage—in his own words, ‘the great, the most important, error of my life’—but it produced four children: Archibald William, fourteenth earl (1841–1892), Egidia (later Lady Rendlesham; 1843–1880) , Seton Montolieu (1846–1883), and George Arnulph, fifteenth earl (1848–1919). In these years Eglinton became more active in parliament. He was a protectionist, and in 1846 spoke against corn law repeal, joined in attempts at a whig–protectionist coalition, and was assistant whip in the Lords. His reform of the election of Scottish representative peers (1847) was in part nationalistic but was also intended to increase protectionist numbers, as were his frequent banquets and house parties. In 1848 he prevented the pope being able to appoint a priest as his British envoy, and he opposed the abolition of Jewish disabilities. In February 1851 he was part of Lord Derby's unsuccessful attempt to form a protectionist government and in Derby's first administration was lord lieutenant of Ireland (February–December 1852), where his fairness and liberality (reputedly spending £50,000) made him extremely popular. He was elected lord rector of Marischal College, Aberdeen (1851–3), and of the University of Glasgow (1852–4), and for his work in Ireland was made DCL of Oxford University and a knight of the Thistle in June 1853. In December 1853 Lady Eglinton died.

During Derby's second administration Eglinton was again lord lieutenant of Ireland (February 1858 – June 1859). In November 1858 he married Lady Adela Caroline Harriet Capel (1828–1860), only daughter of Arthur, sixth earl of Essex, and his first wife, Caroline; by this very happy marriage he had two daughters, Sybila Amelia Adela (1859–1932) and Hilda Rose (later Baroness Anslow; 1860–1928) . In Ireland he continued to work for protectionist interests, although he rejected on principle Disraeli's suggestion to appoint Roman Catholics to patronage positions. He resigned with the tory government in June 1859, and was created earl of Winton, a dormant title to which he had been made heir male general in 1840.

On 31 December 1860 Eglinton's wife died of rheumatic fever, and in July 1861 he spoke for the last time in the Lords. For some months he had complained of intermittent disturbances of vision, and on 1 October, at Mount Melville House, St Andrews, he had a stroke, from which he never regained consciousness. He died at Mount Melville on 4 October 1861 and was buried on 11 October in the family vault at Kilwinning, Ayrshire.

At his death Eglinton was the most popular nobleman in Scotland, while Disraeli described him as ‘the most honest man, & the most straightforward, I ever dealt with’. Edward Stanley (future fifteenth earl of Derby), testily examining a list of hereditary peers, found that only eighty-one out of 380 actually did any significant work: one of them was Eglinton. Amiably, probably uncomprehendingly, but consistently, he applied chivalric values to Victorian life. [Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Mary S. Millar]

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

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