George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, 1608-1670

Professional soldier who fought for both sides during the Civil Wars. He attained high office under Cromwell's Protectorate, then gained a dukedom by securing the Restoration of Charles II

Portrait of George Monck

George Monck was born at the manor house of Great Potheridge near Torrington in Devon on 6 December 1608. He was the fourth child and second son of Sir Thomas Monck, an impoverished landowner, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Smyth, a wealthy merchant of Maydworthy (Madford), near Exeter.

Sir Thomas Monck had fallen deeply into debt, and was unable to provide for all his children, so George was sent for a time to be brought up by his mother's family, the Smyths, in Exeter. He attended a local school, though his education was rudimentary. As was common with the younger sons of impoverished gentry, Monck took up the profession of arms and became a soldier.

Soldier of Fortune

Monck began his military career at the age of 16 when he volunteered to join the English expedition against Cadiz (1625), during which he probably served under his cousin Sir Richard Grenville who commanded a company of foot. On his return to England, Monck and his elder brother attacked and beat up an under-sheriff who had arrested their father for debt. Monck pursued and stabbed the under-sheriff, who later died of his wounds. To escape prosecution for murder, Monck joined the expedition for the relief of La Rochelle (1627) as an ensign in Sir John Burroughs' regiment. He distinguished himself by carrying the regimental colours in an unsuccessful attack on a French fort, and is also said to have taken a message from the King in England to the Duke of Buckingham at Rochelle, bravely passing through the lines of the besieging French army. On the second expedition to La Rochelle (1628), Monck was commissioned captain of foot in a regiment to which Grenville had been appointed colonel, but the English army never disembarked and sailed straight back to England.

Service in Holland, Scotland & Ireland

About 1629, Monck joined the English volunteers fighting for the Prince of Orange against the Spanish in the Thirty Years' War. He spent nine years in the Dutch service, and rose to the rank of captain-lieutenant in Goring's regiment. Monck was a hero of the siege of Breda in 1637, during which he led the storming of the breach that resulted in the city's surrender. However, he angrily resigned his commission after an argument with the Dutch authorities at Dordrecht, where some of Monck's troops were accused of mistreating civilians and were tried before the city magistrates rather than a court martial.

Monck returned to England and joined King Charles' army for the Bishops' Wars as lieutenant-colonel in the Earl of Newport's regiment. At the battle of Newburn (1640), Monck was one of the few English officers that did not flee headlong from the Scots. He saved the King's artillery by covering its withdrawal and retreated with his men in good order to Newcastle.

On the outbreak of the Confederate War in Ireland, Monck was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of an infantry regiment raised by his kinsman the Earl of Leicester. He arrived at Dublin in February 1642 and commanded the infantry in the Earl of Ormond's victory over the Confederates at the battle of Kilrush (15 April 1642). As well as earning the trust and confidence of his troops, Monck gained a reputation for great energy and ruthlessness in the war of attrition that developed in Ireland. He gained his first experience as an artillery commander in March 1643 when he reduced the Confederate garrison at Timolin in County Kildare during Ormond's advance on Ross, and he played a prominent role in the defeat of the Leinster Confederates at the battle of Balinvegga later in the same month.

Prisoner of Parliament

In September 1643, Ormond negotiated a one-year armistice with the Confederates, which freed the King's forces in Ireland for service against Parliament in the English Civil War. Monck refused to take the oath of loyalty to the King that Ormond imposed upon his officers. Amid suspicions that he might defect to Parliament, Monck was sent in custody to Bristol. At a personal audience with King Charles at Oxford, Monck justified himself and persuaded the King of his loyalty. He was commissioned to raise and command a new foot regiment to serve alongside the regiments returning from Ireland. On his way to Chester, Monck volunteered to fight at the siege of Nantwich under the command of Lord Byron. He was taken prisoner when Sir Thomas Fairfax defeated Byron at the battle of Nantwich in January 1644.

Having undertaken to serve the King, Monck refused to change sides and was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained until the end of the First Civil War, sustained by money from his elder brother Thomas who had inherited the family estate. During his imprisonment Monck met his future wife, Anne Clarges, who was reputedly working as a seamstress. They married in 1653. Monck also wrote his military manual, Observations upon Political and Military Affairs, while he was a prisoner; it was published posthumously in 1671.

Commander in Ulster

Following the defeat of the Royalists in England, Monck took an oath of loyalty to Parliament and was released from the Tower in November 1646 for service in Ireland. In 1647, he was appointed commander of Parliament's forces in Ulster where, in co-operation with Colonel Jones in Leinster, he fought a successful defensive campaign against the Confederates. When a faction of the Scottish Ulster army declared for King Charles in the Second Civil War, Monck acted swiftly to seize Belfast and Carrickfergus from his former allies (September 1648). He sent the Scottish commander Robert Monro as a prisoner to England and was rewarded by Parliament with £500 and the governorship of Carrickfergus.

After the execution of King Charles I in January 1649, Ireland became a rallying-ground for the Royalists as Ormond orchestrated a coalition against the newly-declared Commonwealth of England. Lacking men and supplies to hold Ulster, Monck withdrew to Dundalk in April 1649. There he was threatened by the Irish Ulster army led by Owen Roe O'Neill, who had not joined Ormond's coalition. Having insufficient resources to fight, Monck negotiated an unauthorised three-month armistice with O'Neill. In a letter to Oliver Cromwell, Monck pleaded that he had taken this action out of military necessity, but many of his own officers repudiated the truce with the Catholic O'Neill and went over to Ormond. Monck was forced to surrender Dundalk to Ormond's forces in July 1649. On his return to England, Monck was summoned to London to answer for his conduct. He received a public reprimand from Parliament for negotiating with O'Neill, but was exonerated from all accusations of disloyalty to the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth & Protectorate

In July 1650, Monck was given command of a regiment of foot in Cromwell's army for the invasion of Scotland. However, the soldiers of Colonel Bright's regiment—the first regiment to which he was appointed—refused to accept him as their colonel because he had fought against them at Nantwich. Cromwell therefore took five companies from Fenwick's regiment and five from Hesilrige's to form Monck's regiment of foot. Monck soon justified Cromwell's confidence in him, distinguishing himself in August 1650 by leading the attack on Red Hall, a Scottish outpost near Edinburgh. Cromwell appointed him to the council of war that planned the battle of Dunbar on 3 September, in which Monck led a brigade of infantry in an attack on the Scottish centre. He was employed in reducing fortresses in south-eastern Scotland during the winter of 1650-1, and was promoted to lieutenant-general of the ordnance (artillery) in May 1651.

When Cromwell advanced into Fife in July 1651, Monck secured the English position by capturing the Scottish strongholds of Inchgarvie Castle and Burntisland. His reputation had grown to the extent that he was appointed commander-in-chief of Commonwealth forces in Scotland when Cromwell pursued Charles II and the Scots-Royalist army into England in August 1651. Monck captured Stirling, and sent a force to arrest the provisional government left by Charles II. When Dundee refused to surrender to his summons, Monck made an example of the town, slaughtering the garrison and allowing his troops to plunder at will for 24 hours. By the end of 1651, Monck's troops controlled the Scottish Lowlands and had sealed off the Royalist clans in the Highlands. However, Monck's health had declined. He was obliged to resign his commission in February 1652 and return to England to recuperate.


In December 1652, Monck joined Blake and Deane as a general-at-sea in the First Anglo-Dutch War. Although he had no previous naval experience, Monck's powers of leadership and his expertise as an artillery officer qualified him for command at sea. Relying upon the seamanship of his officers, Monck played a decisive role in the battle of Portland in February 1653. After Deane was killed at the battle of the Gabbard and Blake was forced to return to England to recover from his wounds, Monck was left in sole command of the English fleet. He imposed a blockade on Dutch ports that brought Dutch commerce to a standstill. When the Dutch attempted to break the blockade in July 1653, Monck was victorious at the battle of Scheveningen, the deciding battle of the war, during which the Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp was killed.

As a general-at-sea, Monck played a significant role in the introduction of line-of-battle tactics in fleet actions, which remained standard practice in naval warfare into the 20th century.

Commander in Scotland

In the spring of 1654, Monck returned to his command in Scotland where a Royalist uprising had broken out. With his usual ruthless efficiency, he suppressed Glencairn's Uprising, then put down a Leveller conspiracy among his own troops apparently headed by his second-in-command, Colonel Overton. This gave Monck an excuse to purge his army of all Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and other radicals.

In collaboration with the council appointed to conduct the settlement of Scotland, Monck remained military governor of Scotland for the next five years. He supervised the construction of the great Cromwellian citadels and fortresses across Scotland and imposed law and order in the Highlands by making clan chiefs personally responsible for keeping the peace in their regions. Although there were rumours of his involvement in various Royalist conspiracies, Monck stayed on friendly terms with Cromwell and remained loyal to the Protectorate.

When Cromwell died in 1658, Monck declared his allegiance to his successor Richard Cromwell and wrote to Richard offering comprehensive advice on managing the Church, Parliament and the Army. However, when Fleetwood and the Council of Officers overthrew the Protectorate and re-established the Commonwealth in May 1659, Monck received no appeal for help from Richard so did nothing to intervene. He declared his allegiance, and that of the army in Scotland, to Parliament.

Royalist representatives approached Monck during the summer of 1659 regarding a possible restoration of the monarchy, but Monck refused to commit himself. In October 1659, he declared that he would uphold Parliament's authority after Sir Arthur Hesilrige appealed for support against the Council of Officers' forcible dissolution of Parliament, which Monck regarded as a radical step that threatened the Church and his own moderate Presbyterianism. Monck maintained his control over the army in Scotland by sending a task force of loyal soldiers around the garrisons to arrest unreliable officers. Around one hundred officers were purged and replaced by trusted men.

The March from Coldstream

Meanwhile, Major-General Lambert, a leading member of the military junta, marched north to confront Monck, reaching Newcastle in mid-November 1659. Monck's representatives were engaged in protracted negotiations with the interim Committee of Safety in London, which hoped to reach an agreement without bloodshed. Faced with severe weather conditions and lack of pay, Lambert's troops began to desert. When Vice-Admiral Lawson threatened to blockade London in December 1659, the leaders of the deeply unpopular junta were obliged to step down. The Commonwealth was restored and Monck was appointed commander-in-chief of all land forces in England and Scotland.

On 1 January 1660, at Parliament's invitation, Monck marched south from Coldstream on the Scottish border with a force of 5,000 foot and 2,000 horse. The last remnants of Lambert's army disintegrated before his advance. Monck insisted that the regiments stationed in London should be dispersed to garrisons around the country in order to make way for his own troops, thus forestalling any possibility of a united opposition against him. Monck's army occupied London on 3 February 1660. Recognising the deep unpopularity of the "Rump" Parliament, he supported calls for the re-admission of the MPs excluded from Parliament by Pride's Purge in 1648, to great popular acclaim.

The Restoration

Monck kept firm control over the army and was vigilant for signs of disaffection amongst his officers. Although he continued to proclaim his support for the Commonwealth in public, he entered into secret negotiations with representatives of Charles Stuart during March 1660, resulting in the formulation of Charles' manifesto the Declaration of Breda. Meanwhile, the restored Long Parliament voted to dissolve itself on 16 March 1660 and to call new elections. The pro-Royalist Convention Parliament duly assembled on 25 April 1660 and the Restoration of the monarchy became inevitable. When the restored King landed at Dover on 25 May, Monck was the first to greet him as he came ashore. He was invested with the Order of the Garter the following day.

Coronation of Charles IICharles II's coronation procession, 23 April 1661 (detail)
General Monck rides immediately behind the King and leads a "horse of estate"

Amongst other honours for his part in the Restoration, Monck was appointed captain-general of the army and created Earl of Torrington and Duke of Albemarle. Monck's regiment of foot—originally formed by Cromwell in 1650—was the only New Model Army regiment to be incorporated into Charles II's standing army, where it became known as the Coldstream Guards. A troop of Monck's cavalry regiment was incorporated into the Royal Horse Guards. Charles II also appointed him one of eight Lords Proprietors of the province of Carolina. Albemarle Sound in north Carolina was named in his honour, as was Albemarle County, Virginia.

After the Restoration, Albemarle shrewdly kept out of politics but remained a loyal and dependable servant of the King. During the emergencies of the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, he was given the task of governing London. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-7), Albemarle shared command of the English fleet with Prince Rupert. He boldly attacked a much larger Dutch fleet in the inconclusive Four Days Battle (June 1666) and shared the victory of the St James's Day Battle (August 1666) with Rupert. Albemarle's last military service took place in 1667 when he secured the River Medway anchorage after several warships were destroyed in a humiliating raid by the Dutch.

Albemarle died on 3 January 1670. His wife Anne collapsed with grief and died a few weeks later. He received a state funeral at the King's expense, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His surviving son Christopher inherited his titles and property. The titles became extinct when Christopher died childless in 1687.


Maurice Ashley, Cromwell's Generals (London 1954)

Godfrey Davies, The Restoration of Charles II, 1658-60 (San Marino 1955)

C.H. Firth, George Monck, first Duke of Albemarle, DNB 1894

Ronald Hutton, George Monck, first duke of Albemarle, Oxford DNB, 2004

Ian Ryder, An English Army for Ireland (Partizan Press, n.d.)

Links: includes C.H. Firth's biography of Monck and excerpts from Monck's book Observations Upon Political and Military Affairs.

The Honour of General Monck article by Mark Stoyle on Monck's early life and the murder of Nicholas Battyn.