Monson, Sir William

, a brave English admiral, was the third son of sir John Monson, of South Carlton, in. Lincolnshire, and born in 1569. For about two years he studied at Baliol college, Oxford: but, being of an active and martial disposition, he soon grew weary of a contemplative life, and applied himself to the sea-service, in which | he became very expert. In the beginning of queen Elizabeth’s war with Spain, he entered on board of ship without the knowledge of his parents; but in 1587 we find he went out commander of a vessel, and in 1588, he served in one of the queen’s ships, but had not the command of it. In 1589, he was vice-admiral to the earl of Cumberland, in his expedition to the Azores islands, and at the taking of Fayal; but, in their return, suffered such hardships, and contracted such a violent illness from them, as kept him at home the whole year 1590. “The extremity we endured,” says he, “was more terrible than befel any ship during the eighteen years’ war: for, laying aside the continual expectation of death by shipwreck, and the daily mortality of our men, I will speak of our famine, that exceeded all men and ships’ I have known in the course of my life. For sixteen days together we never tasted a drop of drink, either beer, wine, or water;and though we had plenty of beef and pork of a year’s saltirxg, yet did we forbear eating of it for making us the drier. Many drank salt water, and those that did, died suddenly, and the last words they usually spake, was, ‘drink, drink, drink’ And I dare boldly say, that, of five hundred men that were in that ship seven years before, at this day there is not a man alive but myself and one more.

In 1591, he served a second time under the earl of Cumberland; and the commission was, as all the former were, to act against the Spaniards. They took several of their ships; and captain Monson, being sent to convoy one of them to England, was surrounded and taken by six Spanish gallies, after a long and bloody fight. On this occasion they detained him as an hostage for the performance of certain covenants, and carried him to Portugal, where he was kept prisoner two years at Cascais and Lisbon. Not discouraged by this ill-luck, he entered a third time into the earl’s service, in 1593; and he behaved himself in this, as in all other expeditions, like a brave and able seaman. In 1594, he was created master of arts at Oxford; in 151)5, he was married; in 1596, he served in the expedition to Cadiz, under Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, to whom he did great service by his wise and moderate counsel, and was deservedly knighted. He was employed in several other expeditions, and was highly honoured and esteemed during Elizabeth’s reign. Military men were not king James’s favourites: therefore, after the | death of the queen, he never received either recompence or preferment, more than his ordinary entertainment or pay, according to the services he was employed in. However, in 1604-, he was appointed admiral of the Narrow Seas, in which station he continued till 1616: during which time he supported the honour of the English flag, against the insolence of the infant commonwealth of Holland, of which he frequently complains in his “Naval Tracts;” and protected our trade against the encroachments of France.

Notwithstanding his long and faithful services, he had the misfortune to fall into disgrace; and, through the resentment of some powerful courtiers, was imprisoned in the Tower in 1616: but, after having been examined by the chief justice Coke and secretary Winwood, he was discharged. He wrote a vindication of his conduct, entitled “Concerning the insolences of the Dutch, and a Justification of sir William Monson” and directed it to the lord chancellor Ellesmere, and sir Francis Bacon, attorneygeneral and counsellor. His zeal against the Dutch, and his promoting an inquiry into the state of the navy, contrary to the inclination of the earl of Nottingham, then lord high admiral, seems to have been the occasion of his troubles. He had also the misfortune to bring upon himself a general and popular odium, in retaking lady Arabella Steuart, after her escape out of England in June 1611, though it was acting agreeably to his orders and duty. This lady was confined to the Tower for her marriage with William Seymour, esq. as was pretended; but the true cause of her confinement was, her being too high allied, and having a title or claim to the crown of England. Sir William, however, soon recovered his credit at court: for, in 1617, he was called before the privy council, to give his opinion, how the pirates of Algiers might be suppressed, and the town attacked. He shewed the impossibility of taking Algiers, and was against the expedition; notwithstanding which, it was rashly undertaken by Villiers duke of Buckingham. He was also against two other undertakings, as ill-managed, in 1625 and 162$, namely, the expeditions to Cadiz and the isle of Rhee. He was not employed in these actions, because he objected to the minister’s measures; but, in 1635, it being found necessary to equip a large fleet, in order to break a confederacy that was forming between the French and the Dutch, he was appointed vice-admiral in that armament, and performed | liis duty with great honour and bravery. After that he was employed no more, but spent the remainder of his days in peace and privacy, at ins seat at Kinnersley in Surrey, where he digested and finished his “Naval Tracts,” published in Churchill’s “Collection of Voyages.” He died there, Feb. 1642-3, in his seventy-third year, and left a numerous posterity, the ancestors of the present noble family of Monson, baron Monson of Burton, in the county of Lincoln. 1


Biog. Brit. Campbell’s Lives of the British Admirals, Collins’s Peerage, new edit.