Select Montague Surname Genealogy

The Montague name was brought to England by the Normans, the first name-bearer said to have been a follower of William the Conqueror who was granted lands in England.  There was a place-name in Normandy called Montagu, so called from the Old French mont meaning “hill” and agu, “pointed” – hence a pointed hill.  Montecute and Montagu were the early surname spellings in England and Montagu has continued in some of the main lines today.  But Montague is mostly used now.

Montague was known to William Shakespeare.  In his Romeo and Juliet the Montagues and Capulets were the two feuding families of Verona.  Montague was in fact his version of the actual Italian Montecchi family

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England. The early Montagues were based in Somerset where Drogo de Monte Acuto or Montaigu was recorded as a landowner in the 1086 Domesday Book.  This family first became prominent in the 14th century when William de Montagu helped King Edward III throw off the tutelage of his mother Queen Isabella.  He was created the Earl of Salisbury in 1337.  The family base was Shepton Montague in Somerset.

The male line died out in 1428, leaving just a daughter Alice.  She married Richard Neville and was the mother of Richard, Earl of Warwick, called “the kingmaker” for his role in the Wars of the Roses.

Then there were the Montagues of Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.  Whether they were related to the earlier Somerset Montagues is unclear in the former case, dubious in the latter.

.   A Montague family lived at Boveney Court near Burnham from the 15th century to the early 18th century and were substantial landowners in Boveney and Dorney.  The Rev. Lawrence Montague was the vicar of Dorney in 1572.  His son Richard was a bishop, first at Chichester and then at Norwich.  This line produced the early Montague emigrants to America.

.  These Montagues were descended from a family of Northamptonshire yeomen by the name of Ladde who can be traced back to 1355 as householders in Hanging Houghton. They changed their name to Montagu about the middle of the 15th century and achieved gentry status with Sir Edward Montagu, appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1539.  He it was who bought the manor of Boughton near Kettering and built the family seat of Boughton House on the site.

From Sir Edward’s son Sir Edward came:
The senior Montagu line devolved to the younger son Ralph who became the first Duke of Montagu.

“The elder son Edward had been Master of the Horse to Queen Catherine, wife of Charles II, but was dismissed from the post ‘for showing attention to the Queen in too ardent a nature.’  The post was therefore given to the younger son Ralph who soon acquired a reputation for gallantry in court.”

But Ralph turned out to be a scheming politician and a womanizer.  He had a famous simultaneous affair with both a duchess and her daughter.  His London residence – Montagu House in Bloomsbury - was later bought by the Government to hold a national collection of antiquities.  On its site was built the British Museum.

Henry Montagu, ancestor of the Dukes of Manchester, acquired Kimbolton castle in Huntingdonshire in 1615.  The castle was said to have been haunted by Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, who died there after several years of imprisonment.   The Montagus remained at Kimbolton castle until 1950.  The author Marcus Scriven had this to say about these Montagus:

"Their only discernable talents have been engaging in futile litigation, profligate spending and disposing of property and heirlooms at a fraction of their value."

Meanwhile a Montagu daughter had married the Duke of Buccleuch.  One descendant line became the Barons Montagu of Beaulieu in Hampshire.  Edward, the third Baron Montagu who died in 2015, had a long and eventful life.

The line from Sir Sidney Montagu produced the Earls of Sandwich.  John Montagu, the fourth Earl, was the First Lord of the Admiralty and the man who rebuilt the British Navy in the mid 1700’s.  The modern sandwich was named after him; as was the Sandwich Isles, now Hawaii. 

The line from John Montagu and his murdered mistress Martha Ray led to Basil Montagu, a bankruptcy expert, and his sons Algernon and Alfred who made their way as lawyers to Australia in the 1830’s.  The former was described as “that scandalous 'mad judge' at the ends of the earth.”

The line from Sir Sidney also produced Sir Edward Wortley Montagu, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1700’s.  He was the husband of the writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the father of the writer and traveller Edward Wortley Montagu

Other Montagues.  There were also Irish and Jewish Montagues in England.

Francis Montague
, an Irish Catholic priest from county Tyrone, left the priesthood to marry and he and his wife moved to England in the 1860’s.  Their son Charles was recruited to the Manchester Guardian and became a noted writer on the paper (and married the daughter of the editor).  Despite being over-age, he fought on the Western Front during World War One and this experience made him very anti-war.  His son Evelyn was an athlete in the 1924 Paris Olympics depicted in the film Chariots of Fire.

Montagu or Montague could also be a Jewish first or last name adopted in England:
  • Montague Burton, born Meshe Osinsky, fled the pogroms in Lithuania for England where he built up Burtons to be one of the biggest clothing chains in Europe. 
  • while Montagu Samuel, the son of a Liverpool watchmaker, changed his name to Samuel Montagu and founded the bank of Samuel Montagu & Co. in London.  He was later a philanthropist and Liberal politician raised to the peerage in 1907.  His son Edwin sat in the British Cabinet.
Israel Ehrenberg, born in the East End of London in 1905, adopted the aristocratic name of Ashley Montagu, maybe to distance himself from his immigrant roots.  He became a well-known anthropologist and educator.

  Montague in Ireland may have been an anglicized version of the Irish MacTadhg or MacTague.  And some may have been English Montagues granted lands in Ulster in the 1600’s.  The name crops up mainly mainly in county Tyrone.

There were reports of Catholic Montagues fighting against William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  The Montague family of which Francis Montague (who fled to England) was a member has been traced back to James and Owen Montague, two brothers who were born in Tyrone in the 1720’s.  Many of these Montagues had Catholic church affiliations.

A number of Montagues in the area left for America, starting in the early 1800’s.  Most stayed.  A few returned.
John Montague, a well-known contemporary Irish poet, is based in Tyrone.  His grandfather John had been a prosperous farmer and Justice of the Peace there in the early 1900’s.  But his father James, involved in Republican activities, left Ireland for New York and John was born there.  However, he did return to the family farm in Ireland when he was a young man.

.  Richard and Peter Montague were two brothers from Buckinghamshire who arrived in America around the year 1634.  Their lineage in America was covered in George Montague’s 1886 book History and Genealogy of the Montague Family in America:
  • Richard Montague settled in Hadley, Massachusetts
  • and Peter Montague in Lancaster county, Virginia.
Massachusetts.  Richard Montague had settled in Hadley, Massachusetts.  His descendants have been traced through his various grandsons:
  • from Richard came the Connecticut sea captains Moses and Gordon Montague  
  • from Samuel came S.S. Montague who headed west to California and was appointed Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1863.  He appeared in the famous Golden Spike celebration photograph of 1869 at Promontory, Utah when the two railroads were finally joined.
  • while from Peter came some more adventurous settlers – Daniel who fought in the Mexican War and settled in Texas (Montague county there was named after him) and Rodney who made his way as far as Los Angeles in 1856.
Virginia.  Peter Montague settled in Lancaster county, Virginia.  It is thought that Montague Island on the Rapahannock river was named after his family. 

One line led to Henry Montague, an antebellum tobacco plantation owner in North Carolina.  Another line led to Robert
Latané Montague, a prominent Virginia politician before and after the Civil War. His son Andrew was Governor of Virginia from 1902 to 1906.  A cousin Alice Montague was the mother of Wallis Simpson who became the Duchess of Windsor.

.  Montagues of Irish origin may have been almost as numerous as the Montagues of English origin in America.  Most of them seem to have come from county Tyrone.  Among their number were: 
  • Charles and Patrick Montague who came to North Carolina in the early 1800’s and operated tobacco plantations at a place that came to be known as Montague, North Carolina.  Patrick remained in North Carolina.  But Charles later migrated to Texas.
  • and Paul Montague who came on the Margaret Balfour to Baltimore in 1836, marrying Prudence McLevie there twelve years later.  Prudence and her sons departed Baltimore for Canada in 1855.
Canada.  William Montague was a blacksmith from Somerset who immigrated with his wife Maria first to Boston in 1811 and then (because of the anger resulting from the War of 1812) to Canada.

"William employed three men with their teams to move his family to Canada. They were four weeks on the road between Albany and Buffalo. There was only one house standing in Buffalo, all the rest having been burned by the British. He then went to Long Point in Canada and, after a year, to the city of London, Ontario."

They settled in Adelaide township, London where they had been granted land.   Their son Joseph had two sons, William and Walter, who both became doctors.  William entered politics and became a federal Cabinet minister.  Other Montagues of this line were to be found in the Canadian West and in Michigan.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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William de Montagu helped King Edward III throw off the tutelage of his mother Queen Isabella and was made the Earl of Salisbury in 1337.
Sir Edward Montagu
, appointed Lord Chief Justice of England in 1539, was the progenitor of distinguished Montagu line initially based in Northamptonshire. 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
was a lady of letters based in Turkey in the early 1700’s.  She was also known for introducing and advocating smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey. 

John Montagu
, Earl of Sandwich, was the First Lord of the Admiralty in the mid 1700’s.  The modern sandwich was named after him; as was the Sandwich Isles, now Hawaii.
S.S. Montague
was the Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860's and was instrumental in the inter-continental joining of the two railroads in 1869.
Samuel Montagu
was a Jewish banker and
politician raised to the British peerage in 1907.

Select Montagues Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 500 surnames.

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