Hugh Montgomery of Mount Alexander
Sovereign Grand Commander 1689-1716
Hugh, 1st Viscount Montgomery 1560-1636, a nobleman and soldier was known as one of the founding fathers of the Ulster Scots along with Sir James Hamilton, 1st Viscount Clanebaye. Hugh was born at Braidstone Castle near Beith in Ayrshire and was the son of the 5th Laird of Braidstone.
The 2nd Viscount, eldest son of the 6th Laird of Braidstone was also called Hugh and he married Jean Alexander in the Kensington Church in London, Jean’s father being Sir William Alexander, Ist Earl of Stirling, Secretary of State for Scotland who had been tasked with planting Nova Scotia in Canada. It was this Sir Hugh who built the large manor house on a hill just outside of Comber in County Down and called it Mount Alexander Castle, although in fact it was more of a large manor house and the Alexander being in honour of his wife.
Upon the death of his father the Ist Viscount, the 2nd Viscount moved back to the parental home of Newtown House. Dying suddenly in 1642, this second Sir Hugh was succeeded by his eldest son, another Hugh Montgomery who became the 3rd Viscount of the Great Ards. Said to have been fluent in French, a fine dancer, an able fencer, a player of the lute, horse rider and proficient in martial arts, he also took a leading part in proclaiming Charles II as King at Newtownards in 1649 and in the same year became Commander in Chief of the Royal Army in Ulster. He eventually surrendered to Cromwell and after being tried for treason in London was banished to Holland; although later allowed to return to Ireland he was imprisoned for three years in Kilkenny Castle. He was created Earl of Mount Alexander by Charles II after his Restoration in 1661 and received a grant of land in Kildare.
Hugh 2nd Earl of Mount Alexander and 4th Viscount Montgomery of Great Ards and the Sir Hugh who was to become Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre du Lys, was born in February 1650 in Newtown House in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. By reason of his father’s debts he was together with his sister Lady Jean or Jane removed to Melliford where his brother Henry was born.
Hugh was only 13 years of age when his father died and he inherited the family titles, left school and in that same year Newtown House was burnt down by careless servants and so Hugh, his sister and brother Henry were entrusted to the care of relatives, initially their grandmother and her husband Major General Monro, although some sources claim it was to William Montgomery of Rosemount (who was the son of Sir William Montgomery of Rosemount County Down and who fifty years later wrote the Montgomerie Manuscript) and Elizabeth Montgomery who was sister to 1st Earl of Mount Alexander. One thing Hugh had also inherited on his father’s death was substantial debt although William did obtain some local land for him in exchange for land in Kildare.
On becoming 21 years of age Hugh went to live in Newtonards in the gatehouse of the burnt-out mansion. The following year 1672 he married Catherine Dillon daughter of Carey Dillon 5th Earl of Roscommon who brought no dowry and died within two years of their marriage. Although she had brought little or no wealth, his wife could claim to have had illustrious ancestors. The founder of her family was supposed to have been an Irish Prince of the southern Hy-Neill who in 593A.D. married the heiress of the house of Aquitaine and whose representatives were sovereign princes of that dukedom for many centuries.
Due to interest not having been paid on old debts in November 1675, Hugh was forced to sell the parish of Newtonards to Sir Robert Colville for £10,640 and later sold him further land at Grey Abbey, Ballyblack and Cunningburn for £3000. The young laird then travelled to England and married Eleanor Berkley daughter of Maurice 3rd Viscount Fitzharding described as “a worthless scamp who brought him little money, but ran him into further debt.” His financial problems were exacerbated and he became involved in court action almost bringing him to financial ruin in 1671. Although he survived that hiatus, in 1679 more of his estate had to be sold to Sir Robert Colville, this time Comber for £9,780 leaving the Earl with only the manor house, farm buildings and a few townlands; he had at this stage lost two thirds of his inheritance; the Colville’s in return sold these estates on to Alexander Stewart, father of the Ist Lord of Londonderry.
Hugh was a friend of the Duke of York (later to be James II) when he was Commissioner for Scotland and as a result of that friendship was given command of a Foot Company and during the Earl of Essex’s Government of Ireland was given command of his deceased Uncle’s Drogheda troops. In 1674 he was a Captain of Horse and sent troops to Donaghadee in June 1679 in the days following the Covenanters defeat at the battle of Bothwell Bridge to capture “Scotch rebels” that might be fleeing for refuge to Ulster, but nine years later it was a different story when he sought the assistance of the Covenanters in battle, as will be revealed later.
In 1683 he became Governor of Charlemont and a Commission was at that time granted for his son to be Register to the Admiral Court in the counties of Down and Antrim at which point his financial situation started to improve. Further honours came his way when he was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1684/1685 (and again in 1693 and 1702) and Governor of County Down, a position he was reappointed to in 1688/89 when he was made leader of the Irish Protestant forces in Antrim and County Down. Appointed Master of Irish Ordnance* in 1698 he held that post until 1705 whilst during the same period he was Brigadier General Commissioner of the Great Seal of Ireland (1701) and one of the Chief Governors (Lord Justice)of Ireland (1702-1704.) and in 1702 was reappointed once again to the position of Governor of County Down.
Hugh Montgomery had been in London in 1686 but having witnessed the designs of King James II against Irish Protestants gave up his troops and returned home to what he hoped would be a relatively peaceful retirement, which proved not to be the case.
This Earl of Mount Alexander was involved in a famous incident which resonates even today in Northern Ireland. In 1688 a letter was found on a street in Comber addressed to the Earl warning that a general massacre of Protestant men women and children was to take place the following Sunday and that a Captains commission would be the reward for anyone killing the Earl. Upon receipt of this letter Hugh sent copies throughout the land, as far as Dublin and as a result 3,000 people took to ships in the harbours and sailed to England including many local dignitaries such as Sir Robert Colville. The 2nd Earl now turned to the Covenanters for assistance entering into an agreement known as a “bond of compliance” with the Covenant Minister David Houston and took command of the Protestant forces of Antrim and North Down and together with Sir Ralph Radness raised 7,000 troops. In March 1689 his half-trained army was scattered at Dromore by the Catholic followers of Magennis of Iveagh from the Mourne region. Comber was later rescued from the Jacobites by troops under the command of Henry Hunter and although some tried to blame Montgomery for this defeat, he was later vindicated by exposing the Council of War who had over ruled his plan.
The Comber letter had also been received in Londonderry and had terrified the Protestants in the surrounding area who left their homes and farms to the supposed safety of the walled city. A messenger brought the news to the civic leaders that the Jacobite forces of the Earl of Antrim were closing in on the city but they prevaricated on what to do, with some suggesting they close the gates as the walls would not be breached by an army with no cannon fire, whilst others wanted the gates left open to save any
possible bloodshed. However, with the Jacobite’s fast approaching and no decision being made, thirteen apprentice boys seized the keys of the city gates and locked them. One of the boys William Crookshank is said to have been a relative of the Covenanters minister John Crookshank who had been killed at the Pentland Rising of 1666. **
Despite the presence of Antrim’s troops they did not really inflict any damage and this was the case until King James’s Army arrived and the siege proper took place from 18th April until 28th July 1689 causing starvation and much damage until the city was finally relieved with English ships breaking the Risingough, a barrier set up on the River Foyle. It has been estimated that 7000 of the 30,000 population of this city died as a result of the siege. It was in this same year that Hugh took over as head of the Ordre du Lys after the death of his cousin by marriage, John Graham of Claverhouse.
Sir Hugh who died without issue was succeeded by his brother Henry who thus became the 3rd Earl of Mount Alexander. He had been living as a country gentleman in Rogerstown, Dublin but returned to Newtownards together with his two sons Hugh and Thomas and saw out his life devoted to farming. The titles became extinct on the death of the 5th Earl at Hillsborough Castle in 1757. The coat of arms of Hugh Ist Viscount Montgomery was a fleur de Lys and a hand above a crescent which is part of the crest of Ards Borough Council and the badge of the Regent House Grammar School, Newtownards.
*The Board of Ordnance in Ireland supplied arms and munitions, as well as overseeing the Royal Irish Artillery and the Engineers.
** The Pentland Rising also known as the Battle of Rullion Green was the only battle of the Covenanters 1666 rebellion in Ulster which ended the rebellion and resulted in a period of violent repression against the Covenanters. Although approximately fifty-two ministers were killed, the small monument on the battlefield names only two including that of the Reverend John Crookshank.