Peterborough, Charles Mordaunt, Earl of

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Personalities >> Peterborough, Charles Mordaunt, Earl of

Peterborough, Charles Mordaunt, Earl of

Commander of the British forces in Spain (1705-1706)

born circa 1658, England

died 25 October 1735, Lisbon, Portugal


Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Mordaunt’s father, John Mordaunt, was created Viscount Mordaunt of Avalon and Baron Mordaunt of Reigate, Surrey, in 1659, his mother was Elizabeth, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Carey, the second son of Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth.

Charles Mordaunt matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 11 April 1674.

In 1674, when about sixteen years of age, Charles Mordaunt joined Sir John Narborough's fleet in the Mediterranean. In 1675, he won his first distinction in arms in the destruction of the dey's fleet under the very guns of Tripoli. On 5 June of the same year, when his father died, Charles Mordaunt succeeded to the peerage as Viscount Mordaunt. On his return from the second expedition to Tangier he plunged into active political life as a zealous Whig and an unswerving opponent of the Duke of York. In 1686, his continued hostility to James II forced him to repair to Holland, where he proposed to William of Orange to invade England. The disposition of the cold and cautious William had little in common with the fierce and turbulent Mordaunt. His plan was rejected, though the prudent prince of Orange deemed it judicious to retain his services.

In 1688, when William sailed to Torbay, Mordaunt accompanied him, and when the Dutch prince was safely established on the throne of England honours without stint were showered upon Lord Mordaunt. He was sworn of the privy council on 14 February 1689, on 5 April of the same year, he was appointed first lord of the treasury, and a day later advanced in the peerage by creation as Earl of Monmouth.

In less than a year, Lord Monmouth was out of the treasury, but he still remained by the person of his monarch and was with him in his dangerous passage to Holland in January 1691. He was one of the eighteen peers who signed the protest against the rejection, on 7 December 1692, of the motion for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the conduct of the war, and although William had refused his consent to a bill for triennial parliaments in the previous session, Lord Monmouth did not shrink from reintroducing it in December 1693. This led to a disagreement with the court, though the final breach did not take place until January 1697, when Monmouth was accused of complicity in Sir John Fenwick's conspiracy and of the use of “undutiful words” towards the king. He was committed to the Tower, staying in confinement until 30 March 1697, and deprived of his employments. Some consolation for these troubles came to him on 19 June of the same year, when he succeeded to the earldom of Peterborough, by the death of his uncle Henry Mordaunt, 2nd earl.

The four years after Peterborough’s release from the Tower were mainly passed in retirement, but on the accession of Anne, he plunged into political life again with avidity. His first act was to draw down on himself in February 1702 the censure of the House of Commons for the part which he took in the attempt to secure the return of his nominee for the borough of Malmesbury.

Through the fear of the ministry that his restless spirit would drive him into opposition to its measures if he stayed at home, Peterborough was appointed early in 1705 to command an expedition of British and Dutch troops in Spain. In April 1705, he was created the sole commander of the land forces. On 1 May, he was created joint-commander with Sir Cloudesley Shovel of the fleet, after he had been reinstated a member of the privy council on 29 March. He arrived at Lisbon on 20 June 1705, sailed for Barcelona (August 1705) on an expedition for the conquest of Catalonia, and began to besiege that town. For some weeks the operations were not prosecuted with vigour and Peterborough urged that the fleet should transport the troops to Italy, but the energetic counsels of the Archduke Charles at last prevailed and by 14 October the city fell into his hands.

On 24 January 1706, Peterborough entered Valencia in triumph, but these movements had weakened the garrison at Barcelona, which was now besieged by a superior French force under Tessé. The garrison, commanded by the archduke, defended their positions with great bravery, but would have been obliged to surrender had not the fleet of Sir John Leake, answering the appeals of Charles but contrary to the original orders of Peterborough, come to their assistance on 8 May, whereupon the French raised the siege on 11 May. It is difficult to understand the action of Peterborough during this campaign, unless on the supposition that he was out of sympathy with the movement for placing an Austrian prince on the throne of Spain. When Charles determined upon uniting with Lord Galway's troops and marching to Madrid, the advice of Peterborough again hindered his progress. At first he urged an advance by Valencia as supplies had there been collected, then he withdrew this statement; afterwards he delayed for some weeks to join Galway, who was in need of succour, but ultimately reached the camp on 6 August. The leaders of the army differed in their views.

In March 1707, Lord Peterborough was recalled to England to explain his conduct. On his return to England in August he allied himself with the Tories, and received his reward in being contrasted, much to his advantage, with the Whig victor of Blenheim and Malplaquet The differences between the three Peers, Peterborough, Galway and Tyrawley, who had served in Spain, formed the subject of angry debates in the Lords, when the majority declared for Peterborough.

In January and February 1708, after some fiery speeches the resolution that Peterborough had performed many great and eminent services was carried, and votes of thanks were passed to him without any division. His new friends were not desirous of detaining him long on English soil, and they sent him on a mission to Vienna, where he characteristically engaged the ministry in pledges of which they disapproved.

Peterborough’s first wife, Carey, daughter of Sir Alexander Fraser of Dores, Kincardineshire, died on the 13 May 1709, and was buried at Turvey.

On 3 and 4 August 1713, Peterborough received command of a cavalry regiment, and was appointed Knight of the Garter.

With the accession of George I, Lord Peterborough's influence was gone.

In 1722, Peterborough secretly married Anastasia Robinson, a famous dramatic singer of great beauty and sweetness of disposition, daughter of Thomas Robinson, a portrait painter; but she was at first unrecognized as his wife, and lived apart from him (regarded merely as his mistress) with her two sisters at Parson's Green. She remained on the operatic stage, till 1724.

A few months before Peterborough’s death, after a second marriage ceremony, Anastasia Robinson was finally introduced to society as the countess of Peterborough.

Worn out with suffering, he died at Lisbon on 25 October 1735. His remains were brought to England, and buried at Turvey in Bedfordshire on 21 November.

Lord Peterborough was short in stature and spare in habit of body. His activity knew no bounds. He was said to have seen more kings and postilions than any man in Europe, and the whole point of Swift's lines on “ Mordanto ” consisted in a description of the speed with which he hastened from capital to capital. He was eloquent in debate and intrepid in war, but his influence in the senate was ruined through his inconsistency, and his vigour in the field was wasted through his want of union with his colleagues.

Peterborough had a son John (1681-1710) who predeceased him.


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 21, 1911 – “Peterborough and Monmouth, Charles Mordaunt, Earl of”