Montague Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Montague Surname Meaning

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.

Montague Surname Resources on The Internet

Montague and Montagu Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland, Ireland and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

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.  

Somerset.  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.

Buckinghamshire.  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.

Northamptonshire.  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:

  • Edward Montagu of Boughton, ancestor of the Dukes of Montagu
  • Henry Montagu, ancestor of the Dukes of Manchester
  • James Montagu, Bishop of Winchester
  • and Sir Sidney Montagu of Hinchingbrooke House.

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.

Irish.  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.

Jewish.  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.

Ireland. 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 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.

America. 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.

MassachusettsRichard 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 after her husband abdicated the English throne.

Irish.  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.

New Zealand.  Thomas and Sarah Montague arrived in New Zealand from Ayrshire around 1862.  They settled in Dunedin and were said to have had ten children.  However, Thomas went missing about 1880 and Sarah was left to bring up the children herself.

Montague Surname Miscellany

William de Montagu and the Knights of the Garter.  William de Montagu helped Edward III throw off the tutelage of his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. For this he was richly rewarded by the King, made the Earl of Salisbury and appointed Earl Marshal of England for life.

William had married Catherine, daughter of Lord Grandison.  She was a lady of great beauty and history records that she was as good as she was beautiful.

Upon one occasion while attending a feast at Windsor Castle she was dancing with Edward III and lost her garter which the King took up from the floor.  Some of the nobles that stood around were seen to smile, whereupon the King remarked:

“The time should shortly come when the greatest honor imaginable should be paid to that garter.”

Thus originated the Royal Order of the Knights of the Garter, with its motto in French “Honi soit que mal y pense.”

Hinchingbrooke House and the Montagues.  Sir Sidney Montague purchased Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon from Sir Oliver Cromwell in 1627. He had married Paulina, daughter of John Pepys of Cottenham, great aunt to Samuel Pepys.  Their eldest son had drowned in the moat of their home at Barnwell, which partly explained their move to Hinchingbrooke House.

When Sir Sidney died in 1644 ownership of the house passed to his son Edward.  At this time the Civil War was raging and he walked a fine line between the two competing forces. He served Cromwell loyally in the 1650’s, but went on to play a considerable part in the Restoration of Charles II and was rewarded with several Court offices and the title of the Earl of Sandwich.

Edward Montague was second cousin and patron to Samuel Pepys the diarist, who worked as a secretary for a time at Hinchingbrooke House. Both the house and estate figured largely in his diaries.  Edward was an Admiral of the Fleet during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, but died at the Battle of Solebray in 1672.

From 1627 until 1962 Hinchingbrooke House was a Montague family home.   Although the family made structural changes over the centuries the house would not return to being the centre of entertainment which had ruined the earlier Cromwell owner.

There was a final irony.  In order to pursue a political career Victor Montague relinquished any claim to his family titles.  He consequently sold Hinchingbrooke House to Cambridgeshire County Council in 1962 .

John Sandwich, Earl of Sandwich, and the Sandwich.  The following was one early account of the history of the sandwich:

“A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorbed in play that during the whole time he had no subsistence but a bit of beef between two slices of toasted bread, which he ate without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue during my residence in London.  It was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”

This report does not seem to have any foundation.  There is no doubt, however, that Lord Sandwich was the real author of the sandwich, in its original form using salt beef of which he was very fond.

The alternative explanation is that he invented it to sustain himself at his desk.  This seems plausible since we have ample evidence of the long hours he worked from an early start, in an age when dinner was the only substantial meal of the day and the fashionable hour to dine was four o’clock.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Smallpox Inoculation.  During the 18th century the average life expectancy among the British upper classes began to increase as the scourge of smallpox began to be conquered.  Some give credit to Lady Mary Worley Montagu with this as her contribution occurred sometime before Edward Jenner’s discovery of a vaccine against smallpox.

Lady Mary had come to Constantinople in 1716 with her husband Edward Wortley Montagu who had been appointed British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  While there she had discovered the local practice of variolation, a kind of proto-vaccination that involved direct exposure to small amounts of the virus.  She wrote home: “The smallpox, so fatal and so general among us, is rendered harmless by the invention of ingrafting.”

She experimented with her son Edward.  After a few days of fever and an outbreak of pustules on both arms, he made a full recovery and was immune to smallpox for the rest of his life.

When she returned to England in 1718, she introduced the practice to the royal family and, through them, to other members of the British aristocracy.

Francis Montague, A Catholic Priest Who Got Married.  Francis Montague came from a priestly family in county Tyrone.  He himself was ordained in 1842 and became curate, first at Kilmore, then at Magherafelt, and finally at Drogheda. There he fell in love with Rosa McCabe the daughter of Felix McCabe, a merchant in Drogheda.

The two ran away together to England and got married in Brighton in 1858.  The next year Francis returned to Ireland and accepted the appointment as parish priest at Cookstown in Tyrone.  There he officiated for two years until, inevitably, the cat got out of the bag and the fact that he had broken his vow of celibacy and concealed that fact for the best part of three years became known to the parish.

He left under a cloud.  Rumor had it that the parishioners collected a fund to help him to live after he left. But the facts were that he was expelled from the church and from his family.  He left Ireland, never to return, dying in London in 1893.

Still, he and Rosa did raise four sons in London and launched them into successful careers.  Francis became a Professor of History at University College, London; Frederick a successful London solicitor; Charles a noted journalist and writer; and Alfred a doctor of medicine, the Chief Medical Officer in Fiji.

The Life and Times of Edward Montagu, Third Baron Montagu.  Edward Montagu’s birth in 1926 came as a great relief to his father, who at the age of 61 was desperate for a male heir to his title and Beaulieu estate.  After finally fathering the son he had longed for, it was a sad irony that John Montagu died three years later – leaving Beaulieu to be managed by his widow and trustees until Edward reached the age of 25.

Although his background was unremittingly conventional for a man of his aristocratic standing – Eton, then Oxford and a spell in the Grenadier Guards – Edward became a self-confessed bohemian who enjoyed affairs with both men and women. However, at that time the political atmosphere was virulently anti-homosexual.  And Montagu – together with Peter Wildeblood, the diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail, and Michael Pitt-Rivers, a Dorset landowner – were charged in 1954 with the offenses of “consensual homosexual practices.”

All three men were convicted.  But the prosecution provoked a wave of sympathy from the Press and the public alike, many of whom felt it amounted to little more than an unedifying witch-hunt.  Montagu was met with cheers when he left the courtroom.

Undeterred by his conviction, Montagu returned to Beaulieu and threw himself into new ventures there. His passion for vintage motor cars turned into the Montagu Motor Museum in 1959. He had also started the first of his Beaulieu Jazz Festivals.  By the mid-1960s, Beaulieu was attracting more than half a million visitors a year.

Over the course of the next five decades, he would speak out on motoring, tourism, museums, historic buildings, conservation and the New Forest. And he played as hard as he worked.

He was a keen shot, loved foreign travel, went wind-surfing off his own foreshore and regularly competed in historic motorsport events.  He also had a passion for the theatre, opera, gourmet restaurants and parties, for which he never lost enthusiasm despite mobility difficulties in later life.

He also regularly attended the House of Lords.  When the 1999 reforms were implemented he was one of the Conservative hereditary peers elected to remain.  He died in 2015.

Captains Moses and Gordon Montague.  Descendants of Richard Montague of Hadley, Massachusetts, these captains – father and son – led interesting but different lives.

Moses was captain of a sailing ship that was captured by the French and taken to France.  He too disappeared there for a very long time. In the end he lost both his vessel and its cargo. He submitted a claim at the Court of Claims in 1800.  He died four years later at the age of 41.

His son Gordon had more success against the British in the War of 1812.  He was on-board the privateer Joel Barlow that had captured a British vessel. He became its Prize Master and successfully brought the ship to New London, Connecticut with its valuable salt cargo.  Later he embarked by ship for California at the time of the Gold Rush.  But he didn’t stay there long and returned to Connecticut.

Alice Montague and Her Daughter Wallis Simpson.  Alice Montague, daughter of a Baltimore insurance salesman William Latané (Wallis) Montague, was the mother of Wallis Simpson who married a King and afterwards became the Duchess of Windsor.

Alice was a well-born beauty from a prominent old Virginia family.  But these Montagues had fallen on hard times and only a good pedigree, refined speech, proper etiquette and a few pieces of family silver survived by the time Alice married Teackle Warfield in 1895.

However, Warfield died the following year following the birth of their daughter Wallis, leaving Alice impoverished.  She ran a boarding house in Baltimore where Wallis grew up craving a life of high society. Fortunately, a wealthy uncle assumed the burden of looking after her and provided her with a proper upbringing and education in the finest finishing school in Baltimore.  Her adventure in life had started.

Montague Names

  • 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.

Montague Numbers 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)

Montague and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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