John Montagu (or Montacute) was the son of Sir John Montagu, 1st Baron Montagu (d 1390) and Margaret de Monthermer. It follows that he descended from Joan of Acre, and through her, from King Edward I. He was also the nephew (and, as it proved, the heir) of William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury.
There seems to have been little love lost between uncle and nephew. In the 1390s, William alienated great chunks of his estates, almost certainly with the intention of preventing John from inheriting any more than the core.
John’s career was exceedingly interesting. In his earlier days, he had extensive military experience in the French war. In the 1390s he ‘crusaded’ in Prussia, possibly in the company of Henry Bolingbroke. In view of the later disagreement between them, it is notable that after the death of Mary de Bohun, Bolingbroke’s wife, in 1394, Montagu’s wife took temporary custody of the future Henry V, Bolingbroke’s heir.
In 1391, John was summoned to Parliament for the first time as Lord Montagu, in succession to his father. Following his mother’s death in 1395 he also inherited her Monthermer barony and the estates that went with it. As a member of Richard II‘s Council, he was involved in negotiations for peace with France and the marriage of the King to Isabella of France. On one of his visits to France, he became acquainted with the writer Christine de Pisan and took her son into his household. Christine records her appreciation of Montagu’s poetry – for he was also a writer – and it is unfortunate that his work seems to have been lost. Or at a minimum, it is not attributed to him, but to that prolific author, Anon.
John Montagu was one of several active Lollards at Richard’s court. While the King himself was strictly orthodox, and occasionally uttered vague threats about the horrific deaths he would impose on heretics who did not repent, it seems that Richard was tolerant by the standards of the time, and turned a blind eye to those at his court who differed from him on matters of conscience. Being a Lollard certainly does not appear to have damaged Montagu’s career or to have disqualified him from royal favour. Of course, ‘Lollard’ covers a great deal of ground – it is unlikely, for example, that Montagu took the extreme position of some members of that sect, who held that all property should be held in common. However, there is evidence that he opposed images in church and denied transubstantiation.
Montagu married Maud Francis, who was the daughter of Sir Adam Francis, a mercer and Lord Mayor of London in 1352-4. Montagu was her third husband, after John Aubrey (the son of another Lord Mayor) and Sir Alan Buxhall (d 1381) by whom she had a son, also Adam. She and John Montagu had five children together.
John Montagu succeeded his uncle as Earl of Salisbury in 1397 and inherited what was left of the family lands, including Bisham. He was high in Richard II’s favour and was one of those who acted against Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick as ‘counter-Appellants.’ As an aside, although Richard II is often accused of ‘tyranny’ for dealing with his opponents in this way, it is to be noted that he was precisely mirroring the treatment these men had doled out to his own supporters in 1388. It was a case of ‘sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander’, although many accounts are careful to miss this point. If anything, Richard acted in a more restrained way.
Alone of his colleagues, Salisbury did not receive either a promotion in the peerage or extra lands for his part in this business.
Following the banishment of Henry Bolingbroke, Salisbury was sent to France as ambassador. His mission seems to have been to inform the French King that Henry was seen as a traitor by Richard II, and to prevent his marriage to a daughter of the Duke de Berri. It is almost certain that Salisbury was ‘only obeying orders’ and had no personal agenda against Henry. Unfortunately for him, Henry did not see it that way.
Salisbury went with Richard II to Ireland in 1399, and returned to North Wales to raise troops once news was received of Bolingbroke’s landing. Although he was successful in assembling a large force, these men quickly dispersed because Richard II did not appear quickly enough. By the time Richard did appear at Conwy, his combined force amounted to a mere handful.
Once Henry had seized power, Montagu was quickly arrested and lodged in the Tower. He was apparently suspected of involvement in the alleged murder of the Duke of Gloucester, though there seems to be no evidence that he was. Lord Morley challenged him to a duel on these grounds; but although a time and place were assigned it never took place due to later events.
Released, Salisbury took a leading part in the Epiphany Rising against Henry IV. Captured at Cirencester, he was executed (or rather murdered) by a mob; and it was noted that he refused the ministrations of a priest.
His widow was allowed a couple of manors for her support, although it seems certain she had other resources. It was a much less generous allowance than that given to Henry’s sister and cousin, who were also widowed in the same rising.
Salisbury’s eldest son, Thomas, was allowed part of his inheritance in 1409 and the rest of it in 1421 when he was formally invested as Earl of Salisbury. (He had been summoned to Parliament as such since 1409!) He was a faithful subject of Henry V, serving in important military capacities until 1428 when he was killed at Orleans. He left as sole heir his daughter Alice, who was married to Richard Neville, eldest son of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort. Thus the Salisbury lands and titles fell into the Neville maw, and eventually passed to Warwick the Kingmaker.
It may be noted that Isabel and Anne Neville had a Lord Mayor of London among their ancestors.