Aristocrat and Soldier
The Montgomeries were one of the most powerful families in Scotland, with many titles and large estates dating back to the 1100s.
Adam Montgomery was the Fifth Laird of Braidstane, and his son, Hugh Montgomery (1560–1636), was primarily an aristocrat and a soldier. He had been educated at Glasgow College and went to France where he spent some time at the royal court. He then moved to Holland and became Captain of Foot of a Scottish Regiment, under William I of Orange-Nassau (King William III’s great grandfather) fighting against the army of King Philip II of Spain – whose troops included an Englishman called Guy Fawkes!
When his father died, Hugh returned to Scotland to become the Sixth Laird of Braidstane and married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the Laird of Greenock. His fighting skills were used again when he became involved in the generations-old feud between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghams (led by the Earl of Glencairn). Hugh Montgomery claimed that one of the Cunninghams had insulted him, and challenged him to a duel, but Cunningham fled – first to London and then to Holland.
Montgomery tracked him down to the Inner Court of the Palace at The Hague, drew his sword and with a single thrust aimed to kill him. Luckily for Cunningham, the sword hit the buckle of his belt and saved his life – but Montgomery, thinking he had killed Cunningham, put away his sword and while he was leaving the Palace was arrested and imprisoned at Gevangenpoort in the Binnenhof.
Stationed there was a Scottish soldier – Sergeant Robert Montgomery – who came to visit Hugh in prison, and they came up with a jailbreak plan. Robert arrived at the prison dressed as a wealthy Laird with property in Scotland, to court the daughter of the prison Marshall in order to get the key to Hugh’s cell. The plan was so successful that within a few days they were married in the prison, with Hugh Montgomery performing the ceremony according to Scottish law. The wedding guests had drunk so much wine that Hugh, Robert and his new wife were able to slip away unnoticed to a pre-arranged ship which took them to Leith, near Edinburgh.
Hugh’s return to Scotland saw him receive a severe reprimand from King James VI, but thanks to his own strong relationship with the King and the support of his influential brother, George Montgomery, Hugh was back in favour. George had left Scotland as a youth and had become Dean of Norwich in 1602, a privileged position which he used to gather information about English politics which he then passed back to King James’s court in Scotland.
So Hugh Montgomery also had considerable influence with King James VI, and when Queen Elizabeth 1 died in the spring of 1603 he accompanied James to London for his coronation ceremony.
Montgomery established the Donaghadee–Portpatrick trading route for the settlement and in 1626 he attempted to rename the towns as Montgomery and PortMontgomery respectively. The new names didn’t catch on, but a datestone recording this event survives in a private collection in Donaghadee to this day.
Hugh Montgomery was given what may have been a Scottish State funeral in Newtownards on 8th September 1636. The funeral service was preached by Bishop Leslie, the Bishop who had deposed the Presbyterian ministers just a few weeks previously on 12th August. The morning after the funeral, 9th September 1636, four of these ministers (Blair, Hamilton, McClelland and Livingstone) set sail from Groomsport Harbour on board the Eagle Wing, bound for the New World with 136 other Ulster-Scots settlers.
Montgomery gave each of his 6 churches (Donaghadee, Greyabbey, Comber, Kilmore, Newtownards and Portpatrick) three gifts: a bell, a 1603 Geneva Bible and a 1603 Common Prayer book, each with the Braidstane coat of arms in gold leaf on the front cover. One of the bells in Greyabbey Parish Church to this day is nicknamed “Old Gomery”.
Hugh Montgomery’s coat of arms (a fleur de lis and hand above a crescent) can be seen today as part of the crest of Ards Borough Council, and in the school badge for Regent House Grammar School, Newtownards.
The Montgomery Manuscripts describe Hugh as a man of “middle stature”, “ruddy complexion and had a manly, sprightlie and cheerful countenance” and that “his temperament was sanguine, for his body and nerves were agile and strong, beyond any of his sons or their children”. He also is described as “being of a sound vigorous constitution of health… seldom having sickness, because he was greatly sober and temperate in meat and drink, and chaste also, and used moderate exercises…”
He was fond of country sports, hunting deer, foxes and even wolves. Also listed in The Montgomery Manuscripts are pastimes like fishing, golf, tennis, archery and even football – “…but would not play for sums of money…”
Hugh Montgomery was succeeded in 1636 by his son Hugh Montgomery, 2nd Viscount of the Ardes, who lived at Mount Alexander near Comber. This 2nd Viscount was appointed to the King’s Irish Privy Council in 1637. Page 143 of The Montgomery Manuscripts tells us that he died suddenly on 15th November 1642, aged 45. He in turn was succeeded by his eldest son, who was also called Hugh Montgomery.