see end note


 
part one: heritage

For almost exactly two hundred years it has universally been accepted that the marine artist Peter Monamy was born in Jersey. Like Dick Whittington, the story went, he came to London as a boy and was apprenticed to a homely house-painter because his family was poor and humble. Looking out of his window on old London Bridge, he taught himself to paint seascapes by observing the ships sailing on the shallow Thames below. He was sometimes assumed, therefore, to have only painted calms. His date of birth was unknown, but estimated at anything between 1670 and 1690; and he was, correctly, said to have died at his house in Westminster in 1749.

This account derives in its entirety from Horace Walpole, until very recently almost the only source of published information on the painter. Walpole included a brief note on Monamy in the fourth volume of his immensely influential Anecdotes of Painting in England, first published in 1780, where he states that Monamy was born in Jersey. He makes no direct criticism of Monamy's art, but there are hidden elements of social and political bias in his words, and the subtly disparaging effect they have had can be traced in comment on Monamy's work through two centuries. Even such a useful guide as Ellis Waterhouse's Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790, last revised in 1977, contains clearly discernible echoes of Walpole and a corresponding lack of factual information and judicious critical assessment.

It is now known that Peter Monamy was born in the Minories, a street running north from the Tower of London and the waterfront Custom House up to the church of St Botolph's without Aldgate, where he was baptised in 1681. He worked within the same traditions of English painting as Thornhill before him and Hogarth after him, and was familiar with the gamut of marine conditions hundreds of miles from London Bridge. His family were less remarkable for their humility than for their die-hard opposition to most forms of authority, political, fiscal and episcopal. Their roots centred mainly in Guernsey, although there were later important connections with Jersey.

In 1927 Colonel de Guérin of La Société Guernésiaise compiled notes on the Monamy family of Guernsey; and at the same time Major N.V.L.Rybot of La Société Jersiaise wrote an article for the Guernsey Transactions entitled Merchants' Marks of the Channel Islands. Included among these trade marks was that of a certain André Monamy of Guernsey, who turns out to have been Peter Monamy's grandfather. Miss Edith Carey added copious notes on the owners of all the marks, but her research seems only to have been published in Guernsey. None of these three writers made the connection between Monamy of Guernsey and Peter Monamy the artist working in London. Indeed, they thought the Guernsey family name became extinct with the death of André Monamy's son Andrew in about 1727.

Their findings are here combined with much new information about Andrew and his disreputable brother Pierre; and an attempt is made to lay the foundations for a complete reconstruction of the life and achievements of Pierre's son, Peter the marine painter. Although future research will correct some of the individual details, I hope nevertheless to discover the true nature of Peter Monamy's Channel Island origins; and, by placing his works in their proper social and historical context, perhaps promote a better appreciation of his artistic stature and significance. As this (1981) is the tercentenary year of his birth, I can be confident that the attempt is not premature.

The first recorded Monamy in the Channel Islands took the oath of allegiance before the Royal Court of Jersey in 1540 or 1544. The family's Jersey roots may go back before 1540, but although there is a report of a certain Gilles Monamy (of St.Lo) being banished from the island for bringing in catholic books and holy water, it seems likely that the first settlers came as early refugees from the counter-reformation in France. The patriarch of both the Guernsey and Jersey branches seems to have been Étienne Monamy of St Saviour's parish, Jersey.

Étienne had three and probably more children born in Jersey. One son, Clement, married Marie Ahier and had at least two boys, Moyse and Aaron. It is likely that from them are descended the present families of Monamy in Jersey, at first centred in the parishes of Grouville and St Clement. During Elizabethan and Commonwealth times Guernsey was much the most prosperous of the islands, and Étienne's other known son, André, moved to Guernsey, where he was later joined by his nephew Aaron.

 
see family background

André Monamy was a successful Elizabethan merchant, and became a man of substance in Guernsey. In 1569 he bought the house which is now the Savings Bank in the High Street of St Peter Port. He rebuilt it at the time of his second marriage in 1578 and lived there until he died in 1590. The house was sold in 1594. The photograph at left shows the building as it was in 1979.

By his young wife, Bertranne Estur, he left four small children. His two sons, André and Elie, had both died by 1613, neither reaching the age of 25; but not before Elie had married Susanne Martin and fathered a son born in 1612. This was the second notable André Monamy, the owner of the merchant mark mentioned in Major Rybot's article, pictured below.

This André Monamy grew up in Puritan Guernsey, which had been a haven for Huguenot refugees from France since the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. He became a prominent Cromwellian and pursued the Parliamentary cause with vigour. In 1643 he was one of twelve Commissioners appointed by Parliament and vested with the government of Guernsey. In 1651 he was a Lieutenant in the Militia and was involved in a proposed assault on Castle Cornet, which was the last Stuart stronghold to capitulate in the British Isles. In 1653 he was one of five new Jurats elected to replace five dismissed by Parliament on account of their Royalist sympathies.

 

The merchant mark of André Monamy; from a seal dated 1654.

 

He inherited a farm from his maternal grandmother, and it is not impossible, though not entirely certain, that the farmhouse, within easy walking distance of St Peter Port harbour, is the one now known as "Monamy".

However, after about 1655 his impetuous qualities undoubtedly contributed to his downfall. In 1656, as recorded in the CSPD of Charles II, 1682, he got into financial difficulties; and in 1660 he was in turn dismissed from the office of Jurat upon the Restoration of Charles II. The centre of wealth and political influence in the Channel Islands shifted from St Peter Port to St Helier, Jersey, where the Carterets had remained loyal to the Stuarts. Litigation in respect of André Monamy's debts dragged on until after his death in 1680, a year before the birth of his grandson, Peter.

He married twice, his second wife being Anne, daughter of Pierre Le Febvre de l'Espine and Catherine Carey, daughter of the Seigneur de Blanchelande. [See Careyroots website: here.] His four children were named Pierre, André, Marie and Catherine. André, or Andrew as he was known in London, probably lived from 1661 to 1727. He became a respectable merchant trading in salt and wool in partnership with his (presumed) cousin Daniel Le Febvre. He moved to and fro between Guernsey, London and Holland, as recorded in correspondence preserved in the manuscript department of the British Library. He married Marie Le Boutillier, the daughter of an advocate, in 1692; and seems to have died childless. His widow died in 1751. His youngest sister, Catherine, married Henry Perkins, Sergent of Guernsey, in 1685. The other sister, Marie, married a man called Maurice Perchard in 1670. I conjecture that this Maurice Perchard was a Jerseyman, and that the Jersey connections of the Guernsey family of Monamy would have been reinforced by this alliance.

In view of what will be related about Pierre, the last of the Parliamentary Monamy's four children, it is amusing to note that in 1927 Colonel de Guérin remarked that "of Pierre Monamy ... nothing is known". Clearly, his exploits were not recorded in Guernsey, even if they were known then or at any earlier time.

Pierre Monamy's paternal grandmother was, as mentioned, Susanne Martin. She, in turn, was the granddaughter of a famous, or notorious, Guernsey merchant venturer called Nicolas Martin, who had been castigated by the Southampton Custom House authorities in 1569 for employing "extraordinarye and secrete meanes to land commodyties, whereby the Quene ys hindered greatlie of her customes ...". His descendant became an enthusiastic follower of this ancestral example. Born in 1652, Pierre Monamy probably left Guernsey for good in about 1670. By about 1675 he was in London. Since he is later seen to have had various Jersey confederates in the City, it is possible that he moved there via Jersey. In London he was called Peter, but I will continue to refer to him below as Pierre, to avoid confusing him with his son, Peter the marine painter.

In 1674 the career of Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, one of the members of Charles II's Cabal, came to an end. In January of that year he had been impeached in the House of Commons. He was thought to be a secret Catholic, and Buckingham specifically charged him with frustrating all Protestant and anti-French plans. On September 11th, 1674, he resigned as Secretary of State and was succeeded in that office by a man called Williamson.

 

Two years after this, on July 10th, 1676, the Calendar of State Papers Domestic of Charles II records the appearance of a counterfeit grant of freedom (ie a customs clearance document) made out in favour of a ship called the Rose and Crown. It purported to be under the Sign Manual, the autograph signature of the King, and was counter-signed "Arlington". By a neat piece of timing it was dated September 7th, 1674, just four days before Arlington had resigned. A warrant was immediately prepared to bring in the person who had issued this forged document. Three days later a bond was given by Mr Pierre Monamy to ensure his attendance before the Committee for Trade until the matter was cleared up. Within another week a date was appointed for the enquiry to take place, and Mr Monamy, Captain Joshua Payne of the Rose & Crown, and a go-between called Philip Messervy junior, of Jersey, were required to attend.

Panic must have seized the 24 year old Pierre at this point, for four days later another warrant was issued to take him into custody and he was shortly afterwards delivered to the Keeper of the Gatehouse, a prison. He stayed in this prison for about two months, when he petitioned the King for release on bail. He must have been let out, for nothing more is recorded of the matter for another two years.

The Gatehouse, about 1710. The dark building. From an engraving by Kip.      
At top left is the edge of the west face of Westminster Abbey.

 

In 1678 a certain Thomas de la Marche wrote a series of letters to Williamson, the then Secretary of State, touching "the probability of Mr Monamy's counterfeiting the King's signet". It seems that by August 1677 Philip Messervy had, to all appearances, fallen out with Mr Monamy. He had gone to de la Marche in Westminster "to desire his assistance in forming a charge against Monamy". Messervy told de la Marche that what Monamy had alleged before the Privy Council; viz., that he had received the ship freedoms "from a gentlewoman belonging to the Duchess of Portsmouth", was false. The Duchess of Portsmouth was one Charles II's several mistresses. This gentlewoman had been bribed 150 by a Frenchman called Petit to make this statement so that Monamy would go free. In fact Monamy was making a handsome profit from these passes: he had sold over 60 of them at 50, 55 and 60 each.


The Duchess of Portsmouth

These and other matters de la Marche had carefully written down in 24 articles. But either Philip Messervy had been playing a double-dealing game, or else he had changed his mind, for he took these articles "under pretence of getting them transcribed that they might be presented to Williamson" and instead showed them to a Francis Messervy. Francis Messervy had told Pierre Monamy, and the upshot was that the three of them had turned on de la Marche, and succeeded in getting him thrown into prison instead. Mr Monamy apparently remained at liberty to continue to hinder the King "greatlie of his customes". Both Messervy and de la Marche are well-known Channel Island family names.


A later view of the Gatehouse. It was demolished in 1776.

The skulduggery implicit in these gleanings from the State Papers has yet to be fully revealed. It is worth noting that a Mr Blood makes his appearance in the pages of the Papers, as he enters a room when de la Marche is conferring with a potential witness against Monamy. This, surely, can be none other than the notorious Colonel Blood, a few years after his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, for which he was pardoned and strangely rewarded by Charles II, in 1671. By 1678 it seems he was in trouble again, and may perhaps have been sharing residence with de la Marche, in the Gatehouse, before dying in 1680. Tantalizing as all this is, it is not directly part of the story of Peter Monamy, and must wait for more thorough investigation on another day.

go to part two.

In 1971 the Jersey PO issued a stamp featuring a work by Monamy


In 1974 a set of four more works attributed to Monamy was issued

article 1981: part 2
article 1983
background
monamy website index

January 2008: For a comprehensive update of Monamy genealogy, with many additional details, and differing in several ways from the above, see new page. Click.

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