Man tells of abuse at hands of MP father

Robert Montagu with his book A Humour of Love which details his sexual abuse at the hands of his father Victor Montagu, the 10th Earl of Sandwich

Robert Montagu with his book A Humour of Love which details his sexual abuse at the hands of his father Victor Montagu, the 10th Earl of Sandwich

First published in News Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by

ROBERT Montagu first tackled the subject of his father’s abuse in a work of fiction published in 1988 called Coming to Terms.

But the daily abuse by his father Victor Montagu, then a respected Member of Parliament, from the age of seven to 11 was all too real.

As it was, he believes, for up to 20 other young boys.

When his sisters discovered him in the bath with his father when he was 11 the full story of what had been happening during their early morning ‘story sessions’ was revealed.

But bewilderingly for the young boy, nothing was done and although the abuse stopped, it left deep scars.

He wasn’t only bewildered, he was angry too. At 16 he began to pour out the story, writing it down and trying to make sense of why it happened, his part in it and his guilt.

But that draft lay undisturbed for years and even when he went looking for it, the decision to publish wasn’t easy.

But in the end, even with a successful career as a psychotherapist, a happy 40-year marriage under his belt, four children and nine grandchildren and charity started for Dorset children with emotional difficulties, it wasn’t a decision to take lightly.

He says in the book: “I stared at the page of ‘A Humour of Love’ for several days trying to figure out a decision.

“I thought about my current work which occasionally figures men who have abused children or are coming close to doing so.

“Society condemns sexual acts with children quite rightly and predators often justify their acts as love.

“But this form of love is that termed by Shakespeare: it is a ‘humour of love’, an apparent feeling and not the real thing. It deliberately chooses to give up all restraint and that is what makes it actually loveless, simply a manipulation.

“If I am presented with children who have been affected, I work to reduce their feelings of guilt, I know how intractable these thoughts are. The sense of responsibility in a child can be as hard-wired as the sexual obsession in a man.

“For that reason every piece of writing on this subject is invaluable because it gives us knowledge to battle against the twin disease: attraction toward children and the attraction towards accepting responsibility in the child.”

Robert has met many of his father’s victims, and many, as he did, loved the man despite his crimes.

But that is no reason for silence, he says.

“I protected the man and blamed myself. Also I was silenced by the wishes of the family not to denounce the man.

“We protect our own – even the predator himself. That is what makes us human.

“Yet it is vital that we do not protect predators when it is likely they will continue to abuse, as he did.

“We must not hide from reality or from guilt or from a sense of family shame: we must expose the beast within the barricades even when he is a worthy man.”

 

Bringing the unspeakable into the open can help you deal with it

 

ROBERT Montagu’s father Victor married Rosemary Peto, goddaughter of Queen Maud of Norway, and the couple had six children, Robert being the youngest.

When his mother left her husband and began relationships with women, the Earl turned to his seven-year-old son for comfort. It is that perverted form of comfort that Robert describes in stark and uncomfortable detail in his book A Humour of Love.

From the perspective of more than half a century, and with a professional knowledge, he tries to make sense of what happened.

It doesn’t make for easy reading and it is easy to see why he believes the book will be uncomfortable for other family members.

But despite what his story was likely to do to family relations Robert, now 64, felt his reasons for going public far outweighed the damage his story might do to them.

He also felt a duty – because of his work counselling others – to shine a light on the often taboo subject of child abuse.

He said: “My life consists of seeing people in a therapy situation and encouraging people to tell the truth about their lives and face up to the difficulties they have suffered.

“And I have a personal story that has existed for 54 years now and I have not spoken about it publically and I think you need to put your money where your mouth is.

“It is really a matter of encouraging people to speak out in general about things that have happened to them and not stay silent and not feel they are obliged to be silent. I think that is really what is about.

“It is really about encouraging people to find the courage to name things and not run scared of them all their lives as many people do.

“A lot of people have contacted and written to me, complete strangers, to tell stories about their lives which are very shocking in a similar sort of way.

“Often it does lead to estrangement from their families in some of the cases I have been told about.

“It is one of the consequences of speaking and I do hope that we have reached a new era in those terms and I think from our own family example we are finding ways to come together again as a result.

“I have there have been difficult moments but generally speaking we have had a good relationship between my brother and myself and also between other members of the family and myself.

“But it is a story that has rumbled on and it has been known and I have said from time to time I will be writing about it at some stage.

“So it was not a complete surprise although I think the way it came out was quite a surprise but it is always going to be a bit of a shock when it happens.”

But perhaps Robert underestimated how strong family ties can be.

His book was never going to be comfortable reading for the family but his older brother, John the present Earl, fully understands the reasons he had to write the book.

John Montagu said: “My basic reaction is that I am pleased that Robert has been heard after a long struggle because it has been quite an ordeal for him.

“I respect enormously what he is doing for childcare in Dorset and he is highly qualified to write about it.

“It is difficult for the family and it is also 50 years ago so it is easier to look back with hindsight.

“I can’t really comment beyond that.

“In the long term it shouldn’t strain family relations. I do absolutely understand his motives and I think they are good motives because he is professionally engaged in the subject and he knows what people are saying about the past.

“I am six years older and we weren’t in school together, we were in different places and I didn’t know what was going on.”

The Earl said the family did talk about the abuse when it came to life when was he was only 17 himself.

He said: “I don’t think we knew what we could do about it. We had all the conversations you would expect but the adults were not able to do anything about it at the time.

“It is in the book how I was expressing my feelings and how I confronted my father but I have to leave that because it is just too painful.

“It is all there in the book.”

 

Charitable work

 

ROBERT Montagu set up the Dorset Child and Family Counselling Trust in July 2005 and it was given charitable status in January 2006.

It offers a grant-supported service for children, adolescents and families where there are emotional, behavioural or other mental health problems.

The service is primarily for low income families, charging them £5 for each professional appointment.

His aim in setting it up was to help families with concerns about their children’s behaviour or development with information, advice and guidance on what counselling can achieve, what services are available and to commission counselling.

The charity often picks up cases that fall outside more formal remits such as the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Robert believes for those that don’t meet criteria to be seen by that service his charity can help. He said: “Our early intervention may prevent the worsening of problems with the growing risk of self-harm, abuse and severe emotional disorder.

“We offer a grant-supported service for children, adolescents and families where there are emotional, behavioural or other mental health problems.”

He hopes counselling provided can help with anything from depression, challenging behaviour, bullying and peer group difficulties, eating, sleeping and toileting problems, mild anxiety and obsessional behaviour, school refusal or non-attendance, bereavement, extreme anger and family relationship issues.

The charity relies on donations and these can be made through the dcfct.org website.

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