The sitter was the only surviving son of George Monck (1608-1670), 1st Duke of Albermarle, the famous general whose army helped restore King Charles II to the throne in 1660. The 2nd Duke, also an army officer and colonial governor, married Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (1654-1734), daughter of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, in December 1669. He was elected Knight of the Garter in 1670, when he also inherited the ducal title on his father's death, and was made Colonel of a foot regiment in 1673, Privy Councillor in 1675, Lord Lieutenant of Devon and of both Essex (1675) and Wiltshire (1681), and Colonel of the Queen's regiment in 1678. Nonetheless, as a young man, Monck's reputation was more as a rake than as an officer of distinction; in 1671 he and the Duke of Monmouth were obliged to take out pardons for murdering a beadle during a brawl in a brothel.
In the Popish Plot and exclusion crises, Monck remained loyal to the King, and was in turn rewarded with honours stripped from the disgraced Duke of Monmouth. However, in 1685, Monck was unsuccessful in supressing a rebellion by Monmouth at Lyme Regis, and out of favour with the King for his poor performance, resigned his army commission and his lord lieutenancies. In 1686 he petitioned to receive the governorship of Jamaica, but on his appointment soon became unwell, and died on 6 October 1688, aged thirty-six. His body was brought back to England for burial in Westminster Abbey.