Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kennedy, John (1595?-1668)

KENNEDY, JOHN, sixth Earl of Cassillis (1595?–1668), was the eldest son of Gilbert, the fourth earl's third son, by Margaret, daughter of Uchtred Macdowall of Garthland, and succeeded his uncle, John, fifth earl of Cassillis [q. v.], in 1615, being served heir to him on 25 July 1616. In January 1620 he obtained a license from James VI to spend five years in France, Germany, and the Low Countries ‘for his instruction in languages and doing his other lawful affairs,’ but in less than two years he was back in Scotland to be married. A rigid presbyterian, he took an early and prominent part in opposition to Charles I's ecclesiastical policy (1638), though at first he obstinately refused to join in any course tending to a forcible resistance. ‘But when,’ says Baillie, ‘he was given over of all as desperate, I took him by the hand, and left him not till at last by God's grace he became as frank in the defence of his country as any of his neighbours.’ He was present in the covenanters' camp upon Duns Law (1639), in 1641 was nominated a privy councillor, in 1643 was one of the three ruling elders sent from Scotland to the Westminster Assembly, and in February 1645 dated his second marriage contract from ‘the Scots League at Heighton in England.’ In the following August, after the battle of Kilsyth, he fled to Ireland; in 1646 he was one of the Scottish commissioners directed to urge on Charles I his acceptance of the English parliament's proposals; in 1648 he opposed the ‘engagement,’ and, with Argyll, Eglinton, and Lothian, headed the Whiggamores' Raid to Edinburgh, which expelled the convention of estates. He was the only peer among the seven commissioners sent in March 1649 to confer with Charles II at the Hague, and in the summer of that year he was appointed lord justice-general, and admitted an extraordinary lord of session. In 1650 he opposed the appointment of fresh commissioners to treat with the king at Breda, but was himself appointed one of them, along with the Earl of Loudoun. He declined to come to terms with Cromwell, and suffered much by sequestration. In February 1661 he was reappointed a privy councillor, and in June an extraordinary lord of session, but in July 1662 was superseded, for refusing to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy unless he might join thereto his explanation in writing of the supremacy. At the same time he alone in either parliament moved for an address to the king to marry a protestant, and found only one to second him. He gave Charles his word not to engage in any plots, and received in return ‘a promise under the king's hand that he and his family should not be disturbed, let him serve God in what way he pleased’ (Burnet, i. 227). He died in April 1668. The ‘grave and solemn earl,’ as Craufurd calls him, ‘Don John,’ to give Tweeddale's nickname, was a man of much virtue and justice, but ‘stiff’ and eccentric. He married, first, in 1621, Jean, daughter of Thomas Hamilton, first earl of Haddington [q. v.], and by her had a son, James, who died young, and three daughters, of whom the eldest became Margaret Burnet [q. v.] He married, secondly, in 1645, Margaret, daughter of William, tenth earl of Errol, and widow of Henry, lord Ker, and by her had issue John, seventh earl [q. v.], and two daughters.

It is his first countess who is identified with the heroine of the ballad of ‘The Gypsy Laddie’ by Finlay, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Robert Chambers, and subsequent writers. According to them, her affections had been pre-engaged to one Sir John Faw or Fall of Dunbar, who, taking advantage of the earl's absence at the Westminster Assembly, came with fourteen followers, disguised as gipsies, and carried her off. The earl, however, returning unexpectedly, pursued the fugitives, hanged the ravishers either at Carlisle or else on the ‘dule-tree’ at Cassillis, and imprisoned the countess in a tower at Maybole, where she worked a tapestry representing her elopement, and often said (falsely) to be still preserved at Colzean. The Faws or Falls of Dunbar were real gipsies, kinsfolk of the Yetholm Faas. But the absurdity of this attempt to fix the date and to identify the personages of the ballad is patent; for Lady Jean Hamilton was born in February 1607, was married in 1621, and died in December 1642, the year before the Westminster Assembly. There are two letters extant from Cassillis to the Earl of Eglinton and the Rev. Robert Douglas, in which he deplores the loss of his ‘dear bedfellow,’ his ‘beloved yokefellow.’ On the other hand, in the Skene collection of music, compiled between 1615 and 1620, occurs ‘Lady Cassillis's lilt,’ an air almost the same as that of ‘The Gypsy Laddie’ (Dauney, Ancient Scotish Melodies, 1838). This fact is seemingly unknown to Professor Child, who doubtfully assigns to the year 1720 a broadside version in the Roxburghe collection, where the husband is the ‘Earl of Castle,’ and who also cites an American version (c 1820), where he is ‘Lord Garrick’ (? Carrick). In Motherwell (1740) and some other early versions he is unnamed. If the tradition enshrines one grain of truth, it must be assigned to the first half of the sixteenth century, when ‘Johnne Faw, Lord and Erle of Litill Egopt,’ was really a notable personage. As regards the Cassillis family, however, the name, of course, is pronounced ‘Cassels,’ and very possibly we here have merely a confusion between ‘the castle gate’ and ‘Lord Cassillis' gate.’

[Historical Account of the Noble Family of Kennedy; Burnet's Hist. and his Dukes of Hamilton, pp. 422–3; R. Baillie's Letters and Journals, ed. D. Laing; Camden Miscellany, 1883, with ten letters from Cassillis to Lauderdale; C. K. Sharpe in Constable's Scots Mag. November 1817; James Paterson's Ballads and Songs of Ayrshire, 1847; Simson's Hist. of the Gipsies, 2nd edit. New York, 1878; Professor F. J. Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, pt. vii. pp. 61–74 (Boston, 1890, with eleven versions of the ballad); and the Gypsy Lore Journal for April 1891.]

F. H. G.