Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ker, John (d.1741)

KER, JOHN, fifth Earl and first Duke of Roxburgh (d. 1741), was brother of Robert, fourth earl, and second son of Robert, third earl, by Lady Margaret Hay, eldest daughter of John, first marquis of Tweeddale. He was, according to Patten, carefully educated by his father (History of the Rebellion), and Macky refers to him as ‘a young gentleman of great learning and virtue,’ who ‘knows all the ancient languages thoroughly, and speaks most of the modern perfectly well’ (Secret Memoirs). He also describes him as ‘brown-complexioned’ and ‘handsome.’ Lockhart calls him perhaps ‘the best accomplished young man of quality in Europe’ (Memoirs, p. 95). He had also great personal charm. ‘By all that are so happy as to be acquainted with him,’ writes Patten, ‘he gains their affection and applause.’ He ‘had so charming a way of expressing his thoughts,’ laments Lockhart, ‘that he pleased even those against whom he spoke.’ On 22 Oct. 1696 he was served heir male and of entail of his brother in the earldom of Roxburgh, when, according to Lockhart, ‘he made his first appearance in the world to the general satisfaction of all men.’ In 1704 he was appointed one of the secretaries of state for Scotland, and the same year he accompanied the Earl of Rothes and Baillie of Jerviswood as a deputation to London to protest against the payment of Scots troops from the English treasury (Marchmont Papers, iii. 264). The deputation were assured that no purpose of this kind had been contemplated. Subsequently Roxburgh joined the squadrone, and as one of its principal leaders he took a very prominent part in the debates in favour of the union and the protestant succession. On 25 April 1707 Roxburgh's great services to the government were recognised by creating him in the Scots peerage Duke of Roxburgh, Marquis of Bowmont and Cessfurd, Earl of Kelso, Viscount Broxmouth, and Lord Ker of Cessfurd and Caverton. The same year he was chosen one of the sixteen Scottish representative peers, and he was rechosen in 1708, and again in 1715 and 1722. Dissatisfied with the influence exercised by the Duke of Queensberry in the management of Scottish business, Roxburgh, after the union, again set himself with other nobles to oppose his administration and to carry the elections in Scotland against him, but with very indifferent success. Roxburgh was one of the council of regency appointed in 1714 before the arrival in England of George I, by whom he was, on 24 Sept., named keeper of the privy seal of Scotland, and also appointed lord-lieutenant of Roxburgh and Selkirk. On 14 Oct. he was sworn a privy councillor. On the outbreak of the rebellion in the following year he accompanied the Duke of Argyll to Scotland, and in a troop of horse volunteers, composed chiefly of gentlemen of position, specially distinguished himself at the battle of Sheriffmuir (Patten, History of the Rebellion). He was also able to raise about five hundred men in support of the Hanoverian succession. In 1716 he was reappointed one of the secretaries of state for Scotland, and during the king's absence from England in 1716, 1720, 1723, and 1725 he acted as one of the lords justices. He zealously supported Carteret and Cadogan in their opposition to Townsend and Walpole. Walpole triumphed, but for some time he was unable to obtain Roxburgh's removal. At last, however, Roxburgh was dismissed on 25 Aug. 1725, on the ground that he had used his official position to encourage the discontent in Scotland on account of the malt-tax. Roxburgh's opposition to this tax seems to have been quite sincere. His dismissal arose, in fact, partly from a constitutional difficulty—the difficulty of harmonising the discharge of the functions of the office with due subordination to the cabinet. Consequently, no one was immediately appointed to succeed him, and although subsequently the office was nominally held by Lord Selkirk and the Marquis of Tweeddale, Roxburgh was the last to exercise the full functions of the office until its revival in modern times. Roxburgh spent his subsequent years chiefly in retirement on his estates; but at the coronation of George II he officiated as deputy to the Countess of Errol, high constable of Scotland. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and acted as a pall-bearer at the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey on 28 March 1727. He died at Floors 24 Feb. 1741, and was buried at Bowden.

He married, on 1 Jan. 1708, Lady Mary Finch, only child of Daniel, earl of Winchelsea and Nottingham, and widow of William Savile, marquis of Halifax. She died on 19 Sept. 1718, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, leaving one son, Robert, second duke of Roxburgh, who befriended Fielding, was father of John Ker, third duke [q. v.], and died at Bath 23 Aug. 1755.

[Patten's History of the Rebellion; Lockhart of Carnwath's Memoirs; Macky's Secret Memoirs; Marchmont Papers; Burnet's Own Time; Coxe's Life of Walpole; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 451–2.]

T. F. H.