Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ker, Robert (1570?-1650)

KER, ROBERT, first Earl of Roxburgh (1570?–1650), eldest son of William Ker of Cessfurd, by Janet, daughter of Sir William Douglas of Drumlanrig, was born about 1570. His father was grandson of that Sir Andrew Ker [q. v.] of Cessfurd who was father of Mark Kerr [q. v.], abbot of Newbattle. He had charters of lands in the barony of Caverton on 22 March 1573 (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1546–80, entry 2213), and also on the same date a charter of the barony of Cessfurd and other lands (ib. 2214). It was Sir Robert Ker's father (not himself, as stated sometimes) who in 1585 assisted the banished lords in driving Arran from power, and towards the close of 1587 was, at the same time as Scott of Buccleuch, committed to ward, at the instance of Lord Hunsdon, for making excursions on the borders. In 1590 Sir Robert conspired the murder of William Ker of Ancrum, which was committed in Edinburgh ‘under silence of night’ (Hist. James the Sext, p. 245). He fled to England (ib.), but on 18 Nov. 1591 obtained a remission under the great seal (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1580–93, entry 1961). He was an adherent of the Chancellor Maitland of Thirlestane, whom in 1592 he succeeded in reconciling with the queen (Sir James Melville, Memoirs, p. 405). In October 1593 Ker, with two or three hundred horse, joined the king at Linlithgow to support him against the Bothwell party (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 105), and while returning homewards in December, accompanied by only one servant, accidentally encountered Bothwell, who also was accompanied by only one attendant. They fought on horseback two by two for several hours without decisive result, until at length both parties were so exhausted with their exertions that they separated by mutual consent (ib. p. 111). On 27 March 1594 Ker, as warden-depute of the middle marches, received a commission from the privy council for the pursuit of Bothwell (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 137), and in August Ker of Ferniehirst and others were ordered into ward for declining to subscribe an association to assist him in the pursuit (ib. p. 161). On 16 Oct. following he was ‘denounced a rebel’ for failing to present before the council Andrew Ker of Newhall (ib. v. 230). On 2 Dec. the Earl of Morton complained that Sir Robert had evaded the act by formally presenting Andrew Ker before some of the council in Edinburgh (ib. pp. 240–1). On 5 July 1596, for neglecting to appear before the king and council to give advice regarding the means to be used for the quieting of the borders, he and others were denounced as rebels (ib. p. 300), but on the 24th he found caution that he would keep good rule (ib. p. 742). The chief reason for his non-appearance was, probably, that he was himself the prime promoter of the disorders. Sir Robert Carey [q. v.], afterwards earl of Monmouth, who describes Ker as a ‘brave, active young man’ (Memoirs, ed. 1808, p. 67), gives a graphic description of his exploits, and of the manner in which he checkmated him by the capture of Geordie Bourne, one of Ker's most daring subordinates. In December 1596 a settlement of the disputes on the borders had been arranged, including an exchange of prisoners, and Ker, having failed to deliver up some English prisoners, surrendered himself in the following year to Sir Robert Carey, by whom he was courteously treated. Not long afterwards he was released, and on 24 July 1599 he was admitted a member of the privy council of Scotland (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 557). In the following year he was created Lord Roxburgh. Douglas and others state that the date of creation is uncertain, all that is known being that it was previous to that of Lindores (created 31 March 1600–1), before whom his name appears in the ranking of the nobility in 1606; but, according to Sir James Balfour, the creation took place on 29 Dec. 1600 (Annals, i. 409). His name appears as Roxburgh in the council sederunt of 10 Feb. 1601 (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vi. 203). On 3 Aug. 1602 a commission of wardency was appointed for the middle marches in view of Roxburgh's intention to go abroad (ib. p. 441). He accompanied King James in his journey to London in 1603, after his succession to the English crown, and subsequently retained a position of influence in his counsels. At the parliament held at Perth in July 1604 he was appointed a commissioner to treat with the English commissioners regarding a union with England. On 24 July 1606 he was served heir to his father, and subsequently he received a large number of charters of other lands, including (15 Aug. 1630) that of the burgh of Canongate, united into the barony of Broughton. On 24 June 1606 the council ordained that a deadly feud between him and the Kers of Ancrum on account of the slaughter of their father should be submitted to arbitration (ib. vii. 215), and on 20 Nov. the Kers of Ancrum, although declining to submit the feud to arbitration, agreed to be reconciled (ib. vii. 272).

In October 1607 Roxburgh was sent as the king's commissioner to the synod of Merse and Teviotdale, to urge its compliance with the enactment of the Linlithgow convention by admitting one of the ‘constant moderators’ of the presbytery to be moderator of the synod, but ‘got a flat nolumus’ (Calderwood, vi. 680). He was retained a member of the privy council on its reconstruction by royal letter 20 Jan. 1610 (Reg. P. C. Scotl. viii. 815). On 18 Sept. 1616 he was created Earl of Roxburgh and Lord Ker of Cessfurd and Caverton. He was, however, disappointed at not obtaining the place of chamberlain to the prince, and about the same time his lady lost the favour of the queen and left the court (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1611–18, p. 415). In the parliament which met at Edinburgh on 25 July 1621 he was chosen a lord of the articles, and in the same parliament he voted for the confirmation of the five articles of Perth. He was a member of the committee appointed by King James, 19 May 1623, to sit every week for the purpose of hearing grievances (Calderwood, vii. 576). In 1637 he was made lord privy seal of Scotland. After the afternoon service in St. Giles's Church on 23 July of this year, which followed the disturbance caused in the forenoon by the reading of the service, Roxburgh drove the bishop to his lodgings in his carriage amidst the stone-throwing of an enraged mob (Gordon, Scots Affairs, i. 11; Spalding, Memorials, i. 80). Subsequently he favoured a conference with the ministers in order that the matters in dispute might be arranged, although he was supposed to be a secret supporter of episcopacy. In November he was sent from London by the king with secret instructions for the council to take decisive action (king's letter in Balfour, Annals, ii. 237), the result being that all meetings held in opposition to the service-book were discharged under pain of treason (Gordon, i. 32). Roxburgh was one of those who, on 22 Sept. 1638, subscribed the king's covenant at Holyrood (ib. p. 108). He was one of the six assessors named by the king to sit in the general assembly held at Glasgow in November (ib. p. 144; Spalding, p. 118), but not allowed by the assembly to take part in the business. On the outbreak of the civil war in 1639 he joined the king, but his son having joined the covenanters, he himself was for security committed on 15 May to the mayor's house at Newcastle (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1639, p. 173). In June he, however, again kissed the king's hands (ib. p. 265), and a little later was received into great favour (ib. p. 268). After the pacification of Berwick he returned home. As he had not subscribed the covenant, he was not permitted to enter the Scottish parliament when it was opened by the king in 1641, but, along with other noblemen under similar disabilities, ‘stayed in the next room’ (Balfour, Annals, iii. 44). Having, however, subscribed on 18 Aug., he took his seat (ib. p. 45), and besides having his office of privy seal confirmed to him, served on several important committees. He also took a prominent part in most of the discussions, supporting so far as possible a policy consonant to the wishes of the king. When Charles in 1642 attempted the arrest of the five members, Roxburgh kept the door of the house open that members might see the inadvisability of resistance. In the following year he was stated to have been concerned in the writing of a letter to the queen from Derby, informing her of the intention of the Scots to take up arms. He remained, however, practically neutral until in 1648 he supported the ‘engagement’ for the king's rescue. For doing so he was on 13 Feb. of the following year deprived of the office of privy seal. He died 18 Jan. 1650, in his eightieth year, at his house of Floors (now known as Floors Castle), near Kelso, and was buried in Bowden Church on 20 March.

Roxburgh was thrice married. By his first wife, Margaret, only daughter of Sir William Maitland of Lethington, he had one son, William, lord Ker, who graduated at Edinburgh University 28 July 1610 and died while travelling in France in 1618; and three daughters: Jean, married 1655 to Sir William Drummond, fourth son of John, second earl of Perth; Isabel, married to James Scrimgeour, second viscount Dundee; and Mary, married first to James Halyburton of Pitcairn, and secondly to James, second earl of Southesk. By his second wife, Jean, third daughter of Patrick, third lord Drummond, he had a son, Harry, lord Ker, who died in January 1643, and whose daughter, Margaret, wife of Sir James Innes, third baronet, was ultimately great-grandmother of James Innes-Ker, fifth duke of Roxburgh [q. v.] By his third wife, Isabel Douglas, fifth daughter of William, earl of Morton, Roxburgh had no issue. Having no heirs male, the titles and estates, in accordance with a new destination obtained in 1643, renewed by charter under the great seal 31 July 1646, and executed 23 Feb. 1648, passed to Sir William Drummond, the husband of Roxburgh's eldest daughter, Jean.

[Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. vols. ii–iii.; Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. v–ix.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. reigns of James I and Charles I; Hist. James the Sext, Sir James Melville's Memoirs, Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals, and Moysie's Memoirs (last four Bannatyne Club); Gordon's Scots Affairs and Spalding's Memorialls of the Trubles (both Spalding Club); Sir James Balfour's Annals; Calderwood's Hist. of the Church of Scotland; Sir Robert Carey's Memoirs; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 447–8.]

T. F. H.