Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ker, Robert (1578-1654)

KER, ROBERT, first Earl of Ancrum (1578–1654), eldest son of William Ker of Ancrum, by Margaret, daughter of Alexander Dundas of Fingask, who afterwards became wife of Sir George Douglas of Mordington, was (see Correspondence, p. 379) born 9 Dec. 1578. William Ker of Ancrum was grandson of Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst [q. v.] He succeeded to the family estates on the assassination of his father in 1590 by Sir Robert Ker of Cessfurd, afterwards first earl of Roxburgh [q. v.] In 1603 he was appointed groom of the bedchamber in the household of Prince Henry, and shortly afterwards knighted. On 1 Oct. of the same year he signed, as provost of Jedburgh, the general bond against thieves and robbers of the borders (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vi. 825). On 24 June 1606 he consented to drop the feud with Roxburgh [see under Ker, Robert, first Earl of Roxburgh]. He was one of the commissioners appointed in 1607 to see to the acceptance of ‘constant moderators’ by the presbytery (ib. vii. 376). After a foreign journey he was appointed one of the gentlemen-in-ordinary to Henry, prince of Wales. He was also frequently employed on special missions to Scotland. On 13 Nov. 1613 he resigned the captaincy of the guard in favour of Sir Andrew Ker of Oxenhame, in order to attend on the king's son, Charles. In the beginning of February 1620 Charles Maxwell of Terregles accused Ker of saying something about the Duke of Buckingham, which led to a duel at Newmarket. Maxwell was slain. Maxwell was clearly the offending party, and a verdict of manslaughter having been returned at the coroner's inquest, Ker, after six months' banishment, received a special pardon on 23 Oct. 1620. In 1623 Ker joined Prince Charles in Spain as gentleman of the bedchamber (Verney Papers, Camden Soc. 1853, p. 107). In April following a pension was bestowed on him and his wife. On the accession of Charles in 1625 he was promoted to be a lord of the bedchamber. Subsequently he was made master of the privy purse, and on the occasion of the coronation of Charles in Scotland was in 1633 created Earl of Ancrum, Lord Nisbet, Langnewton, and Dolphinton. On 7 Jan. 1634–5 he obtained a grant for seven years of the ten-shilling impost on the ton of foreign starch, and of the four-shilling impost paid by the makers of starch in the kingdom to the king, 200l. a year of the grant being reserved for the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1634–5, p. 454). On 23 June 1638 he received powers for thirty-one years for the discovery of ambergris and things lost at sea (ib. 1638, p. 527). On 22 Aug. he was nominated a member of the commission on cottages, and also of that appointed to inquire into breaches of the law against the taking of excessive usury (ib. pp. 602–3). On 23 Sept. he made a complaint regarding certain grants out of his perquisites to others, explaining that his diligence in encouraging the starch trade had raised the value (ib. 1638–9, p. 24), and the matter was referred to the attorney-general (ib. 1639–40, p. 92). On 28 March of the following year a pension of 2,000l. per annum was assigned to him and his wife for both their lives (ib. 1638–9, p. 620). He seems to have retired from the office of privy purse in the end of February of this year, for in April he received a discharge for all sums received by him up to the previous March (ib. 1639, p. 100). In October 1640 his wife received a gift of 1,700l. in recognition of her services as governess to the three princesses and also to the Duke of Gloucester (ib. 1640–1, p. 172). Although Ancrum's son William, third earl of Lothian, joined the covenanting party, Ancrum himself continued faithful to the royalist cause during the whole of the puritan conflict. He, however, remained aloof from public affairs from 1641 to 1650. On the death of Charles he retired to Amsterdam. He died there in great poverty towards the close of 1654. His dead body was arrested in May 1655 by his creditors to secure payment of his debts, but through the intermediation of Cromwell with the Dutch authorities directions were given that the funeral should not be disturbed.

Ancrum was twice married. By his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Murray of Blackbarony, he had one son, William Kerr [q. v.], who married Anne, countess of Lothian, and was created third earl of Lothian 31 Oct. 1631. By his second wife, Lady Anne Stanley, daughter of William, sixth earl of Derby, by Elizabeth Vere, he had one son, Charles, earl of Ancrum, and several daughters.

Ancrum was a man of cultivated tastes, and lived on terms of intimacy with some of the most famous literary men of his time, including John Donne and Drummond of Hawthornden. His ‘Sonnet in Praise of a Solitary Life,’ sent in 1624 to Drummond, was published in Drummond's works, and reprinted in 1875 in his own ‘Correspondence.’ While abroad he also wrote a metrical version of the Psalms, to fit them to tunes he had heard them sung to in the Low Countries. These have been also published in his ‘Correspondence.’ His portrait, by Blyenbach, is at Newbattle Abbey, and has been engraved in his ‘Correspondence.’ There is also an engraved portrait in Walpole's ‘Royal and Noble Authors,’ and in Pinkerton's ‘Iconographia Scotica.’

[Reg. P. C. Scotl. vi–ix.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser., reign of Charles I; Sir James Balfour's Annals of Scotland; Correspondence of Sir Robert Ker, Earl of Ancrum, and his son, William Ker, third Earl of Lothian, 1875; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park; Pinkerton's Iconographia Scotica; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 136–7.]

T. F. H.