Kirke, Percy (DNB00)


KIRKE, PERCY (1646?–1691), lieutenant-general, colonel of ‘Kirke's Lambs,’ is usually described as belonging to the ancient family of Kyrke or Kirke of Whitehaigh, Chapel-le-Frith, Derbyshire, now represented by Kirke of ‘The Eaves’ (see Burke, Landed Gentry, 1886 edit. vol. i.; also the Reliquary, vi. 213 et seq.). The relationship is not established (Chester, Westminster Register, p. 295). His father, George Kirke (d. 1675?), was gentleman of the robes to Charles I, and under Charles II groom of the bedchamber and keeper of Whitehall Palace. His first wife was Mistress Anne Killigrew, eldest daughter of Sir Robert Killigrew [q. v.], and sister of William [q. v.], Thomas [q. v.], and Henry Killigrew D.D. [q. v.] (ib. p. 135 n. 6). A memorandum of the arms displayed by George Kirke on the occasion of her funeral in 1641, preserved at Heralds' College, shows that they are not the arms of Kirke of Chapel-le-Frith (ib. p. 295 n. 1). Chester supposes Lucy Hamilton Sands, an associate of Nell Gwyn, to have been one of Anne Killigrew's children (ib. p. 218 n. 6). George Kirke married, secondly, Mary, daughter of Aurelian Townshend, the successor to Ben Jonson as writer of masques for the court. She was ‘an admired beauty of the tyme,’ and given away by Charles I at Oxford on 26 Feb. 1646. This lady and her daughters—Mary, afterwards wife of Sir Thomas Vernor, and Diana, second wife of Aubrey de Vere, last earl of Oxford—were no better than other ladies at the court (cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 461–3). George Kirke probably died in 1675, when his wife was drawing a pension as a widow (Chester, p. 295 n. 1.).

Percy or Piercy Kirke, though generally described as a son of Anne Killigrew, was more probably one of the children by a second marriage. The earliest official notice of him is a petition (circa 1665?) praying that an annuity of 365l., for which his father paid 2,000l. to Sir Charles Howard before the revolution, although he never benefited by it, might be renewed in his favour (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1665–6, p. 153). On 10 July 1666 (ib.) the Duke of York obtained his appointment as ensign in Captain Bromley's company of the lord admiral's regiment (the yellow-coated ‘maritime’ regiment, with which the marine forces originated). Afterwards he appears to have been a subaltern in the Earl of Oxford's (his brother-in-law) regiment of horse, the Oxford Blues. Warrants to the commissary of musters direct that Kirke, at the time captain-lieutenant of the colonel's troop of the regiment, should be passed (as on duty) in 1673, when serving under the Duke of Monmouth in France, and again in 1680, when commanded to Tangier (Hist. Rec. Royal Horse Guards or Blues, note at p. 30). Cannon states (Hist. Rec. 4th King's Own Foot, p. 143) that Kirke was present, with the Duke of Monmouth's regiment in the pay of France, at the siege of Maestricht in 1673, and afterwards in two campaigns under Turenne on the Rhine, also under Marshal Luxembourg in 1676 and Marshal de Creci in 1677. On 13 July 1680 he was appointed lieutenant-colonel, and on 27 Nov. following colonel of the 2nd Tangier regiment, then raised, and afterwards the 4th King's Own, and now the King's Own Royal Lancaster regiment. Kirke raised the eight companies formed about London, and took the regiment out to Tangier, where it arrived in April 1681. He was sent on an embassy to the Emperor of Morocco at Mequinez and visited Fez. An account of his mission was published in ‘Latest Accounts from Fez. By a Person of Quality,’ London, 1683. Kirke succeeded Colonel Sackville as governor of Tangier in March 1682, and on 19 Sept. following was transferred to the colonelcy of the old Tangier or Governor's regiment, since the 2nd or Queen's, and now the Queen's Royal West Surrey regiment. The regiment had been raised for service at Tangier. The origin of its badge—a Paschal Lamb—is unknown. Cannon and other writers err in describing it as an emblem of the house of Braganza. Perhaps, as Macaulay suggests, it was thought a fitting device for a Christian regiment going to war against the infidels. An account of Kirke's two years' command, compiled from the ‘Tangiers State Papers’ in the Public Record Office, the Dartmouth MSS., and other sources, is given in Davis's exhaustive ‘History of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment,’ London, 1888, i. 202–48, and conveys the impression that Kirke was an energetic and capable officer. Bishop Ken, then chaplain of the fleet under Lord Dartmouth, speaks of the dissolute tone of the garrison, and of a scandal caused by Kirke endeavouring to thrust one Roberts, the brother of his mistress, into the post of garrison-chaplain (Plumptre, Life of Ken, London, 1888, vol. i.) Dr. Lawson, the garrison-physician, told Pepys that Kirke had done more to improve the town and defences than all the other governors put together (Smith, Life of Pepys, i. 444). Lord Dartmouth [see Legge, George, 1648–1691], Kirke, and Pepys were joint-commissioners for arranging the abandonment of Tangier. On the evacuation of the place, early in 1684, Kirke, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, returned to England with his regiment (Kirke's Lambs), which was then stationed at Pendennis Castle and Plymouth. In an order dated 27 June 1684 the regiment is first styled the ‘Queen Consort's.’ Kirke's regiment, after the death of Charles II in February 1685, was called the ‘Queen Dowager's,’ the other Tangier regiment (afterwards the 4th King's Own) becoming for a time the ‘Queen's.’ Kirke's was ordered up to London from Pendennis in April 1685 (Home Office Marching Books, vol. i. order 1685, f. 16).

Made a brigadier-general on 4 July 1685, Kirke was present with part of both the late Tangerine regiments at the battle of Sedgmoor on 6 July 1685. He was appointed to command in the west of England by Lord Faversham, with whom he entered Bridgewater the day after the battle. A day or two later Kirke marched into Taunton with his ‘Lambs,’ escorting a convoy of prisoners and two cartloads of wounded. He at once hanged nineteen prisoners in the marketplace (Toulmin, Hist. of Taunton, ed. Glover), and appears to have claimed credit for not hanging more. The most exaggerated stories were circulated of his severities, and in London it was believed that he hanged over a hundred persons without any sort of trial within a week after the battle (Luttrell, vol. i.) He had his headquarters at the White Hart, at the corner of the High Street and the market-place, and, tradition asserts, used the signpost as a gallows. The little inn was afterwards kept for a time by the notorious murderers, the Mannings, and is now pulled down. The camping-ground of the ‘Lambs’ is yet called ‘Tangier.’ Kirke, a short-tempered, rough-spoken, dissolute soldier, was no doubt harsh and unscrupulous, but the accounts of his atrocities are fictitious or exaggerated (cf. Macaulay, Hist. of England, i. 634–6; Toulmin, Hist. of Taunton, ed. Glover, 1822, pp. 546–9). Despatches from Sunderland to Kirke, under dates 14–28 July 1685, express the king's disapproval of the severity shown, and of the living at free quarters enjoyed by the ‘Lambs;’ rebels (it was objected) were still at large, apparently a reference to delinquents from whom Kirke had taken bribes. He was recalled to London by an order dated 10 Aug. 1685 (Home Office Marching Books, i. 223). Another order, dated 31 Aug., directs his regiment to march from Taunton to London on relief by the Queen's (4th King's Own). Similar directions were sent to detached companies of Kirke's ‘Lambs’ still at Plymouth; other entries show that the orders were carried out, and disprove the unsupported statement that Kirke and his ‘Lambs’ formed the escort of Jeffreys during ‘the bloody assizes.’ Kirke's regiment was in the neighbourhood of London, and in the camps annually formed at Hounslow Heath, until 1688, when it formed part of a small force under his command at Warminster. Kirke, who had refused to abjure protestantism, saying he was pledged to the Emperor of Morocco to turn Mussulman if ever he changed his faith, was believed to be privy to the plot to seize James II at Warminster. Kirke was sent prisoner to London for refusing under some pretext to advance to Devizes. William III promoted him, his rank as major-general being dated (8 Nov. 1688) three days after the landing in Torbay. Oldmixon says he was among those who subsequently were in correspondence with the exiled king (Burnet, Own Time, addit. notes). In May 1689 Kirke was despatched with two regiments to relieve Derry. After much delay he forced the boom, in accordance with a peremptory order from Marshal Schomberg, preserved among the Nairne MSS. in the Bodleian Library. Kirke became governor of Londonderry, and served at the Boyne, the siege of Limerick, and elsewhere. He became a lieutenant-general 25 Dec. 1690, and in May 1691 returned from Ireland to London, whence he was sent to Flanders. He joined the army in camp at Gembloux, and made the campaign in Flanders of that summer. He died at Brussels (not Breda, as often stated) on 31 Oct. 1691. Bishop Wilson likens his end to that of Herod and other murderers, who died in the torments of loathsome disease (see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. i. 254). Some of Kirke's letters are preserved among the manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. v. 59–128).

Kirke married the Lady Mary Howard, daughter of George Howard, fourth earl of Suffolk, by his first wife, Catherine Allen, and granddaughter of Theophilus, second earl. There are references to her and her son Percy in the ‘Calendar of Treasury Papers’ from 1696 to 1701. She died in 1712.

His eldest surviving son, Percy Kirke (1684–1741), was also a lieutenant-general and colonel of the ‘Lambs’ from 1710 to 1741, during which time the regiment was successively known as the ‘Queen Dowager's,’ the ‘Princess of Wales's,’ and the ‘Queen's Royal’ (Home Office Mil. Entry Book, i. 489). At the age of three he appears as ensign in Trelawny's regiment (4th King's Own). He succeeded his father as keeper of the palace of Whitehall. At the age of twenty-four he was taken prisoner when lieutenant-colonel commanding the ‘Lambs’ at the battle of Almanza. He became colonel of the regiment on 19 Sept. 1710, and was with it in the Canada expedition. He died in London, a lieutenant-general, on 1 Jan. 1741, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where in the north transept is a very elaborate monument to him, erected by his niece and heiress, Diana Dormer, daughter of John Dormer of Rousham, Oxfordshire, who married Diana Kirke. Diana Dormer (1710–1743) is buried in the same grave.

[Chester's Westminster Registers, footnotes under ‘Kirke,’ passim; Calendars of State Papers, Dom. 1658–9 p. 581, 1663–4 passim; Howard's Memorials of the Howard Family, p. 56; Calendars of Treasury Papers, 1696–1701, under ‘Kirke, Lady Mary;’ Burnet's Own Time, with the additional notes to 1st edit. p. 82; Luttrell's Relation, vols. i–ii.; Strickland's Queens of England, vii. 317; Toulmin's Hist. of Taunton, ed. Glover, 1822; Davis's Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, 1888, vol. i.; Cannon's Hist. Records, Royal Horse Guards or Blues, 2nd or Queen's Foot, 4th or King's Own Foot (some of Cannon's statements respecting the elder Kirke in the second of these works are wrong); D'Auvergne's Campaigns in Flanders, 1736, vol. i. Kirke figures in Mr. Conan Doyle's romance, Micah Clarke.]

H. M. C.