Ramsay, David (d.1653?) (DNB00)


RAMSAY, DAVID (d. 1653?), clockmaker to James I and Charles I, was born in Scotland, and belonged to the Ramsays of Dalhousie. His son William (fl. 1660) [q. v.] says that when James I succeeded to the crown of England, ‘he sent into France for my father, who was then there, and made him page of the bedchamber and groom of the privy chamber, and keeper of all his majesties' clocks and watches. This I mention that by some he hath bin termed no better than a watch maker. … It's confest his ingenuity led him to understand any piece of work in that nature … and therefore the king conferred that place upon him’ (Wm. Ramesay, Astrologia Restaurata, 1653, Preface to the Reader, p. 28). On 25 Nov. 1613 he was appointed clockmaker-extraordinary to the king with a pension of 50l. a year, and in March 1616 a warrant was issued for the payment to him of 234l. 10s. for the purchase and repair of clocks and watches for the king. On 26 Nov. 1618 he was appointed chief clockmaker, and on 27 July 1619 letters of denization were granted to him. Various other warrants were passed for payments for his services, and in one which bears date 17 March 1627 he is described as ‘David Ramsay, esq., our clockmaker and page of our bedchamber.’

Specimens of Ramsay's watches are to be found in the British Museum and in South Kensington Museum. A watch belonging to Mrs. Holmes of Gawdy Hall, Norfolk, is described in ‘Norfolk Archæology’ (vi. 2). A technical description of several specimens is given in Britten's ‘Former Clock and Watch Makers,’ p. 67. His early works are marked ‘David Ramsay, Scotus.’ On the incorporation of the Clockmakers' Company in 1631 Ramsay became the first master, but he probably took very little part in the work of the society. Upon taking the oath before the lord mayor he was described as ‘of the city of London,’ but the city records do not furnish any evidence that he was a freeman. Scott introduces a David Ramsay, without any strict regard for historical accuracy, in the opening chapter of ‘The Fortunes of Nigel’ as the keeper of a shop ‘a few yards to the eastward of Temple Bar.’

Ramsay was also a student of the occult sciences. In William Lilly's ‘Life and Times,’ 1715, p. 32, an amusing account is given of an attempt made in 1634 by Ramsay and others to discover hidden treasure in Westminster Abbey by means of the divining rod, when the operations were interrupted by fierce blasts of wind, attributed by the terrified spectators to demons, who were, however, promptly exorcised. Sir Edward Coke, writing to Secretary Windebanke, on 9 May 1639, about a demand for money which it was inconvenient to meet, says: ‘If, now, David Ramsay can co-operate with his philosopher's stone, he would do a good service.’ There are also entries in the ‘Calendars of State Papers,’ dated 28 July 1628 and 13 Aug. 1635, relating to hidden treasure which Ramsay proposed to discover. A manuscript in the Sloane Collection, No. 1046, bearing the title ‘Liber Philosophicus, de divinis mysteriis, de Deo, Hominibus, anima, meteoris,’ is attributed to him on insufficient authority.

He was also an inventor, and between 1618 and 1638 he obtained eight patents (Nos. 6, 21, 49, 50, 53, 68, 78, 117). Although the full ‘titles’ of these patents are given in the indexes published by the commissioners of patents, no information as to the precise nature of the inventions is extant. They relate to ploughing land, fertilising barren ground, raising water by fire, propelling ships and boats, manufacture of saltpetre, making tapestry without a loom, refining copper, bleaching wax, separating gold and silver from the base metals, dyeing fabrics, heating boilers, kilns for drying and burning bricks and tiles, and smelting and refining iron by means of coal (Cal. State Papers, 1619, 1622–3–5). In his later years he fell into poverty, and in 1641, while a prisoner for debt, he petitioned the House of Lords for payment of six years' arrears of his pension as groom of the privy chamber (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 110 a). Towards the payment of those arrears the committee for advance of money, by an order dated 13 Jan. 1645, granted him one third of the money arising from his discovery of delinquents' estates (Cal. of Committee for Advance of Money, i. 40). It would appear from this that he had joined the parliamentary party. On 11 Feb. 1651 there is a note in the proceedings of the council of state that a petition of David Ramsay was referred to the mint committee (Cal. State Papers, 1651–2, p. 140).

His son William, in the dedication to his father of his ‘Vox Stellarum,’ 1652, refers to the latter's pecuniary difficulties, which gave ‘occasion to some inferior-spirited people not to value you according to what you both are by nature and in yourself.’ The date of Ramsay's death is unknown, but he appears to have been living in 1653, the postscript of his son's ‘Astrologia Restaurata’ being dated 17 Jan. of that year, ‘from my study in my father's house in Holborn, within two doors of the Wounded Hart, near the King's Gate.’

In the ‘Calendar of State Papers,’ under date 21 June 1661, there is a petition of Sir Theophilus Gilby and Mary, widow of David Ramsay, who states that she raised troops for the king's service ‘at Duke Hamilton's coming into England,’ since which time she has been sequestered and plundered. But she may possibly have been the widow of another David Ramsay, a courtier, from whom it is very difficult to distinguish the clockmaker in contemporary records.

David Ramsay (d. 1642), the courtier, born in Scotland, was related to the Ramsays, earls of Dalhousie, and to John Ramsay, earl of Holderness (1580?–1626) [q. v.] A brother, Sir James Ramsay (d. 1638) [q. v.], is noticed separately. Another brother, George Ramsay, was in 1612 intruded by James I, against the will of the college, into a fellowship at Christ's College, Cambridge; he held the fellowship till 1624 (Cal. State Papers, 1624, p. 597). On 19 June 1604 a warrant was issued for the payment to David Ramsay of 26l. 13s. 4d. for a livery as groom of the bedchamber to Prince Henry. On 18 Nov. 1613 he was awarded a pension of 200l. per annum for his services to the late prince. In 1631 a quarrel arose between him and Lord Reay with reference to a charge of treason, which very nearly led to a judicial duel. Both were imprisoned in the Tower, from which they were released on bail on 5 Aug. 1631 (Egerton MSS. 2553, f. 37). Among the Additional MSS. at the British Museum (No. 7083) is a volume entitled ‘The Manner of Donald, Lord Rey, and David Ramsay, esq., their coming to and carriage at theire Tryall on Monday the 28th day of November 1631, before Robert, Earle of Lindsey, Lord High Constable,’ and others (State Trials, iii. 483; Rushworth, Historical Collections, ii. 113, original edition; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1631–3; cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 48 b, 2nd Rep. pp. 3 b, 174 b, 3rd Rep. p. 71 a). Ramsay obtained from the king the reversion of the post of filazer to the court of common pleas, which he farmed to Fabian Philipps [q. v.]

He died in 1642, and his will, dated 13 May, was proved on 3 Aug. of that year in the prerogative court of Canterbury (101 Campbell). The executors were James Maxwell, black rod; Sir John Meldrum [q. v.]; and David Forrett, nephew. He left legacies to his sister Agnes, his niece Barbara Forrett, his nephew John Forrett, Patrick Shawe, husband of his sister Barbara, and to his executors. He mentions a bond of 6,000l. which Fabian Philipps had entered into for the due performance of the office of filazer, and for the payment of the profits to him (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1643, p. 471).

[For the clockmaker see authorities cited; Overall's Account of the Clockmakers' Company; Horological Journal, 1888, p. 161. For the courtier see authorities cited, and the Registers of the Great Seal of Scotland, 1609–20, which contain many references to the Ramsays and their relatives the Forretts.]

R. B. P.