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Memoirs of the Jacobites
William Gordon, Viscount Kenmure


The origin of the distinguished surname of Gordon is not clearly ascertained : "some," says Douglass, "derive the Gordons from a city of Macedonia, named Gordonia; others from a manor in Normandy called Gordon, possessed by a family of that name. The territory of Gordon in Berwickshire was, according to another account, conferred by David the First upon an Anglo-Norman settler, who assumed from it the name of Gordon.

William Gordon, sixth Earl of Kenmure, was descended from a younger son of the ducal house of Gordon; in 1633 Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar was created Viscount Kenmure and Lord of Lochinvar; and the estates continued in an unbroken line until they descended to William, the sixth Viscount, who was the only Scottish peer in 1715 who suffered capital punishment.

This unfortunate nobleman succeeded his father in 1698; and possessed, up to the period of his taking the command of the army in the south, the estates belonging to his family in the Stuartry of Kirkcudbright. Kenmure Castle, still happily enjoyed by the family of Gordon, stands upon an eminence overlooking the meadows, at that point where the river Ken expands into a lake. The Castle was originally a single tower, to which various additions have been made according to the taste of different owners. The Castle Keep is now ruinous and unroofed, hat the body of the house is in good repair. A fine prospect over the scenery of the Glenhens is commanded by the eminence on which the castle stands. An ancient avenue of lime-trees constitutes the approach to the fortress from the road.

In this abode dwelt the Viscount Kenmure until the summons of Lord Mar called him from the serene tenour of a course honoured by others, and peaceful from the tranquillity of the unhappy nobleman's own disposition; for his was not the restless ambition of Mai-, nor the blind devotion of the Duke of Perth; nor the passion for fame and ascendancy which stimulated Lord George Murray in his exertions. Lord Kenmure was, it is true, well acquainted with public business, and an adept in the affairs of the political world, in which he had obtained that insight which long experience gives. His acquaintance with books and men was said to be considerable; he is allowed, even by one who had deserted the party which Lord Kenmure espoused, to be of a "very extraordinary knowledge." Put his calm, reflective mind, his experience, his resources of learning, rather mdisposed than inclined this nobleman from rising when called upon to lend his aid to the perilous enterprise of James Stuart. Beloved in private life, of a singularly good temper, calm, mild, of simple habits, and plain in his attire, he was as it was generally observed, the last man whom one might have expected to rush into the schemes of the Jacobite party.

That one so skilled in human affairs should venture, even in a subordinate degree, to espouse so desperate a cause as that of James was generally reputed to be, Slight seem to prove that even the wise were sanguine, or that they were carried away by the enthusiasm of the hour. Neither of these circumstances appear to bear any considerable weight in revolving the conduct of Lord Kenmure.

A stronger influence, perhaps, than that of loyalty operated on the conduct of Viscount Kenmure. He was married: his wife, the spirited and energetic Mary Dalzell, was the only sister of Robert, sixth Earl of Carnwath. Her family were deeply imbued with the principles of hereditary right and of passive obedience ; and Lady Kenmure cherished these sentiments, and bestowed the energies of her active mind on the promotion of that cause which she held sacred. The house of Dalzell had been sufferers in the service of the Stuarts. By her mother's side, Lady Kenmure was connected with Sir William Murray of Stanhope, and with his singular, and yet accomplished son, Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope, who was taken prisoner at Preston, fighting for the Jacobites. The Earl of Carnwath, Lady Kenmure's brother, was one of those men whose virtues and acquirements successfully recommend a cause to all who are under the influence of such a character. Having been educated at Cambridge, he had imbibed an early affection for the liturgy of the Church of England; his gentle manners, his talents, and his natural eloquence, established him in the affections of his friends and acquaintance. This nobleman was, like his sister, ready to sacrifice everything for conscience sake : like her, he was a sufferer for that which he esteemed to be justice. He was afterwards taken prisoner at Preston, impeached before the House of Peers in 1716, and sentenced to bo executed as a traitor, and his estate forfeited; but eventually he was respited and pardoned. He survived to be four times married.

Another of Lady Kenmure's brothers, John Dalzell, was, it is true, a captain in the army upon the breaking out of the Rebellion in 1715; but, at the summons of him whom he esteemed his lawful Sovereign, he threw up his commission, and engaged n the service of James.

When Lord Kenmure received a commission from the Earl of Mar to head the friends of the Chevalier in the South, he had tics which perhaps were among some of the considerations which led him to hesitate and to accept the proffered honour unwillingly. On his trial he referred to his wife and "four small children," as a plea for mercy. But Lady Kenmure, sanguine and resolute, did not view these little dependent beings as obstacles to a participation in the insurrection If she might be considered to transgress her duty as a mother, in thus risking the fortunes of her children she afterwards compensated by her energy and self-denial for her early error of judgment.

It had been arranged that the insurrection in Dumfriesshire was to break out in conjunction with that headed in Northumberland by Mr. Forster. To effect this end, numbers of disaffected, or, as the Jacobite writers call them, well-affected noblemen and gentlemen assembled in parties at the houses of their friends, moving about from place to place, in order to prepare for the event.

It was on the twelfth of October, 1715, that Viscount Kenmure set out in the intention of joining the Earl of Wintoun. who was on his road to Moffat, and who was accompanied by a party of Lothian gentlemen and their servants. It is said by the descendants of Viscount Kenmure. on hearsay, that his Lordship's horse three times refused to go forward on that eventful morning; nor could he be impelled to do so, until Lady Kenmure taking off her apron, and throwing it over the horse's eyes, the animal was led forward. The Earl of Carnwath had joined with Lord Kenmure, and rode forwards with him to the rencontre with Lord Wintoun. Lord Kenmure took with him three hundred men to the field.*

At the siege of Preston, in which those who fell dead upon the field were less to be compassionated than the survivors, Lord Kenmure was taken prisoner. His brother-in-law, the Earl of Carnwath, shared the same fate. They were sent with the prin-cipal state prisoners to London. The same circumstances, the same indignities, attended the removal of Lord Kenmure to his last earthly abode, as those which have been already related as disgracing the humanity of Englishmen, when the Earl of Derwentwater was carried to the Tower.

The subsequent sufferings of these brave men were aggravated by the abuses which then existed in the state prisons of England. The condition of these receptacles of woe, at that period, beggars all description. Corruption and extortion gave every advantage to those who could command money enough to purchase luxuries at an enormous cost. Oppression and an utter carelessness of the well-being of the captive, pressed hardly upon those who were poor. No annals can convey a more heartrending description of the sufferings of the prisoners confined in county gaols, than their own touching and heartfelt appeals, some of which are to be found in the State Paper Office.

In the Tower, especially, it appears from a diary kept by a gentleman who was confined there, that the greatest extortion was openly practised. Mr. Forster and a Mr. Anderton, who were allowed to live in the Governor's house, were charged the sum of five pounds a-week for their lodging and diet,—a demand which, more than a century ago, was deemed enormous. Several of the Highland chiefs, and among them the celebrated Brigadier Mackintosh, were "clapped up in places of less accommodation, for which, nevertheless, they were charged as much as would have almost paid the rent of the best houses in St. James's Square and Piccadilly." Mr. Forster, it must be added, was obliged to pay sixty guineas for his privilege of living in the governor's house and Mr. Anderton to give a bribe of twenty-five guineas for having his irons off. A similar tax was made upon every one who entered, and who could pay, and they were thankful to proffer the sum of twenty guineas, the usual demand, to be free from irons. It was, indeed, not the mere freedom from chains for which they paid, but for the power of effecting their escape. Upon every one who uid not choose to be turned over to the common side, a demand was made of ten guineas fee, besides two guineas weekly for lodging, although in some rooms men lay four in a bed. Presents were also given privately, so that in three or four months' time, three or four thousand pounds were paid by the prisoners to their jailers.

Many of the prisoners being men of fortune, their tables were of the most luxurious description; forty shillings was often paid for a dish of peas and beans, and thirty shillings for a dish of fish ; and this fare, so unlike that of imprisonment, was accompanied by the richest French wines. The vicious excesses and indecorums which went on in the Tower, among the state prisoners, are said to have scandalized the graver lookers on. The subsequent distress and misery which ensued may, of course, be traced, in part, to this cause.

Lord Derwentwater, ever decorous and elevated in his deportment, was shocked at the wayward and reckless conduct of some of the Jacobites on their road to London, told one of the King's officers at Barnet, that these prisoners "were only lit for Bedlam." To this it was remarked, that they were only fit for Bridewell. Whilst hopes of life continued, this rebuke still applied. The prisoners were aided in their excesses by the enthusiasm of the fair sex. The following extract from another obscure work, " The History of the Tress-yard," is too curious to be omitted. " That while thej [the prisoners] flattered themselves with hopes of life, which they were made to believe were the necessary consequences of a surrender at discretion, they (lid, without any retrospect to the crimes they were committed for, live in so profuse a manner, and fared so voluptuously, through the means of daily visitants and helps from abroad, that money circulated very plentifully; and while it was difficult to change a guinea almost at any house in the street, nothing was more easy than to have silver for gold to any quantity, and gold for silver, in the prison,— those of the fair sex, from persons of the first rank to tradesmen's wives and daughters, making a sacrifice of their husbands' and parents' rings, and other precious moveables, for the use of those prisoners ; so that, till the trial of the condemned lords was over, and that the Earl of Derwentwater and Viscount

Kenmure were beheaded, there was scarce anything to be seen amongst them but flaunting apparel, venison pasties, hams, chickens, and other costly meats, with plenty of wine.

Meantime the trial of the attainted lords took place, and checked, like the sudden appearance of a ghostly apparition, this horrible merriment, — with which, however, few names which one desires to cherish and to respect are connected. The same forms that attended the impeachment and trial of his companions, were carried on at the trial of Lord Kenmure. The unhappy nobleman replied in few and touching words, and, in a voice which could not be heard, pleaded guilty; an inconsistency, to express it in the mildest terms, of which he afterwards sincerely repented.

At the end of the trial, to the question "What have you to say for yourself why judgment should not be passed upon you according to law? "My lords," replied Lord Kenmure, "I am truly sensible of my crime, and want words to express my repentance. God knows I never had any personal prejudice against his Majesty, nor was I ever accessory to any previous design against him. I humbly beg my noble Peers and the honourable House of Commons to intercede with the King for mercy to me, that I may 'ive to show myself the dutifullest of his subjects, and to be the means to keep my wife and four small children from starving ; the thoughts of which, with my crime, makes me the most unfortunate of all gentlemen."

After the trial, great intercessions were made fur mercy, but without any avail, as far as Lord Derwentwater and Lord Kenmure were concerned. They were ordered for execution on the 24th of February, 1 71(5.

The intelligence of the condemnation of these two lords, produced the greatest dismay among their fellow sufferers in the Tower; and the notion of escape, a project which was singularly successful in some instances, was resorted to, n the despair and anguish of the moment, by those who dreaded a cruel and ignominious death.

Lord Kenmure, meantime, prepared for death. A very short interval was, indeed, allowed for those momentous considerations which his situation induced, lie was sentenced on the ninth of February, and in a fortnight afterwards was to suffer. Yet the execution of that sentence was, it seems, scarcely expected by the sufferer, even when the fatal day arrived.

The night before his execution, Lord Kenmure wrote a long and affecting letter to a nobleman who had visited him in prison a few days previously. There is something deeply mournful in the fate of one who had slowly and unwillingly taken up the command which had ensured to him the severest penalties of the law. There is an inexpressibly painful sentiment of compassion and regret, excited by the yearning to live— the allusion to a reprieve—the allusion to the case of Lord Carnwath as affording more of hope than his own—lastly, to what he cautiously calls "an act of indiscretion," the plea of guilty, which was wrung from this conscientious, hut sorrowing man, by a fond value for life and for the living, So little did Lord Kenmure anticipate his doom, that, when he was summoned to the scaffold the following day, he had not even prepared a black suit,—-a circumstance which he much regretted, since he "might be said to have died with more decency."

The following is the letter which he wrote, and which he addressed to a certain nobleman.

"My very good Lord,

"Your Lordship has interested yourself so far m mine, and the lords, my fellow prisoners' behalf, that I should be the greatest criminal now breathing, should I, whether the result of your generous intercession be life or death, be neglectful of paying my acknowledgments for that act of compassion.

"We have already discoursed of the motives that induced me to take arms against the Prince now in possession of the throne, when you did me the honour of a visit three days since in my prison here ; I shall therefore wave that point, and lament my unhappiness for joining in the rest of the lords in pleading guilty, in the hopes of that mercy, which the Generals Wills and Carpenter will do us the justice to say was promised us by both of them. Mr. Piggot and Mr. Eyres, the two lawyers employed by us, advised us to this plea, the avoiding of which might have given us further time, for looking after the concerns of another life, though it had ended in the same sentence of losing vol. ii. u this which we now lie under. Thanks be to the Divine Majesty, to whose infinite mercy as King of Kings, I recommend myself in hopes of forgiveness, tho' it shall be my fate to foil of it here on earth. Had the House of Commons thought fit to have received our petition with the same candour as yours has done, and recommended us to the Prince, we might have entertained some hopes of life; but the answer from St. James's is such as to make us have little or no thoughts of it.

"Under these dismal apprehensions, then, of approaching dissolution, which, I thank my God for his holy guidance, I have made due preparation for, give me leave to tell you, that howsoever I have been censured on account of the family of the Gordons, which 1 am an unhappy branch of, that I have ever lived and will die in the profession of the Protestant religion, and that I abhor all king-kiliing doctrines that are taught by the church of Rome as dangerous and absurd. And though 1 have joined with some that have taken arms, of that persuasion, no other motive but that of exercising to the person called the Pretender, whom 1 firmly believe to be the son of the late King James the Second, and in defence of whose title I am now going to be a sacrifice, has induced me to ;t. Your Lordship will remember tho papers I have left with you, and deliver them to my son. They may be of use to his future conduct in1 life, when these eyes of mine are closed m death, which 1 could have wished might have stolen upon me in the ordinary course of nature, and not by the hand of the executioner But as inv blessed Saviour and Redeemer suffered an ignominious and cruel death, and the Son of God, made flesh, did not disdain to have his feet nailed to the Cross for the sins of the world ; so may I, poor miserable sinner, as far as human nature will allow, patiently bear with the hands of violence, that I expect suddenly to be stretched out against me.

"Your Lordship will also, provided there is no hopes of a reprieve this night, make me acquainted with it as soon as possible, that I may meet that fate with readiness which, in a state of uncertainty, J expect with uneasiness. I must also be pressing with your Lordship that if, in case of death, any paper under my name should come out as pretended to have been written by me, in the manner or form of a speech, you will not believe it to be genuine; for I, that am heartily sorry for disowning my principles in one spoken before your Lordship and the rest of my peers, will never add to that act of indiscretion by saying anything on the scaffold but my prayers for the forgiveness of my poor self and those that have brought me to be a spectacle to men and angels, especially since T must speak in my last moments according to the dictates of my conscience, and not prevaricate as I did before the Lords, for which I take shame to myself. And such a method of proceeding might do injury to my brother Carnwath, who, 1 am told, is in a much fairer way than I am of not being excluded from grace. I have nothing farther than to implore your Lordships to charge your memory with the recommendations I gave you to my wife and children, beseeching God that he will so sanctify their afflictions, that after the pains and terrors of this mortal life they may with me be translated to the regions of everlasting joy and happiness, to which blessed state of immortality your Lordship shall also, while I am living, be recommended in the prayers of, my very good Lord, your most affectionate kinsman, Kenmure."

"From my prison, in the Tower of Loudon, Feb. 23, 1715."

The following paper, the original of which is still m the hands of his descendants, was written by Lord Kenmure the night before his execution :—

"It having pleased the Almighty God to call me now to suffer a violent death, I adore the Divine Majesty, and cheerfully resign my soul and body to Ilis hands, whose mercy is over all His works. It is my very great comfort that He has enabled me to hope, through the merits and by the blood of Jesus Christ, He will so purifie me how that I perish not eternally. I die a Protestant of the Church of England, and do from my heart forgive all my enemies. I thank God I cannot accuse myselfe of the sin of rebellion, however some people may by a mistaken notion think me guilty of it for all I did upon a laite occasione; and my only desire ever was to contribute my small endeavour towards the re-establishing my rightfull Sovereigne and the constitutione of my countrie to ther divine rights and loyall setlinent; and by pleading guilty I meant nu more then ane acknowledgment of my having heen >n armes, and (not being bred to the law) had no notion of my therby giving my assent to any other thing contained in that charge. I take God to wittnes, before whom I am very soon to apear, that I never had any desire to favour or to introduce ropery, and I have been all along fully satisfied that the King has given all the inorall security for the Church of England that is possible for lnm in his circumstances. I owne I submitted my-selfe to the Duck of Brunswick, justly expect ing that humantity would have induced him to give me my life, which if he had done I was resolved for the future to have lived peaceably, and to have; still reteaned a great-full remembrance of so greatt a favour, and I am satisfied the King would never have desired me to have been in action for hhn after; but the caice is otherways. I pray God forgive those who thirst after blood. Had we been all putt to the sword immediatly upon our surrender, that might have born the construction of being don in the heatt and fury of passion ; but now I am to die in cold blood, I pray God it be not imputed to them. May Almighty God restore injured right, and peace, and truth, and may He in mercy receave my soull Kei'mure."

It was decreed that the Earl of Derwentwater and the Viscount Kenmure should suffer on the same day On the morning of the twenty-fourth of February. at ten o'clock, these noblemen were conducted to the Transport Office on Tower Hill, where they had separate rooms for their private devotions, and where such friends as desired to be admitted to them could take a last farewell. It had been settled that the Earl of Nithisdale should also suffer at the same time, but during the previous night he had escaped Whether the condemned lords, who were so soon to exchange life for immortality, were made aware of that event or not, has not transpired. "What must have been their emotions, supposing that they were conscious that one who had shared their prison, was likely to be restored to his liberty and to his family!

Lord Kenmure conducted himself with a manly composure and courage during this last trial of his submission and fortitude. His reserve, however, on the scaffold was remarkable. It proceeded from a fear, incidental to a conscientious mind, of saying anything inconsistent with his loyalty and principles ; and from an apprehension, natural in the dying bus-band and father, of injuring the welfare of those whom he was to leave at the mercy of Government.

Lord Derwentwater suffered first: his last ejaculation, "Sweet Jesus be merciful unto me!" was cut short by the executioner severing his head from his body. Then, after the body and the head had been carried away, the scaffold was decently cleared, and fresh baize laid upon the block, and saw-dust strewed, that none of the blood might appear to shock the unhappy man who was to succeed the young and gallant Derwentwater in that tragic scene.

Lord Kenmure then advanced. He was formally delivered from the hands of one sheriff to those of the other, who had continued on the stage on which the scaffold was erected all the time, and who then addressed the condemned man. The first question related to the presence of clergy, and of other friends; and Lord Kenmure stated, in reply, that he had the assistance of two clergymen, and desired the presence of some friends who were below. These persons were then called up, and Lord Kenmure retired with his friends and the two clergymen to the south side of the stage, where they joined in penitential prayers, some of them written for the occasion, and others out of a printed book, not improbably the Book of Common Prayer, since Lord Kenmure was a Protestant and an Episcopalian. Lord Kenmure employed himself for some time in private supplications ; and afterwards a clergyman, in a prayer, recommended the dying man to the mercy of God. A requiem completed the devotions of the unfortunate Kenmure.

Sir John Fryer, one of the sheriffs, then inquired if his Lordship had had sufficient time ; and expressed his willingness to wait as long as Lord Kenmure washed. He also requested to know if Lord Ken-inure had anything to say in private ; to these questions a negative was returned.

The executioner now came forward. Lord Kenmure was accompanied by an undertaker, to whom the care of his body was to be entrusted ; he was also attended by a surgeon, who directed the executioner how to perform his office, by drawing his finger over that i>art of the neck where the blow was to be given. Lord Kenmure then kissed the officers and gentlemen on the scaffold, some of them twice and thrice; and being again asked if he had anything to say, answered, "No." He had specified the Chevalier St. George in his prayers, and he now repeated Irs repentance for having pleaded guilty at his trial. He turned to the executioner, who, according to the usual form, asked forgiveness. "My Lord," said the man, "what I do, is to serve the nation; do you forgive me?" "I do," replied Lord Kenmure; and he placed the sum of eight guineas in the hands of the headsman. The final preparations were instantly made. Lord Kenmure pulled off, unassisted, his coat and waistcoat: one of Ins friends put a white linen cap on his head; and the executioner turned down the collar of his shirt, in order to avoid all obstacles to the fatal stroke. Then the executioner said, "My Lord, will you be pleased to try the block?' Lord Kenmure, in reply, laid down his head on the block, and spread forth his hands. The headsman instantly performed his office. The usual words, "This is the head of a traitor!" were heard as the executioner displayed the streaming and ghastly sight to the multitude.

The body of Lord Kenmure, after being first deposited at an undertaker's in Fleet Street, was carried to Scotland, and there buried among his ancestors.

A letter was found in his pocket addressed to the Chevalier, recommending to him the care of his children; hut it was suppressed.

Thus died one of those men, whose honour, had his life been spared, might have been trusted never again to enter into any scheme injurious to the reigning Government; and whose death inspires, perhaps, more unmitigated regret than that of any of the Jacobite lords. Lord Kenmure's authority was sullied by no act of cruelty; and his last hours were those of a pious, resigned, courageous Christian. He was thrust into a situation as commander in the South, peculiarly unfitted for his mild, reserved, and modest disposition : and he was thus carried away from that private sphere which he was calculated to adorn.

After her husband's death, the energies of Lady Kenmure were directed to secure the estates of Kenmure to her eldest son. She instantly posted down to Scotland, and reached Kenmure Castle in time to secure the most valuable papers. When the estates were put up for sale, she contrived, with the assistance of her friends, to raise money enough to purchase them ; and lived so carefully as to be able to deliver them over to her son, clear of all debt, when he came of age. Four children were left dependent upon her exertions and maternal protection. Of these Robert, the oldest, died :n 1741, unmarried, in his twenty-eighth year.

James also died unmarried. Harriet, the only daughter, was married to her mother's cousin-german. Captain James Dalzell, uncle of Robert Earl of Carnwath. John Gordon, the second and only surviving son of Lord Kenmure, married, in 1744, the Lady Frances Mackenzie, daughter of the Earl of Seaforth ; and from this marriage is descended the present Viscount Kenmure, to whom the estate was restored in 1824.

Lady Kenmure survived her husband sixty-one years. In 1747, she appears to have resided in Paris, where, after the commotions of 1745, she probably took refuge. Here, aged as she must have been, the spirit of justice, and the love of consistency were shewn in an anecdote related of her by Drummond of Pochaldy, who was mingled up in the cabals of the melancholy Court of St. Germains. It had become the fashion among Prince Charles's sycophants and favourites, to declare that it was not for the interest of the party that there should be any restoration while King James lived; this idea was diligently circulated by Kelly, a man described by Drummond as full of trick, falsehood, deceit, and imposition; and joined to these, having qualities that make up a thorough sycophant.

It was Kelly's fashion to toast the Prince in all companies first, and declare that the King could not last long. At one of the entertainments, which he daily frequented, at the house of Lady Redmond, the dinner, which usually took place at noon, being later than usual, Lady Kenmure, in making an afternoon's visit, came in before dinner was over, She was soon surprised and shocked to hear the company drinking the Prince's health without mentioning the King's. "Lady Kenmure" adds Drummond, "could not bear it, and said it was new to her to see people forget the duty due to the King." Kelly immediately answered, "Madam, you are old fashioned; these fashions are out of date." She said that she really was old fashioned, and hoped God would preserve her always sense and duty enough to continue so ; on which she took a glass and said "God preserve our King, and grant him long life, and a happy reign over us!

Lady Kenmure died on the 16th of August, 1776, at Terregles, in Dumfriesshire, the seat of the Nithisdale family.


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