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Significant Scots
Robert Ker


KER, ROBERT, earl of Ancrum, a nobleman of literary accomplishment, and the direct ancestor of the present noble family of Lothian, was descended from a third son of Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehurst, and entered public life as laird of Ancrum in Roxburghshire. He was born about the year 1578, and succeeded to the family estate in 1590, on the death of his father, who was assassinated by his kinsman, Robert Key, younger of Cessford. He was cousin to the famous, or rather infamous Robert Ker, the favourite of James VI., and who was raised by that prince to the title of earl of Somerset. The subject of this memoir appears to have also been honoured, at an early period of life, with court favour. Soon after the king’s accession to the English throne, he is observed to occupy a considerable station in the household of prince Henry, which was, perhaps, more splendid, and consisted of more persons than the present royal household. He afterwards was employed about the person of prince Charles, who became his patron through life. By the mediation of this prince, a match was effected between Sir Robert and the lady Anne Stanley, daughter of the earl of Derby.

In 1620, Sir Robert was involved in a fatal quarrel by a young man named Charles Maxwell, who insulted him, without the least provocation, as he was entering the palace at Newmarket. In a duel, which followed, Sir Robert killed his antagonist; and, although the friends of the deceased are said to have acquitted him of all blame, so strict were the rules established by the king for the prevention and punishment of duels, that he was obliged to fly to Holland, where he remained about a year. During his exile, he employed himself in the collection of pictures, for which, like his royal master, he had a good taste: those which he brought with him on his return, were eventually presented to the prince. He was also distinguished by his literary taste. In Drummond’s works there are a letter and sonnet which he addressed, in 1624, to that poet, and which breathe an amiable and contemplative spirit. The latter is as follows:

A SONNET IN PRAISE OF A SOLITARY LIFE.

Sweet solitary life! lovely, dumb joy,
That need’st no warnings how to grow more wise
By other men’s mishaps, nor the annoy
Which from sore wrongs done to one’s self doth rise.
The morning’s second mansion, truth’s first friend,
Never acquainted with the world’s vain broils,
Where the whole day to our own use we spend,
And our dear time no fierce ambition spoils,
Most happy state, that never takest revenge
For injuries received, nor dost fear
The court’s great earthquake, the grieved truth of change,
Nor none of falsehood’s savoury lies dost hear;
Nor knows hope’s sweet disease that charms our sense,
Nor its sad cure—dear-bought experience!
R. K. A.

On the accession of Charles to the throne, in 1625, Sir Robert Ker was one of the friends who experienced his favour. He was in that year constituted a gentleman of the bed-chamber, and in June, 1633, when the king was in Scotland at his coronation, he was elevated to the peerage, under the title of earl of Ancrum. Previous to this period, his son William, by his first wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Murray of Blackbarony, had married his relative, Anne, countess of Lothian in her own right, and had been, by the king, enodowed with a full participation of that title. It was therefore arranged, in the patent granted to the subject of this memoir, that his own title should descend to the children of his second marriage, he thus enjoyed the singular honour of being father of two peers.

Unlike many other persons who owed every thing to this prince, the earl of Ancrum continued his steady adherent during the whole of his troubles; though he was unable to prevent his eldest son, the earl of Lothian, from acting one of the most conspicuous parts on the opposite side. On the death of Charles, his lordship took refuge in Holland, where he spent the remainder of his days in solitary afflictions and poverty, and died in 1654, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. His title was inherited by his son Charles, but ultimately merged in that of Lothian. In Park’s edition of Walpole’s Royal and Noble Authors, there is a beautiful portrait of his lordship, assigning him a thoughtful and strongly-marked countenance, and apparently done in old age.


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