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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Ramsays


THERE are certain qualities, both physical and mental, which for ages have run in the blood of distinguished families, and have obtained for them corresponding designations. The ‘gallant Grahams,’ ‘gay Gordons,’ ‘handsome Hays,’ ‘light Lindsays,’ ‘haughty Hamiltons,’ have, generation after generation, exhibited the qualities which these epithets imply. One noble Scottish family have, from the earliest times, been noted for their covetous greed of the lands of their neighbours; another for their cruelty; a third for their irascible temper; a fourth for their braggart boasting. The Ramsays have, from the earliest period down to the present day, been noted for their courage and military skill, and that ‘stubborn hardihood’ which may be broken but will not bend. They took a prominent part in the protracted struggle for the liberty and independence of their country against ‘our auld enemies of England,’ and laid down their lives for Scotland’s cause on many a bloody field. In later times, the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth Earls attained high rank in the British army, while the younger members of their families acquired great distinction in Continental and Colonial warfare. In allusion to their services both at home and abroad, Sir Walter Scott, who had a high regard for this old heroic family, makes King James, in the ‘Fortunes of Nigel,’ speak of ‘the auld martial stock of the house of Dalwolsey, than whom better men never did, and better never will draw sword for king and country. Heard ye never of Sir William Ramsay, of Dalwolsey, of whom John Fordoun saith, He was bellicosissimus, nobilissimus ? We are grieved we cannot have the presence of the noble chief of that house at the marriage ceremony; but when there is honour to be won abroad; the Lord Dalwolsey is seldom to be found at home. "Sic fuit, est, et erjt."’

The Ramsays, like the Bruces, Hamiltons, Lindsays, Maxwells, Setons, Keiths, Stewarts, and other great Scottish families, settled in Scotland during the reign of David I. They are said to be of German origin, which is not improbable; but the founder of the Scottish branch of the house appears to have come into Scotland from Huntingdonshire, of which David was Earl before he ascended the throne, and where Ramsay is a local designation. The first person of distinction who bore the name in Scotland was the SIR WILLIAM RAMSAY whose noble and warlike character is eulogised by Fordoun. He was the friend of Robert Bruce, by whose side he fought throughout the War of Independence, and was one of the nobles who subscribed the celebrated memorial to the Pope, in 1320, vindicating the rights and liberties of their country. SIR ALEXANDER RAMSAY, the son of this baron, was one of the noblest and bravest of Scottish patriots. In the dark days of David II., the unworthy son of Robert Bruce, Sir Alexander acquired such distinction by his gallant exploits in defence of his country that, according to Fordoun, to serve in his band was considered a branch of military education requisite for all young gentlemen who meant to excel in arms. At the head of a body of knights and soldiers, whom his fame as a daring and skilful warrior had drawn around him, he sallied from the crags and caves of Hawthornden, near Edinburgh, where he found shelter, intercepted the convoys of the enemy, captured their provisions, cut off their stragglers, and seriously hindered their operations. He was one of the leaders of the force which, in 1335, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Flemish auxiliaries under the command of the Count Namur, on the Boroughmuir of Edinburgh. He relieved the garrison of Dunbar, commanded by the famous Countess of Dunbar and March, daughter of Randolph, Earl of Moray, when besieged by the Earl of Salisbury, in 1338, and reduced to the greatest extremities, and compelled the English army to raise the siege. He even penetrated into Northumberland, which he wasted with fire and sword; and, on his homeward march, defeated a powerful body of the enemy near Wark Castle, and killed or captured them almost to a man. In a night attack, in 1342, he stormed the strong fortress of Roxburgh, situated near the confluence of the Teviot and the Tweed. The situation of this famous stronghold on the Borders rendered the possession of it during the continued warfare between England and Scotland of great importance to both of the contending parties. It was, therefore, usually the first place of attack on the breaking out of hostilities, was the scene of several daring exploits during the War of Independence, and frequently changed masters. Sir Alexander Ramsay was rewarded for the important service which he had rendered by its capture, by the appointment of governor of the castle, and was also nominated by the King (David II.), Sheriff of Teviotdale, a post which had been previously held by Sir William Douglas, the Knight of Liddesdale. Deeply offended at this act, Douglas vowed vengeance against the new sheriff, who had been his friend and companion in arms, and suddenly pounced upon him while he was holding his court in the church of Hawick. Ramsay, having no suspicion of injury from his old comrade, invited Douglas to take his place beside him. But the ferocious Baron, drawing his sword, attacked and wounded his unsuspecting victim, and throwing him bleeding across a horse, carried him off to the remote and solitary castle of Hermitage, amidst the morasses of Liddesdale, where he cast him into a dungeon and left him to perish of hunger. Sir Alexander is said by Fordoun to have prolonged his existence for seventeen days by the grains of corn which fell through the crevices in the floor from a granary above his prison. Nearly four centuries and a half after the foul murder of this gallant patriot, a mason employed in building a wall beside the castle, laid open a vault about eight feet square, in which, amid a heap of chaff, there were found some human bones, along with the remains of a saddle, a large bridle-bit, and an ancient sword. These relics were conjectured, with great probability, to have belonged to the gallant but unfortunate Ramsay, whose cruel death excited great and general indignation and sorrow among all classes of his contemporaries. ‘He had done a great deal,’ said Fordoun, ‘for the King and for the country’s freedom; he had felled the foe everywhere around; greatly checked their attacks; won many a victory; done much good, and, so far as men can judge, would have done much more had he lived longer. In brave deeds of arms and in bodily strength he surpassed all others of his day.’ And Wyntoun, after mentioning the sad fate which befel this brave and popular leader, adds—

‘He was the greatest menyd [lamented] man
That any could have thought on than,
Of his state or of more by far,
All menyt him baith better and waur,
The rich and puir him menyde baith,
For of his dede [death] was meikie skaith’ [damage].

SIR WILLIAM RAMSAY, the son of this lamented patriot, inherited not a few of his father’s virtues, and, in one of his raids across the Border, he defeated and took prisoner Sir Thomas Grey, of Chillingham, governor of Norham Castle, an ancestor of Earl Grey and the Earl of Tankerville. SIR ALEXANDER RAMSAY, his great-grandson, defended his castle of Dalhousie so stoutly against a powerful English army, commanded by Henry IV. in person, that he compelled the enemy to abandon the siege. This gallant representative of the Ramsays was killed at the disastrous battle of Homildon, in 1402. His son, also named ALEXANDER (which seems to have been a favourite name in the family), was one of the barons who were sent to England in 1423, to escort James I. to Scotland on his return from his long captivity, and was knighted at the coronation of that monarch the following year. Sir Alexander Ramsay was one of the principal leaders of the Scottish forces which defeated an English army at Piperden, in 1435. The Ramsays of Cockpen and Whitehill descended from his second son Robert. Other three Alexanders followed in succession, the third of whom fell at Flodden fighting gallantly under the banner of his sovereign.

The fine estate of Foulden, in Berwickshire, which had been nearly three hundred years in the family, passed away from them at the death of GEORGE RAMSAY, who seems to have been deficient in the family characteristic of firm adherence to the cause which they espoused; for, though he signed the Bond of Association in 1567 for the defence of the infant sovereign, James VI., on the escape of Queen Mary from Lochleven Castle, he joined her party, and pledged himself at Hamilton, in 1568, to support her cause. His grandson, SIR GEORGE RAMSAY, was raised to the peerage by James VI., in 1618, with the title of LORD RAMSAY OF MELROSE, but, disliking this designation, he obtained permission from the King in the following year to change his title to LORD RAMSAY OF DALHOUSIE. His younger brother, John, was the person who was mainly instrumental in rescuing King James from the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, in the mysterious affair called ‘‘the Gowrie Conspiracy’ (A. D. 1600). Both the brothers, indeed, fell by his hand. For this signal service he was created VISCOUNT HADDINGTON and LORD RAMSAY OF BARNS, in the peerage of Scotland. In 1620 he was made an English peer by the titles of EARL OF HOLDERNESSE and VISCOUNT OF KINGSTON-UPON-THAMES, with the special addition of honour, that upon the 5th of August annually—the day appointed to be observed in giving thanks to God for the King’s preservation— he and his male heirs for ever should bear the sword of state before the King, in remembrance of his deliverance. On the death of the Earl, in 1625, without surviving issue, his titles became extinct.

WILLIAM, second Lord Ramsay, was elevated to the rank of EARL OF DALHOUSIE, by Charles I., in 1633. He was a staunch Royalist, and was, in consequence, heavily fined by Cromwell in 1654. His grandson, GEORGE RAMSAY, of Carriden, third son of the second Earl, was a gallant soldier, and served with great distinction in Holland and Flanders. After the battle of Valcour, he was made brigadier-general, and was appointed colonel of the Scottish regiment of Guards. For his eminent services at the battle of Landen, in 1693, he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and, in 1702, he was created lieutenant-general, and appointed commander-in-chief of the forces in Scotland. He died in 1705. Mackay, in his ‘Memoirs,’ describes him as ‘a gentleman of a great deal of fire, very brave, and a thorough soldier.’

Of the third and fourth Earls, both of whom enjoyed the titles and estates for a very short time, there is nothing worthy of special notice to relate; but WILLIAM, the fifth Earl, was a man of mark and influence. He had the sagacity to perceive the great good that would flow from the union of Scotland with England, and, in spite of popular clamour, he steadily supported that measure throughout. In the war of the Spanish Succession he was colonel of the Scots Guards, with the rank of brigadier-general in the forces sent by the British Government, in 1710, to the assistance of the Archduke Charles of Austria, in his contest for the Spanish Crown against Philip, grandson of Louis XIV. On the death of Earl William unmarried, in October of the same year, the family titles and estates descended to WILLIAM RAMSAY, grandson of the first Earl, who, like most both of his predecessors and successors, was a gallant soldier. He died in 1739, in the seventy-ninth year of his age, having had the misfortune to outlive his eldest son George, Lord Ramsay, whose marriage to Jean, daughter of the Hon. Henry Maule, the heiress of the ancient family of Maule, brought extensive estates into the family. She bore him seven sons, of whom four died young. Two of them were poisoned by eating the berries of the ivy. Lord Ramsay’s eldest son, CHARLES, succeeded his grandfather as seventh Earl, in 1759. He attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the army, and died unmarried in 1764. His brother GEORGE, the eighth Earl, was twice elected one of the sixteen representative peers of Scotland, and held the office of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Scottish Church for six years in succession (1777 - 1783). On the death of his uncle, William, Earl of Panmure, in 1782, the extensive estates of that nobleman devolved upon him in life rent with remainder to his second son, WILLIAM RAMSAY. True to the hereditary instinct of the family, his third, fourth, and seventh sons entered the army, in which the two former attained the rank of lieutenant-general, and the last was a captain. The sixth son was in the naval service of the East India Company, and four of the grandsons of the eighth Earl entered the Indian army.

His eldest son, GEORGE RAMSAY, succeeded him in the family titles and estates. Earl George was the school and college companion of Sir Walter Scott, who held him in high and affectionate esteem. On meeting with the Earl in the evening of life, after a long separation, Sir Walter mentions him as still being, and always having been, ‘the same manly and generous character, that all about him loved as the Lordie Ramsay of the Yard’ (the playground of the Edinburgh High School). The Earl served with great distinction in the West Indies, Holland, and Egypt, and in the Spanish Peninsula, where he commanded the Second Division of the British army; and at the battle of Waterloo. He attained the full rank of general, was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, was one of the general officers who received the thanks of Parliament, and was created a British peer by the title of BARON DALHOUSIE OF DALHOUSIE CASTLE. In 1816 he was appointed to the government of Nova Scotia; and, in 1819, he succeeded the Duke of Richmond as Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the forces in North America. He was Captain-General of the Royal Company of Archers, or Queen’s Body Guard in Scotland. The Earl died in 1838, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, universally regretted.

There is an interesting notice of this excellent nobleman in Sir Walter Scott’s Diary, under the date of January, 1828—’Drove to Dalhousie, where the gallant Earl, who has done so much to distinguish the British name in every quarter of the globe, is repairing the castle of his ancestors, which of yore stood a siege against John of Gaunt. I was his companion at school, where he was as much beloved by his playmates as he has been respected by his companions in arms and the people over whom he has been deputed to exercise the authority of his sovereign. He was always steady, wise, and generous. The old castle of Dalhousie—seu potius, Dalwolsey—was mangled by a fellow called, I believe, Douglas, who destroyed, as far as in him lay, its military and baronial character, and roofed it after the fashion of a poor’s-house. Burn is now restoring and repairing it in the old taste, and, I think, creditably to his own feeling. God bless the roof-tree.’

Earl George married, in 1805, Christian, the only child of Charles Broun, of Coalstoun, in East Lothian, the representative of a family which had flourished in Scotland since the twelfth century. With this lady the Earl received a good estate and an heirloom besides, with which the welfare of the family was in old times supposed to be closely connected. This palladium was an enchanted pear, which came to the Brouns of Coalstoun through the marriage of the head of the family early in the sixteenth century to Jean Hay, daughter of the third Lord Yester, ancestor of the Marquis of Tweeddale. According to tradition, this pear had been invested with some invaluable properties by the famous wizard, Hugo de Gifford, of Yester, whose appearance is so vividly described in Sir Walter Scott’s poem of ‘Marmion.’ One of his daughters, it is said, was about to be married, and as the bridal party was proceeding to the church he halted beneath a pear-tree, and plucking one of the pears gave it to the bride, telling her that as long as that gift was kept good fortune would never desert her or her descendants. This precious pear was given by the third Lord Yester to his daughter on her marriage to George Broun of Coalstoun, and at the same time he informed his son-in-law that, good as the lass might be, her tocher (dowry) was still better, for while she could only be of use in her own day and generation, the pear, so long as it continued in the family, would cause it to flourish till the end of time. This pear was accordingly preserved with great care in a silver case by the fortunate recipient and his descendants. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, it is said that the wife of one of the lairds, on becoming pregnant, felt a longing for the forbidden fruit and took a bite of it. According to another version of the story, it was a maiden lady of the family who out of curiosity chose to try her teeth upon the pear, and in consequence of the injury thus done to the palladium of the house, two of the best farms on the estate had soon afterwards to be sold. Another and more probable account of the incident in question, which is related by Crawford in his ‘Peerage,’ is that Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie, daughter of George, first Earl of Cromarty, on the night after her marriage to Sir George Broun, when she slept at Coalstoun, dreamt that she had eaten the pear. Her father-in-law regarded this dream as a bad omen, and expressed great fear that the new-married lady would be instrumental in the destruction of the house of Coalstoun. Her husband and she died in 1718, leaving an only daughter, who inherited the estate, and married George Brown, of Eastfield, while the baronetcy descended to George Broun, of Thornydyke, male heir of the family. The pear has for generations been as hard as a stone, and is still in perfect preservation. It has been justly remarked that, apart from the superstition attached to it, this curious heirloom is certainly a most remarkable vegetable curiosity, having existed for upwards of five centuries. The heiress of the ‘Coalstoun pear,’ who died in 1839, bore Earl George three sons. The eldest died unmarried in 1832, at the age of twenty-six, the second in 1817, in his tenth year.

JAMES ANDREW BROUN, the youngest son, was the illustrious statesman who for eight years wielded the destinies of our Indian empire, and who, to the great sorrow of all classes of the community and all political parties, passed away in the prime of life. He was born in 1812, and after receiving his preliminary education at Harrow, he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1833, gaining an honorary fourth class in classics. At the general election in 1834, which followed the accession of Sir Robert Peel to office, Lord Ramsay (his courtesy title) contested the representation of Edinburgh, along with Mr. Learmouth; against Mr. Abercromby and Sir John Campbell. The great body of the electors were strongly attached to the Liberal cause, and the populace were not inclined to show much respect or forbearance to the supporters of the party who (as it was commonly though erroneously asserted at the time) had by a Court intrigue ejected the Whig Ministry from office. But the frankness and courage of the young nobleman, the straightforwardness with which he avowed, and the marked ability with which he defended his political creed, gained him golden opinions from all classes and parties in the city; and though he was defeated by a great majority, he polled a much larger number of votes than had been obtained by any previous Conservative candidate. At the close of the contest he remarked with a good-humour which even his opponents applauded—in allusion to the name of one of the family estates—that ‘they were daft to refuse the Laird o’ Cockpen.’

In 1837, however, Lord Ramsay was returned to the House of Commons as member for the county of Haddington, but he did not retain his seat long enough to take any prominent part in the debates or business of the House, for on the death of his father in the following year he was elevated to the House of Lords as tenth Earl of Dalhousie. He speedily became noted there for his excellent business habits, which attracted the attention of the Duke of Wellington, and obtained for him in 1843, in Sir Robert Peel’s second Administration, the office of Vice-President of the Board of Trade in succession to Mr. Gladstone. Two years later he was promoted to the post of President of the Board of Trade, which he retained until the overthrow of Sir Robert Peel’s Ministry shortly after the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the return of the Whigs to office in 1846. In his position at the Board of Trade Lord Dalhousie displayed remarkable energy and industry in acquiring a thorough knowledge of the commercial affairs of the country, and his skill in the science of engineering made him take especial interest in the construction of the numerous railways which at that period began to intersect the country like network.

In 1847, on the recall of Lord Hardinge, the office of Governor-General of our East Indian dominions was offered to Lord Dalhousie by Lord John Russell, and was readily accepted by him. He was the youngest man ever appointed to that onerous and responsible position, and it was certainly no easy task to undertake the government of a population of two hundred and forty millions, composed of distinct, and in some instances at least, of unfriendly races, differing from each other in blood, language, and religion. But Lord Dalhousie possessed in an eminent degree the courage, moral and physical, of his race, and resolved, as he remarked at the time, in a proverbial expression, to ‘set a stout heart to a stey brae’ (steep bank). In entering upon the duties of his office, he was encouraged by his knowledge of the fact that he enjoyed the confidence both of the Cabinet and the Court of Directors, the former having selected him on account of his known business talents and energy, while the latter cordially approved of his appointment because they believed that the Earl would carry out their schemes of annexation and aggrandisement. Before his predecessor quitted India he made a reduction of 50,000 men in the strength of the army there, and expressed his conviction that for seven years not another hostile shot would be fired within the limits of the British Indian empire. Only a few months, however, after Lord Dalhousie had assumed the reins of Government, the second Sikh war broke out, the siege of Mooltan was undertaken, and the bloody battles of Chilianwalla and Goojerat were fought Very conflicting opinions have been entertained and loudly expressed respecting the justice and expediency of the Governor-General’s policy, but there is no difference of opinion as to the energy and success with which his plans were carried out. The result was the final and complete overthrow of the Sikhs, and the annexation of the Punjaub, and of Berar, Pegu, and Nagpore, and the rich province of Oude, to the British empire.

But ‘peace hath her victories,’ more glorious far than those of war, and it is a relief to turn from the contemplation of the sanguinary conflicts fought in India during Lord Dalhousie’s vice-royalty to the civil and social improvements which he effected. Under his auspices an extensive line of railway was opened; Calcutta was placed by means of the electric telegraph in immediate correspondence with Bombay, Madras, and Lahore; canals were formed; education was greatly extended among the natives; infanticide and religious persecution were restrained, if not entirely extinguished; and various important reforms introduced into the legal and civil departments of the administration.

Meanwhile the health of Lord Dalhousie had suffered from his exciting and exhausting labours, as well as from the climate, and he was obliged to return to England in 1856, having held the reins of empire upwards of eight years. He had been made a Knight of the Thistle in 1848; in 1849 he had been elevated to the rank of marquis, and had received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament and of the East India Company for the ability and zeal which he had displayed in the critical contest with the Sikhs. His lordship’s enfeebled health prevented him from taking that place in the Government of the country for which his talents and experience eminently fitted him. But in 1852, on the death of the Duke of Wellington, he received from the Earl of Derby the Wardenship of the Cinque Ports. He had held since 1845 the office of Lord-Clerk Register and Keeper of the Signet in Scotland.

The Marquis died in 1860, in the forty-eighth year of his age. His wife, the eldest daughter of the Marquis of Tweeddale, predeceased him. He left two daughters, the eldest of whom is the wife of the Hon. Robert Bourke, third son of the fifth Earl of Mayo; the younger married Sir James Ferguson, Bart., Governor of Bombay. The estate of Coalstoun and the personal property of the Marquis passed to his daughters. The marquisate became extinct, but the earldom and barony of Dalhousie, along with the hereditary estates of the Ramsays, descended to FOX MAULE, second Lord Panmure, the cousin of the Marquis. At his death, in 1874, they came into possession of his cousin, GEORGE RAMSAY, a naval officer, grandson of the eighth Earl, born in 1805, and are now enjoyed by his son, JOHN WILLIAM RAMSAY, thirteenth Earl of Dalhousie, who succeeded to them in 1880.


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