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The Scottish Nation

HEPBURN, a surname derived from the lands of Hepborne or Heyborn in Northumberland, in which county several families of the name, in early times, had possessions. The first of this surname who settled in Scotland was Sir Adam Hepburn, said to have been taken prisoner in battle by the earl of March, who, in testimony of his esteem for the signal bravery which he had displayed, conveyed to him by charter several lands and estates in Haddingtonshire. [Nisbet’s Heraldry, vol. i, p. 155.] From Robert the Bruce he obtained the lands of North Hailes and Traprene. He had two sons, Sir Patrick, ancestor of the Hepburns, earls of Bothwell (see BOTHWELL, earl of), and John, foster brother of the earl of March and Moray, who conferred upon him, by charter, the lands of Over and Nether Merkhill in the sheriffdom of March. He is supposed to have been the ancestor of the Hepburns of Waughton, long a family of the first consequence in the county of Haddington, although Crawford, in his notes to Buchanan, says that this family is older than that of the Bothwell Hepburns.

      The Hepburns of Athelstaneford, also in East Lothian, a branch of the Waughton family, held that property feudally of their kinsmen. On 24th November 1569, George Hepburn of Athelstaneford was cited before an assize, for slaying ‘vmquhile Johnne Geddes, and hurting and wounding diverse utheris,” while besieging the place and fortalice of Waughton in January of that year, then held by the king’s party, the Hepburns being adherents of Queen Mary. As Geddes was slain by Hepburn’s son Andrew, he seems to have been absolved from the charge. Nearly all of his surname in Haddingtonshire, we are told, were concerned in this tumult, under Robert Hepburn, younger of Waughton, who was endeavouring to regain possession of his ancestral house. They broke into the barbican, and took sixteen horses from the stables, but the laird of Carmichael, captain of the tower, sallied forth sword in hand, slew three of the assailants, and cause the rest to retire. From Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials we also learn that the same George Hepburn was charged with intercommuning with Harry Hepburn of Fortune, and Patrick Hepburn of Kirklandhill, denounced as rebels and traitors for being adherents to their feudal chief, the outlawed earl of Bothwell, duke of Orkney, but acquitted, as he was also of the charge of slaying three of the king’s soldiers at the battle of Langside, in the preceding year. He had five sons and several daughters, and at his death – before 1616 – his eldest son, also named George Hepburn, succeeded him in the estate of Athelstaneford. His second son, John, was the celebrated Sir John Hepburn, a field-marshal of France under Louis XIII., whose “Memoirs and Adventures,’ in one volume, by James Grant, was published at Edinburgh in 1851.

      Sir John Hepburn, considered “one of the best soldiers in Christendom,” in his time, was born about the year 1598 or 1600, and is supposed to have studied for a short time at the university of St. Andrews, as in the beginning of 1615 a Joannes Hepburne was matriculated at St. Leonard’s college, there. “It is extremely probable,” says Mr. Grant, “that he was the John Hepburn who studied at St. Leonard’s, as that university was founded by one of his family, John Hepburne, prior of the Augustinian monastery, and son of Adam, second Lord Hailes. Many students of his name were studying there during the first twenty years of the seventeenth century; and one of these, James Hepburn, died at Rome, keeper of the Vatican library.” In 1615, to improve his mind and obtain a knowledge of foreign languages and manners, with his friend, afterwards Colonel Sir Robert Munro, he visited Paris and Poictiers. Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, says, “Sir Robert Monro and Sir John Hepburn joined the more important advantages of academical study in foreign parts, as well as at home.” In the spring of 1620 he joined, as a volunteer, Sir Andrew Gray, a soldier of fortune then recruiting for the cause of the elector palatine, the unfortunate king of Bohemia, who had married the princess Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of their own sovereign, James the Sixth, and had formed a camp on the Monkrig, a property of the Hepburns in East Lothian. About the end of May they sailed from Leith for Holland, and on the 1st October of the same year joined a part of the Bohemian army. Soon after he obtained the command of a company of pikes in Sir Andrew Gray’s Scottish band, which was employed to guard the king’s person. After the battle of Prague, November 8, 1620, the Scottish companies were employed under Ernest, count of Mansfeldt, in Germany and Alsace, and in 1622, after the commencement of the Thirty Years’ War, Captain John Hepburn was one of the defenders of Bergen-op-Zoom, against the strong besieging force of the marquis de Spinola. The troops, under Mansfeldt, “12,000 strong, horse and foot,” all soldiers of fortune, subsequently joined the Dutch, and at the sanguinary battle of Fleurus, in Hainault, in 20th August 1622, fought to prevent them entering Flanders, the Scottish bands, led by Captains John Hepburn, Hume, and Sir James Ramsay, are recorded to have evinced the most determined bravery. Though defeated, they succeeded in entering Holland, which caused the raising of the new siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, and in the following year Mansfeldt’s army was disbanded. Under Captain Hepburn the survivors of the Scottish companies went to Sweden, and entered the service of the great Gustavus Adolphus, who had taken up arms in defence of the Protestant cause, then in extreme jeopardy. Although a Catholic, Hepburn did not scruple to serve under so great a commander. On the other hand, several Scots Presbyterian officers of note were fighting under the Austrian banners. His cousin, James Hepburn, younger of Waughton, also joined the Swedish service, and soon attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel, but was killed in Lorraine in 1637. By his ardour and high military qualities, John Hepburn early acquired the favour of Gustavus, who in 1625 appointed him colonel of one of the auxiliary regiments, composed of his countrymen who had served with him in Bohemia and Holland, and of which the first or Royal Scots regiment of the British line is now the direct representative. It is stated by Mr. Grant that every historian of the wars of Gustavus extole the brave Hepburn as thee most famous of his cavaliers, and Defoe, who introduces him prominently in one of his most graphic novels, says, “he was a complete soldier indeed, and so well beloved by the gallant king (Gustavus) that he hardly knew how to go about any great action without him.” The Swedish king is said to have ascribed his great victory at Leipsic to Hepburn’s Scottish brigade alone. In 1625, Col. Hepburn’s regiment formed part of the army which invaded Polish Prussia, and served in that victorious campaign which gave Selburg, Nidorp, Dorpat, and Duneberg to Gustavus, and ended in the total rout of the Polish army on the plains of Semigallia, in the duchy of Courland. “It was,” says his biographer, “during this Polish war, that Hepburn began the series of brilliant achievements which marked his career under the banner of Gustavus.” Having resolved to effect the relief of Mewe, a town of Western Prussia, where his garrison was closely blocked up, Gustavus sent a force of three thousand Scottish infantry, under Hepburn, and five hundred horse under Count Thurm, to cut a passage over a fortified hill defended by thirty thousand men. By a secret path at night, they gained the summit of the hill, without being discovered, and furiously attacked the Poles, but after a severe struggle, were compelled to retire. Taking up a position beside a rock, where he received a small reinforcement, Hepburn defended himself for two whole days against the entire Polish army, during which Gustavus achieved the relief of the town. He frequently volunteered on desperate duties, and in 1627, with his regiment he accompanied Gustavus into Prussia, where he bore a prominent part in all the operations of that brave and well-disciplined army, which stormed Kesmark, a free town of Hungary, defeated the Poles who were marching to its relief, besieged and captured Marienburg, and again defeated the Poles at Dirchan, a city of the Teutonic knights.

      In 1630, previous to which year he had been knighted for his eminent services, he was in the army led by Gustavus in person against the Imperialists in Pomerania, and after the capture of the island of Rugen by Lieutenant-colonel Munro, he was appointed by Gustavus governor of the town and castle of Rugenwalde. Soon after he distinguished himself at the siege of the strong fortress of Colberg, and after the capitulation of that place, he marched to the vicinity of Stettin. In March 1631, with his regiment he encamped at Schwedt, in the province of Brandenburg, and, without any increase of rank, received command of a brigade of four chosen Scottish regiments in the service of the Swedish king, called Hepburn’s Scots brigade. The honour of leading the van of the Swedish army was given to this brigade, which, from the colour of the doublets, scarfs, feathers, and standards of its soldiers, was also called the Green brigade. At the siege of Frankfort on the Oder, Sir John was severely wounded above the knee, and, on its surrender, after a terrible slaughter, he joined the force under Marshal Horne, which had blocked up Landsberg, a town on the east bank of the Oder, then held by the Imperialists. On the fall of that place his brigade formed part of the force that invested Berlin, and at Old Brandenburg, 34 miles west of that city, he remained until quite cured of his wound. He was afterwards engaged in numerous sharp skirmishes, outfalls, and other hazardous duties. At the great battle of Leipsic, 7th September 1631, where Tilly’s army was almost annihilated, the Scottish troops in the service of Gustavus distinguished themselves beyond all others, and Sir John Hepburn, who, as senior colonel, commanded the reserve, consisting of three brigades, whose advance decided the battle, behaved himself so gallantly that, according to Sir Thomas Urquhart, “unto him, in so far as praise is due to man, was attributed the honour of the day.”

      At the storming of Marienburg, 5th October following, the Scots brigade were also prominently engaged. After beating down the gate of the keep, they were about to advance into the heart of the place, when, to their great indignation, Gustavus ordered them to retire, sending forward some Swedish r3egiments to perform this service instead. Soon after, with 800 musketeers, Sir John was sent to defend Ochsenfurt, a town on the Maine, against the Imperialists, and so prevent their vast force, amounting to 50,000 men, from crossing the river. Subsequently he was at the storming of Oppenheim, and at the siege of Mentz which followed. The city of Donanworth, the key to Suabia, was taken by the Scots under his command, after a desperate resistance, as was also the castle of Oberndorff; and they succeeded in forcing the small river Lech, leading the van as usual, after a hard contested battle, in which the count de Tilly, generalissimo of the Imperial troops, was mortally wounded. Sir John was subsequently employed in Bavaria; and on the fall of Munich he was appointed military governor of that capital; but, when Wallenstein advanced with a formidable army, Gustavus found it expedient to evacuate Bavaria. Both armies met at Nuremberg, in the center of Germany, where Wallenstein, not finding it advisable to risk a battle, remained in his entrenchments, on which an ineffectual assault was made by the Swedish force. At this important crisis a rupture took place between Gustavus and Sir John Hepburn, which led to the retirement of the latter from his service. “Of the exact merits of the dispute,” says Mr. Grant, “there is no proper account preserved. Having had high words, Gustavus in his anger was so imprudent as to upbraid Hepburn with his religion, which was Catholic, and also to remark, tauntingly, the extreme richness of his armour and apparel. Schiller adds that the colonel was ‘offended with the king for having, not long before, preferred a younger officer to some post of danger; and rashly vowed never again to draw a sword in the Swedish quarrel.’ “ With the marquis of Hamilton, Sir James Hamilton of Priestfield, and Sir James Ramsay, who had also quitted the Swedish service, Hepburn arrived in London in the autumn of 1632, and was presented by the marquis to Charles the First, who is said to have knighted him, although it is certain that he had received this honour long previously.

      Before the close of that year he offered his services to the king of France, and from Louis XIII. He received a commission, dated 26th January 1633, constituting him colonel of a regiment composed of various old Scots companies which, for some time, had served independently in the French army. On his arrival in France, he obtained the rank of marechal-de-camp. He and his regiment formed part of the force which invaded Lorraine, on the French king declaring war against Austria, and at the siege of La Mothe, from March to 28thg July, 1634, he and the young Vicomte Turenne, afterwards the celebrated marshal of that name, distinguished themselves so greatly, that to their exertions and gallantry, the surrender of the town was principally attributed. With the main army, Sir John and the force under him, soon after crossed the Rhine, and advanced to the relief of Heidelberg., then defended against the Imperialists by some Swedish troops. After several sharp conflicts, he drove the enemy completely out of the vale of the neckar, and effectually relieved the beleaguered garrison, on 23d December 1634, taking possession of that city and fortress, with all their cannon. The French army having formed a junction with a Sw4edish force under duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, the remnant of his old brigade was again placed under his command, incorporated into one corps, and styled Le Regiment d’Hebron, as Hepburn was spelled and pronounced in France. In the subsequent campaign in Germany, under the Cardinal de Valette, he also served with great distinction, but the French army were at last compelled to retreat, pursued and continually harassed by the Imperialists, Hepburn with his corps covering the rear, and fighting incessantly all the way back to France. In the spring of 1636, he served in Lorraine, with the army under the duke of Saxe-Weimar, and so eminent were his services that King Louis ordered the diploma of a marshal of France to be expedited under the great seal for him. Before, however, it could, with his marshal’s baton, reach the camp, he was killed at the siege of Saverne, by a ball shot from the ramparts, on 21st June 1636, when he was not more than in his 36th or 38th year. He was buried, with great splendour, in the southern transept of the cathedral of Toul in French Lorraine, and many years afterwards, a noble monument to his memory was erected above his remains by Louis XIV. In 1793 this monument was demolished by the Revolutionary mob, but in 1853, when the cathedral of Toul was undergoing a renovation, in making some excavations, the coffin of Sir John Hepburn was discovered. The coffin, composed of lead, was scrupulously respected, and was again interred. It bears the following inscription: – “Dom Ossa Joannis Hepvrinin Scoti Eqvitisavrati Exercitvs Galici Campi Marescalli Qviad Tabernas Sclopeto. Trajectvs Occvbvit viii. Idvs ivlii. MDCXXXVI., Reqviescat in Pace.”


      The principal branch of the Waughton family terminated in an heiress, who married Sir Andrew Ramsay, baronet, of Abbotshall, fife. The representation of the family in the male line then devolved on the Hepburns of Smeaton, Haddingtonshire, descended from Adam Hepburn, who, in 1538, got from his father, Sir Patrick Hepburn of Waughton, half of the lands of Smeaton, and the whole lands of Smeaton Crux. The direct male line of this house terminated in George Hepburn of Smeaton, who died, unmarried, 1st March 1764, and was succeeded in that estate by the eldest son of Elizabeth, his sister, George Buchan, younger of Letham, who thereupon assumed the name and arms of Hepburn of Smeaton, and was appointed one of the barons of the court of Exchequer in Scotland in 1801. He was created a baronet of the United Kingdom May 6, 1815, and died June 26, 1819. His son, Sir John, 2d baronet, had 2 sons and a daughter, and died October 8, 1833.

      Sir John’s elder son, Sir Thomas, 3d baronet, born Sept. 30, 1804, passed advocate in 1827; M.P. for Haddingtonshire from 1838 to 1847; deputy lieutenant of the county; married in 1835 the daughter of Arch. Little, Esq., of Sheldon Park, surrey; issue, 2 sons and 4 daughters.


      The cadets of the family of Smeaton were Robert Hepburn of Alderston, predecessor of Hepburn of Bearford; and Francis Hepburn of Benistoun.

      The Hepburns of Humbie, East Lothian, descend from John Hepburn of Kirklandhill, brother of Sir Patrick Hepburn of Waughton, and uncle of Adam Hepburn of Smeaton. His great-grandson, Sir Adam Hepburn of Humbie, was appointed clerk to the committee of Estates elected in June 1640, to oppose Charles I., and accompanied the Scottish army to England in the campaign of that year. He was knighted Nov. 15, 1641, and appointed a lord of session. He was representative in the Estates for the county of Haddington, and Aug. 17, 1643, appointed collector-general and treasurer to the army. He was a member of the various committees of the estates, and appears to have been among the most zealous and active of his party. In 1650 he attended Charles II. At Perth, and in August of the following year he was taken prisoner by Colonel Aldriche and 500 horse at Alyth, and sent to London. He died, according to Nicol, in 1656, but according to Lamont, in 1658, leaving his estate to his daughter.

      Hepburn of Riccarton, Forfarshire, descended from Hepburn of Whitsome in the Merse, brother of Patrick Hepburn, Lord Hailes, about 1450. The Hepburns of Blackhall are a branch of the Riccarton family. See SUPPLEMENT.

HEPBURN, JAMES, fourth earl of Bothwell, see article BOTHWELL.

HEPBURN, JAMES BONAVENTURA, a celebrated linguist, was born at Oldhamstocks, East Lothian, July 14, 1573. His father, Thomas Hepburn, a disciple of John Knox, was rector of that parish. James was educated in the Reformed religion, and studied at the university of St. Andrews, where he became a convert to Popery. He soon after passed over to France, and from thence proceeded into Italy. He then travelled through Turkey, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Ethiopia, and most of the countries of the East. He is said to have acquired no less than seventy-two different languages. On his return from his eastern travels, he embraced the monastic life, and entered into a convent of Minims in the vicinity of Avignon. After residing there for some time he removed to Rome, and retired into the monastery of the Holy Trinity. The fame of his acquirements soon reached the ears of Pope Paul V., by whom he was appointed librarian of the oriental books and manuscripts in the Vatican. In this situation he remained for sic years. A Hebrew and Chaldiac Dictionary, and an Arabic Grammar, compiled by him, forming one volume quarto, appeared at Rome in 1591. He published also translations from Hebrew manuscripts, and other works, amounting altogether to twenty-nine. About 1620 he went to Venice with an intention of translating some Hebrew, Syriac, and Chaldiac writings, and died there in that or the following year.

HEPBURN, ROBERT, of Bearford, a miscellaneous writer of great promise, was born about 1690 or 1691. After studying the civil law in Holland, he returned to Scotland in 1711; and, when only twenty-one years of age, he brought out at Edinburgh a weekly periodical, entitled ‘The Tatler, by Donald Macstaff of the North,’ which was a professed imitation of the English work of that name, and, like it, consisted of a series of essays on literature and manners. He appears to have possessed vigorous native powers, and a well cultivated mind; but, from his strong turn for personal satire, his papers seem to have given great offence, and his periodical only reached thirty numbers. In 1712 he was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates, soon after which he died. Two little treatises which he left behind him were published at Edinburgh, the one ‘Demonstratio quod Deus sit,’ in 1714, and the other, ‘Dissertatio De Scriptis Pitcarnianis,’ in 1715. The same year appeared ‘A Discourse concerning the Character of a Man of Genius, by Mr. Hepburn,’ supposed to be the subject of this notice.

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