KERR, William (1661-1722)

KERR, William (1661–1722)

styled 1675-92 Ld. Newbattle; suc. cos. 4 Aug. 1692 as 5th Ld. Jedburgh [S]; suc. fa. 15 Feb. 1703 as 2nd mq. of LOTHIAN [S]

RP [S] 1707–9, 1715–22

First sat 23 Oct. 1707; last sat 11 Nov. 1718

bap. 27 Mar. 1661, 1st s. of Robert Kerr, mq. of Lothian [S], and Jean, da. of Archibald Campbell, mq. of Argyll [S]. m. contract 30 June 1685, 1st cos. Jean (d. 31 July 1712), da. of Archibald Campbell, 9th earl of Argyll [S], 1s. 4da. KT 30 Oct. 1705. d. 28 Feb. 1722; will 14 Oct. 1719, pr. 29 Mar. 1722.

PC [S] 1698–1702.1

Commr. supply, 1685, 1686, 1702, 1704; burgess, Edinburgh 1694.2

Capt. ind. tp. horse [S] 1689–91; lt.-col. drags. 1691–6; col. 7 Drags. 1696–1707, 3 Ft. Gds. 1707–13; brig.-gen. 1702, maj.-gen. 1704, lt.-gen. 1708, maj.-gen. [S] 1715.3

Associated with: Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian.

Likenesses: wash drawing by W.N. Gardiner (after J.B. Medina), Ashmolean Mus. Oxf.; oil on canvas by J. Scougal?, Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian.

According to the character sketch by Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, inserted into Spring Macky’s published edition of his father’s memoirs, Lothian was a Presbyterian by family tradition and political preference rather than by religious belief: ‘laughs at all revealed religion, yet sets up for a pillar of Presbytery, and proves the surest card in their pack; being very zealous, though not devout’.4 Certainly his wife was notably pious, and between 1704 and 1712 he served regularly on the commission of the General Assembly (the executive body appointed to govern the Kirk between sessions) and was a member of the Scottish SPCK. Whatever religious enthusiasm may have been evident in his early life, though, did not last: The eminent Presbyterian minister Robert Wodrow, noted in 1725 that Lothian’s son and heir ‘is reckoned religious; may it hold, as, alas, his father’s did not’.5

Lothian’s commitment to the Revolution could not be impugned, however. He had been ‘active … against King James’, and subsequently raised a troop of horse for William, serving in the army in Scotland throughout the king’s reign. The family were closely allied to the Argylls: Lothian had contracted to marry his first cousin, Lady Jean Campbell (out of a sense of duty, it was said), at the very time that her father was in prison in Edinburgh awaiting execution.6 After 1689 he attached himself to the political interest of his brother-in-law, Archibald Campbell, duke of Argyll [S], and then to his nephew John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll, who succeeded as head of the family in 1703.7 By the spring of that year he was identified with those members of the Scottish Parliament who were determined to uphold ‘the Revolution settlement and the Presbyterian government’, and was happy to push for the enactment of limitations on the powers exercised by the crown.8 But the following year he followed Argyll in the vote on the succession, and Lieutenant-General Ramsey, commander-in-chief of the army in Scotland, advised the English lord treasurer Sidney Godolphin, Baron (later earl of) Godolphin, that Lothian was ‘entirely for her majesty’s interest and service’.9 He was accorded the distinction by the court party in 1705 of introducing into the Scottish Parliament the proposal for a treaty of union, and immediately sought to capitalize by beginning what turned out to be a lengthy campaign of solicitation for a vacant command in the Scots Guards.10

Lothian was invested with the Order of the Thistle at Edinburgh in November 1705, but this honour was clearly insufficient to assuage his strong sense of entitlement while the Guards colonelcy remained unfilled.11 Worse still, he was omitted from the union commission agreed in 1706, a decision he interpreted as a deliberate personal insult: he wrote in high dudgeon to John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], on 14 Mar., announcing that he would be resigning his commission as colonel of dragoons (which he had temporarily entrusted into Argyll’s hands) and would only be prepared to return if given the Guards regiment. He would not, he said, waste time by:

enumerating the affronts I have met with at this time which I never could have imagined. As I had the honour to be among the first that offered my service at the late happy Revolution, so, my lord, I have the misfortune to be the first who after 17 years’ service is obliged to quit the service, being so publicly disgraced in the way of my treatment; and I must say to your lordship, I cannot see wherein I have deserved it. For I can say I did my endeavour to serve the queen to my power faithfully and honestly.12

This was immediately perceived by his friends as a false move. The principal of Edinburgh University, William Carstares, tried to smooth things over with Mar, who wrote to Carstares on 25 Mar.:

You are very justly concerned for what my Lord Lothian has done, as you may be sure we are all. He has done himself a vast deal of harm by it; and I’m afraid the queen will not easily pass it over. It does harm also to others of his friends in their affairs. His commission is not yet given up to the queen, though this day we were forced to tell her of it, it became so public. I fancy the duke of Argyll will give it up one of these days; for he sees not how Lothian can retreat … I am afraid Lothian has lost himself and his pretensions, which were very good: but I hope he will still continue of the principles he professed, and by good and faithful service, regain this step.13

In the event, Argyll, together with Mar’s political chief, James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S], were able to calm the situation, and prevent the ultimatum from being delivered to the queen. By the time the Scottish Parliament met in the winter of 1706–7 to debate the treaty, Lothian had been brought round by Argyll to vote a strongly court line in favour of union. As a reward, he finally received his Guards commission, and, at Argyll’s earnest request, was included in the first cohort of representative peers to sit in the united Parliament.14 In the following year he was promoted from major- to lieutenant-general. In an analysis by Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S], of 1707 he was described as ‘for the Revolution but may be influenced by the court and Argyll’.

He took his seat in the Lords on 23 Oct. 1707, alongside Argyll’s brother, Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay [S]. He attended for 71 per cent of sittings in this Parliament and 25 per cent in the following session 1708-9 (in which his participation was foreshortened), and in total was named to fewer than 10 committees. There is no evidence that he registered his proxy. His only distinctive contribution in the 1707–8 Parliament occurred on 7 Feb. 1708, when he signed a protest against the Squadrone-inspired bill to abolish the Scottish Privy Council. He was also present on 11 Mar., when the queen refused the royal assent to the Scottish militia bill. The announcement that day of a French fleet having set sail for Scotland prompted his departure to join his regiment, and the following month he was present at a meeting at Edinburgh where an address was drawn up ‘asserting her majesty’s right against the prince of Wales and all pretenders whatsoever’.15

Lothian attended the first election of representative peers on 17 June 1708, where he was one of the successful candidates on the court slate.16 Although his name was included on the certified list of 16 peers presented to the Lords on 8 July there were already indications that he might lose his seat once protests were considered.17 Five days previously a ‘scheme showing who will be concerned in the votes protested against’ was sent to John Ker, duke of Roxburghe [S], making it clear that if the various objections were upheld Lothian’s votes would be significantly reduced.18 Two days after Lothian had taken his seat, on 18 Nov. 1708, a petition was presented by William Johnston, marquess of Annandale [S], John Gordon, 16th earl of Sutherland [S], Marchmont, and William Ross, 12th Lord Roos [S] against the election of Lothian and three other court peers. While the petition was being considered Lothian voted on 21 Jan. 1709 in the minority in support of Queensberry’s right to participate in the peers’ election even though sitting in the Lords by virtue of an British title (duke of Dover).19 His own fate was decided a week later. The outcome was something of a shock, resulting from of an unexpected agreement between Godolphin and the Whig Junto, by which it was decided that ‘all proxies on both sides should be sustained where the nullities were not already determined by the House’.20 The consequent recalculation of votes cost Lothian his seat, and prompted Mar to complain that the Junto were now content ‘only to turn out a man that had always been firm to the Revolution interest’.21 According to Godolphin’s confidant, James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S] (later 4th earl of Findlater [S]), the treasurer had been prepared to help Lothian until convinced that this would be impracticable.22

In 1710 Lothian followed Argyll in switching his political allegiance to the Tories. By October he was writing to Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, for help in getting a Guards company for his son-in-law (a request which he had previously made of John Churchill, duke of Marlborough) and asking for Harley’s instructions on how to proceed in the election for representative peers.23 He was present at the election on 10 Nov. 1710, but was not included on the list agreed in advance by Mar with Argyll and James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S] (later duke of Brandon).24 In June 1711 he again approached Harley (now earl of Oxford) for an opportunity to serve the queen. He claimed to have heard that more British titles were to be given to Scottish peers and asked to be one of the number, basing his request on the ‘gracious answer’ which the queen had made to him in 1709 when he had complained to her of the ‘hardships’ he had suffered by being unjustly turned out of the Lords.25 He was still rehearsing his grievances a year later.26 In August 1713 he again asked for Oxford’s directions for the peers’ election, but the treasurer was forewarned about Lothian’s ‘ill principles’, and instead he was ordered to sell his regiment to David Colyear, earl of Portmore [S].27 The sum of £6,000 purchase money may have sweetened the pill, for he was writing to Oxford in amicable terms as late as November 1713, but it is likely that he followed Argyll into opposition.28

Lothian was elected again as a representative peer in 1715 (on the court list agreed by Argyll and the Squadrone).29 His later career will be examined in the second part of this work. He died on 22 Feb. 1722 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.


  • 1 CSP Dom. 1698, p. 405.
  • 2 Scot. Rec. Soc. lix. 274.
  • 3 HMC Hamilton, ii. 116; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 26; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 303; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 407.
  • 4 Macky Mems. 197; Lockhart Mems. 34–5.
  • 5 Acts of Gen. Assembly, 1704, p. 23; 1707, p. 39; 1708, p. 15; 1709, p. 14; 1710, p. 19; 1712, p. 17; 1713, p. 14; Acct. of the Rise, Constitution and Management of SSPCK (1714), 32; Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 80; iii. 200.
  • 6 Macky Mems. 197.
  • 7 HMC Portland, iv. 262.
  • 8 Edinburgh Univ. Lib. Laing mss, La. I. 180, 9b; HMC Laing, ii. 28.
  • 9 HMC Laing, ii. 69; Edinburgh Univ. Lib. Laing mss, La. I. 179, 2a.
  • 10 Seafield Letters, 62, 166; Crossrig Diary 166–7; HMC Laing, ii. 122; Priv. Corr. D.M. ii.239; Add. 61136, ff. 29–30, 35–6, 43, 49–50, 59–60, 93–4, 97–8; HMC Hamilton, ii. 166.
  • 11 HMC Hamilton, suppl. 165.
  • 12 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 254.
  • 13 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 256; Carstares SP, 748.
  • 14 Seafield Letters, 101; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 293, 374; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 330; C. A. Whatley, Scots and Union, 315.
  • 15 NAS, GD 18/2092/2.
  • 16 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 23, 28, 39.
  • 17 Add. 61628, ff. 102–7, 174–5.
  • 18 NLS, ms 1026, f. 48; NAS, GD158/1174/16,18–21.
  • 19 SHR, lviii. 173; P. W. J. Riley, English Ministers and Scot. 114.
  • 20 NLS, ms 7021, f.151.
  • 21 NLS, ms 14413, ff. 163–4; 14415, ff. 178–9; NAS, GD 124/15/946/4.
  • 22 NAS, GD 124/15/955.
  • 23 Priv. Corr. D. M., i. 167; Add. 70245, Lothian to Harley, 9, 23 Oct. 1710; HMC Portland, x. 184.
  • 24 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 62–3.
  • 25 HMC Portland, v. 5.
  • 26 Add. 70245, Lothian to Oxford, 28 June 1712.
  • 27 HMC Portland, x. 210, 298; Post Boy, 24–27 Oct. 1713.
  • 28 HMC Portland, v. 430; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto, 8, f. 81; Add. 70245, Lothian to Oxford, 15 Nov. 1713.
  • 29 Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 262.