Hepburn, John (1598?-1636) (DNB00)

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HEPBURN, Sir JOHN (1598?–1636), Scottish soldier of fortune, was the second son of George Hepburn of Athelstaneford, a small property near Haddington, held feudally of his kinsmen, the Hepburns of Waughton. He is probably the John Hepburn who matriculated at St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, in 1615. At the end of that year he visited Paris and Poitiers with his schoolfellow, Robert Monro. In 1620, although a catholic, he joined the Scottish force under Sir Andrew Gray which was fighting for the elector palatine in Bohemia. In 1622 he fought with distinction under Mansfeldt at the defence of Bergen-op-Zoom in July, and at the battle of Fleurus 30 Aug. When Mansfeldt's army was disbanded next year, Hepburn led the Scottish companies to take service in Sweden, where his high military qualities won the favour of Gustavus, who in 1625 made him colonel of one of his Scottish regiments (of which the Royal Scots regiment in the British line, the old 1st foot, is the direct representative). Hepburn's regiment was engaged in the invasion of Polish Prussia, and especially in the defence of Mewe in 1625; next year it took part in the operations round Danzig under Sir Alexander Leslie [see Leslie, Alexander, first Earl of Leven], in 1627 it formed part of the army which invaded Prussia and Hungary, and in 1628 was in Poland. Hepburn in 1630 relieved his countryman Monro, who was besieged at Rügenwalde, and became governor of that town. In March 1631 Gustavus formed the four Scotch regiments into the Scots (or Green) brigade, giving the command to Hepburn. The latter, assisting in the siege of Frankfort-on-the-Oder, blew up one of the town gates, and was leading his men into the place when he received a shot ‘above the knee that he was lame of before,’ but he had his wound dressed and resumed his command. He took part in the capture of Landsberg, by which Pomerania was cleared of the imperialists, and the battle of Leipzig, 7 Sept. 1631, was decided by the charge of his brigade; later on in the same year he was present at the storming of Marienburg and Oppenheim, and at the surrender of Mentz, December 1631, where he remained with Gustavus till the following March, and then marched to Frankfort-on-the-Main, capturing Donauwörth on his way, and being publicly thanked by Gustavus. He was next quartered at Munich, his brigade being the first to enter the town, and acting as bodyguard to Gustavus. In June he joined the Swedish camp near Nuremberg. He there took offence at some supposed slight, the nature of which is not known, and sheathing his sword he said to the king, ‘Now, sire, I shall never draw it more in your behalf.’ He did not leave, however, until after the battle of 24 Aug. 1632, giving his counsel though refusing to take part in it. The Scottish officers accompanied him a mile on the road, and there was an affecting parting. After a visit to Scotland Sir John—whether he was ever knighted by Charles I is uncertain, but the ‘Swedish Intelligencer’ 1630 styles him ‘Sir John Hebron’—offered his services to France. They were eagerly accepted, and on 18 March 1633 he took leave of Louis XIII at Chantilly, before starting for Scotland to raise two thousand men. In August he arrived at Boulogne with his recruits, ‘good soldiers, mostly gentlemen.’ The remnant of the Scots Archery Guard was incorporated with his regiment, which consisted mostly of pikemen, and on the strength of this amalgamation Hepburn's troops claimed to be the oldest regiment in France, a claim resented by the Picardy regiment, raised in 1562, which nicknamed them ‘Pontius Pilate's Guards.’

Hepburn took part in the conquest of Lorraine, and in September was appointed maréchal-de-camp (brigadier-general). In 1634 he assisted, under the Duc de la Force, in the capture of Hagenau, Saverne, Lunéville, Bitche, and La Motte. He was then sent to relieve Heidelberg and Philipsbourg, where some of his former comrades under Gustavus were defending themselves against a superior force of imperialists. In 1635 he was present at the capture of Spires, the defeat of Duke Charles of Lorraine near Fresche, the capture of Bingen, the relief of Mentz, the capture of Zweibrücken, and the engagement at Vaudrevange. While arranging the encampment of the rear-guard he fell into the hands of the imperialists, but he pretended to be a German, and gave them orders in that language with so much assurance that they felt it quite an honour to let him go (Gazette de France, 6 Oct. 1635). About this time Duke Bernard of Weimar joined the French service, and the remnant of the Scots brigade which accompanied him was incorporated, much to the delight of the men, in Hepburn's regiment, which thus became 8,300 strong. In 1636 he shared with Cardinal de la Valette the credit of revictualling Hagenau, and, not unconscious of his own merit, he asked that ‘Meternic’ (perhaps an ancestor of the Austrian statesman) might be considered his prisoner, as the four thousand crowns ransom would be of service to him. He also requested that his brigade might take precedence of any other since raised to twenty companies, intimating that otherwise his dignity would not allow him to remain in the French army. Both petitions were granted, but before Meternic's ransom arrived Hepburn was killed. He was assisting Duke Bernard at the siege of Saverne, and while reconnoitring the fortifications on 8 July 1636 he received a musket-shot in the neck, and died two hours afterwards. He stood high in the favour of Richelieu, who frequently mentions him in his correspondence, was amused by his blunt manner and foreign accent (e.g. simère for chimère), and regarded the capture of Saverne as dearly purchased by his death. Hepburn was a catholic, and was buried in Toul Cathedral, a monument with recumbent effigy being, in 1669, erected near the spot, while his helmet, sabre, and gauntlets were deposited at the foot of it. This monument was destroyed in the French revolution, but the Latin inscription on the floor is still legible (Mém. Soc. de l'Arch. de Lorraine, 1863). Hepburn had a nephew who was page to Richelieu, and to whom Meternic's ransom was assigned.

[Lettres de Gustave Adolphe, Paris, 1790; Chronologie Historique Militaire, vi. 100; Gaz. de France, 1633–6; Lettres de Richelieu, 1853–1877 (these French authorities spell his name Hebron); James Grant's Memoirs of Sir John Hepburn.]

J. G. A.