Ramsay, John (1580?-1626) (DNB00)

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RAMSAY, Sir JOHN, Viscount Haddington and Earl of Holderness (1580?–1626), a favourite of James VI, was the second son of James Ramsay of Dalhousie and Elizabeth Hepburn, and was born about 1580. While in attendance on the king at Falkland in 1600 he, in presence of the king, gave the lie to Patrick Myrtoune, the king's master-carver, whereupon Myrtoune slapped him on the cheek. The king separated the disputants; but on the following day Ramsay ‘invadit the close’ of the palace, and meeting Myrtoune, struck him on the arm and head, and drew his sword ‘to have slain him’ had he not been prevented. On this account he was found guilty of treason, but, having submitted to the king's will, was pardoned, and again received into favour (Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, ii. 92). A few months afterwards, Ramsay, while in attendance on the king at Perth, played a prominent part in connection with the so-called Gowrie conspiracy of 5 Aug. According to the authorised version of the incident, Ramsay had taken charge of a hawk which had that day been brought in from the country, and on going to present it to the king found him engaged in a desperate struggle with Alexander Ruthven, brother of the Earl of Gowrie. Ramsay thereupon, according to the ‘History of James the Sext,’ ‘drew his sword against the earl's brother, and killing him, he closed the king in a quiet chamber. The earl, coming up with two drawn swords in his hand, called for his brother, and Ramsay answered the king was killed by him. Then the earl putting both his swords' points to the ground, the said John Ramsay incontinent invaded him by the point of his sword at the left pass, and killed him off hand’ (pp. 375–6). Other versions of the story differ somewhat as to details, especially in regard to the death of the Earl of Gowrie; and it has also been held that the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, rather than the king, were the victims of the conspiracy [see under Ruthven, Alexander, Master of Gowrie, and Ruthven, John, third Earl of Gowrie]; but in any case to Ramsay must be assigned the chief part in the incident. On either theory the king's obligation to him was great, and it was never forgotten. In recognition of his services he was knighted on 13 Nov., and he also obtained a grant of the barony of East Barns (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1593–1608, No. 1097).

Having accompanied King James to England on his accession to the English throne, Ramsay in 1604 entered the Inner Temple. From the king he now obtained many substantial tokens of favour. On 30 Sept. 1603 he was granted a pension of 200l. for life (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. Add. 1603–1610, p. 41). On 23 May 1605 the king bestowed on him lands and tenements to the value of 1,000l. a year (ib. Add. 1580–1625, p. 462), and he also received numerous other grants of money and of English lands, as well as large sums on special occasions to enable him to settle with his creditors (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. passim). On account of his influence with the king, many English men—including, among others, Sir Walter Ralegh—made use of him as a medium of intercession for special favours.

On 11 June 1606 Ramsay was created Viscount Haddington and Lord Ramsay of Barns; and, as an additional honour, had an arm holding a naked sword and a crown in the midst thereof, and a heart at the point, given him to impale with his own arms, and this motto, ‘Hæc dextra vindex principis et patriæ.’ On 28 Aug. 1609 he had a charter of the lands and baronies belonging to the dissolved abbey of Melrose united into a lordship, to be called the lordship of Melrose, with the title of Lord of Melrose (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1609–20, No. 139), and on 25 Aug. 1615 he was created Lord Ramsay of Melrose, ‘to him and his heirs males and assigns whatever.’ This last title he, however, resigned in favour of his brother, George Ramsay, who on 25 Aug. 1618 was created Lord Ramsay of Melrose. About 1619 Ramsay, in discontent at not having been created Earl of Montgomery, retired to France (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1619–23, p. 70); but the king having sent him a present of 7,000l., he was induced to return to court (ib. p. 168). On 22 Jan. 1620–1 he was further gratified by being created an English peer, by the titles of Baron of Kingston-upon-Thames and Earl of Holderness, with this additional honour, that on 25 Aug. annually—the anniversary of the king's deliverance from the Gowrie conspiracy—he and his heirs male for ever should bear the sword of state before the king. He died in February 1625–6, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 28th. By his first wife, Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Robert, earl of Sussex—in honour of his marriage with whom, 10 Feb. 1607–1608, Ben Jonson composed a masque which was performed at court—he had two sons, James and Charles, who both died in infancy. On the occasion of this marriage a pension of 600l. a year was settled on him and his wife by the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1603–10, p. 403). By his second wife, Margaret, sister of Charles, first viscount Cullen, and daughter of Sir William Cockayne of Rushton, Northamptonshire, sometime lord mayor of London, he left no issue. At his death, therefore, all his honours became extinct.

[Hist. of James the Sext, with David Moysie's Memoirs (both in the Bannatyne Club); Calderwood's Hist. of the Church of Scotland; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1593–1620; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. Reign of James I; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 675–6; Complete Peerage by G. E. C.]

T. F. H.