Sempill, Francis (DNB00)

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SEMPILL, FRANCIS (1616?–1682), ballad-writer, son of Robert Sempill of Beltrees, Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire [see under Sempill, Sir James, ad fin.], and his wife Mary Lyon, was born about 1616. Educated according to his position, he probably studied law. Like his ancestors, he ardently supported the Stuarts. The family estates were heavily burdened, and, failing to relieve them of debt, he in 1674 alienated to his son by deed the lands of Beltrees and Thirdpart. In 1677, when there was a process of ‘horning’ against Sempill, his resources further declined. He both sold and feued, granted the superiority over his estates to his neighbour, Crawford of Cartsburn, and resigned to his son the life-rent due to himself and his wife from certain lands. In 1677 Sempill was appointed sheriff-depute of Renfrewshire, and one of his decisions shortly afterwards involved him in a riot in which he was severely handled (Wodrow, Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, vol. ii. App. p. 8). According to Law (Memorialls, 1638–84), he died suddenly at Paisley, 12 March 1682. Sempill married, 3 April 1655, his cousin Jane Campbell of Ardkinlas, Argyllshire, who survived him, together with two sons, Robert and James.

The author of many occasional pieces on social and political subjects, Sempill was widely known as poet and wit. Through an intimacy formed with Cromwell's officers in Glasgow, he was early recognised in England as a song-writer (Johnson, Musical Museum). Sempill wrote complimentary verses on James, duke of York, and celebrated the births of his children. In his autobiographical poem, ‘The Banishment of Poverty by His Royal Highness J.D.A.’ (i.e. James, duke of Albany), he gives a lively narrative of his troubles, including his sojourn in the debtors' refuge at Holyrood. Sempill is also credited with a variety of fairly pointed poetical epitaphs, with a Christmas carol, and a sentimental lyric on ‘Old Longsyne.’

‘She rose and let me in,’ a song that is often attributed to Sempill, figures in D'Urfey's ‘New Collection of Songs’ (1683), and in Henry Playford's ‘Wit and Mirth,’ vol. i. (1698). While Alexander Campbell and other Scottish literary historians think the English song is ‘conveyed’ from Sempill, Ritson (‘Historical Essay’ prefixed to Scotish Songs) claims it for D'Urfey, asserting that the original English version was subsequently ‘Scotified.’ The Scottish version was doubtless by Sempill. He is also credited, somewhat indecisively, with the ballad of ‘Maggie Lauder.’ Whether Sempill is responsible for the ‘Blythsome Wedding,’ which is likewise claimed for Sir William Scott (1674?–1725) [q. v.] of Thirlestane, is open to question. The evidence is scanty and traditions conflicting. Its broad humour and manifest knowledge of the Scottish rustic are features that support Sempill's claims, which are stoutly asserted in family records.

[Campbell's Introduction to the History of Scottish Poetry; Paisley Repository, No. 5; Harp of Renfrewshire; Cunningham's and Chambers's Songs of Scotland; Laing's Fugitive Scottish Poetry; Paterson's Poems of the Sempills of Beltrees.]

T. B.