Burnet, Margaret (DNB00)

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BURNET, MARGARET (1630?–1685?), the first wife of Gilbert Burnet, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, was the eldest daughter of John Kennedy, sixth earl of Cassilis, by his first wife, Lady Jean Hamilton. She inherited from him his remarkable strength and tenacity of character, as well as the inflexible fidelity to presbyterianism for which he was so well known. She was daring in the expression of her opinions, and her letters are full of a shrewd and masculine wit. She was reputed, too, to be possessed of considerable scholarship. It is related, in illustration of her boldness, that on one occasion during the Commonwealth, while standing at an open window, she reviled some of Cromwell's soldiers as murderers of their king. The soldiers threatened to fire upon her if she did not desist, and upon her continuing actually did so, though the bullets did not strike her. After the Restoration she was distinguished as the steady and uncompromising friend of broad and liberal presbyterianism. She refused to attend the episcopal church so long as the persecution of presbyterian ministers during Rothes's commissionership continued; and she was on terms of the closest intimacy with Lauderdale, Robert Moray, and the other favourers at that time of the conciliation policy, in which she greatly assisted. To Lauderdale she continually gave most valuable information on the state of the country and the plans of his enemies (Bannatyne Club Publications). So close was the friendship between her, Lauderdale, and Moray, that in the letters which passed between the latter two she is usually spoken of as ‘our wife,’ or as one of ‘our wives,’ the other being the Duchess of Hamilton, her cousin, with whom she frequently resided (Lauderdale MSS., British Museum). The charge that she carried on a criminal intrigue with Lauderdale (Mackenzie, Memoirs, p. 165) has, however, no evidence to sustain it, and the tone of her letters to him, as well as of those between him and Moray, is altogether contrary to such a supposition. In 1671, when she was ‘well stricken in years,’ she married Gilbert Burnet, who was considerably her junior, and who on the day before the marriage, in order that it should not be said that he married for her money, delivered to her a deed in which he renounced all pretension to her fortune, which was very considerable (Burnet, History of my own Time, Clarendon Press, 1833, vi. 263). ‘The marriage was consummated in a clandestine way by an order from Young, bishop of Edinburgh, to Mr. Patrick Grahame, and that only before two of Mr. Grahame's servants, and was three years before it was known. Upon the publishing of it she retired to Edinburgh, condoling her own case and her present misfortunes’ (Law's Memorials). It is asserted (Mackenzie, p. 315) that she expected Lauderdale to marry her on the death of his first wife, and that through anger at her disappointment she induced Burnet to join the attack upon him when impeached by the House of Commons, and to disclose facts and conversations which might help to ruin him. For this charge also it is impossible to find any evidence worthy of the name, and Burnet himself accounts for his knowledge and action in the matter on totally different grounds. The date of her death is uncertain, but it must have been before 1686, as we find that in that year Burnet was reported as being about to marry a second time (History of my own Time, vi. 284).

[Authorities cited above.]

O. A.