Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montgomerie, Alexander (1588-1661)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MONTGOMERIE or SETON, ALEXANDER, sixth Earl of Eglinton (1588–1661), born in 1588, was third son of Robert Seton, first earl of Wintoun, by Margaret, eldest daughter of Hugh Montgomerie, third earl of Eglinton [q. v.] Hugh, fifth earl of Eglinton, the third earl's grandson, was thus his first cousin. He is first known as Sir Alexander Seton of Foulstruther. On 2 July 1606 he and his brother George, master of Wintoun, were summoned to appear before the privy council to answer for an attack on the Earl of Glencairn at Perth (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vii. 222). Having failed to appear, they were on 10 July denounced as rebels (ib. p. 224). On 30 July they, however, gave sureties to answer before the council on the 14th of the following October (ib. p. 646); and the matter was finally settled by an order on 23 Dec. to the master of Wintoun and the Earl of Glencairn to subscribe an assurance (ib. p. 288).

The fifth Earl of Eglinton having no issue made a resignation and settlement of the earldom and entail on his cousin and heirs male of his body, he and they taking the name and arms of Montgomerie. This settlement was confirmed by charter under the great seal, dated 28 Nov. 1611, and after the death of the earl in 1612, Seton was infeft in the earldom on 30 Oct. King James, however, challenged the transference of the title as having been done without his authority, and on 28 April 1613 the privy council decided that Seton should be charged to appear before it on 18 May, to 'hear and see him discharged of all assuming unto himself the style, title, and name of earl' (ib. x. 32). This he declined to do, but ultimately on 15 March 1615 he appeared before the council, apologised for having used the title without the king's authority, and resigned it into the king's hands. Thereupon the king, in accordance with a previous arrangement, was graciously pleased to confer it on him (ib. pp. 310-11), and on 13 April following he was infeft in the earldom, under the designation of Alexander Montgomerie, Earl of Eglinton, Lord Montgomerie and Kilwinning. According to tradition the king was finally induced to this decision through the interposition of his favourite, Robert Car, earl of Somerset, after Eglinton had explained to him that, though ignorant of the intricacies of law, he knew the use of the sword, and had intimated that he would challenge the favourite to a duel unless the opposition to his assumption of the title were withdrawn. From the incident Eglinton, who was a very skilful swordsman, obtained the surname of 'Graysteel.' In 1617 James when in Scotland paid a visit to Eglinton. The latter was one of the Scots nobles who on 7 May 1625 attended the funeral of King James in Westminster Abbey (Balfour, Annals, ii. 118). He formed one of the procession at the state entry of Charles into Edinburgh on 15 June 1633 (ib. iv. 354) ; at the coronation on 18 June he carried the spurs (ib. p. 357) ; and at the rising of the parliament on 24 June he carried the sword (ib. p. 364).

From an early period Eglinton was a staunch presbyterian, chiefly owing to the influence jof David Dickson or Dick [q. v.], minister of Irvine, who he affirmed was 'the instrument to reclaim him from popery,' the traditional faith of the Montgomeries. He was one of the commissioners who at the parlialiament of 1621 voted against the five articles of Perth (Calderwood, vii. 498). After Dickson was deprived of his ministry at Irvine for publicly protesting against the five articles, the earl obtained for him liberty 'to come to Eglinton and to visit now and then his family at Irvine, but not to preach there' (ib. p. 541). On his arrival Eglinton arranged that he should preach in the hall of the castle, and afterwards in the close, when the multitudes who thronged to hear him became too great for the hall ; but after two months he was ordered to proceed to ward (ib.} Eglinton was, however, ultimately successful in obtaining consent to his return to Irvine (ib. p. 568).

Eglinton was no doubt further confirmed in his presbyterianism by intercourse with Robert Baillie [q. v.], minister of Kilwinning. He was one of the noblemen who after the tumult in St. Giles's Church, Edinburgh, on account of the introduction of the prayer-book, presented a petition against it (Guthry, Memoirs, p. 25). He also took an active part in the movement for the preparation of the national covenant (ib. p. 137), and was a witness of the oaths of the people to it (Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals, i. 88). He attended the general assembly of 1638 as commissioner from the presbytery of Glasgow, and was one of the committee appointed by the assembly for taking in complaints against the bishops (Gordon, Scots Affairs, ii. 29). When in 1639 it was resolved to withstand by force of arms the attempt of Charles to concuss the covenanters, Eglinton 'came away with the whole country at his back' (Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals, i. 201), and joined the force which under Leslie encamped at Dunse Law to bar the northward march of the king. In April 1640 he was along with Argyll deputed by the convention of estates to watch the western parts of Scotland against the landing of forces from Ireland, the portion assigned to him being that south of the Firth of Clyde (Gordon, iii. 163). After Charles had come to a temporary agreement with the Scots, Eglinton was on 17 Sept. 1641 nominated one of the privy council (Balfour, Annals, iii. 67), and the choice was confirmed by parliament on 13 Nov. (ib. p. 149). He was also one of the committee appointed to inquire into the 'Incident' or supposed plot against Argyll (ib. p. 127).

In 1643 Eglinton was appointed to the command of a regiment of horse in the army sent by the Scots to the assistance of the English parliament against the king (Spalding, Memoriall of the Trubles, ii. 294). He was present at the siege of York in April-June 1644, and on one occasion, with four thousand Scots, entered some of the gates and made a passage to the manor-house, a strong party who sallied out of the city being beaten back with loss (Whitelocke, Memorials, p. 90). At the battle of Marston Moor, 2 July 1644, he rendered signal service by keeping his ground with his regiment when the charge of Prince Rupert swept the remainder of the left wing into confusion (Baillie, ii. 204 ; also Full and True Relation of the Victory obtained by the Forces under command of General Lesley, Lord Fairfax, and the Earl of Manchester, 1644). Shortly afterwards he returned to Scotland, and was present at the meeting of parliament on 28 July (Balfour, Annals, iii. 240). He was one of the committee of estates appointed in 1645 to consider the petition of General Baillie for a trial regarding his conduct at the battle of Kilsyth, and on 30 Jan. 1646 was named one of the committee of estates during the interval between the sessions of parliament.

Eglinton disapproved of the 'Engagement' of 1648 to march into England for the relief of the king, and after the defeat of Hamilton at Preston headed the raid of the western whigamores, who took possession of Edinburgh, and afterwards entered into communication with Cromwell. On the execution of Charles I he supported the proposal for the recall of Charles II as a 'covenanted king.' Charles after his arrival appointed him on 22 July 1650 colonel of the cavalry regiment of life-guards (Balfour, iv. 85); and at his instigation the king came on the 29th from Stirling to the army at Leith (ib. p. 86). He was present at Dimfermline on 13 Aug., at the first council held by the king since his coming to Scotland (ib. p. 90). After the king joined the northern loyalists Eglinton assembled with those nobles who met at Perth, and sent him a discreet letter asking him to return (ib. p. 115). Eglinton supported the policy of Argyll, in opposition to the extreme covenanters of the west, and even proposed that the western remonstrance should be declared scandalous and treasonable, and be publicly burnt by the hangman (ib. p. 172). Afterwards he was appointed with Argyll and the lord chancellor to speak privately with some of the western gentlemen regarding an agreement for a union of the forces (ib. p. 186). In 1651 he raised a regiment for the service of the king (ib. p. 272); but while in Dumbartonshire he and his sons were betrayed to the soldiers of Cromwell, and captured in their beds. For betraying them one Archibald Hamilton was hanged at Stirling in April 1651 (Nicoll, Diary, p. 52). After being detained for some : time in the castle of Edinburgh, Eglinton was sent a prisoner to Hull, and afterwards to Berwick-on-Tweed. The statement made by most authorities that he was detained a prisoner there till the Restoration is, however, without foundation. On 15 Oct. 1652 he was allowed the liberty of the town of Berwick (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1651-2,p. 440), and subsequently his liberty was further extended, for on 18 July 1654 the governor of Berwick was ordered to secure him and Lord Montgomerie till they procure Colonel Robert Montgomerie and give him in charge to the constable, or till they give security that he will depart the Commonwealth (ib. 1654, p. 258). Although his son, Hugh, lord Montgomerie, afterwards seventh earl, was also excluded from Cromwell's Act of Grace, the sixth earl was included in it, and his estates returned to him after two years' sequestration (ib. 1657-8, p. 284). On Montgomerie's marriage in 1631, Eglinton had settled the estates on him, reserving for himself only a life-rent, but in 1635 Montgomerie bound himself not to interfere with the estates during his father's lifetime (ib. pp. 284-5), and not being forfeited, they were in 1655 settled by Eglinton on Montgomerie's eldest son (ib.) In August 1659 Eglinton was secured and put in prison by General Monck, lest he should take up arms in favour of Charles (Nicoll, Diary). He lived to see the Restoration, but died at Eglinton Castle on 7 Jan. 1661. There is an engraving of the sixth earl in Sir William Fraser's 'Earls of Eglinton.' By his first wife, Anna (d. 1632), eldest daughter of Alexander Livingstone, first earl of Linlithgow [q. v.], he had five sons and three daughters : Hugh, seventh earl [q. v.], Sir Henry of Gifien, Alexander, Colonel James of Coilsfield, ancestor of the twelfth and succeeding earls of Eglinton; General Robert Montgomerie [q. v.]; Margaret, married first to John, first earl of Tweeddale, and secondly to William, ninth earl of Glencairn; Helenor died young, and Anna died unmarried. By his second wife, Margaret (d. 1651), eldest daughter of Walter, first lord Scott of Buccleugh, and relict of James, first lord Ross, he had no issue.

[Histories of Calderwood and Spotiswood; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club); Balfour's Annals; Guthry's Memoirs; Nicoll's Diary (Bannatyne Club); Lament's Diary; Rothes's Short Relation (Bannatyne Club); Spalding's Memoriall of the Trubles (Spalding Club); Gordon's Scots Affairs (Spalding Club); Reg. P. C. Scotl.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser.; Patterson's Hist. of Ayr; Sir William Fraser's Earls of Eglinton; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 502-3.]

T. F. H.