Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ross, William (1656?-1738)

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ROSS, WILLIAM, twelfth Lord Ross of Hawkhead (1656?–1738), only son of George, eleventh lord Ross of Hawkhead, by Lady Grisel Cochrane, only daughter of William, first earl of Dundonald, was born about 1656. The Rosses of Hawkhead claim descent from a Norman family which at an early period possessed the lordship of Ros in Yorkshire [see Ros, Robert de, d. 1227]. The first of this family who came to Scotland was Godfrey de Ros, who received from Richard de Morville the lands of Stewarton, Ayrshire. Sir John Ross, first lord Ross of Hawkhead, mentioned as one of the barons of parliament on 3 Feb. 1489–90, was the son of the Sir John Ross of Hawkhead who was chosen one of the three Scottish champions to fight in 1449 with the three Burgundian knights in the presence of James II. Among the more notable members of the family were John, second lord Ross, who fell at Flodden in 1513; James, fourth lord, one of the jury for the trial of Bothwell in April 1567, and subsequently a strong supporter of Queen Mary Stuart; and William, tenth lord, who was fined 3,000l. by Cromwell's act of grace in 1654.

While still master of Ross, William (afterwards twelfth lord) had a charter under the great seal, 10 Aug. 1669, of the baronies of Melville and Hawkhead. He took a prominent part in the crusade against the covenanters; and on 10 June 1679 encountered, near Selkirk, a party of 150 of them from Fife, about to join the main body; he defeated this detachment at Beauly Bog, killing about sixty and taking ten prisoners, whom he sent to Edinburgh (Napier, Memoirs of Graham of Claverhouse, i. 280).

William succeeded his father as Lord Ross in 1682. In April 1683 he was recommended by the Duke of Queensberry to be lieutenant-colonel to Graham of Claverhouse, but, there being no such officer in the cavalry regiments, he was appointed major instead (ib. ii. 344). He was one of the witnesses to Claverhouse's marriage in 1684, and accompanied him on his wedding day in the vain pursuit of the armed conventiclers in Ayrshire (ib. pp. 339–40). He was engaged in the pursuit of Argyll in 1685, and in an action with the rebels was wounded in the neck (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. viii. p. 22). In January 1686 he was made a member of the Scottish privy council (Lauder of Fountainhall, Historical Notices, p. 695), but on 14 Sept. he was dismissed by a letter from the king (ib. p. 750).

At the revolution Ross took an active part in supporting the claims of William and Mary to the Scottish crown, and he was one of the commissioners chosen by the Scottish estates to proceed to London to give the king an account of their proceedings (Melville Papers, p. 48). On the plea of attending to his parliamentary duties, he declined to undertake active military service against his old commander Claverhouse (ib. p. 195), and disobeyed an injunction requiring all officers to join the army at Stirling on pain of escheating (ib. p. 228). He nevertheless appears to have ultimately obtained exemption, for there is no record of any action being taken against him; but, being disappointed with the recognition of his political services, he eventually joined the malcontents against the government, and became a leading member of the society known as The Club. Along with Sir James Montgomery [q. v.], he went to London to present to the king a declaration of Scottish grievances. He was also one of the main contrivers of the Montgomery plot, it being understood that, if the plot were successful, he would be created an earl (Balcarres Memoirs, p. 62). It being, however, represented to him in January 1690 that he was to be imprisoned for designs against the government, he went to England (Melville Papers, pp. 446–7), and gave some information in regard to the plot, but refused to become evidence against any one (ib. p. 449). In July 1690 he was sent to the Tower (Luttrell, Short Relation, p. 73), but was released on his own recognisances.

After the accession of Queen Anne, Ross was in 1701 appointed lord high commissioner to the church of Scotland. He was also one of the commissioners for the union between England and Scotland, of which he was a steady supporter; and he remained loyal to the government during the rebellion of 1715. At the general election of this year he was chosen one of the Scottish representative peers. He died on 15 March 1738, in his eighty-second year. He was four times married. By his first wife, Agnes, daughter and heiress of Sir John Wilkie of Fouldean, Berwickshire, he had a son and three daughters: George, thirteenth earl; Euphemia, married to William, third earl of Kilmarnock; Mary to John, first duke of Atholl; and Grizel to Sir James Lockhart of Carstairs, Lanarkshire, father of Sir John Lockhart-Ross. By his second wife, a daughter of Philip, lord Wharton, he had no issue. By his third wife, Lady Anne Hay, eldest daughter of John, second marquis of Tweeddale, he had a daughter Anne, who died unmarried. By his fourth wife, Henrietta, daughter of Sir Francis Scott of Thirlestane, he had no issue.

[Melville Papers and Balcarres Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Lauder of Fountainhall's Historical Notices; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. viii.; Napier's Memoirs of Graham of Claverhouse; Douglas's Scottish Peerage, ed. Wood, ii. 421–3.]

T. F. H.