Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, William (d.1716)

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GORDON, WILLIAM, sixth Viscount Kenmure (d. 1716), Jacobite, was the only son of Alexander, fifth viscount, by his second wife, Marion, daughter of David M'Culloch of Ardwell. Though his father, who died in 1698, had fought against Dundee at Killiecrankie, Kenmure was induced to join the conspiracy for the restoration of the Stuarts in 1715. He was himself of a specially mild and peaceful disposition, and is said to have been entirely under the sway of his wife, Mary Dalyell, only sister of Sir Robert Dalyell, sixth earl of Carnwath [q. v.], a woman of great force of character, and a member of one of the most zealous Jacobite families in Scotland. Tradition records that when the earl set out to attend the gathering of the Jacobites at Braemar, his charger, until then noted for its docility, three times refused to allow him to mount. From the Earl of Mar he received a commission to command the Jacobite forces in the south of Scotland. He formed a plan to surprise Dumfries, but the ploughmen and farmers of the neighbouring parishes flocked into the town, and barricades were quickly thrown up. At the time the rumour of his intention reached Dumfries he was at Moffat, where, after being joined by the Earl of Winton, he, on 11 Oct., proclaimed the chevalier as James VIII. When he approached Dumfries on his way southwards, Simon Fraser, lord Lovat [q. v.], on his way northwards, was holding a conference with the Marquis of Annandale, lord-lieutenant of the county; but learning that the town was defended, Kenmure passed onwards to Lochmaben. Thence he marched to Ecclefechan, where he was joined by Sir Patrick Maxwell of Springbank with a few horsemen. In all, however, their forces numbered only about three hundred (Patten, History of the Rebellion), and so disappointed were they at the feeble response to their efforts, that Kenmure on reaching Hawick had almost determined to give up the enterprise, when news reached him of the rising in Northumberland. On the march to join the English contingent at Rothbury he learned at Jedburgh of the expedition of the highlanders across the Forth. After effecting a junction with the Northumbrians, Kenmure retraced his footsteps to Kelso, where he was further strengthened by the arrival of the highlanders. Episcopal service was performed on Sunday, 23 Oct., in the 'great kirk of Kelso,' and on the Monday James VIII was proclaimed king, and a manifesto read amid shouts of 'no union, no malt tax, no salt tax.' The forces under Kenmure now numbered fourteen hundred men, but he was an incapable leader, and, perhaps to escape from the perplexities of his position, proposed a march into England. The highlanders opposed the march, but a project of Lord Winton to effect a junction with Mar by a circuitous march through the west of Scotland was finally discarded. They actually began their march with this purpose, and after reaching Langholm Kenmure sent forward a detachment to hold Dumfries, but learning at Ecclefechan that it was strongly defended, he reverted to his original project, and abruptly turned southwards towards Longtown. He was quickened partly by the knowledge that the government troops under Carpenter were on his track, and partly by a message that reached him of a rising in behalf of the chevalier in Lancashire. Deserted by the great bulk of the highland troops, Kenmure's forces reached Longtown on the 3lst, after which the chief command devolved on Forster. Kenmure was taken prisoner at the battle of Preston on 14 Nov., and conveyed with other rebel lords to the Tower of London. When tried before the House of Lords on 19 Jan. 1715-16, he pleaded guilty and said, 'I want words to express my repentance. God knows I never had any prejudice against his majesty; nor was I ever accessory to any previous designs against him.' Abject as the statement no doubt was, it was possibly quite sincere, for, apart from the influence of his wife, his Jacobite sympathies were, to say the least, not violent. He appealed to the lords to intercede for him with the king, but the sentence was carried out. He was beheaded on Tower Hill on 24 Feb., immediately after the Earl of Derwentwater. He met his fate with firmness, explained away his confession, professed 'to die a protestant of the church of England,' and denied that he had any 'design to favour or introduce popery.' He prayed for James III, and left a letter to the chevalier, afterwards published, in which he maintained the title of 'the person called the Pretender, whom he believed to be the true son of James the Second.' After his execution his wife hurried to Scotland and secured her husband's papers. When the estates after their forfeiture were exposed for sale, she, with the help of some of her friends, succeeded in purchasing them, and by careful management was able to hand them over unencumbered to her son when he came of age. There were three sons and a daughter by the marriage. The eldest, Robert, died unmarried in 1741, but there was a succession of male descendants by the second son, John, until 1847, when the title, which had been restored by act of parliament in 1784, became dormant on the death without issue of Adam Gordon, a distinguished naval officer, eleventh viscount by succession, and eighth in the enjoyment of the title. The rising headed by Kenmure was the subject of a stirring Jacobite song of unknown origin, 'Kenmure's on and awa, Willie,' a version of which was sent by Burns to Johnson's 'Musical Museum.'

[Patten's Hist. of Rebellion in Scotland; State Trials, xv. 762-806; A True Copy of the Paper left by the Lord Viscount Kenmure, 1716; Speech made by Lord Cowper at the Trial of Viscount Kenmure, 1716; McKerlie's Lands and their Owners in Galloway, iv. 63-5 and passim; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 29-30; Burton's Hist. of Scotland.]

T. F. H.