Somerville, James (DNB00)

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SOMERVILLE, JAMES (1632–1690), family historian, baptised on 24 Jan. 1632 at Newhall, was eldest and only surviving son of James Somerville of Drum (by right, tenth Lord Somerville) and Lilias, second daughter of Sir James Bannatyne of Newhall, a lord of session. James's father had gained military experience as an officer in the Scots guard of Louis XIII at the siege of Montauban and of other towns held by the Huguenots. On the outbreak of hostilities between Charles I and the covenanters in 1639, the elder Somerville joined the covenanting levies under General Leslie [see Leslie, Alexander, first Earl of Leven], and with the rank of major had a leading command at the siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1640.

James joined his father's company at this siege. In 1645 he was present at David Leslie's first cavalry muster on the Gleds Muir, Tranent. The death of both his younger brothers in 1647 left him the only heir male of his house, and his parents resolved that he should never leave Scotland. In 1648 his father, having purchased from his cousin the old family seat at Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire, removed thither from the Drum, and arranged for his son's marriage with Martha Bannatyne of Corhouse. Owing to Cromwell's advance into Scotland, more serious affairs required attention. The Scots levies concentrated at Edinburgh. Thither the father took his son and placed him in the retinue of the Earl of Eglinton, captain of the king's guard of horse. The son's duty as an officer of the guard was to attend the earl both at camp and court. He thus saw a good deal of service, and was witness of most of the military actions which took place between the two armies, including the rout at Dunbar (3 Sept. 1650).

After Dunbar, Somerville returned to Cambusnethan, and found it partially occupied by the associate levies, with whom he had a sharp skirmish. Subsequently, in company with Bannatyne of Corhouse, his intended father-in-law, he went north to Perth, where Charles II held his court. Towards the close of November he returned with his cousin, Major-general Montgomery, who was in command of a body of cavalry that was designed either to operate against, or come to terms with, the associate levies under Colonels Ker and Strachan. After Montgomery had passed Stirling and was on the road to Dumbarton, he gave Somerville a commission to try and ascertain if the associate forces were willing to come to an agreement. He accordingly went to Renfrew, and arrived just in time to take part in a concentration of royalist forces on Ruglen, which was intended to check Cromwell's advance on Hamilton. Four Cromwellian regiments of cavalry (Lord Kirkcudbright's, Colonel Strachan's, Ker's, and Halkett's), made a night march on Hamilton, and occupied the town, but, after a sharp encounter, were driven out and dispersed the next morning. Somerville, after sending a message to Montgomery, passed three days with the laird of Cathcart, till the country was clear, and then returned to Cambusnethan. But Cromwell had rapidly regarrisoned Hamilton, and was making the country dangerous for the royalists. Somerville and his father therefore retired beyond Forth, and were present at the coronation of Charles II at Scone on 1 Jan. 1651. With other royalists they then paid their respects to the Duke of Hamilton, who was residing with the Earl of Crawford at the Struthers, Fifeshire. Somerville's father declined an offer of the command of a regiment of foot, but placed his son in the king's guard, again only as a volunteer. When Charles II resolved to march into England, it took all the elder Somerville's ingenuity to remove his son from the royal guard and thus observe his vow that the young man should never leave Scotland. The army's line of march passed within a short distance of the Corhouse, where resided Martha Bannatyne, to whom young Somerville was affianced. At the elder Somerville's request the lady sent her lover a message requesting an interview. The youth came immediately, and once within the walls the ‘iron yett’ closed, and there was no egress till the army was too far off to be rejoined. Young Somerville thus escaped the reverse at Worcester, and was married at Lesmahagow church on 13 Nov. 1651. He was still in his nineteenth year.

Thenceforth in domestic retirement he studied the records of his family, and completed in 1679 his important work, ‘The Memorie of the Somervilles,’ written chiefly for the benefit of his sons, to whom it was addressed. The two closely written folio volumes remained unprinted among the family papers until 1815, when they were edited by Sir Walter Scott, and published with many valuable notes and corrections (Edinburgh, 2 vols. 8vo).

The death of his father on 3 Jan. 1677 left Somerville successor to the family peerage, but, like his father, he declined to assume the title, and it remained in abeyance until it was recovered by his great-grandson, James, thirteenth lord Somerville, whose grandson, John Southey Somerville, fifteenth lord [q. v.], is separately noticed. James Somerville died in 1690. By his first wife, who died in 1676, he had three sons: James, born 26 Aug. 1652; John; and George. On 15 March 1685 he married, secondly, Margaret Jamieson, and had issue a daughter Margaret (b. 1686) and a son Hugh (b. 1688).

[Memorie of the Somervilles (1815); Douglas's Peerage; Par. Reg. of Newhall.]

W. G.