Saturday, June 20, 2015

WHAT'S IN A NAME? - What do Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst, William Kirkcaldy of Grange, and Robert Carr have in Common?

by Linda Root

"Ferniehirst Castle - - 1990586" by Walter Baxter.
 Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - 


Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst was the oldest child of the Marion Border Reiver Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst, who was one of the few Scots who never betrayed either the Queen of Scots or her mother, James V's consort Queen Marie of Guise.

Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst 
Andrew Ker was knighted at least once, and probably twice, once by King James when Ker was an adult at the same time his son was dubbed Andrew Ker of Oxnam, but also as a young child during the reign of the Queen of Scots. There is a story suggesting the Queen of Scots knighted him herself when he was wee.

A second version suggests he was one of the several knights James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was entitled to create upon his investiture as Duke of Orkney on the eve of his marriage to the Queen of Scots in May 1567. His claims to a youthful knighthood  are supported by letters the Queen wrote to his father Tommy early in her English confinement in which she asks to be remembered to ‘Sir Andrew.’
Janet Kirkcaldy, Wikimedia

He was the son of Sir Thomas by his first wife, Lady Janet Kirkcaldy. Janet was the only legitimate child of Sir William Kirkcaldy, the colorful Knight of Grange, a fact I have thrown in as a clue for anyone teased into answering the question presented in the title of this post.

There is no record of  Andrew’s date of birth and for good reason.  The family records of the Kers of Ferniehirst had been deliberately destroyed.  From 1570-1573, Sir William Kirkcaldy, the controversial Knight of Grange, held Edinburgh Castle for the Queen of Scots. It was the last Marian stronghold to fall. Its surrender marked the end of the Scottish Civil War, sometimes also called The Douglas Wars, in dubious honor of James Douglas, the Fourth Earl of  Morton.

James Douglas-
4th Earl of Morton-Wikimedia
Morton is the person who is believed to be the one who ordered the destruction of the records of the leading Marians, Kirkcaldy,  Maitland, and Ferniehirst. He considered Kirkcaldy the titular leader, Maitland the brains and Tommy Ker the muscle of the Marian resistance.  Perhaps he thought erasing their family documents would remove them from the history of the turbulent years after the flight of the Queen.  There may be another reason for the degree of his angst toward  Kirkcaldy and Maitland although it does not apply to Ferniehirst.  The former two had fought at Carberry Hill and Langside against the Queen. In the vernacular, they were turncoats.

Many histories assert The Queen of Scots fled into the Spider Web spun by her cousin Elizabeth after her defeat at the Battle of Langside in 1568.  However, I find it impossible to regard Langside as a defeat in the common usage of the word. It was not a case of one armed force defeating another. While the Queen's defeat was the ultimate result, it was not a decisive military victory as much as a psychological one.

On the march to Langside in command of a superior force, the Queen’s mood was almost manic.  When the ineptitude of her commanders pitted against the skill of the opposing generals tipped the scale in favor of the Regent, Marie Stuart surrendered to a bout of nerves.  Had she exercised the least bit of patience, listened to her advisors, and retreated to Paisley to await reinforcements from her Northern Catholic earls, the outcome may have been different. Instead, she panicked. Her behavior suggests she had been traumatized by her imprisonment and miscarriage at Loch Leven and could not face the prospect of a repeat.

But that is another story.

Much of the Queen's irrational behavior may have been provoked by the brilliant military strategy of the Knight of Grange.  Kirkcaldy introduced new tactics into the combat similar to those which two hundred years later changed the tide of battle in the American Revolution.  We call it urban combat or guerrilla warfare. In any case, at Langside as at Carberry Hill the year before, both Maitland and Kirkcaldy supported the Regent’s cause. Five years later, after both of them joined the Marians, Morton discovered how essential they had been. Of the three principal holdouts in the Castle when it fell five years later, only  Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst had been faithful to the Queen from the beginning.

The Moray-Maitland-Morton triumvirate that drove the Regency after the flight of the Queen lasted less than two years. Maitland had never favored the absolute abdication of the Queen. He was promoting her arranged marriage to the Duke of Norfolk, a solution that would have advanced his steadfast dream of Union. 

Kirkcaldy was smoldering in shame because he felt his honor had been perverted in the manner in which the Queen had been treated after her surrender to him in 1567. The only thing keeping him in the Regent’s camp was his friendship with the Regent, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, the Queen's treacherous brother. When Moray was assassinated in 1570, Kirkcaldy was the Chief Mourner at a funeral personally preached by his erstwhile friend, John Knox. However, the knight felt no loyalty to Moray’s successors. 

After an abortive attempt by the King’s Party to trap Maitland and try him for treason, Kirkcaldy had had enough. He had always considered the new Regent, Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, the young King’s grandfather,  a bit of a buffoon. Soon the banner of the Queen of Scots was flying from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, and its governor began preparing for the event Scottish history calls the Lang Siege.

As the battle lines were drawn, Kirkcaldy released the men he had taken captive at Langside, but most remained within the castle to fight on the side of the Marians.  By the time the siege began in earnest, Maitland and his wife and brother John Maitland (later, Lord Thirlestane)  had joined Kirkcaldy and his family. Soon Kirkcaldy’s daughter Janet and her husband Tommy Ker of Ferniehirst and their several children joined the group called the Castilians. The Kers' Border stronghold had been sacked after Lord and Lady Ferniehirst gave sanctuary to Elizabeth Tudor’s rebellious Earls, Northumberland and Westmoreland and their wives, and helped the Westmorelands and the Countess of Northumberland escape to the Continent.

Although the Regent, Lennox, was the figurehead of the King's Party, his leadership abilities were scant.  His position as the infant James VI’s grandfather gave his Regency legitimacy, but even Elizabeth Tudor dealt with Morton when she wanted something done.

Then the Castilians launched a raid on Stirling that might have worked had Kirkcaldy been in command, but his compatriots insisted he stay in the Castle where he would be safe. There was no continuity in the leadership of the raid.  The strike was nearly a rout until the Hamiltons and Thomas Ker let their lust for spoils take over. In the battle, the Regent Lennox left the safety of the Castle and was killed, some say by not so friendly ‘friendly  fire.’  Morton, who had been captured at one point in the affair, slipped his captors and changed the tide of battle, using  Lennox’s death as an impetus. The Marian raiders fled to Edinburgh Castle to face Kirkcaldy’s wrath. More importantly, public sympathies shifted to the King’s Party. When the Regency passed to James Douglas, Earl of Morton in the autumn of 1572  the fate of the Castilians was sealed.  Morton wasted no effort in convincing a reluctant Elizabeth to send her siege guns.

When the castle fell under an English artillery, the leading Marians and their important papers were seized by Sir William Drury, commander of the English force. Drury’s humane treatment of his prisoners and the lenient terms he had discussed with Kirkcaldy added to Morton’s vindictiveness. While Kirkcaldy understood the surrender was unconditional as to him and Maitland, who was already dying, he and Drury had a gentleman’s agreement that their lives would be spared. Just as he and Moray had done when Marie Stuart surrendered to Kirkcaldy at Carberry, Morton again changed the rules. He whined to Elizabeth and demanded control of the Castle and the Marians. When the Knight of Grange was hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on a sunny August 3, 1573, Maitland had already perished, some say ‘in the manner of Socrates.' The records of the Kirkcaldys  and Kers were never seen again.


Although reports do not agree, as shown below, by the time of his surrender, the Knight of Grange’s only child, his daughter Janet Kirkcaldy was already dead, leaving Kirkcaldy without a direct heir. His younger brother James Kirkcaldy was also hanged that day, but unlike his brother, he left a surviving son. The lad was named William in honor of his famous uncle.

Not all of the Kirkcaldy properties were forfeited, which may have something to do with the fact that James Kirkcaldy’s widow, the heiress Helen Leslie, who had betrayed him, had become Morton’s latest mistress. The knight’s nephew, William Kirkcaldy was the logical heir to the Kirkcaldy titles and estates in Fifeshire in the event they were restored. Nephew Willie, however, is not the William Kirkcaldy of Grange mentioned in the title of the story.

At this point, History becomes another of Morton’s victims. Gone is the documentation of Sir Andrew Ker's birth, investiture, and records of the Ker-Kirkcaldy marriage or the dates of birth and baptismal records of Andrew Ker and his several siblings. One genealogy I have seen shows Janet Kirkcaldy giving birth to Andrew when she was approximately four. Others are authored by historians who did not realize aristocratic Scottish women maintained their family surname and confused Janet with her grandmother and her aunt. Some sources had her dying in Scotland in Roxburghshire in 1569, but recent research points to a date and place of death as London in 1572. Overall, my research finds the latter far more credible. She may have gone there on a mission to rescue the Countess of Westmoreland’s daughters who were living in Kent under deplorable conditions. We simply have no way of knowing.

Most, but not all, competent sources suggest she, not Janet Scott, was the Lady Ferniehirst who provided refuge to the Countesses of Westmoreland and Northumberland after the Northern Rebellion in 1569 failed. There is no record of Tommy Kerr’s family being in the castle when it fell, although there is a reference to nine young boys being among the prisoners slated for release. On at least two occasions during the siege, the women and children of Edinburgh including those within the Castle were given amnesty and safe passage out of the city. Also, for men as resourceful as Kirkcaldy and his brother James, getting in and out had never been a problem. We do not know when, but it seems likely that Lady Ferniehirst and her children had exited the castle at least by the autumn of 1572. Andrew Ker’s father Thomas, the Laird of Ferniehirst, was imprisoned briefly in Blackness Castle after the castle fell, but like most of the Marian Castilians, he was soon released into exile. Morton was no fool. He realized a wholesale slaughter of Scots by Scots would be disastrous to his Regency.

Of one thing we are certain: by 1575, Tommy Ker of Ferniehirst had remarried. His second wife was also named Janet—Janet Scott.  She was a daughter of the Ferniehirst Kers’ traditional enemy, the powerful laird of Braxtome-Buccleugh. She was an affectionate and capable step-parent to her husband Tommy’s children, including his sons Andrew and William. She also is credited with opening a communication between the young King and his imprisoned mother and was one of the most influential women at the Court of James VI.

At this point in the story, one part of the riddle of the names is ripe for solution. First, Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst and his younger brother William Kirkcaldy of Grange were brothers of the whole blood. We do not know who instigated it, but as more and more leniency was extended to the surviving Castilians, someone in the family noticed that Kirkcaldy’s heir presumptive was lateral rather than direct. At that point, William Ker changed his name and became William Kirkcaldy of Grange. One would attribute the change to family pride, but for the fact his wife and his children never adopted it. It seems the name change was in anticipation of an inheritance. While Tommy Ker’s son William took the name Kirkcaldy, his wife and children retained the name Ker. Perhaps the King’s ratification of the other William Kirkcaldy as the Kirkcaldy heir had something to do with it. Aristocratic Scots had a history of hedging their bets.

And Along Came Rabbie:

In the late 1570’s Tommy Ker and Janet Scott began a second family. The youngest, born in 1587, was named Robert (Robin, Rabbie) and was, therefore, a brother of both of Janet Kirkcaldy’s sons Andrew and William by the half-blood. By the time of Robert’s birth, Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst was about 25 years old, with a son of his own, Sir Andrew Ker of Oxnam, Master of Jedburgh. You would expect history to know his youngest brother as Robert Ker, or even Robby Kerr, but you’d be wrong.

At some point in his adolescence, he changed his name from Ker to Kerr to Carr, endeavoring to sound more English. History knows him best as Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, the sweet-faced scheming sycophant who may or may not have been the King’s lover. He certainly was the King’s favorite until he ended up marrying  Francis Howard, Countess of Essex. The nefarious Lady Frances cuckolded her husband Essex, Lord Robert Devereux, a man so wrapped up in fighting foreign wars he probably never saw his wife's betrayal coming.

James did not grieve the loss of his favorite’s affections.  He had already moved on to Buckingham. The baby brother of Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst spent much of his young adulthood living in the Tower, charged with aiding and abetting his wife in the murder of his best friend.

The Tower (as in 1811) Wikimedia Commons

The Somersets {{PD-Art}}

CONCLUSION: And thus, in answer to the question in the caption, Andrew Ker, William Kirkcaldy, and Robin Carr were brothers. All three were Ferniehirst Kers who either maintained or altered theirs names to suit the times and their individual aspirations.None of them was as loyal to his sovereign as Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst had been.

For a final bit of irony, although he did not get what he wanted by changing his name from Ker to Kirkcaldy, William Kirkcaldy’s son Alexander Ker succeeded Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst( shown below with his wife Anne Stewart of Ochiltree), to become the  2nd Lord Jedburgh when Sir Andrew died and his son Oxnam predeceased him.   The many plots for novels suggested in the histories of the three sons of Tommy Ker of Ferniehirst are mind-boggling.


I could not resist including the portrait of Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst and his wife, above. What better way to illustrate the changes in the political climate of the Borders when James Stuart succeeded Elizabeth?  Andrew Kerr spent much of his youth as a reiver, following in the footsteps of his father, Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst. However, following the pacification of Borders formalized in 1605, he seems to have morphed into a dandy whose wife kept a monkey for a pet.  It taxes the imagination to envision the notorious warlord riding off to relieve his neighbors of their cattle, sheep, and horses, and at times, their wives, sporting the hair-do in the painting.

Authors Note: While the post was writen  based on research for my four novels in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, much of the research in my current works comes from The Scottish MiddleMarch 1573-1625: Power. Kinship. Allegiance, by Anna Groundwater, and of course, MacDonald Fraser's hallmark book, Steel Bonnets. Linda Root.


1 comment:

  1. Read Bob Lawson 'The Kerrs of Ferniehirst 1215 - 1692' and see for more accurate information. The portrait above shows Robert 3rd Lord Jedburgh and his wife Christian Hamilton. Robert was the last of the direct male line of Ferniehirst, the estates passing by agreement to Robert Earl of Lothian c 1692. Contact me with quaestions and enquiries from the contact page at the above mentioned website.


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