KERR, Sir William, 3rd Bt. (d. 1716), of Greenhead, Roxburgh.
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Family and Education
2nd s. of Sir Andrew Kerr, 1st Bt., MP [S], of Greenhead by his 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Scott of Harden, Selkirk. m. Jean, da. of Sir James Cockburn of Ryslaw, Berwick. 1s. d.v.p. suc. bro. as 3rd Bt. bef. June 1676.1
Burgess, Edinburgh 1684.2
Commr. for borders [S] 1684, 1685, Equivalent [S] 1715–d.3
MP [S], Roxburghshire 1685–6, 1702–7.
The Kerrs of Greenhead were a cadet branch of the Kerrs of Cessford, the head of the latter being created baron, later earl, of Roxburghe by James VI and I. Lord Kerr accompanied King James to London upon his accession to the English throne, and during his absence nominated Andrew Kerr, laird of Greenhead, as answerable for the men of his clan. Greenhead was himself knighted, and his eldest son, Andrew (the Member’s father), obtained a baronetcy in 1637 and represented Roxburghshire in the Scottish parliament in 1645 and 1648–9. A supporter of the minority Presbyterian group, known as remonstrants or protesters, Sir Andrew was imprisoned by the Engagers in 1648, but following their defeat by Oliver Cromwell† was released. He co-operated fully with the Cromwellian regime and sat in the short-lived Parliament of Richard Cromwell† in 1659. At the Restoration he was imprisoned, excepted from the Act of Indemnity, and fined £600. Dying in 1665, he was initially succeeded by his eldest son, Andrew, who likewise represented Roxburghshire in the Scottish parliament (1669–74), but died without heirs in about 1675. Sir William Kerr was served heir to his father and brother in June 1676 and seems to have shared none of his father’s Covenanting zeal. He took the Test in October 1684, but suffered some embarrassment the following month when threatened with a fine of £16,000 Scots because his brother’s widow had failed to attend church. He succeeded in evading punishment and proved his loyalty by acting on the commissions of December 1684 and March 1685 for prosecuting rebels and preventing ‘disorders in ecclesiastical matters’, at the same time securing his return to James II’s Scottish parliament. His behaviour at this juncture gives some credibility to the later hopes of a Jacobite agent that he was ‘an honest well-affected man’, a judgment that was sensibly qualified by an acknowledgment that he was ‘a little influenced by his chief Roxburghe’. In 1688 Kerr supported the Williamite cause, being appointed colonel of the eastern regiment of the Roxburghshire militia.4
Kerr stood for Roxburghshire in 1702, and was one of two Country candidates returned. In the Scottish parliament he acted consistently with the Country party, and refused to join the ‘New Party’ coalition in 1704, differing both with his patron Roxburghe and his colleague William Bennet*. He voted in favour of the Duke of Hamilton’s motion for postponing a decision on the succession in 1704. Since some of those who voted on the same side were cavaliers, this action may have fuelled Jacobite hopes. In fact, Kerr voted for the Union, having reverted to his former patron, Roxburghe, who was now a leading Squadrone peer. Kerr did not vote the complete Squadrone line, however. He failed to register a vote on two of the later questions upon which the Squadrone distinguished themselves by opposing the Court, namely the divisions on representation and the priority given to payment of the Union commissioners out of the Equivalent. His support for the Union earned him a seat at Westminster as one of the Scottish representatives to the first Parliament of Great Britain.5
Kerr acted with the Squadrone, but made little impression at Westminster. His political allegiance, however, may be safely inferred from references in Squadrone correspondence. He was reportedly anxious to return to Scotland, and from January 1708 was in poor health. Before the end of the session Kerr returned to Scotland, knowing that he would not be contesting Roxburghshire at the forthcoming election. This seat was earmarked for Roxburghe’s brother, Hon. William Kerr*. There may therefore have been some element of pique in his refusal to sign a loyal address, composed by Roxburghe and sent to the county in April, on the recent abortive Jacobite invasion. The Duke did not suspect Kerr of harbouring Jacobite sympathies, rather he attributed his recalcitrance to pride (see KERR, Hon. William). He was nevertheless willing to vote for Roxburghe’s nominees in both 1708 and 1710, and during the latter election also canvassed at Berwick on behalf of Roxburghe’s brother.6
In March 1714 Kerr’s house was burnt down after an attack by a ‘gang of thieves’; its entire contents were destroyed, apart from some personal papers. Numerous suspects were arrested, a variety of threats having been recently made against the family. No political motive, however, was attributed to the attack. His friends were saddened by this event, but differed in their assessment of its likely effect. Hon. William Kerr believed him to be in ‘good heart, in spite of his loss’, whereas Roxburghe believed ‘it will kill him, were it no more but for the loss of his walk’. He recovered sufficiently to participate in September and October in local celebrations of the proclamation and coronation of George I. Belatedly he received some official patronage, presumably at Roxburghe’s instigation, being appointed a commissioner of the Equivalent in January 1715, a post which he retained until his death the following April. His only son Andrew having predeceased him, the baronetcy and estates passed to his grandson William.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 392; Retours, Roxburgh. ii. 270.
- 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lix. 291.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 342; xxxi. 579.
- 4. C. L. Reid, Ped. Fam. of Ker, 9–13; Funeral Processions in Scotland, 7–8; Hist. Scot. Parl. 392; C. S. Terry, Cromwellian Union, 60–61; Nicoll Diary (Bannatyne Club, lii), 166, 302; Reg. PC Scotland 1684–5, pp. 22, 87, 205, 260; HMC Drumlanrig, ii. 172; Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club lxxxvii), 566; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 10; APS, ix. 26.
- 5. Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 726, Bennet to Countess of Roxburghe, 8 Oct. 1702; NLS, ms 14498, ff. 82–83; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; APS, xi. 72, 182; Crossrigg Diary, 140; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 41.
- 6. Roxburghe mss, bdle. 726, Duke to Countess of Roxburghe, 3 Apr. 1708; bdle. 1172, commn. for Hon. William Kerr, 1708; NLS, ms 13356, f. 1; SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD205/33/3/10/42, William Jamisone to Bennet, 6 June 1710.
- 7. Scots Courant, 29–31 Mar., 5–7 Apr. 1714, 27–29 Sept., 22–25 Oct. 1714; Roxburghe mss, bdle. 726, Duke to Countess of Roxburghe, 8 Apr. 1714; bdle. 1066, Hon. William Kerr to same, 26 June 1714; Scot. Rec. Soc. iii. 152; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1717, p. 37; Hist. Scot. Parl. 392; Services of Heirs (ser. 1), i. 1720–9, p. 17.