John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness

John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness
Born c. 1580
Died January 1626
Spouse(s) Lady Elizabeth Radclyffe
Martha Cockayne

John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness (c. 1580 January 1626) was an important Scottish aristocrat of the Jacobean era, best known in history as the first favourite of James I when he became king of England as well as Scotland in 1603.

Ramsay had been a page at the Scottish court when the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy occurred in 1600. The actual nature of that affair is deeply disputed; the most likely account is that the young Ramsay stabbed John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie to death with his dagger, helping to frustrate a plot to either kidnap or murder the then King James VI of Scotland. Ramsay was knighted in that year, and was created Viscount of Haddington and Lord Ramsay of Barns in the Scottish peerage on 11 June 1606, and Lord Melrose in 1609, among various other offices that he acquired during his Court career (Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James I, 1603; Joint Constable, Receiver, and Steward of Dunstable, 1604; etc.).[1] Prior to his 1608 marriage, Ramsay received from James grants of land that yielded an annual income of £1000.

In 1619, Ramsay, dismayed at missing appointment to the Earldom of Montgomery, left Britain and retired to France. In 1620 James lured back his old favourite with a gift of £7000, and created him Baron of Kingston upon Thames and Earl of Holderness in the English peerage (22 January 1621).[2]

The peak of Ramsay's influence may have occurred at his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Radclyffe, daughter of Robert Radclyffe, 5th Earl of Sussex, on 9 February 1608; James himself gave away the bride at the wedding. The marriage was celebrated at Whitehall Palace with the masque The Hue and Cry After Cupid, by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. At the time, James paid off Ramsay's debts of £10,000, and sent the bride a gold cup containing a grant of lands worth an income of £600 per year.[3] Later, Ramsay was supplanted as James's favourite, first by Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, and then by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Elizabeth Radclyffe Ramsay died of smallpox on 6 December 1618. None of their children survived to adulthood. Around July 1624 Ramsay married his second wife, Martha Cockayne, daughter of a Northamptonshire knight. She survived him; they had no children.

Ramsay died in January 1626 and was buried on 28 February that year in St. Paul's Cathedral.[4] Since he left no children, his line became extinct. The titles of Earl of Melrose and Viscount of Haddington passed to a lawyer, Sir Thomas Hamilton.


  1. Doyle, James William Edmund. The Official Baronage of England. London, Longmans, Green, 1885; p. 202.
  2. Janssens, G. A. M., and F. G. A. M. Aarts, eds. Studies in Seventeenth-Century English Literature, History, and Bibliography. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1984; p. 222.
  3. Jesse, John Heneage. Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts, Including the Protectorate. London, Richard Bentley, 1855; p. 54.
  4. Chester, Joseph Lemuel. The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers of the Collegiate Church or Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster. Harleian Society, 1876; p. 125.
Political offices
Preceded by
The 1st Earl of Nottingham
Lord Howard of Effingham
Lord Lieutenant of Surrey
jointly with The 2nd Earl of Nottingham

Succeeded by
The 2nd Earl of Nottingham
The Viscount Wimbledon
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Holderness
Peerage of Scotland
New creation Lord Ramsay of Melrose
Succeeded by
George Ramsay
Viscount of Haddington
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