KIRKE, Percy (d.1691), of Whitehall.
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Family and Education
s. of George Kirke (d.1675), keeper of Whitehall Palace, by 2nd w. Mary, da. of Aurelian Townsend, gent. of the privy chamber, of Barbican, London. m. bef. 1684, Lady Mary Howard, da. of George, 4th Earl of Suffolk, 1s. 2da.1
Ensign, Admiralty Regt. 1666; cornet, R. Horse Gds. (The Blues) 1670, lt. 1674, capt.-lt. 1675, capt. 1679; lt. 1 R. English Regt. (French army) 1675, maj. 1675-8; lt.-col. 2 Tangier Regt. (4 Ft.) 1680-2, col. 1 Tangier Regt. (Queen’s Ft.) 1682-d.; gov. Tangier 1682-4, Londonderry 1689; brig. 1685, maj.-gen. Nov. 1688, lt.-gen. 1690-d.2
Freeman, Portsmouth 1683; keeper, Whitehall Palace 1687-d.; commr. for reforming abuses in the army 1689; groom of the bedchamber 1689-d.3
Kirke’s father, a Scottish immigrant, served Charles I both before and after his accession, sat for Clitheroe in 1626, and was naturalized in 1628. His first wife was Cornish by birth, the daughter of Sir Robert Killigrew. He remained loyal to the King during the Civil War, and in 1646 married at Oxford the daughter of a court playwright, Charles himself giving the bride away. A few months later he compounded for £660, but was compelled to pay a further £325 for under-valuation. At the Restoration he became groom of the bedchamber and keeper of Whitehall. Kirke’s parents and sisters were all the subject of scandalous report at the court of Charles II.4
Kirke, a professional soldier, was first commissioned in the Duke of York’s regiment in the second Dutch war, and then served under his brother-in-law, the Earl of Oxford, in The Blues. He was seconded to the Duke of Monmouth in 1672, and fought in the French army during and after the third Dutch war. Assisted by Charles Trelawny, he raised a new regiment for Tangier, which from its badge of the paschal lamb was to be ironically nicknamed ‘Kirke’s Lambs’. That impeccable moralist, Samuel Pepys, officially condemned the drunken and dissolute way of life which Kirke both condoned and practised in Tangier, as well as ‘his exactions on poor merchants, letting nothing be sold till he had the refusal’. Kirke returned to England when Tangier was abandoned in 1684, fought at Sedgemoor, and became notorious for his excesses after Monmouth’s rebellion, which James afterwards came to suspect were deliberately inflicted to make him odious to his subjects. According to Burnet:
Kirke, who had commanded long in Tangier, was become so savage by the neighbourhood of the Moors there, that, some days after the battle, he ordered several of the prisoners to be hanged up at Taunton without so much as the form of law, he and his company looking on from an entertainment they were at. At every new health anotehr prisoner was hanged up. And they were so brutal that observing the shaking of the legs of those whom they hanged, it was said among them they were dancing, an upon that music was called for. This was both so illegal and so inhuman that it might have been expected that some notice would have been taken of it. But Kirke was only child for it.
In fact the only reproofs which Kirke is recorded as receiving were for taking free quarter, and freeing, doubtless corruptly, ‘several persons who were actually in the late rebellion or abetting the same’. Nothing in his life suggests any firm attachment to the Protestant religion, which James confidently urged him to desert for the Church of Rome; but Kirke is said to have successfully pleaded a prior engagement to the ruler of Morocco to embrace Islam if he should ever change his religion. He retained his commission, and was promoted major-general on the landing of William of Orange, though he was already secretly committed to the Revolution. A fortnight later he was arrested on suspicion of plotting with Trelawny to arrest James at Warminster and hand him over to his son-in-law; but positive evidence was lacking, and he was discharged. Trelawny and about 30 of the ‘Lambs’ had already joined the invaders, and Kirke soon followed them.5
At the general election of 1689 Kirke was returned for West Looe on the Trelawny interest. A court Tory in the Convention, he did not vote against the transfer of the crown, and was appointed only to the committees for the bill to suspend habeas corpus and the first mutiny bill. He was soon called away to take command of the force which broke the siege of Londonderry. He died in Brussels on active service on 31 Oct. 1691. His son was also a distinguished soldier, but no other member of the family sat in Parliament.6