KERR, John William Robert, earl of Ancram (1794-1841).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1820 - 27 Apr. 1824

Family and Education

b. 1 Feb. 1794, 1st s. of William, 6th mq. of Lothian [S], and 1st w. Lady Henrietta Hobart, da. and coh. of John Hobart†, 2nd earl of Buckinghamshire, div. w. of Armar Lowry Corry, 1st Visct. Belmore [I]. educ. Harrow 1805; Christ Church, Oxf. 1813. m. 19 July 1831, Lady Cecil Chetwynd Talbot, da. of Charles, 2nd Earl Talbot, 5s. 2da. styled Lord Newbottle 1794-1815; earl of Ancram 1815-24. suc. fa. as 7th mq. of Lothian [S] 27 Apr. 1824. d. 14 Nov. 1841.

Offices Held

Priv. sec. to sec. of state for foreign affairs July 1819-Jan. 1820; PC 14 Sept. 1841; capt. of yeomen of the guard Sept. 1841-d.

Ld. lt. Roxburgh 1824-d.; recorder, Huntingdon.

Col. Edinburgh militia 1824-d.


Ancram’s grandfather William John, 5th marquess of Lothian (1737-1815), who was ‘equally distinguished as a general and a petit mâitre’, was deprived of his command of the Life Guards in 1789 for voting against the regency bill, but was reinstated as a colonel of dragoons in 1798.1 With his wife Elizabeth Fortescue (1745-80) he had four sons and five daughters. After her death he evidently formed a liaison with one Elizabeth Parker, who died at Farnham, Surrey, in January 1793, leaving Lothian’s infant daughters Elizabeth and Mary. He took them in, raised them and provided for them in a codicil to his will, 1 Jan. 1814. Mary subsequently made an ill-advised marriage to a Mr. Hart, who declared that he required no money with her. Lothian consequently revoked the original bequest and instead left her £1,000, 2 Jan. 1815.2 He died two days later. In about 1830 Mary Kerr Hart prefaced her book Heath Blossoms: or Poems written in Obscurity and Seclusion with the story of her life and the ‘dark and melancholy fate’ which had befallen her, her husband having been declared bankrupt and insane, leaving her at the mercy of his many creditors. What ultimately became of her is not clear. Ancram’s father served in the army, and as colonel of the Midlothian cavalry was active against the Irish rebels in 1798. About eight years earlier he had begun to cohabit with Lady Belmore, who had been estranged from her husband since 1781. Lord Belmore obtained a ruling of crim. con. against Ancram (as he was styled until 1815), and in 1793 secured a divorce by an Act of the Irish Parliament (9 Apr.). Ancram and his mistress immediately married and their eldest child, the subject of this biography, was born ten months later. No confirmation has been found of an allegation that they had an illegitimate son in April 1792.3 She died in 1805 and Ancram subsequently married a daughter of the 3rd duke of Buccleuch. He succeeded as marquess of Lothian in 1815, was elected a representative peer two years later and received a United Kingdom barony (Ker of Kersheugh) as part of the coronation honours in 1821.4

After a conventional education Ancram was appointed in July 1819 private secretary to his uncle by marriage Lord Castlereagh*, the foreign secretary, but he relinquished the position after only six months. At the 1820 general election he stood for Huntingdon on the interest of his half-sister Mary, dowager countess of Sandwich (his mother’s only child with Belmore), and was returned after a token contest.5 He took the family line and gave apparently silent support to the Liverpool government, when present. He was in their majority against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. On 2 Feb. 1821 he informed Castlereagh’s half-brother of their success in weathering the storm over Queen Caroline:

We have been most triumphant, more so than the most sanguine could have anticipated considering the state of the country and the means that the Whigs took to commit the country gentlemen ... I think we may conclude that upon no one occasion has the sense of the respectable part of the country been more in favour of the acts of any ministry.6

Four days later he voted against the opposition censure motion. He probably voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and he paired on that side from 2 Mar.7 He divided against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May, paired against criminal law reform, 23 May, and voted against economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He voted against reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., 28 June, and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He paired against Canning’s Catholic peers relief bill, 30 Apr. 1822. Notwithstanding his politics, Ancram was a popular guest at Holland House. In early August 1822 he travelled to Scotland with Lord Holland’s son Henry Edward Fox*, who found him ‘agreeable, good-natured and well-informed’. He was thought at this time to be on the verge of marriage to Lord Grey’s daughter Elizabeth, but nothing came of the romance. A bad fall from his horse did not prevent him from hastening back to London to comfort his aunt after Castlereagh’s suicide. He evidently shared the anger of Castlereagh’s family at Canning’s appointment as his successor.8 Ancram voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June 1823. He paired against inquiry into chancery delays, 5 June 1823, and presented a Huntingdon innkeepers’ petition against the licensing duties, 20 Feb. 1824.9 Two months later his father’s death removed him from the Commons.

He replaced his father as lord lieutenant of Roxburghshire, but turned down an invitation from Lord Melville, the government’s Scottish manager, to do so in Midlothian until the 5th duke of Buccleuch came of age in 1828.10 His estates were heavily encumbered, but he tried to reduce the debt and improve the property.11 On the death of Castlereagh’s widow in 1829 he got ‘some thousands a year’ which, as Lady Holland, with whom he was a ‘bit of a favourite’, reported, ‘puts him quite at ease’. He was ‘a convert to the Catholic question’ that year.12 In September 1841 he was given household office in Peel’s second ministry, but he died two months later while staying at Blickling, Norfolk, which he would have inherited had he survived his aunt Caroline, dowager Lady Suffield.13 As it was, the property passed to his eldest son and successor William Schomberg Robert Kerr (1832-70) on her death in 1850. That year his widow, who died in Rome in 1877, became a Catholic. His third son Ralph wrote of him:

He was a most lovable character. It was, I believe, of him that Sir Walter Scott said that Lord Lothian was the most perfect type of true gentleman that he knew. That he had the gift, when bestowing a favour, of making the recipient feel that it was he who was bestowing the favour rather than himself.14

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Prince of Wales Corresp. i. 251; ii. 247.
  • 2. PROB 11/1565/91; CP, viii. 154, where, on the basis of a misleading reference in N and Q (ser. 3), viii. 48, the mother of Mary Kerr Hart is wrongly described as ‘a supposed first wife’ of the 6th marquess.
  • 3. CJ , xv. 178-9, 182; LJ , vii. 103, 105, 125-6, 130, 131, 152; Parl. Reg. [I], 398.
  • 4. Add. 38276, f. 398; 38289, f. 239.
  • 5. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 26 Feb., 4, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Add. 43212, f. 180.
  • 7. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 1 Mar. [1821].
  • 8. Fox Jnl. 138-9, 140, 142, 148; Add. 40349, f. 191; Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 78; Agar Ellis diary, 7 Dec. [1822]; Arbuthnot Corresp. 30.
  • 9. The Times, 21 Feb. 1824.
  • 10. NAS GD51/5/134/1, 2.
  • 11. Mem. Marchioness of Lothian ed. C. Kerr, 10.
  • 12. Lady Holland to Son, 97, 100.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1842), i. 94.
  • 14. Mem. Marchioness of Lothian, 32.