John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness

John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness (c. 1580 – January 1626), known as Sir John Ramsay between 1600 and 1606, and as the Viscount of Haddington between 1606 and 1621, 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.

The Earl of Holderness
BornMay 1, 1588
DiedJanuary 1626
Spouse(s)Lady Elizabeth Radclyffe
Martha Cockayne

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 the 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 Ramsay of 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, Haddington received from James grants of land that yielded an annual income of £1,000.

The peak of Haddington's influence may have occurred at his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Radclyffe, daughter of the 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 Haddington's debts of £10,000, and sent the bride a gold cup containing a grant of lands worth an income of £600 per year.[2] Later, Haddington was supplanted as James's favourite, first by Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, and then by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Lady Haddington danced in the masque Tethys' Festival to celebrate the creation of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales on 5 June 1610.[3] She died of smallpox on 6 December 1618. None of their children survived to adulthood. Also around that time, he resigned the title Lord Ramsay of Melrose in favour of his cousin, Sir George Ramsay of Dalhousie. The new Lord Ramsay of Melrose had that title altered to Lord Ramsay of Dalhousie, and is the ancestor of the Earls of Dalhousie.

In 1619, Haddington, 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 £7,000, and created him Baron Kingston-upon-Thames and Earl of Holderness in the English peerage (22 January 1621).[4]

Around July 1624 Holderness married his second wife, Martha Cockayne, daughter of a Northamptonshire knight. She survived him; they had no children.

Holderness died in January 1626 and was buried on 28 February that year in St Paul's Cathedral.[5] Since he left no children, his line became extinct. A lawyer, Sir Thomas Hamilton, was subsequently created Earl of Haddington.


  1. ^ Doyle, James William Edmund. The Official Baronage of England. London, Longmans, Green, 1885; p. 202.
  2. ^ Jesse, John Heneage. Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts, Including the Protectorate. London, Richard Bentley, 1855; p. 54.
  3. ^ Memorials of Affairs of State from the papers of Ralph Winwood, vol. 3 (London, 1725), p. 181.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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