Robert Burns and The Eglinton Estate - The Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton

The Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton

Archibald Montgomerie, the eleventh Earl of Eglinton (1726–96) succeeded to the title in 1769. He was known as General Montgomerie, having raised the 77th Regiment of Foot in the Highlands in 1757, of which he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in command.

Archibald, the 11th Earl, stood as guarantor for the printing of the 1786 'Kilmarnock Edition' of Robert Burns' poems, together with John Hamilton, later Dr. Hamilton, a medical student and son of Provost Charles Hamilton of Irvine. The Hamiltons lived at the entry to the Glasgow Vennel close to Burns ' lodgings and may have been a link in his coming to Irvine in the first instance.

The Earl of Eglinton also sent ten guineas to Burns on his arrival in Edinburgh as a subscription for a 'brace', that is two copies, quoted however as 42 by most authors (36 by one) and in the subscribers list) of the Edinburgh Edition of the Poems. At 5s for subscribers and 6s for others, 10 guineas for two would have been extremely generous. and the actual intention is quoted as To bespeak (order in advance) the new edition and hand him a suitable gift of money. Mrs. Dunlop of Dunlop, a regular correspondent of Burns, had spoken to her friend Doctor John Moore about Burns as a Miracle of Genius and it was this 'Kind Man' who had encouraged the Earl to become a patron of Burns.

Writing in response to the Earl's purchase on 11 January 1787, Burns said:

Your Munificence, my Lord, certainly deserved my very grateful acknowledgements, but your Patronage is a bounty peculiarly suited to my feelings.

The Earls retained their interest in Burns as shown by the subscribers list in James Currie's The Complete Works of Burns, the first major work on the life and works of Burns, published in 1800. The 12th Earl subscribed for 12 copies; more copies than most subscribers who were not actually in the book trade.

The Montgomeries in general and Colonel Hugh Montgomerie (Sodger Hugh) in particular, are included in Burns' 'The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer' of 1776, dedicated "To the Right Honourable and Honourable Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons."

These lines refer to the Earl:-

Earnest Cry and Prayer

"Thee, sodger Hugh, my watchman stented,
If bardees e'er are represented,
I ken, if that your sword was wanted,
Ye'd lend your hand;
But when there's ought to say anent it,
Ye'r at a stand."

This stanza was suppressed in Burns' first editions, even though it was well known that Sodger Hugh found it 'easier to do a thing than to talk about it'.

Burns also wrote the following lines:-

On A Dog Of Lord Eglintons

"I never barked when out of season,
I never bit without a reason;
I ne'er insulted weaker brother,
Nor wronged by force or fraud another.
We brutes are placed a rank below;
Happy for man could he say so."

The 12th Earl of Eglinton, 'Sodger Hugh' was a third cousin of the 11th Earl, originally lived at Coilsfield House near Tarbolton, where Burns's 'Highland Mary', probably Mary Campbell, had been a byre woman and the mistress of the Earl's brother, Captain James Montgomerie of Coilsfield. She had previously worked for Gavin Hamilton in Mauchline. Mary Campbell inspired some of Burns' finest and most famous poems.

Burns wrote the following lines about his separation from Mary Campbell at Coilsfield (Montgomery Castle): -

"Ye banks and braes and streams around
The castle of Montgomerie,
Green be your woods, and fair your flowers,
Your waters never drumlie!
There simmer first unfauld her robes,
And there the longest tarry!
For there I took the last fareweel
O' my Sweet Highland Mary."

The 12th Earl's sister, Lillias, married John Hamilton of Sundrum, who was appointed 'Oversman', or referee, in Robert Burns' father's dispute with his landlord David McLure.

Montgomerie's Peggy, Peggy Thompson, was another of Burns' daliances. Peggy was a 'superior servant', possibly the housekeeper of Coilsfield House and Burns made her acquaintance through passing billets doux (love letters) to her at church. He vowed to her:-

Montgomerie's Peggy

"Were I a Baron proud and high,
And horse and servants waiting ready,
Then a' 'twad gie o'joy to me –
The shairin't wi' Montgomerie's Peggy."

It was clear to him that she loved another, and Burns wrote that it took him a few months to get over her.

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