KERR (CARR), Sir Robert (c.1578-1654), of Ancram, Roxburgh; Whitehall Palace and Kew, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



27 Jan. 1625

Family and Education

b. c.1578,1 1st s. of William Kerr of Ancram and Margaret, da. of Archibald Dundas of Fingask, Perths.2 educ. ?G. Inn 1622.3 m. (1) by 1607, Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Murray of Blackbarony, 1s.;4 (2) by 27 Oct. 1621,5 Lady Anne (bur. 15 Feb. 1657)6, da. of William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby and wid. of Sir Henry Portman* (d. 24 Feb. 1621) of Orchard Portman, Som., 2s. 5da.7 suc. fa. 1590; kntd. betw.1604-7;8 cr. earl of Ancram [S] 24 June 1633.9 d. Dec. 1654.10 sig. Rob[ert] Karr.

Offices Held

Provost, Jedburgh, Roxburgh by 1603; capt., king’s guard on Scottish Borders 1611-13;11 freeman, Preston, Lancs. by 1622;12 commr. archery grounds, London 1632.13

Gent. of privy chamber, Prince Henry’s Household by 1610,14 gent. of bedchamber to Prince Charles 1613-25, as king 1625-at least 1643,15 kpr. privy purse to Prince Charles by 1616-25, as king 1625-39;16 member, Prince Charles’s Council [S] 1619-at least 1624, PC [S] from 1631.17

Commr. inquiry, purveyance abuses, Eng. 1634,18 eccles. causes [S] 1634,19 inquiry, erection of cottages and usury, Eng. 1638.20


Of Anglo-Norman extraction, the Kerrs settled in the Scottish Borders in the thirteenth century. The Ferniehurst branch of the family, which included the Ancram line, had a long tradition of rivalry with their distant cousins, the Kerrs of Cessfurd, one of whom, the future 1st earl of Roxburgh, had the infant Kerr’s father murdered at Edinburgh in 1590. The resulting feud was not settled until 1606, by which time Kerr had entered Scottish local government as provost of Jedburgh.21 In 1607 his Ferniehurst cousin Robert Carr emerged as James I’s new favourite. Kerr was travelling on the Continent at the time, but upon his return he was found a place in Prince Henry’s privy chamber.22 Carr was presumably responsible for Kerr’s appointment as captain of the king’s guard in Scotland in 1611, and certainly procured his return to Court in 1613 to help Sir Robert Carey* and Sir James Fullerton* supervise Prince Charles’s Household.23 When Carr, now earl of Somerset, fell from grace in 1615, Kerr did what he could to help him, briefly incurring imprisonment in April 1616 for destroying evidence, and in 1617 helping some of his Scottish relatives to organize a petition requesting James to restore Somerset to favour. He also secured grants of some of his cousin’s attainted property, and in subsequent decades acted as his financial agent.24 His loyalty did him no lasting harm in the king’s eyes, and besides retaining his own offices he received a £300 pension in March 1617. His standing at Court was tested much more seriously in 1620, when, in a dispute over disparaging remarks allegedly made by him about the new favourite, Buckingham, he killed his accuser in a duel. However, the king pardoned him, and after a few months’ token exile in the Low Countries he resumed his duties in the prince’s Household.25

During the 1621 Parliament a bill was introduced to naturalize Kerr, but although it passed the Lords in May it was subsequently lost in the Commons.26 Nevertheless, Kerr’s career at Court continued to prosper. In the following October he married into the English aristocracy, and in 1623 the king appointed him to attend Prince Charles during the Spanish marriage negotiations in Madrid.27 A second naturalization bill, presented to Parliament in April 1624, was enacted, clearing the way for Kerr’s entry into the Commons.28 Returned for Aylesbury in January 1625, he failed to take his seat, as the intended second session of the 1624 Parliament was cancelled by James I’s death. However, with his importance at Court publicly re-affirmed by his close attendance on the new king at James’s funeral, Kerr was re-elected at Aylesbury in April 1625.29 On 21 June he was appointed to help draft a petition to Charles requesting a general fast, and two days later was named to attend a conference with the Lords on the same subject. Kerr’s only committee nomination concerned a bill about landownership (25 June). On 8 Aug., during the Oxford sitting, he was named to a conference with the Lords on the subject of the government’s tolerant treatment of recusants. Four days later, as the dissolution loomed, he was appointed to help present to the king a protestation affirming the Commons’ loyalty.30

Despite rumours in October 1625 that Buckingham wished to deprive him of his offices, Kerr preserved his central role at Court as keeper of the privy purse.31 At the 1628 general election he was returned for two boroughs, Lostwithiel and Preston. He was probably nominated by the government at both, though his wife’s family, the Stanleys, enjoyed some influence in the Preston area, a consideration which may have settled the question of where he finally sat.32 When Parliament met, Kerr high-handedly brushed aside the convention that only token business was conducted on the opening day, and sought permission to plump for Preston as he was leaving London shortly on business. He seems not to have requested leave of absence. He was back by 10 Apr., when he was appointed to seek permission for the House to present the king with a petition about billeting. On 26 Apr. he was added to the committee scrutinizing a bill to naturalize two Scots, and on 3 May he was again sent to seek a royal audience so that the Commons could respond to the king’s latest statements on the liberties of the subject.33

For the next decade Kerr’s position at Court remained secure. In 1629 he carried Charles’s condolences to his sister, the queen of Bohemia, following the death of her eldest son. He was doubtless instrumental in obtaining for his own firstborn son, William (Carr)*, the earldom of Lothian in 1631, and two years later he himself was created earl of Ancram while in Edinburgh for the king’s Scottish coronation.34 Kerr was well suited to the role of Caroline courtier. A collector of Dutch paintings, he presented Charles with possibly the first three Rembrandts seen in England. He also moved freely in literary circles. An author himself of poetry and metrical psalms, he was a close friend of John Donne*, and received dedications from numerous lesser writers, particularly of sermons and moralizing works.35 It is unclear how Kerr squared the image of godly patron with his dubious money-spinning ventures. He was, for understandable reasons, particularly associated with schemes involving Crown patents, all of which were designed to generate profits for both the projectors and the Exchequer. Kerr’s enterprises ranged across the salvage of ambergris from the sea, imports of logwood, impositions on starch, and the deeply unpopular commissions of inquiry into purveyance abuses, usury, and the regulating of cottages. While occasionally lucrative in the short term, most of these projects ultimately failed to produce the anticipated returns.36 By the late 1630s Kerr seems to have been experiencing financial difficulties. He had earlier made over most of his Scottish estates to his son Lothian, although he held some lands in Somerset, probably arising from his wife’s first marriage. Apart from their rents and his projecting profits, his principal sources of income were his official fees and his Crown pension. By the end of the decade these were apparently falling into arrears. In March 1639 he took the precaution of obtaining from the king a life interest in his wife’s jointure estate, valued at £2,000 a year, which had also been converted into a royal pension.37

More seriously, by 1639 Lothian had emerged as a leader of the Scottish Covenanters. This development probably explains why Kerr lost his keepership of the privy purse that year; certainly it marked the start of his gradual estrangement from the king. Although he technically retained his privy chamber post until at least 1643, Kerr remained in London at the outbreak of the Civil War and royalist troops confiscated his Somerset rents. Although Parliament acknowledged an obligation to pay his pensions, his case was scarcely a priority, and by 1645 he was obliged to seek the protection of the House of Lords against his creditors. In 1649 he returned to Scotland, but in the following year, perhaps prompted by Cromwell’s invasion, he fled to the Netherlands. There he dragged out his final, poverty-stricken years, dying intestate in Amsterdam in December 1654. His Dutch creditors initially impounded his corpse, but Cromwell redirected some funds owing to Lothian to cover the funeral expenses.38 Kerr’s eldest son William may have sat for St. Mawes in 1626. A younger son, Charles, heir to the Ancram earldom, was returned at Mitchell in 1647, and represented Thirsk and Wigan after the Restoration.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Aged c.75 in 1653: Kerr Corresp. ii. 379.
  • 2. Ibid. i. p. cxv.
  • 3. GI Admiss.
  • 4. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. viii, cxv, cxvi.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 303.
  • 6. Regs. Westminster Abbey (Harl. Soc. Regs. x), 149.
  • 7. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. xxvii, cxv, cxxix; Collinson, Som. iii. 275; Sales of Wards ed. M.J. Hawkins (Som. Rec. Soc. lxvii), 47-51.
  • 8. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. vi, viii.
  • 9. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1620-33, p. 736.
  • 10. Kerr Corresp. i. p. xxv.
  • 11. Reg. PC Scot. 1599-1604, p. 541; 1610-13, p. 245; 1613-16, p. 176.
  • 12. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 76.
  • 13. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 252.
  • 14. Govt. of Roy. Household (Soc. Antiq., 1790), p. 324.
  • 15. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 252; Northants RO, FH3775.
  • 16. SC6 Jas.I/1680; CSP Dom. 1639, p. 100.
  • 17. Reg. PC Scot. 1619-22, p. 65; 1622-5, p. 558; 1630-2, p. 248.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 47
  • 19. Kerr Corresp. i. p. xix.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 602-3.
  • 21. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. v-vi; Reg. PC Scot. 1604-7, p. 272.
  • 22. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. viii-ix. Laing confuses Kerr with a namesake who was groom of the king’s bedchamber from 1604: SP38/7, ff. 238, 278; 38/8, unfol. (6 Dec. 1607).
  • 23. Birch, i. 256; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 216.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 363-4, 506; Kerr Corresp. i. 5; HMC 7th Rep. 671; C66/2201/1; HMC Cowper, i. 184; ii. 11.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 444; 1619-23, pp. 122, 129, 131-2, 185; Kerr Corresp. i. 10-15; SP77/14, ff. 113, 137.
  • 26. LJ, iii. 133b, 138b, 139b; CJ, i. 630b. A diary entry indicating that the bill originated in the Commons appears to be a mistake: CD 1621, iii. 190.
  • 27. SP14/139/46; APC, 1621-3, p. 432; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 535; Harl. 6987, ff. 17, 39.
  • 28. LJ, iii. 286a, 287a, 293a, 405a; CJ, i. 757b, 766a, 774a, 781b; HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 57.
  • 29. Lansd. 885, f. 121v.
  • 30. Procs. 1625, pp. 205, 228, 246, 422, 472.
  • 31. HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 234.
  • 32. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 77, 148.
  • 33. CD 1628, ii. 12, 397; iii. 94, 233.
  • 34. APC, 1628-9, p. 309; Kerr Corresp. i. pp. xvi-xviii, lii.
  • 35. R. Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales, 18; R.C. Bald, John Donne, 201, 315-6, 511, 523; L. Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption, 199-200; Kerr Corresp. i. pp. xxviii-xxxiv.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 47, 454; 1637, p. 340; 1637-8, pp. 154-5, 171-2, 527, 552, 602-3; 1639-40, p. 92; HMC Cowper, ii. 53; R. Ashton, City and the Court, 143; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 338-9.
  • 37. HMC Laing, i. 197; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 620; Addenda, 1625-49, p. 587; Kerr Corresp. i. pp. xvii, xlii; LJ, vii. 706a.
  • 38. Kerr Corresp. i. pp. xx, xxii-xxiii, xxv, liv-lviii, 141, 150, 157; CJ, iii. 131a; iv. 62a, 255a; LJ, vii. 705b-6b; viii. 344a; ix. 199b-200a.