William Maxwell Nithsdale - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM MAXWELL. NITHSDALE 5TH Earl Of (1676-1744), Jacobite leader, was a member of the family of Maxwell, being a son of Robert the 4th earl (d. 1696) and a collateral relation of Robert Maxwell (d. 1646) who was created earl of Nithsdale in 1620. He became famous by his loyalty to the royalist tradition of his family, and by the heroism of his wife Winifred, daughter of William Herbert, 1st marquess of Powis. After becoming earl in 1698 he served the exiled house of Stuart in secret, was suspected as a Jacobite conspirator, and was much molested on that account. In 1712 he resigned his estate to his son William (d. 1776), reserving a life rent to himself. When the Jacobite rising took place in 1715 he joined his friends in the north of England and was taken prisoner at Preston, being sent to London for trial. The countess of Nithsdale, who was at Terregles when she heard of the capture of her husband, followed him to London, making part of the journey on horseback in bitter winter weather. The earl and the other Jacobites were brought to trial in Westminster Hall on the 19th of January 1716, and condemned to death on the 9th of February. The execution was fixed for the 24th. The countess presented a petition to George I. which he refused to receive, and when she knelt before him and took hold of the skirts of his coat he dragged her half across the room before he could break away. Finding that no pardon could be obtained the countess laid a plan to rescue her husband from the Tower of London. With the help of two Jacobite ladies, Mrs Morgan and Mrs Mills, she very cleverly extricated her husband from his cell on the night before the day fixed for the execution by disguising him as a woman. The earl escaped from England and was followed by the countess, but not till she had gone back to Scotland to rescue important legal papers which proved the transfer of the estate to their son. The earl and countess went to Rome after a short stay in France. In Rome they were attached to the court of the Pretender and lived in poverty and obscurity. The earl died on the 20th of March 1 744, and the countess in 1749. Their son, William Maxwell, regained the possession of the family property after his father's death in 1744, since the government could only confiscate his father's life-interest; but the title was forfeited, and he died childless.

See Sir A. Fraser, The Book of Carlaverock (Edinburgh, 1873).

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