Boyd, William, fourth Earl of Kilmarnock 1704-1746, belonged to a family which derives its descent from Simon, third son of Alan, lord high chancellor of Scotland, and brother of Walter, the first high steward of Scotland. Simon's grandson Robert was awarded a grant of lands in Cunninghame by Alexander III, as a reward for his bravery at the battle of Largs, 1263. From the earliest times the family was noted for its antagonism to the English, and it is recorded of Sir Robert Boyd that he was a staunch partisan of Sir William Wallace, and subsequently of Bruce, from whom he received a grant of the lands of Kilmarnock, Bondington, and Hertschaw (Hervey, Life of Bruce).
William, ninth lord Boyd, descendant of Robert, first lord Boyd [qv.], was created first earl of Kilmarnock by Charles II, by patent bearing date 7 Aug. 1661.
The third earl was an ardent supporter of the house of Hanover. Rae, in his History of the Rebellion, says of him: It must not be forgot that the Earl of Kilmarnock appeared here at the head of above 500 of his own men well appointed — and that which added very much unto it was the early blossoms of the loyal principle and education of my Lord Boyd, who, though but eleven years of age, appeared in arms with the Earl his father. This was in 1715, and the boy here mentioned succeeded his father as fourth earl of Kilmarnock in 1717. He was born in 1704, his mother being the Lady Euphane, eldest daughter of the eleventh Lord Ross. His character was generous, open, and affectionate, but he was pleasure-loving, vain, and inconstant. He was educated at Glasgow, and during the earlier part of his life he continued, in accordance with his father's principles, to support the house of Hanover; and we find that, on the death of George I, he sent an order calling on the authorities of Kilmarnock to hold the train bands in readiness for proclaiming the Prince of Wales. It was not indeed until quite the close of the rebellion of '45 that he proved false to the opinions which this act shows him to have held. Various reasons are assigned for his defection; by some it was attributed to the influence of his wife, Lady Anne Livingstone, who was a catholic, and whose father, fifth earl of Linlithgow, had been attainted for treason in 1715. Smollett, however, says: He engaged in the rebellion partly through the desperate situation of his fortune, and partly through resentment to the government on his being deprived of a pension which he had for some time enjoyed. This opinion is supported by Horace Walpole, who mentions that the pension was obtained by his father (Sir Robert Walpole) and stopped by Lord Wilmington. In his confession to Mr. James Foster—a dissenting minister who attended him from the time sentence of death was passed on him to the day of his execution—the earl himself says: The true root of all was his careless and dissolute life, by which he had reduced himself to great and perplexing difficulties. The persuasions of his wife, who was captivated by the affability of the young Pretender, no doubt influenced him in deserting the Hanoverian cause; but the hope of bettering his straitened fortunes by a change of dynasty must also be taken into account. His estates were much encumbered when he succeeded to them, and a long course of dissipation and extravagance had plunged him into such embarrassment that his wife writes to him: After plaguing the stewart for a fortnight I have only succeeded in obtaining three shillings from him.
When he finally joined the rebels he was received by Prince Charles with great marks of distinction and esteem, and was made by him a privy councillor, colonel of the guards, and subsequently general. He took a leading part in the battle of Falkirk, 17 Jan. 1746. At the battle of Culloden he was taken prisoner in consequence of a mistake he made in supposing a troop of English to be a body of FitzJames's horse. In his speech at the trial he pleaded as an extenuating circumstance that his surrender was voluntary, but afterwards admitted the truth, and requested Mr. Foster to publish his confession. On 29 May he, together with the Earl of Cromarty and Lord Balmerino, was lodged in the Tower. They were subsequently tried before the House of Lords, and convicted of high treason, notwithstanding an eloquent speech from Lord Kilmarnock. The court was presided over by Lord Hardwicke as lord high steward, and his conduct on this occasion seems to have been strangely wanting in judicial impartiality. Walpole, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann commenting on this, says: To the prisoners he was peevish, and instead of keeping up to the humane dignity of the law of England, whose character it is to point out favour to the criminal, he crossed them and almost scoffed at any offer they made towards defence.
The sentence on Lord Cromarty was afterwards remitted, but no such grace was accorded to Lord Kilmarnock, principally on account of the erroneous belief held by the Duke of Cumberland that it was he who was responsible for the order that no quarter was to be given to the English at Culloden.
On 18 Aug. 1746 he was executed on Tower Hill in company with Lord Balmerino. He is described as being tall and slender, with an extreme fine person, and his behaviour at the execution was held to be a most just mixture between dignity and submission.
His lands were confiscated, but subsequently restored to his eldest son, and sold by him to the Earl of Glencairn. The title was merged in 1758 in that of Errol.
Paterson's History of Ayr, 1847
IKay's History of Kilmarnock, 1864
Doran's London in the Jacobite Times, 1871
Moore's Compleat Account of the Lives of the two Rebel Lords, 1746
Ford's Life of William Boyd, Earl of Kilmarnock, 1746
Foster's Account of the Behaviour of William Boyd, Earl of Kilmarnock, 1746
Observations and Remarks on the two Accounts lately published by J. Ford and J. Foster, 1746
Gent. Mag. xvi.
Scots Mag. viii.
Howell's State Trials, xviii.
Contributor: N. G. [Newcomen Groves]