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Sir James Ramsay (1589-1638), Swedish major-general, was born in Scotland in 1589. He was known as ‘Black Ramsay’ to distinguish him from another James Ramsay [SSNE 6657] in Swedish service at the time known as ‘the Fair’. Ramsay, the eighth of nine children of Robert Ramsay of Wyliecleuch, known as Sir Robert, and his wife whose name is not known, was related to John Ramsay, viscount Haddington and earl of Holderness. Ramsay accompanied King James VI to London in 1603 where he became an attendant in the privy chamber of the king and Prince Henry. He is probably the same as the James Ramsay who was recommended for service at the court of King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway by James VI and I in the first decade of the seventeenth century. In 1611 Ramsay was sent to the Stuart kingdoms to levy recruits for the impending Kalmar war between Denmark-Norway and Sweden. However, he did not remain long in Danish service as in 1614 the Swedish Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna entrusted a messenger known as Ramsay with carrying a letter to Colonel James Spens, the Stuart ambassador to Sweden and Swedish ambassador to the Stuarts. Sometime before 1614 Ramsay married Isobella Spens [SSNE 6263], the ambassador’s daughter. Little more is known of him during the next decade, apart from his appointment as an ensign in 1615. 

It is very probable that this is the James Ramsay who arrived in England with Captain William Spens [SSNE 3553] in April 1624 to levy as many volunteers as would go with them to Sweden. This warrant was signed by Secretary Conway, the Lord President, the Lord Steward, Lord Chamberlain, Earl of Carlisle, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ramsay next appeared as a lieutenant-colonel in Colonel James Spens’ regiment from 1624 to 1626. The following year he became the colonel of his own recruited regiment of Scots. Ramsay was already noted as "old" at the start of Sweden's engagement in Germany when he, under General Gustav Horne, brought 6000 soldiers through Prussia. The use of Ramsay and his regiment were frequently considered by Oxenstierna and the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf when making tactical plans for the German campaigns of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1630 Ramsay’s regiment had suffered such a high mortality rate that Oxenstierna authorised the provision of new recruits from Courland, Lithuania and Scotland. On 3/13 April Ramsay composed a strong letter to the Swedish authorities in which he berated them for provisioning other troops (Swedes) in preference to his own. 

The Swedish Chancellor was also quick to rectify Ramsay’s shortage of funds for his troops, and wrote directly to the treasurer to release money to him. In June 1630 Oxenstierna was keen to move Ramsay on from Memel where he had been with his troops and send them to Stralsund. In 1631 Oxenstierna authorised lieutenant-colonel George Douglas [SSNE 2360] to undertake recruitment in Scotland for Ramsay's regiment. When the Marquis of Hamilton’s troops arrived in Germany in 1631, Ramsay was employed to deliver victuals to the starving and sickly men. It was probably then that he served as commandant at Colberg. About this time, Ramsay also arranged an introduction for his famous theologian cousin John Durie to be introduced to Gustav II Adolf. In March 1631 Oxenstierna recommended Ramsay as the only officer suitable to take over the occupation of Colberg with his regiment of 600 soldiers where he was appointed commandant: “Finner och nu hoos mig ingen beqvemere därtill ähn öffversten Rammsey medh sitt regemente”. At the battle of Breitenfeld near Leipsig in September 1631 Ramsay’s three regiments of musketeers served in the vanguard along with the troops of Colonel Robert Monro of Foulis [SSNE 179] and Sir John Hamilton [SSNE 2595], whose actions helped to bring victory to the Swedes. Soon afterwards Ramsay’s regiment were instrumental in forcing the castle at Würzburg to surrender after the city had already capitulated to the Swedish king through the mediation of a Scottish priest, father Ogilvie. During the manoeuvre Ramsay was wounded in the arm which incapacitated him. Not only was he rewarded with a promotion to major-general and with a large land grant in the Duchy of Mecklenburg, but he also took on the role as governor of Hanau. His regiment continued to undertake leading roles in Swedish army manoeuvres. 300 musketeers of his regiment under the command of Alexander Hanan were ordered to take the fortresses at the river Main as Aschaffenburg, later they took part in the conquest of Oppenheim and Creuznach. Shortly after this Ramsay’s wife must have decided to leave Germany as in 1632 Oxenstierna requested that money be released for her removal along with her household to Stettin. He took part with his regiment of muskeeters in the battle of Nordlingen on 5/6 September 1634. 4 days after the battle he was ordered by Oxenstierna as governor of Hanau, on 2 October 1634 he marched in as major general. Ramsay’s favourable reputation was widespread and in 1634 the burgesses and town council of Nürnberg personally requested his placement as commandant of their town upon the death of the former incumbent, Colonel Hastfer. Chancellor Oxenstierna had to refuse the request as Ramsay was still serving in Hanau. That year the Stuart ambassador, Sir George Douglas [SSNE 2360], visited Ramsay en route for Poland. It was also during this period that Ramsay was made a major general. However Ramsay’s fortunes soon changed as Imperialist forces began to besiege Hanau in 1635, and the garrison barely survived until the following year when Swedish forces, led by Alexander Leslie [SSNE 1] and the Landgrave of Hesse, liberated the town. According to one source, Ramsay had unpaved the streets to plant crops, while horses, dogs and cats were all used as food sources. When in November 1636 the Earl of Arundell visited Ramsay at Hanau, one of his companions noted in his diary that the year and a half of siege had started with ‘such a grievous plague that there died in seven weeks 22,000.’ After liberation, Ramsay set his mind towards re-provisioning.

In April 1637, Ramsay sent two vessels with stores to relieve Hermanstein, near Coblentz. The boats passed by Frankfurt and Mainz undetected by disguising the soldiers as Jesuits. The first two vessels were successful, though the garrison at Hermanstein did capitulate in 1637. Due to a third vessel being confiscated by the Elector of Mainz, Ramsay stormed and pillaged the Elector’s town of Aschaffenburg. After the brief respite Hanau was again besieged and this time the Count of Hanau, Philip Maurice, made his peace with the emperor, and relinquished the Swedish cause. Seeing the impossibility of his situation Ramsay agreed to evacuate the city on honourable terms. Oxenstierna commended and congratulated Ramsay on his steadfast service there, and allowed him to retain his rank until he received full payment from the Swedish government. This payment consisted of several parts. 50,000 reichsthaler (about £15,000) was to be paid to his wife in Scotland; an equivalent for his lands in Mecklenburg was to be secured; and he was to obtain safe conduct to Swedish quarters. Ramsay did not believe this agreement would be honoured and in December 1637 he took the count of Hanau prisoner and re-occupied the city. Barely two months later, on 22 February 1638, Count Nassau Dillenburgh surprised, wounded and captured Ramsay, who died a prisoner in Dillenburgh castle on 29 June 1639. 

It is unknown how many children Ramsay had, although a son David Ramsay [SSNE 8120] was also in Swedish service and a copy of his will is printed in T. Fischer’s The Scots in Sweden. Although Ramsay never obtained a noble title from the Swedes like so many of his compatriots serving in the Swedish army, he still proved a respected and consistent soldier of the highest calibre, to the extent that he was actively sought after as governor by conquered German populations. There is a bust of Ramsay from 1636. His wife had him buried in the church of Dillenburg on August 18 1650, explaining that she did not have the finances to transport him back to Scotland for burial there. Ramsay was immortalized as the character of the Governor of Hanau in Grimmelshausen’s seventeenth-century novel, Der Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch


Sources: Riksarkivets ämnessamlingar. Personhistoria https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/A0070071_00188#?c=&m=&s=&cv=187&xywh=1864%2C292%2C4133%2C2383

R. Monro, His Expedition with a worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keyes (2 vols., London, 1637), II, The List of the Scottish Officers in Chiefe, list 1; The Swedish Intelligencer: The Second Part (London, 1632), pp.12-13; Swedish Riksarkivet, Oxenstiernskassmalingen, E692; Swedish Krigsarkiv, Muster Rolls 1615/15; 1624/8; 625/3,5,6; 1626/3-9; 1627/9,12; 1628/6-15; 1629/5-10,12,14,16,18,19; 1630/23,24,26; 1631/12,15-18,25,27; 1632/22; Danish Rigsarkiv, TKUA Alm. del. 1, no. 9: Latina 1600-15, fol. 262; Swedish Riksarkiv, P. Sondén, Militärachefer i svenska arméen och deras skrivelser; T. Fischer, The Scots in Sweden (1907); T. Fischer, The Scots in Germany (Edinburgh, 1902); Rikskansleren Axel Oxenstiernas Skrifter och Brefvexling, (15 vols. Stockholm, 1888-1977),first series, II, passim; ibid, IV, V, VI, VII, IX, XII, XV passim. 

Sir James Balfour Paul and R. Douglas, The Scots Peerage, (9 vols., 1904-1914), vol. iii, iv, and ix; N.A. Kullberg et. al., Svenska Riksrådets Protokoll 1621-1658, (18 vols., Stockholm, 1878-1959), vol. ix; Calendar of State Papers Domestic, second series, (23 vols, 1858-1897) vol. for 1631; S. Strömbom, ed. Index över svenska porträtt 1500-1850 i svenska porträttarkivets samlingen, 2 vols.(Stockholm, 1935, 1939), vol 2, p.656; J. Grant, Memories and Adventures of Sir John Hepburn, (1851); J. Grant, The Scottish Soldiers of Fortune, their adventures and achievements in the armies of Europe, (1890); Acts of the Privy Council of England 1623-1625 (London 1933), p.204; T. Riis, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Odense 1988), II, p.72; A.T.S. Goodrick, ed. The Relation of Sydnam Poyntz 1624-1636 (London, 1908), pp.56, 122-123; W. Crowne, Travels of Thomas Lord Howard 1637 (New York, 1971), p. 59; H.J.C. von Grimmelshausen, (Translated by A.T.S. Goodrick) The Adventurous Simplicissimus (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1962), p. 50; National Museums of Scotland Library (NMSL) Archive Room, CC 69 TRA: Anon., Sketch of the Life of Sir James Ramsay: A General Officer in the Armies of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, bound in a miscellaneous group of items called, Tracts, Vol. 1 (1750 – 1800?), pp.1–10; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp.1, 6, 75, 252, 273-274, 284-289, 294, 309. 


This entry was updated with information kindly provided by Dr Aaron Allen and Dr Bernd Warlich who passed on details from Anja RIECK, Frankfurt am Main unter schwedischer Besatzung 1631-1635. Reichsstadt-Repraesentationsort-Bündnisfestung (Frankfurt/M. 2005), p. 29

Service record

Arrived 1611-01-01
Departed 1612-12-31
Arrived 1615-01-01, as ENSIGN
Departed 1615-12-31, as ENSIGN
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1624-04-01, as CAPTAIN
Departed 1624-12-31, as CAPTAIN
Capacity RECRUITER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1625-01-01, as LT. COLONEL
Departed 1626-12-31, as LT. COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1627-01-01, as COLONEL + CHIEF
Departed 1632-12-31, as COLONEL + CHIEF
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1631-01-01, as COMMANDANT
Departed 1631-12-31, as COMMANDANT
Arrived 1633-01-01, as COLONEL + CHIEF
Departed 1638-02-22, as MAJOR GENERAL
Capacity GOVERNOR, purpose MILITARY