Jean Armour

Robert Burns and Jean Armour met in 1785, when he was 26 (still an unknown poet struggling to make a living from farming) and she was 20. By the end of that year she was pregnant by him, and she gave birth to twins on 3 September 1786. The couple were keen to marry, but Jean's father would have none of it. They continued to live apart, but on 3 March 1788 Jean (who had by now been expelled from the family home) gave birth to a second set of twins, both of whom died within three weeks.

With Burns by now beginning to attract notice as a poet, James Armour relented and allowed his daughter to be married to him. Their marriage was registered on 5 August 1788 in Mauchline, Jean's home village; the parish records describe them as having been "irregularly married some years ago". The couple moved to Burns's farm at Auldgirth (now a museum); three years later they moved to Dumfries, where both would live for the rest of their lives.

Jean Armour and Robert Burns had nine children together, the last of whom was born on the day of his funeral in July 1796. Only three of them survived infancy. Burns had at least another four by other women.

Jean's widowhood, and the straitened circumstances in which she found herself after Burns's death, attracted national attention, and a charitable fund was collected for her and the children. She survived her husband by 38 years, and lived to see his name become celebrated throughout the world. By 1816, his fame had become such that his remains were removed from their modest grave in St Michael's Kirkyard, Dumfries, and placed in a specially commissioned mausoleum. Jean was buried alongside him following her death in 1834; statues of her were erected in Mauchline in 2002, and in Dumfries in 2004.

© Haydn Thompson 2017