Ramsay had been a page at the Scottish court when the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy occurred in 1600. The actual nature of that affair is deeply disputed. The most likely account is that the young Ramsay stabbed John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie to death with his dagger, helping to frustrate a plot to either kidnap or murder the then King James VI of Scotland.
Ramsay was knighted in that year, and was created Viscount of Haddington and Lord Ramsay of Barns in the Scottish peerage on 11 June 1606, and Lord Melrose in 1609, among various other offices that he acquired during his Court career (Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James I, 1603.
Joint Constable, Receiver, and Steward of Dunstable, 1604. Etc). In 1619, Ramsay, dismayed at missing appointment to the Earldom of Montgomery, left Britain and retired to France.
In 1620 James lured back his old favourite with a gift of £7000, and created him Baron of Kingston upon Thames and Earl of Holderness in the English peerage (22 January 1621). The marriage was celebrated at Whitehall Palace with the masque The Hue and Cry After Cupid, by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.
At the time, James paid off Ramsay"s debts of £10,000, and sent the bride a gold cup containing a grant of lands worth an income of £600 per year.
Later, Ramsay was supplanted as James"s favourite, first by Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, and then by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Elizabeth Radclyffe Ramsay died of smallpox on 6 December 1618. She survived him; they had no children.
Ramsay died in January 1626 and was buried on 28 February that year in Saint Paul"s Cathedral.
Since he left no children, his line became extinct. The titles of Earl of Melrose and Viscount of Haddington passed to a lawyer, Sir Thomas Hamilton.