DOUGLAS, Hon. George (1662-1738).
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Family and Education
b. 1662, 4th s. of James Douglas, 10th Earl of Morton [S], by Anne, da. of Sir James Hay, 1st Bt., of Smithfield, Peebles; bro. of Hon. Robert Douglas*. m. (1) a da. of Alexander Muirhead of Linhouse, Edinburgh, 1s. d.v.p. (2) bef. 1702, Frances, da. of William Adderley of Halstow, Kent, 3s. (1 d.v.p.). suc. bro. as 13th Earl of Morton [S] 22 Jan. 1730.1
Lt. Ft. Gds. [S] 1685, capt.-lt. 1688; capt. Col. Richard Cunningham’s Drag. (7th Hussars) 1692; brevet lt.-col. 1703; maj. 1707; brevet col. 1709; ret. 1709; ld. lt. Orkney and Shetland 1725–d.; v.-adm. Scotland 1733–d.
Burgess, Edinburgh, Lanark, Linlithgow, Selkirk 1708.2
Rep. peer [S] 1730–4.
Douglas entered the army shortly after escaping prosecution for murder in 1685. The dispute which led to the killing originated in the theft of a dog that was later found in the possession of the laird of Chatto. While Chatto accepted Douglas’ claim to ownership, this was disputed by one of the laird’s footmen, who had the temerity to confront him in public. Dismissing the servant as a mere ‘rascal’, Douglas was shocked to find the insult returned in kind, ‘which being such an indignity and affront to a gentleman’ he ‘did step back and make to his sword, but the footman before he got it drawn did hit him twice with a cudgel’. Douglas was thus able to claim self-defence. ‘Still retiring and with his sword warding the blows’ was how Douglas described his own reaction, whereas that of the footman was characterized as ‘so earnest and furious that he run himself upon the point of the petitioner’s sword and so was killed’. This barely credible account was sufficient to exculpate the son of a peer, though his departure for military service was perhaps an additional insurance against any reprisal. Rewarded for his role in quelling the anti-Union disturbances at Glasgow in 1706 (see CAMPBELL, Hon. James), Douglas otherwise proved a competent but undistinguished soldier. He was passed over for promotion, despite having for ‘many years undergone the whole care and charge of managing’ his regiment. When the colonelcy was purchased by Hon. William Kerr* in 1709, Douglas retired, merely receiving a non-regimental commission and a pension of 10s. a day. He encountered difficulties in extracting payment: not until 1717 was a retrospective grant made in his favour with effect from December 1710.3
Douglas had entered Parliament in 1708 as a supporter of the Duke of Queensberry’s Court party. His brothers, the 11th Earl of Morton and Hon. Robert Douglas, were longstanding members of this connexion. Douglas, who had complained of the passivity of the Scottish Court party prior to the general election, secured a seat on his own initiative at Linlithgow Burghs. An inactive Member, Douglas’ only known vote in this Parliament was for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.4
Re-elected for Linlithgow Burghs in 1710, Douglas was described by Richard Dongworth, chaplain to the Duchess of Buccleuch, as a Court Tory. In common with his patron Queensberry, he supported the new ministry. As before, he made little impression in Parliament, apart from being mentioned in the report of the commissioners of accounts on 21 Dec. 1711 in connexion with the allegedly corrupt handling of forage contracts by Robert Walpole II*. Douglas, who had been favoured by Walpole in 1709–10, gave no evidence to the commission and was not subjected to any direct censure. His partner John Montgomerie I* did admit that the contracts had been obtained only after the payment of sweeteners. Douglas spoke in Walpole’s defence on 17 Jan. 1712, but his intervention was insufficient to prevent expulsion. The death of Queensberry in July 1711 had left Douglas without an obvious patron among the Scottish magnates. He gravitated towards the Earl of Mar, but later became dissatisfied with what he perceived as his neglect, in particular over a civil case in the court of session. Douglas came gradually into the orbit of the Duke of Argyll and his brother Lord Ilay. He was listed as absent though in town for the vote on 7 Feb. 1712 upon the Scottish toleration bill, though it remains unclear whether this was indicative of scruples or mere indifference. In a letter to Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*), written from Scotland in August, Douglas described himself as a government supporter; but like other Scots, he came to resent the ministry’s conduct during the malt tax crisis of 1713. Disillusioned at English unwillingness either to defer the imposition or reduce the burden of this tax, Douglas was active in the ensuing campaign for a dissolution of the Union. He advocated an immediate secession from Parliament and an electoral boycott. This suggestion was rejected at a combined meeting of Scottish parliamentary representatives on 26 May 1713. His aggressive stance, in common with that of Hon. Charles Rosse*, may reflect the influence of Argyll, but no conclusive evidence can be adduced to support this hypothesis. Douglas attended the Lords on 1 June for the debate on Lord Findlater’s motion for leave to introduce a bill for dissolving the Union. He thought that Findlater ‘made a handsome discourse’ and that Mar ‘spoke well’. His highest praise was reserved for Argyll, however, who ‘spoke like an angel’. Douglas remained disenchanted with the ministry even after the return to the fold of Mar and other Scottish Court supporters in the aftermath of Lord Oxford’s narrow victory on this question. Unwilling to oppose the ministry outright, Douglas nevertheless absented himself from the votes on 4 and 18 June over the French commerce bill. He returned to Scotland shortly afterwards, all thoughts of boycott now abandoned, in order to prepare for the coming election. His activities included advising Morton to support Robert Munro* in the election for Tain Burghs, and forwarding the Earl’s proxy to Mar for the Scottish peerage election. Morton thus supported the entire Court list, from which Ilay had been excluded because he and Argyll had fallen out with the ministry. Douglas neither endorsed nor condemned Ilay’s abortive attempt to obtain Squadrone votes in the peerage election; but, for his own reasons, Douglas came to an electoral pact with Sir James Carmichael, 4th Bt.*, who enjoyed Squadrone support in Linlithgowshire.5
Douglas’ re-election for Linlithgow Burghs appeared doubtful because of the determination of the 4th Duchess of Hamilton to secure the return of her own nominee. Douglas contented himself, therefore, with a spoiling operation against the Duchess, contriving to support Carmichael in return for a promise of Lanark’s vote at the next election. With the family interest in Orkney and Shetland at his disposal, he was able to obtain an alternative seat. He did not attend the election in person, but the contest was managed effectively by his brother, Robert. In return for his speech in 1712, Douglas was promised Walpole’s support over the subsequent election case. Although a petition was entered against Douglas, it was never reported.6
Little is known of Douglas’ conduct in the 1713 Parliament, but Lord Polwarth’s description of him as a Jacobite in his analysis of the Scottish returns should not be taken literally. One modern historian has nevertheless compounded the error by stating that Douglas was involved in Jacobite plotting, but the letter cited in support of this assertion was written from France by a Jacobite namesake at a time when Douglas himself was in Scotland. His only known vote, on 12 May 1714, was against the Whig amendment to the schism bill which sought to extend its provisions to Catholics. Douglas was nevertheless listed as a Whig in one comparative analysis of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. The Worsley list also classified him as a Whig, but, if an annotation next to the name of James Moodie† (who had never previously sat) was actually intended to apply to Douglas, he should be regarded as a Whig who had sometimes voted with the Tories.7
By virtue of the pact made at the previous election, Douglas was returned for Linlithgow Burghs in 1715. He supported the Argathelian interest under George I, and succeeded as 13th Earl of Morton in January 1730, being also elected a representative peer at a by-election later that year caused by the death of Findlater. Douglas was a government supporter in the Upper House, but was not re-elected in 1734. He died on 4 Jan. 1738.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. Scots Peerage ed. Paul, vi. 380–1.
- 2. SRO, Morton mss GD150/2627, burgess tickets.
- 3. Reg. PC Scotland, 1685–6, p. 82; HMC Portland, x. 449–50; Morton mss GD150/3462/2, Queensberry to Douglas, 1 May 1711; CJ, xvii. 116; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxi. 111–12.
- 4. Morton mss GD150/3461/2, Douglas to Morton, 29 Jan. 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 26–28 May 1708; J. W. Buchan, Hist. Peebles. ii. 74; iii. 113–17; SRO, Peebles burgh recs. B58/13/3. council mins. 14 Apr. 1708.
- 5. SHR, lx. 65; Norf. RO, Rolfe mss, Walpole to Edmund Rolfe, 18 Jan. 1711–12; Add. 70292, Douglas to Oxford, 17 Aug. 1712; Morton mss GD150/3461/9, Douglas to Morton, 23 June, 16 Oct. 1713; GD150/3458/13, same to same, 25 Mar. 1714; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss, 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’,  May 1713; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 76–77; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
- 6. Morton mss GD150/3461/12–13, Douglas to Morton, 27 Aug., 23 Sept. 1713; GD150/3458/12, Morton to Douglas, 31 Oct. 1713; GD150/3464/26, Ewing to Morton, 24 Mar. 1714.
- 7. D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 18, 201; Add. 70031, C[ount] Douglas to Mar, 30 Sept. 1713.
- 8. Morton mss GD150/3462/3, Argyll to Douglas, 29 Oct. 1719; W. Robertson, Peerage of Scotland, 125–8; Scots Peerage, 380–1.