DOUGLAS, Sir Alexander (d. 1718), of Egilsay, Orkney
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Family and Education
1st s. of William Douglas, MP [S], of Spynie, by Marjorie, da. and h. of Patrick Mentieth of Egilsay. m. 12 Apr. 1688, Janet Scot (d. aft. 1718), wid. of Alexander Cruickshanks of Waristoun, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. aft. 1685; kntd. c.1707.1
MP [S] Orkney and Shetland 1702–7.
Chamberlain of the bishopric of Orkney 1710.
Jt. lt. Orkney 1715.2
An impecunious Orkney laird, Douglas was a thoroughgoing courtier in both the Scottish and British Parliaments. Returned for his native county in 1702, he supported the Duke of Queensberry while in office, but tactfully absented himself from the vote on the Duke of Hamilton’s motion in 1704 for deferring a decision on the succession. Aware of Queensberry’s hostility to the ‘New Party’ experiment, Douglas was nevertheless unwilling to join the Duke’s hard-line supporters in cynical opposition to the Court. With the fall of the ‘New Party’ ministry and the return to power of Queensberry, Douglas’ difficulties were resolved. His attitude during this period was similar to that of his political patron, the 11th Earl of Morton (James Douglas). The connexion between Morton and Douglas, who were not near relations, may be traced to the Earl’s attempts to regain his family’s grant of crown lands in Orkney and Shetland, which had been revoked by Charles II. The attainment of this objective in 1707 may be attributed to Morton’s support for the Union, activities which had included persuading Douglas, who had registered a hostile vote on the first article of the treaty, to follow the Court line thereafter without demur. Douglas himself was rewarded with a knighthood and a seat in the nominated first Parliament of Great Britain.3
An inactive Member, who is not known to have spoken in debate, Douglas found the cost of attendance at Westminster prohibitive. It is uncertain if he made any appearance during his first Parliament. He was elected unanimously for Orkney and Shetland in 1708, but his only known vote was in favour of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710 (though his inclusion on this list was queried by George Lockhart*). In the same year he was appointed to a collectorship of the bishopric rents in Orkney, presumably via Morton’s influence. It was later asserted by a hostile commentator that this office brought ‘a salary or pension of the crown of a thousand pound Scots or thereby’. Prior to the 1710 election, moreover, Douglas was promised £200 from the government to cover the cost of attendance at Westminster. He was duly re-elected, despite local resentment against the Morton interest. Douglas was described as an episcopal Tory in the electoral analysis of Richard Dongworth, chaplain to the Duchess of Buccleuch. A supporter of the new ministry, Douglas was listed as a ‘worthy patriot’ who helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration, and Lockhart later recalled that he had adhered ‘constantly in all votes to the Tories’. Douglas was nevertheless dissatisfied at the failure of Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) to provide the promised living expenses. Morton explained to the Earl of Mar that Douglas had been persuaded to ‘set up to be a Parliament man contrary to his intentions, he being a gentleman of a very low estate’. His case was taken up in September 1711 by John Pringle*, who forwarded to Oxford the original letter from Morton’s agent which had promised the money in Queensberry’s name. Pringle added by way of recommendation that Douglas had ‘ever since the Queen’s accession to the throne served his country in such measures as seemed most agreeable to her Majesty, and is desirous to continue to give further proof of this loyalty and affection to the crown’. No satisfaction was evidently forthcoming. Douglas was listed as absent in Scotland for the vote on 7 Feb. 1712 on the Scottish toleration bill, and likewise for the votes on 4 and 18 June 1713 over the French commerce bill.4
Douglas did not stand in 1713, when his own disinclination chimed with Morton’s desire that his brother, Hon. George Douglas*, should have a refuge from electoral difficulties elsewhere. He acted, however, in the capacity of praeses of the electoral court, using his influence to ensure the election of Morton’s nominee. During these proceedings his own right to vote was queried by James Moodie†, who belatedly drew attention to the fact that the Egilsay estate was of maternal descent. Moodie claimed that this rendered Douglas’ entitlement open to question because ‘it is in law presumed there is an heir male till the contrary is be proven by a service’. He also attempted to confuse the issue by referring to the inheritances of Douglas’ aunts as ‘heirs portioners’ to the estate. This absurd objection was swiftly dismissed, Douglas having plainly stated that his mother was
served heir and retoured to Patrick Monteith my grandfather who stood publicly infeft in the lands of Egilsay and others holden feu under the crown which rights were produced in the parliament of Scotland in anno 1703 and my right to vote in the election was determined in the parliament.
Douglas died in January 1718, and Egilsay descended via his eldest son, William, to his granddaughter, Janet, in 1729.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. Orkney Archs. Morton mss D38/2505/17, electoral ct. mins. 23 Oct. 1713; Hist. Scot. Parl. 194; B. H. Hossack, Kirkwall in the Orkneys, 244; Scot. Rec. Soc. xxvii. 194; Orkney Archs. unpub. genealogy by R. W. St. Clair.
- 2. Hist. Scot Parl. 194; J. B. Craven, Hist. Church in Orkney, 44.
- 3. Hossack, 244; Hist. Scot. Parl. 194; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. Parl.; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 109, 332; J. N. Ross, Orkney and the Earls of Morton, 14.
- 4. Edinburgh Courant, 28–30 June 1708; SHR, lx. 65; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 287; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 45, 50; Orkney Archs. Morton mss D38/2505/17, electoral ct. mins. 23 Oct. 1713; SRO, Morton mss GD150/3464/10–11, John Ewing to Morton, 21 Sept., 21 Nov. 1710; HMC Portland, v. 53; Add. 70292, John Ewing to Douglas, 28 Sept. 1710, Pringle to [Oxford], 21 July 1711; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
- 5. Orkney Archs. Morton mss D38/2505/17, electoral ct. mins. 23 Oct. 1713; Hist. Scot. Parl. 194; unpub. genealogy by St. Clair; Services of Heirs, i. 1730–9, p. 10.