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THE GREAT DOUGLAS CAUSE,
EARL Home's somewhat sudden death (summer of 1881), naturally directed renewed attention to the relation in which he stood to the successful litigant in the great legal contest of last century, between the houses of Douglas and Hamilton--a contest not only of unsurpassed magnitude so far as the estates in dispute were concerned, but which created an amount of excitement in Scotland, and even on the Continent, altogether unparalleled. Raised in the dry technical form of an action for "reduction of service" the inquiry revealed many features of romantic interest, and engaged for eight years the highest legal talent at both the Scotch and English Bars. Without searching amid the mists of antiquity for matter to illustrate the annals of the renowned house of Douglas, the “Cause” may be briefly mentioned as originating in events connected with the life of William, eleventh Earl of Angus, created Marquis of Douglas by Charles I., June, 1633. As King's Lieutenant on the Borders the Marquis kept up a princely hospitality at Douglas Castle, and during the Civil War supported the cause of the King equally against Cromwell and the Covenanters. He was twice married-first to Margaret Hamilton, sister of the first Earl of Abercorn, and, secondly, to Lady Mary Gordon, daughter of the first Marquis of Huntly, whose descendants came to represent the Hamilton party in the Douglas plea. By his first wife the Marquis had, among other issue, a son, Archibald, Earl of Angus, who died before his father, but lest a son, Janes, who became second Marquis, and father of Archibald, third Marquis, first and only Duke of Douglas, born in 1694, and Lady Jane Douglas, born in Douglas Castle, 17th March, 1698. With the Duke and his sister this narrative is more immediately concerned. The second Marquis died in 1703, leaving a son and heir, six years, and a daughter, two years old.
In consideration of his illustrious descent and the signal services rendered to the Crown by his ancestors, Archibald, third Marquis, was created a Duke in 1703, when he was yet a minor, and signalised his adherence to the Hanoverian Government by engaging as a Volunteer at Sheriffmuir, 1715. This, however, was almost the only appearance he ever made in public. An unfortunate and fatal encounter with a distant kinsman of his mother, named Kerr, led to his withdrawing to the Continent, and, after remaining in hiding there for some years, he secretly returned--a morbid, melancholy misanthrope—to shut himself up in gloomy seclusion at Douglas Castle, seeing no one except a few greedy interested dependents. His sister, Lady Jane, by this time grown up to be a handsome accomplished woman, he systematically refused to see, and she was more than once turned ignominiously away from the doors of the castle in which she was born. Disappointed in a matrimonial alliance with Francis, Earl of Dalkeith, afterwards second Duke of Buccleuch, Lady Jane rambled in an unsettled way over the Continent for several years; but in August, 1746, when she had reached the mature age of forty-eight, and was getting considered by society as a somewhat fantastic and faded beauty, privately married Captain John Stewart, younger brother of Sir George of Grandtully, the Captain at the time being a widower of fifty-eight, with a grown-up son. The marriage took place in Edinburgh, and a few days afterwards Lady Jane, accompanied by her companion, Mrs. Hewitt, and two maids, again set out for the Continent, where she was afterwards joined by her husband. In the spring of 1748 the marriage, hitherto kept secret, was communicated to several persons on account of Lady Jane's condition, which, it was said, could no longer be concealed. The family party left Aix-la-Chapelle for Paris, and, always in poverty, moved about from one obscure lodging to another till they landed at the house of one La Brunne, where, on the sixth day after her arrival, and when she was fifty years of age, Lady Jane gave birth, or, as the Hamilton party afterwards pleaded, was alleged to have given birth to twins. Her recovery was certainly rapid, for nine days after her confinement the lodgings were again changed to the Hotel d'Anjou. There may have been no connection between the two circumstances, but the Hamilton executors afterwards established in evidence that about the period in question two male children, answering to the description of Lady Jane's, were stolen from their parents in Paris. One of the twins was strong and healthy, and accompanied Lady Jane and the Captain to Rheims, where he was baptized in August, by the name of Archibald. The other twin, being weak and sickly, was said to have been left at nurse in the neighbourhood of Paris, under the charge of Pierre La Marre, the accoucher, who thought it necessary as soon as he was born to baptize him Sholto, according to a form used in such cases by midwives in France. Both the children were invariably acknowledged by Lady Jane and Captain Stewart as theirs, and presented as such to all their friends. On returning to London in December, 1749, the unfortunate couple became plunged in even deeper poverty than before. The Duke, who had always behaved with great indifference to his sister, now withdrew even the small pension he had hitherto allowed. Mr. Stewart was overwhelmed with debt, prosecuted by his creditors and cast into prison. He has been described as a reckless, light-hearted “bon vivant," who had no objections to indulge his own selfish tastes at the expense of the narrow means possible to be scraped together by his self-denying wife. As is shown by a correspondence carried on between them, and which it is impossible to read without compassion, Lady Jane in her shabby lodgings at Chelsea was reduced to such straits as to sell her clothes and any trifling ornaments she possessed in order to buy bread for her children and supply her imprisoned husband with pocket money. Among those who interested themselves in her behalf were General the Earl of Crawford and Lindsay and Lady Shaw, widow of Sir John Shaw, of Greenock. They failed to mollify in any way the feelings of her brother the Duke, but obtained from the Government of the day a small pension. Sholto, the weaker twin, died in May, 1753, the sorely-tried mother herself dying, November following, in Edinburgh. Help for the family soon came from an unexpected quarter. To the surprise of anybody who interested themselves in the affairs of the recluse at Douglas Castle, the Duke in March, 1758, married Miss Margaret Douglas of Mains. Nettled, it was given out, at some slight put upon her by the Duke,
the new Duchess became a warm partizan of the cause of young Archibald Douglas as heir of her childless husband, and, in course of time, materially aided him with means to carry on his expensive contest. The Duchess, indeed, became only too keen in her patronage of the friendless boy. She offended the Duke, and a temporary separation took place. However, they were soon brought together again, and in the year 1759, the Duke devised his whole estate “to his own nearest heirs whatever," without making any exception as to Lady Jane's son. In 1760 the Duke cancelled certain deeds in favour of the Hamilton family, and a short time before his death in July, 1761, hc entailed his whole estate in favour of the heirs of the body of his father, and executed at the same time a deed setting forth that as his sister's (Lady Jane) son Archibald would be his heir, he appointed his Duchess, as well as the Duke of Queensberry and several other persons, to be his guardians. In 1759 the youth's reputed father, after years of poverty and misery in jail, succeeded to the family estate of Grandtully, and became Sir John Stewart. He lived about five years after, and married a third wife, a daughter of Lord Elibank. Sir John made a suitable provision for his son by Lady Jane Douglas, and in 1764, on the eve of death, made a solemn declaration that the twins were the children of his lawful wife. Lady Jane's companion, Mrs. Hewitt, made a similar declaration.
Upon the death of the Duke of Douglas in Queensberry House, Edinburgh, July, 1761, the guardians of Archibald Stewart (now Douglas) proceeded without delay to vest him in the feudal right of his uncle's estates by getting him served heir of entail and provision before a jury of competent witnesses. Being a case of exceptional delicacy and importance, proof much fuller than usual was entered upon, and the whole appeared so satisfactory that the jury served Archibald heir to the Duke, or, in other words, found by their verdict, from evidence documentary and oral, that Archibald Douglas was the son of Lady Jane. Mr. Douglas soon after completed his title by a charter from the Crown, and thereupon entered formally into possession of the immense Douglas estates in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and other counties. Unsatisfied with the verdict of the jury, the guardians of the Duke of Hamilton resolved to investigate the matter thoroughly in his interest, as also in that of his brother, Lord Douglas Hamilton, as heirs-male of the Duke of Douglas through their great-greatgrandfather, Lord Selkirk. An active guardian and a powerful agent was found in the person of Andrew Stewart of Castlemilk and Torrance, the accomplished historian of the Royal House of Stuart. His discoveries appeared to himself and his colleagues to amount to nothing short of a proof that the whole story of the prétended birth, as set forth in the service of Mr. Douglas, was an absolute fraud, and in December, 1762, an action was raised in the Criminal Department of the Parliament of Paris accusing Sir John Stewart and Mrs. Hewitt of the crime of partus suppositio, or procuring false children. (See "Torrance.") This action was taken secretly against Sir John, and the witnesses bound over to give evidence in Scotland; while the charge, being of a criminal nature, precluded him from interfering in favour of his son. The doubtful or weak points connected with this puzzling case are so apparent that it is only necessary to mention briefly the contentions of the pursuers—that Lady Jane was never confined at all, and, in particular, that she was not confined in the house or in the presence of Madame La Brune, inasmuch as no such person existed; and that there was imposture, mystery, and concealment in the movements of all the principal parties in and around Paris during the July of 1748. The discovery of the two stolen children has already been mentioned. In due course the great “Douglas Cause" came before the Court of Session, and on July 15, 1767, a decision was given in favour of the Hamilton plea for “reducing the service" by the casting vote of LordPresident Dundas. The voting stood:-For the Duke of Hamilton-James Erskine, Lord Barjarg; Andrew Pringle, Lord Alemare; James Veitch, Lord Elliock; John Campbell, Lord Stonefield; Robert Bruce, Lord Kennet; Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes; and Sir Thomas Miller of Glenlee, Lord Justice-Clerkseven in all. For Mr. Douglas-Alex. Frazer, Lord Strichen; Henry Home, Lord Kames; Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck (father of Dr. Johnson's