DOUGLAS (formerly STEUART), Archibald James Edward (1748-1827), of Douglas, Lanark.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



11 Feb. 1782 - 1790

Family and Education

b. 10 July 1748, 2nd surv. s. of Sir John Steuart, 3rd Bt., of Grandtully, Perth by his 2nd w. Lady Jane Douglas, o. sis. of Archibald, 1st Duke of Douglas [S]. educ. Rugby 1759-61, Westminster 1761-5. m. (1) 13 June 1771, Lady Lucy Graham (d. 13 Feb. 1780), da. of William, 2nd Duke of Montrose [S], and sis. of James, Mq. of Graham, 3s. 1da.; (2) 13 May 1783, Lady Frances Scott, da. of Francis, Earl of Dalkeith, sis. of Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch [S], 5s. 3da. suc. uncle in the Douglas estates 21 July 1761, and assumed name of Douglas; and the Duke of Queensberry in the Amesbury estate 1778;  cr. Baron Douglas 8 July 1790.

Offices Held


In 1748 Lady Jane Douglas, then aged 50, announced the birth in Paris of twin sons by her secret marriage with an elderly bankrupt, formerly a colonel in the Swedish service. The Duke of Douglas suspecting fraud, refused to recognize the children as his nephews, disinherited his sister, and entailed his estates upon his heir male the Duke of Hamilton. Lady Jane died in 1753, shortly after the death of the younger twin, and Archibald, left destitute, with his putative father in a debtors’ jail, was brought up by Lady Schaw (widow of Sir John Schaw of Greenock), on whose decease in 1757 the Duke of Queensberry assumed the responsibility.

From 1759 his fortunes improved; his father succeeded to the Grandtully baronetcy; the Duke of Douglas was persuaded to revoke the Hamilton settlement in 1760, and shortly before his death in 1761 recognized Archibald as his nephew and heir.1 Archibald’s principal guardian, Queensberry, and the Duchess of Douglas obtained confirmation of his rights of succession from the court of session in 1762, against the claims of the young Duke of Hamilton, whose guardians now began proceedings, directed by Andrew Stuart to prove that Archibald was not Douglas’s nephew but the son of French peasants. The celebrated ‘Douglas Cause’ provoked violent controversy in all ranks of society, divided families, and considerably affected electoral alliances. When in 1767 Douglas lost his case in the court of session by the casting vote of Lord President Robert Dundas, he appealed to the Lords, who on 27 Feb. 1769, by an overwhelming majority decided in his favour. Now established as ‘the true son of Lady Jane’, he returned in triumph to Scotland, the idol of the Edinburgh mob, celebrated his majority, became, with Queensberry, Buccleuch, Patrick Heron and others, a director of Douglas, Heron and Co., the ill-fated Bank of Ayr, and proceeded to develop the long dormant Douglas interest in the counties of Lanark, Angus, Roxburgh, and Perth.

The financial catastrophe of 1772 and the winding up of the Ayr Bank in 1773 obliged him to encumber his estates, but did not seriously affect his great fortune and interest. Allied by his marriage with the Montrose interest in Perthshire, he intervened at the by-election of 1773, and again in 1774, in support of Thomas Graham of Balgowan against James Murray and the Atholl interest.2 At the general election he opposed the Hamilton interest both in Linlithgow Burghs and in Lanarkshire, where he stood against Andrew Stuart but eventually joined Daniel Campbell, who was defeated.

His ambition now centred on obtaining a peerage either by establishing his right to the earldom of Angus or by a new creation. ‘He has flattered himself’, wrote Boswell in 1776, ‘with being created Earl of Douglas.’3

Disappointed of a seat in either House, Douglas offered with his brother-in-law Lord Graham to raise a regiment in 1778, but was refused.4 Finally relieved, in March 1779 by decision of the House of Lords, of harassing lawsuits by the Hamiltons against his right of inheritance,5 he devoted himself to improving his estates and interest but does not appear to have tried to enter Parliament in 1780.

He stood for Forfarshire in 1782 at a by-election, and was returned against Sir David Carnegie, who petitioned on the ground that Douglas as a claimant to the earldom of Angus should be disqualified. Elected on 11 Feb. Douglas did not take his seat for at least six weeks, possibly to avoid embarrassment while the Ayr Bank affairs were again before the House, but primarily to delay committing himself for or against the tottering North Administration. On the crucial division of 15 Mar. Robinson listed him among the ‘persons who stayed away’ although he was believed to be in London.6 Douglas, however, was still in Edinburgh on 21 Mar.,7 and may not have attended until shortly before the hearing of Carnegie’s petition on 16 Apr. Closely connected with Lord Graham, he seems to have followed Henry Dundas in politics; voted 18 Feb. 1783 for the peace preliminaries, and in March was listed by Robinson under Shelburne. He did not vote in the division of 27 Nov. on Fox’s East India bill; and on the change of Administration was counted pro-Pitt. Before the general election Robinson assumed that he would come in again for Forfarshire and ‘be steadily for’; but Dundas thought he might probably bring in a friend there and himself stand for Roxburghshire against Sir Gilbert Elliot, the Opposition candidate.8 In the event Douglas retained his Angus seat and assisted to secure the return of Sir George Douglas for Roxburgh. In the new Parliament he continued to support Pitt and remained faithful during the Regency crisis, 1788-9. No speech of his is recorded.

Created a British peer in 1790, he lived in great magnificence in London and in his Scottish castles. He died 26 Dec. 1827.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. For Archibald’s early life and Steuart family corresp. see Sir W. Fraser, Red Book of Grandtully; Sir W. Fraser, Douglas Book, ii. 523-538.
  • 2. A. Stuart to Duchess of Argyll, 26 June 1773, Intimate Society Letters, i. 146-7; Jas. Abercrombie to Loudoun, 21 May 1773, Loudoun mss; Laprade 6, 19.
  • 3. Private Pprs., xi. 147.
  • 4. Graham to R. M. Keith, 28 Apr. 1778, Add. 35513, f. 274.
  • 5. Douglas to his half-bro. Sir John Steuart, 30 Mar. 1779, Red Book of Grandtully, ii. 372.
  • 6. Fortescue, v. 390.
  • 7. Boswell, Private Pprs. xv. 71.
  • 8. Laprade, 101, 104.