DOUGLAS, William (c.1731-83), of Kelhead, Dumfries.

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



1768 - 1780

Family and Education

b. c.1731, 1st s. of Sir John Douglas, 3rd Bt., M.P., by Christian, da. of Sir William Cunningham, 2nd Bt., of Caprington, Ayr. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1745-7. m. 11 Mar. 1772, Grace, da. and coh. of William Johnstone of Lockerbie, Dumfries, 5s. 4da. suc. uncle Charles Douglas in Breconwhat estate, Dumfries 13 Dec. 1770; and fa. 13 Nov. 1778.

Offices Held

Lt. Scots brigade in Holland 1747-?58; cornet 2 Drag. 1759-64.


Douglas’s father was ‘the chief director of his friend the Duke of Queensberry’s country affairs and parliamentary interest in the county of Dumfries’ but ‘Sir John was no economist ... he run aground and as he likewise had been nibbling to serve the Jacobite party ... this added to the distraction and confusion of his affairs.’1 In 1745, when no money was left for education, the family tutor, James Hogg, took his four pupils to Glasgow, supported them out of his own ‘little patrimony’, and sent the two eldest to the university. ‘This he continued all the next year also when Sir John was sent to the Tower of London for rebellious practices.’2 On Sir John’s release in March 1748, the Duke of Queensberry ‘got his estate put under trustees ... himself lent money ... and had his creditors thereby pacified’.3 Meanwhile, in June 1747, William had obtained a commission in the regiment raised by Queensberry’s son, Lord Drumlanrig, for the Dutch service and after the regiment’s disbandment in 1752, continued to serve in the Scots Brigade; he returned home about 1758,4 and shortly afterwards received a commission in the 2nd Dragoons. By 1762, when James Boswell met him, the family were again in financial trouble by Sir John’s extravagant ‘improvements’ which had ‘burthened his estate with about £30,000’.5 At the end of the war William apparently retired from the army, and became a member of Queensberry’s household.

In 1768 Queensberry brought him into Parliament where he supported Administration, but is not known to have spoken. His father, imprisoned for debt in January 1778, died in November, shortly after the death of his patron Queensberry, who had long treated William as his eventual heir to the marquessate of Queensberry, failing male issue by his immediate successor Lord March.6 Sir William’s uncle, Sir Alexander Dick, recorded in his ‘Memoranda’:

The Duke shortly before his death, having a warm attachment to my nephew Sir William, whom he sincerely loved from his proper behaviour to him while in Parliament, and considering that he had [children] ... to provide for, he left him £16,000 in money for their behalf ... On the worthy Duke’s death ... this new unkindly and ungenerous Duke refused to pay the money ... My nephew seeks my approbation for suing the Duke in the court of session.

And at the general election of 1780 the new Duke refused to return him to Parliament.

His action before the court of session for £20,000 (£16,000 plus interest) was successful; and on 30 Apr. 1783 Queensberry’s appeal was dismissed by the Lords. Sir William was so overjoyed by the news that he had an apoplectic fit while playing with his children, and died 16 May 1783.7

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Memoranda by Sir Alex. Dick, W. Douglas’s uncle, Curiosities of a Scots Charta Chest, ed. Forbes, 223.
  • 2. Alex. Carlyle, Autobiog. 106.
  • 3. Sir Alex. Dick’s Memoranda.
  • 4. Scots Mag. 1747, p. 351; Scots Brigade in Holland (Sc. Hist. Soc.), ii 390-1, 412, 414.
  • 5. Boswell, Private Pprs. i. 87.
  • 6. Jas. Chas. Sholto Douglas (William’s bro.) to R. M. Keith, 7 Dec. 1775, Add. 35509, f. 274.
  • 7. Curiosities, 270.