Lady Jane Douglas

 

Lady Jane Douglas to go with Douglas story todaySister to Archibald, Duke of Douglas, who died in 1761 leaving no heir.

Archibald was created Duke of Douglas in 1703. He fought for the Hanoverians at Sheriffmuir in 1715 and he supported the government in the '45 rebellion. He had no heir and the Dukedom died with him in 1761 being limited to male heirs of the patentee. His death created quite a controversy over the rights of accession, that became a lawsuit of long duration. 

Although the Dukedom expired with Archibald, the Marquessate and numerous other subordinate titles should have fallen indisputably to the Duke of Hamilton, being descended in the male line from William, 1st Marquess of Douglas. However, Archibald had a sister, Lady Jane Douglas, who had born twins, Archibald and Sholto Stewart, under suspicious circumstance while in France in 1748. The twins were brought to Britain in 1749, but the Duke refused to acknowledge them as his heirs. Furthermore, he cut off his sister's allowance and subjected them to abject poverty. Lady Jane died in 1753 being preceded by the youngest of the twins, Sholto. It seems that near the end of his life the Duke felt some remorse for his harsh treatment of his sister and in his last illness executed a deed admitting the right of his nephew, Archibald Stewart.

Considerable doubt was expressed over the births of the 'twins'.

She and her husband, Sir John Stewart, moved to Aix-la-Chapelle, France soon after their marriage and there Lady Jane found herself to be pregnant. It would be assumed that a woman of such advanced years, pregnant for the first time, would take great care and settle down in comfort to await the birth. Lady Jane, however, abruptly moved from Aix-la-Chapelle to Paris in the eighth month of her pregnancy accompanied only by her husband and a maid. Supposedly this was to place her under the care of the best doctors in France. 

In the end the doctor who delivered the babies could never be found nor could the woman who was purported to have owned the house in which the births took place. Even though twins were reported in letters, the couple returned to Rheims in July, 1748 with only one infant. When questioned about the other baby it was said he was left in the care of the doctor. It wasn't until November, 1749 that the couple, again in the company of the same maid, returned to Paris to retrieve their son. Interestingly, it was later found that there had been two kidnappings in Paris in that period of time, one in July, 1748 and another in November, 1749. Witnesses claimed, in both cases, that the baby boys were carried off by a Lady, a Gentleman and their maid.

 

Documents discovered, in summer 2008, in the archive of the present Earl of Home suggest that Lady Jane lied, that she connived in her husband’s planned deceit, and that she regretted the falsehood ever after. The writer Karl Sabbagh, who has been researching the Douglas Cause for several years, has unearthed a document in Lady Jane’s handwriting which, he says, suggests that she was guilty, and she was well aware of the enormity of her crime.

“In the light of the ambiguous results of the years of legal investigation and court hearings, I didn’t expect to find much more than picturesque detail in the archives,” Sabbagh said. “I came across various letters written in a firm and measured way by Lady Jane about aspects of the case. But one document in her own hand is very different. It is a litany of guilt, written hastily and full of emotion to her God, in a barely legible scrawl.”

It is a letter craving forgiveness, Sabbagh believes. “O Lord of Infinite Mercy and Great Compassion,” it reads, “this is a day of great Perplexity with me and of great trouble & distress therefore I come to thee say thou the word and thy servant shall be healed thou even thou only can heal the brocken [sic] in heart and bind up all their wounds but I’m not worthy of such as this when my crimes are gone over my head and are a heavy burden too heavy for me to bear . . . Cleanse me from all my vileness and wickedness and make this guilty heart yet a sacrefise [sic] of Praise unto thee.”

Sabbagh said: “She was clearly in a highly emotional state when she wrote it and although she does not mention a specific cause for her guilt, these are the outpourings of a woman who feels herself a sinner and craves forgiveness, perhaps on the point of death, to avoid the torments of hellfire.”

Sabbagh came across a second item in the Home archives that shows that one of the lawyers for the Douglas side, James Carnegy of Boysack, had increasing doubts about Lady Jane’s innocence, despite representing the family. He spent a considerable time in Paris, and wrote a journal of his day-to-day activities, which shows his increasing frustration at the attempts of Lady Jane’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Douglas, to go to any lengths to gather evidence in favour of her nephew, who stood to inherit. He came to believe that the Duchess was clutching too readily at made-up stories that supported Archibald Douglas’s claims and ignoring any evidence in favour of the Hamilton case.

“I know the Duchess well enough by sad experience to be sensible that she detests nothing so much as such discoveries,” Carnegy wrote, “and that in order to please her you must find out stories that appear favourable to her views, though they be never so vain and illusory . . . I am sorry to say it even to myself, that when the foundation is false it is a difficult matter to raise a superstructure that is good and honest and of which the different pieces tally and correspond.”

Sabbagh said that the insight the document offered on the scandal was compelling. “It is clear from Carnegy’s journal that it was not meant for anyone else’s eyes, and that he was being ruthlessly honest with himself. He described one of the witnesses for Douglas as a ‘bitch’ and another as a ‘rascal’, and the terms in which he wrote about his client, the Duchess, would have had him drummed out of the legal profession if they had come out.”

So where does the new evidence now leave the reputation of Lady Jane – and the Douglas cause? “I believe she was a devout and virtuous woman,” Sabbagh said. “But I also believe it’s possible that she connived at a plan to buy the babies, perhaps devised by her husband, and then bitterly regretted it afterwards.”

 

Some of the personalities involved: (Click to enlarge)

 Lady Jane Douglas  Colonel John Stewart  Elizabeth Gunnung, Duches of Hamilton Peggy, Duches of Douglas Arhibald Douglas of Douglas

 

This page was last updated on 20 December 2013

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