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Sir Alexander Douglas, MP




Sir Alexander Douglas (b. Unknown, d. January 1718) was a Burgh and Shire Commissioner of Orkney and Shetland for the Parliament of Scotland and was also the first MP to represent the constituency.

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may be traced to the Earl’s attempts to regain his family’s grant of crown lands in Orkney and Shetland, which had been revoked by Charles II.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.

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.

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, who married in 1729 James Baikie of Tankerness and had a son, Robert.

Douglas was of Egilsay(1), a small Island of Orkney. He was a member of the Parliament of Scotland in 1703 and again between 1705 until the Parliament was dissolved in 1707. His first term in 1703 was declared illegitimate at the 26 June meeting of the Parliament of Scotland, and thus Sir Archibald Stewart of Burray was appointed as the legal Burgh commissioner.

He was then elected (or co-opted) into the newly established Parliament of Great Britain, representing Orkney and Shetland from 1707 until 1713, with George Douglas taking the seat from then. He died in 1718.

Douglas supported his kinsman, the Earl of Mortons's attempts to reclaim his family's grant of crown lands in Orkney and Shetland, which had been revoked by King Charles II.

Knighted in 1707, he was appointed the Chamberlain of the Bishopric of Orkney in 1710, which brought a salary or pension of £1000 Scots. This must have proved useful, as he had insufficient funds to attend the Parliament in London..

He was the son of William Douglas of Egilsay and Marjorie Monteith.

There was a daughter, Margaret.

In accordance with the marriage contract of Thomas Buchanan and Margaret Douglas, she was vested in her father’s lands in Eday, Evie, etc. in security for her dowry. They had a daughter, Janet.

Janet Buchanan was a wealthy heiress and orphan when she married James Fea VI of Clestrain in 1720, having inherited the Buchanan lands which included the estates Sound in Shapinsay and Carrick in Eday including:
…houses, biggins, yards, crofts, town maills, quoys, quoylands, outbrecks, outsetts, annexis, connexis, parts, pendicles and pertinents.

She was the only child of Thomas Buchanan, of Sandside and later of Sound in Shapinsay, and Margaret Douglas. Her parent’s marriage contract is dated 8th November 1708.

Her paternal grandfather was James Buchanan, a merchant in Edinburgh, who was a brother of Arthur Buchanan. James’s brother had acquired the lands in Eday and Shapinsay from Sir John Buchanan of Scotscaig in Fife.

From the Register of Sasines, we find that there is a charter signed by Thomas Buchanan on 10th August 1710, but by 15th September 1710, he had died. Janet’s mother had died by 1st February 1717, leaving Janet an orphan. Her grandfather, Sir Alexander Douglas, had been formally appointed her “tutor dative”. When he died, Janet’s uncle, Cornet William Douglas was appointed. Janet could only have been around 11 years old when she was married to James Fea VI of Clestrain. He was 27 years.

Thoughts of Janet having been born before her parent’s marriage or that the marriage pre dated the marriage contract seem precluded by the terms of the 1708 contract, which specifically show that her parents were not already married and also that she was not yet born.

The following reference to a teacher for Janet Buchanan after her marriage comes from a cash book of James Fea under the date April 1721 or 1722, among “disbursements I wes att upon my wife’s account” when in Edinburgh:

To Incident in getting Miss Ker ingaged to waite upon her and teach her
To Miss Kerr in pairt payment of a year’s fee having agreed wt her at 100 mrk p. an two guineas is

£1 14 0

£25 4 0


In 1736 the heiress Janet Douglas, grand-daughter of Sir Alexander Douglas of Egilsay, married James Baikie, 6th of Tankerness, in the presence of the Earl of Morton's eldest son and numerous officials. This very Mortonian marriage ... Snippet from The People of Orkney



1. Egilsay, Eagleshay or Egilshay.

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024