Archibald Douglas, Duke of Douglas


Archibald Douglas, duke of Douglas (bap. 1694, d. 1761), landowner, the son of James Douglas, second marquess of Douglas (c.1646–1700), and his second wife, Mary Kerr (Ker; bap. 1674, d. 1736) , daughter of Robert Kerr, first marquess of Lothian, was baptized on 13 October 1694. He succeeded his father as marquess of Douglas in February 1700. He was created duke of Douglas by Queen Anne in 1703 at the behest of his kinsman James Douglas, second duke of Queensberry, ostensibly in recognition of the loyalty and deeds of his forebears, but more immediately to balance the elevation of the rival marquess of Atholl to a dukedom. In addition to the title Duke of Douglas, he was aslo Marquess of Angus and Abernethy, Viscount of Jedburgh Forest, and Lord Douglas of Bonkill, Prestoun, and Robertoun.


The bearer of the Crown of Scotland on state occasions, he conveyed it to Edinburgh Castle after the closing of the last Parliament of Scotland.

Baptism entry for Archibald Douglas
Baptism entry for Archibald Douglas
National Records of Scotland
The Duke of Douglas's golden key - but what door did it unlock?

As he was head of the senior line of one of Scotland's most illustrious families and heir to a great fortune, much was expected of Douglas as a young man. Such hopes, however, went unfulfilled. His public career was brief and spotty. In 1712 he joined nineteen other Scottish peers in a remonstrance to the queen against the decision of the House of Lords that those who had held Scottish peerages at the time of the Union could not subsequently sit in the house by virtue of British peerages. During the Jacobite rising of 1715 he was commissioned lord lieutenant of Forfarshire, and raised 500 men for the government; he also fought as a volunteer at the battle of Sheriffmuir.

It became apparent, however, that Douglas was not cut out for political or social leadership. He was, for one thing, barely literate. Late in life he confessed to the earl of Shelburne (who characterized him as ‘the last of the feudal lords’) that ‘he could neither read nor write without great difficulty’ (Fitzmaurice, 1.6–7). Proud, irascible, and reclusive by nature, his eccentric conduct raised doubts about his mental stability. Such concerns were intensified in 1725 when, at Douglas Castle, his chief seat, he killed John Kerr, the illegitimate son of his brother-in-law, Lord Mark Kerr, and a suitor for the hand of his sister, Lady Jane Douglas. Douglas fled to the Netherlands for a time, but eventually returned to Scotland and was never prosecuted. The affair, Horace Walpole suggested, ‘had been winked at on supposition of his insanity’ (Walpole, 3.201n.). No certificate of lunacy was ever issued, but the duke ‘retired from the world’, in the words of the duke of Queensberry, and ‘lived like a prisoner’ (Laing MSS, 2.455), surrounded by retainers sympathetic to the duke of Hamilton, next heir after his sister. Douglas never participated in peers' elections, and he allowed the family's parliamentary interests in Lanarkshire, Forfarshire, and elsewhere to languish. Events occasionally intruded on his isolation. During the Jacobite rising of 1745 he denied Lord George Murray admittance to Douglas Castle on the Jacobite army's return from England. However, he was later obliged to open his door to the Young Pretender himself (Charles Edward Stuart), whose troops did much damage. In 1758 Douglas Castle burnt down, forcing the duke to divide his time between Holyrood Palace, where he had apartments, and Bothwell Castle. He began the reconstruction of Douglas Castle (unfinished in his lifetime) to plans from John Adam, with the intention, it was said, of building a house 10 feet wider and 10 feet higher than the duke of Argyll's new seat at Inveraray.

The last decades of Douglas's life were dominated by speculation over the eventual disposition of his considerable estate, which included property in eight Scottish counties and was said to be worth more than £12,000 a year. His relationship with his only sibling, Lady Jane Douglas, was strained after Kerr's death. In 1746 she married—without his knowledge—Colonel John Stewart of Grandtully (from 1759, third baronet), a former Jacobite sympathizer, mercenary, and sometime bankrupt, and fled to the continent. In 1748 she reported her marriage from Paris and then informed the duke of the birth (in her fifty-first year) of twins. Douglas cut off Lady Jane's support and refused either to see her before her death in 1753 or to accept her offspring as genuine. He instead entailed his estates on the Hamiltons.

Douglas, who had often stated that he would never marry, surprised many when on 1 March 1758 he wed Margaret (d. 1774), the daughter of James Douglas of Mains. (When Alexander Carlyle first met her in 1745, he noted that she had even then ‘Sworn to be Dutchess of Douglas, or never mount a Marriage Bed’ (Carlyle, 56). An eccentric in her own right, she took a sympathetic view of the claim of Lady Jane's only surviving son, Archibald, and eventually persuaded the duke to reconsider the case and recognize him as heir. This set the stage for the famous Douglas cause that would, nearly eight years after the duke's death, confirm young Archibald, now called Douglas, in possession of the Douglas estates.

The duke died on 21 July 1761 at Queensberry House, Edinburgh, and was buried on 4 August with his ancestors in the parish church at Douglas, Lanarkshire, contrary to his wish to be buried in the bowling green. The marquessate and other titles he had inherited passed to the seventh duke of Hamilton; the dukedom and other titles conferred on him in 1703 became extinct. Once the object of high hopes, Douglas led an eccentric and reclusive life, posthumously overshadowed by the titanic legal battle to become his heir.



See also:

  • Last will and testament transcript (87kb  pdf)
  • The Douglas Cause
  • Flintlock fowling-piece



    This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

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