Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Alexander, Sir William

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ALEXANDER, Sir William, earl of Stirling, b. in 1580; d. in London, 12 Sept., 1640. When a young man he was appointed tutor to the earl of Argyll and accompanied him abroad. At a later date he received the place of gentleman usher to Prince Charles, son of James VI. of Scotland, and continued in favor at court after the king became James I. of England. He attained reputation as a poet and writer of rhymed tragedies, and assisted the king in preparing the metrical version known as “The Psalms of King David, translated by King James,” and published by authority of Charles I., in 1631, after his father's death. Sir William held a copyright of this version, but it was never remunerative. In view of the successful result in Ireland of the establishment of baronets of Ulster, Sir William proposed to the king that the system should be extended to North America. On 21 Sept., 1621, a charter was issued, granting to him, “his heirs and assigns, whomsoever, . . . the continent, lands, and islands situate and lying in America within the cape or promontory commonly called Cape de Sable . . . to the river called by the name of Santa Cruz, . . . and thence northward to ‘the great river of Canada’ [i. e., the St. Lawrence] . . . to the aforesaid Cape Sable, where the circuit began.” In other words, the king made a present to the ambitious poet of what are now the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The magnificent grant was subsequently extended to include a large section of the present northern United States and the Dominion of Canada an empire larger than all the rest of the British possessions. Charles, on his accession to the throne in 1625, not only confirmed his father's charter, but, in July of that year, gave full powers to use the “mines and forests, erect cities, appoint fairs, hold courts, grant lands, and coin money.” As portions of the domain had already been granted by Henry IV. of France, and occupied by his subjects, wars among the rival claimants followed in due time as a matter of course; but first the new American baronetcies were offered for sale at £150 each, for which sum a grant of land three miles long by two miles broad was certified to the purchaser. Sir William speedily became involved in troublesome disputes, and was the object of bitterly sarcastic attacks on the part of his envious contemporaries; but he and his sons persevered in their efforts to turn their prodigious possessions to some practical account. That they failed is evident from the “noble poverty,” as one of his biographers terms it, of his last years. He was appointed secretary of state for Scotland in 1626, and held the office until his death, representing the king with remarkable ability and faithfulness, and receiving his earldom in 1680 as a reward for his services. During his last years he became involved in debt, and he died insolvent. There are various editions of his poems and tragedies. A complete edition of his works was published at Glasgow in 1870, in three octavo volumes, entitled “The Poetical Works of Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, etc., now first collected and edited, with Memoir and Notes.” See Walpole's “Royal and Noble Authors,” Wilson's “Poets and Poetry of Scotland,” Irving's “Lives and History,” Anderson's “ Scottish Nation,” “A Mapp and Description of New England, together with a Discourse of Plantations and Colonies” (1630), and Rogers's “ Memorials of the Earl of Stirling and the House of Alexander.”