Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, Jane

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DOUGLAS, Lady JANE (1698–1753), only daughter of James, second marquis of Douglas [q. v.], and Lady Mary Ker, was born on 17 March 1698. Her father died when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother, the marchioness, who for some time resided at Merchiston Castle, then near, now in Edinburgh. Both beautiful and highly accomplished, Lady Jane had many suitors, including the Dukes of Hamilton, Buccleuch, and Atholl, and the Earls of Hopetoun, Aberdeen, and Panmure. In 1720 an engagement to Francis, earl of Dalkeith, afterwards second duke of Buccleuch, was broken off through the action of Catherine Hyde, duchess of Queensberry, who designed the earl for another Lady Jane Douglas, her own sister-in-law. This is distinctly stated by Anna, duchess of Buccleuch (Fraser, Red Book of Grandtully, ii. 306). While arrangements for the marriage were being concluded, a letter purporting to come from her lover, and confessing to a previous attachment, was handed to Lady Jane by a stranger. Lady Jane determined to seek the seclusion of a foreign convent, and, assisted by her French maid, set out secretly for Paris in male dress. She was followed and brought back by her mother and brother, and the latter, it is said, fought a duel with the Earl of Dalkeith.

Her brother more than doubled the allowance settled on her by their father, and as even then the whole amount of her annual income did not exceed 140l., he increased it again in 1736, after their mother's death, to 300l., reserving power to revoke the 160l. At this time Lady Jane took up her residence at Drumsheugh House, in another part of Edinburgh, and it was there that she concealed for a time the Chevalier Johnstone after his escape from the battle of Culloden in 1746. There too she married on 4 Aug. 1746 Colonel (afterwards Sir) John Stewart, second son of Sir Thomas Stewart of Balcaskie, of the family of Grandtully in Perthshire, a lover who had been abroad for ten years after a previous misunderstanding. At this time Colonel Stewart had little fortune beside his sword, with which he had won promotion in the Swedish service.

For several years previous to her marriage Lady Jane had been estranged from her brother [see Douglas, Archibald, first Duke of Douglas]. Fearing that the duke might withdraw her allowance, Lady Jane concealed her marriage, and travelled on the continent under the assumed name of Mrs. Gray. Accompanied by the nurse of her youth, Mrs. Hewit, Lady Jane and Colonel Stewart went to the Hague, and after some stay there proceeded to Utrecht and Aix-la-Chapelle, whence in May 1748 they went to Paris, where she gave birth to twin sons on 10 July. The allegation that Lady Jane was not really the mother, but had procured the children in Paris, led to the great Douglas cause. The evidence was conflicting, but the House of Lords finally decided that Lady Jane's surviving son was her legitimate issue and heir to the Douglas estates [see Douglas, Archibald James Edward]. His case was supported by the evidence of those who were constantly with Lady Jane at the time, namely, her husband, Mrs. Hewit, and two maid-servants, all of whom were alive at the date of the trial, and gave evidence from their personal knowledge of the facts. Lady Jane herself uniformly declared the children her own, and both she and her husband when on their deathbeds solemnly claimed the parentage of the children.

Early in August Lady Jane and Colonel Stewart returned to Rheims with one of the children, the other, Sholto, being so weakly that he had to be left at Paris under the joint care of a nurse and a physician. At the time of the trial these persons were either dead or could not be found, and the opposing parties were able to produce evidence that about this very time two children of poor parents were stolen and never recovered, though in regard to one of these it was alleged to be ruptured, which it was conclusively proved neither of the children of Lady Jane was. It was also proved, however, that the children of Lady Jane bore a very striking resemblance to her and Colonel Stewart, and that her affection for them was that of a mother. On the whole the general opinion has been in favour of Lady Jane Douglas, coinciding with the judicial decision of the House of Lords, the reasons of which are very fairly represented in the speech of Lord Mansfield in support of that decision, the substance of which will be found in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1769, pp. 248–252, and elsewhere. No other blemish has ever been attempted to be cast on Lady Jane's high character.

On the birth of her children Lady Jane informed her brother of the fact, who declined to believe her, and stopped her annuity. In December 1749, when Lady Jane with her husband and children returned to England, Colonel Stewart had to seek refuge from his creditors within the rules of the king's bench. Lady Jane made application to Lord Mansfield, then solicitor-general, who through Mr. Pelham made her case known to George II, and in August 1750 she received an annuity of 300l. from the royal bounty. She afterwards went to live at Chelsea.

In 1752 Lady Jane took steps to vindicate her character in her brother's eyes. She procured a disavowal by its supposed author of a statement attributed to a French nobleman, Count Douglas. She returned to Scotland with her children, and reached Edinburgh in August 1752, taking apartments in Bishop's Land, and afterwards at Hope Park. She wrote several letters to her brother, but, receiving no reply, vainly sought a personal interview at her brother's castle [see Douglas, Archibald, first Duke of Douglas].

On her return to Edinburgh she found it necessary to make a journey to London, leaving her children behind. During her absence one of them, Sholto, died. Lady Jane's heart was broken. In August she was able to make the return journey, but in Edinburgh her illness increased, and she died on 22 Nov. 1753, in a house in the Cross causeway, ‘near the windmill.’ Her brother consented with great reluctance to pay for a decent burial, and stipulated that her son should not be present. She was buried in Holyrood Chapel on 26 Nov. in her mother's grave, several of the duke's servants being present. Her son, Archibald, refused to leave his mother's corpse, and was secretly dressed to attend the funeral; but on taking his place in the coach he was rudely dragged out and forced back into the house.

[The chief repository of the events of the life of Lady Jane Douglas is the Collection of Papers, including the Pursuers' and Defender's Proofs and Memorials, and the Appeal Case, 1761–9, comprised in six quarto and one folio volumes. From this source has been compiled the small volume entitled Letters of the Right Hon. Lady Jane Douglas, &c., London, 1767; The Speeches, Arguments, and Determinations of the Lords of Council and Session upon that important case, the Duke of Hamilton and others against Archibald Douglas of Douglas, Esq., with an introductory preface by a barrister-at-law (James Boswell), 8vo, London, 1767. Another report of these speeches, made by William Anderson, was published at Edinburgh in 1768, 8vo; and also a State of the Evidence in the Case, &c., by Robert Richardson. Dorando, a Spanish tale, 8vo, London, 1767 (also by Boswell), has for its theme the incidents of Lady Jane's life. An elegiac poem, entitled The Fate of Julia, 4to, London, 1769, is ‘sacred to the memory of Lady Jane Douglas.’ Among modern memoirs of Lady Jane the most complete is that by Dr. Fraser in the Douglas Book.]

H. P.