The Stirling Myth
In order to clear the air of any illusions remaining from the groundless speculations of Raymond McKinley Imus regarding a connection between the Imus family and any of the various "Lord Sterlings" that have sprung up over the centuries, I offer here a summary of the history of that title derived from Cockayne's venerable Complete Peerage.
William Alexander of Menstrie, in Logie, county Clackmannan, Scotland, was the only son and heir of Alexander Alexander and his wife Marion, the daughter of Gilbert Graham of Gartavertane in Mentieth. He was born about 1576 and educated at the Stirling Grammar School, Glasgow University and on the continent at Leyden. He accompanied the 7th Earl of Argyll in a tour of Europe where he acquired some French and Italian.
In his early days William Alexander was an intimate of Alexander Hume and later formed a close friendship with Drummond of Hawthornden. He had literary aspirations and published A Short Discourse on the Gowrie Conspiracy in 1600. This was followed by four tragedies: Croesus, Darius, The Alexandrean and Julius Caesar, 1603-07, bound up as The Monarchicke Tragedies in 1604 and 1607. His poems, A Paraenesis to the Prince and Aurora appeared in 1604, and of his later works the best-known is the lengthy Doomesday (1614). In 1627 he was granted the privilege, for 21 years, of imprinting The Psalms of King David, translated into metre by his late Majesty James I, though mostly by William himself. A revised version of much of his work was issued as Recreations with the Muses in 1637.
From the Earl of Argyll, William Alexander had a charter of the lands and barony of Menstrie in 1605, having nine years earlier been infeft by him of the 'five pund' land of the Mains of Menstrie. This association with powerful Lord of Argyll and his poetical and other talents brought him into great favor at Court, where he became Gentleman of the Privy Chamber Extraordinary to Prince Henry by 1607, and he was soon knighted. In March 1613 he, with two others, was granted the right of working the silver mine at Hilderston, county Linlithgow. By king James I of England, he was made Master of Requests in 1614 and attended Parliament as such until his death. He became Burgess of Edinburgh in 1617, and Lord of the Articles in 1621.
In that year he was given by charter a grant of the whole territory of Nova Scotia for the purpose of colonization and was appointed hereditary Lieutenant General thereof by land and by sea. In November 1624 he was empowered by king James to divide that land into 100 tracts, later increased to 150, and to sell each, together with the rank of Baronet. He was abroad on the King's special service in 1624-5 when he attended the great jubilee in Rome. From king Charles I he obtained a renewed grant, or novodamus, of the barony of Nova Scotia and, in February 1627, a charter of the lordship of Canada, all ratified by the Scots Parliament in 1630 and 1633. He was also granted the Admiralty jurisdiction of Nova Scotia in 1627 and certain lands of Largs, county Ayr in 1629, where the town was erected into a free burgh of barony as a trading port for his lands in the new world. Sir William was made Secretary of State for Scotland in 1625 and Principal Secretary from 1627 until his death, as well as Commissioner for Surrenders and Teinds, and for the discovery of Papists. He was also a member of the Scots Council of War, Commissioner of the Exchequer and Counselor of the Association for the Fishing.
In September 1630 William was created Viscount of Stirling and Lord Alexander of Tullibody, and subsequently on the coronation in Scotland of Charles I in June 1633, Earl of Stirling, Viscount of Canada, and Lord Alexander of Tullibody, each title to be inheritable by his heirs male of the name of Alexander. In 1631 he was made Commissioner to superintend the coining of copper farthings, as well as penny and twopenny pieces called 'turners.' He became a Counselor for New England in 1633 and Commissioner for Foreign Plantations the next year. He was Joint Master of the Minerals (with his son John) in 1635. He accompanied the king to the north in the First Bishops' War and signed the Treaty of Berwick in 1639, and received a grant out of the rent paid by the beaver makers.
In 1601 he had married Janet, daughter of Sir William Erskine the Commendator of the Bishopric of Glasgow and known as the Parson of Campsie. They had four sons, William, Anthony, Henry, and John but the fortunes of Lord and Lady Stirling began to decline in 1632, when the English made peace with the French and surrendered to them, under the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, the whole of Nova Scotia and Canada, the grant to William notwithstanding. Nevertheless Lord Stirling continued to allocate both lands and Baronetcies in Nova Scotia until 1638, making over to his many creditors the moneys 'to be procured' from this source. Back in 1631 the Exchequer had given him a note for Â£10,000 for the satisfaction of his losses in New Scotland, but neither this money nor the proceeds of the sales of lands and titles was ever paid. The Earl Stirling died insolvent in February 1639 at his house in Covent Garden and was buried 12 April 1640 in Bowie's Aisle. Stirling Church. A burlesque epitaph on him circulated:
"Heir layes a fermer and a millar,
A poet and a psalme book spillar,
A purchessour by hooke and crooke,
A forger of the service book,
A coppersmith quho did much evill,
A friend to bishopes and ye devill,
A waine ambitious flattering thing,
Late secretary for a kinge;
Soum tragedies in verse he pen'd,
At last he made a tragicke end."
Lord Stirling's biographer, T. H. McGrail, says "Sir William Alexander adventured bravely, served faithfully, and lived his life intensely. If all his tremendous designs accomplished little or nothing, if the story of each of his enterprises is a record of eventual defeat, it is because he was rendered impotent by the hiatus between conception and execution, between the dream and the reality."
Lord Stirling's first son and heir apparent, William Alexander, was born about 1604. He was admitted to Glasgow University in 1618, and in 1623 his father was trying to obtain some preferment for him in his Majesty's service. He was made Commissioner, with Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, to act for his father in Scotland in the business of the Nova Scotia Plantation in 1626, and he was knighted that year at Whitehall. He became Burgess of Glasgow in 1627. The following year he sailed for Nova Scotia and planted a colony there at Fort Royal, formerly the French Port Royal, in September, returning to Scotland in November, 1629. The next year, as Commissioner to make a voyage to the gulf and river of Canada for the sole trade of skins, furs and hides, he wintered in Nova Scotia, arriving back at Dover in October 1630.
William was styled Master of Stirling, 1630-33, and Lord Alexander from 1633. He was Counselor for New England from that year and served on many important committees. In April 1635 he received a large grant of lands in New England, to be called the County of Canada, including Long Island--to be called the Isle of Stirling--which he colonized. Between his two voyages, He married Margaret, first daughter of Claude Hamilton, Lord Paisley. They had five children. Besides a son William, there were four daughters. Catharine married, as his 2nd wife, Walter Sandilands, 6th Lord Torphichen, leaving two daughters; Jean was living in 1644; Margaret married, as his 2nd wife, Sir Robert Sinclair, 1st Baronet of Longformacus, leaving two daughters; and Lucy, said to have married Edward Harrington, Page of Honour to the Prince of Orange in 1630. Lord Alexander died at the age of 34 of a fever, caused by the hardships he had suffered in Nova Scotia, 18 May 1638 in London and was buried in Bowie's Aisle, Stirling Church. His widow died in January 1660, aged 49, and was buried in the Douglas vault in St. Bride's Church, Douglas.
William Alexander, the only son and heir of Lord Alexander and Margaret, his wife, was born about 1632. He succeeded his grandfather as the 2nd Earl of Stirling in 1639 but died the following year. His uncle, Henry Alexander, was the 3rd but 1st surviving son of the 1st Earl, and thus the heir male in May 1640. The older uncle, Sir Anthony Alexander, Master of Works, had married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Henry Wardlaw, Baronet of Pitreavie, but died, without children and before his father the1st Earl, 17 September 1637 in London. Of the younger fourth uncle, John, we shall hear later. Henry's aunt Jean was wife of Hugh, 2nd Viscount Montgomery of the Great Ardes, and lived at Mount Alexander House, near Comber, county Down in Ireland. She was living in 1656 and is believed to have been buried in the Montgomery vault at Newtown.
Henry Alexander, the heir, was admitted to Glasgow University in 1625. In 1634 he was granted, with three others, the sole right to export goods to Africa for 31 years. He was Burgess of Stirling and Edinburgh in 1636 and Agent for the Convention of Royal Burghs.
Henry succeeded to the Scots peerage as 3rd Earl of Stirling in 1640 but to none of the paternal estates in Scotland, having declined service when charged by his father's creditors during an appraisal. He was living in England in 1641 and, as a delinquent, was assessed by Parliament at Â£1,000 in 1645, increased to Â£2,000 in November 1646. In 1637 he had married Mary, 3rd and youngest daughter and coheir of Sir Peter Vanlore, Baronet of Tilehurst, Berkshire. They had one son, Henry. The 3rd Earl of Stirling died before 11 June 1649. His widow Mary married, before 13 April 1654, John Blount, Lieutenant Colonel of the King's Regiment of Horse, and she died before 27 June 1660.
Henry Alexander was born about 1639 and was styled Lord Alexander from the following year. He was still under age when his guardians, at the same time as his step-father John Blount, petitioned for the grant of Nova Scotia to be continued to Henry in 1660. That same year he was engaged in a lawsuit regarding his mother's part of the Vanlore inheritance. In 1661 he himself petitioned for a confirmation of his inheritance of Long Island, and in 1663 engaged to sell his interest therein to the Duke of York for Â£3,500. This was not paid, but the Duke, by indenture dated 10 Nov 1674, in consideration of the 4th Earl's 'releasing all his pretence of right and title to the Colony of New York,' granted him a pension of Â£300 'out of the surplusage of the net profits' therefrom. By 1686 this was 12 years in arrears and was reawarded by the Lords of Trade and Plantations in 1689. Again nothing was done and as late as 1712 his brother-in-law and executor, Robert Lee, was still trying to get payment on behalf of the 4th Earl's younger children. In August 1678 one Michael Mallett was committed to the Tower for saying that "Lord Stirling is a rogue, Mr. Chaffinch another, and the King as very a one as either of them."
Henry married in 1663 Judith aged 18, daughter of Robert Lee of Binfield, Berkshire. They had 5 sons and 4 daughters. She died in childbed in December 1681 and was buried at Binfield aged 38. In 1683 Henry was married again to Dame Priscilla (Windham) Reynolds, widow of Sir Robert Reynolds, Solicitor General and Attorney General to the Commonwealth. Henry died 5 February 1690 and was buried at Binfield.
Henry Alexander, the 1st son and heir by the 4th Earl and his 1st wife Judith, was born 7 Nov 1664 and entered Eton in 1678. He was styled Lord Alexander until 1691 when he succeeded as 5th Earl of Stirling, Viscount Stirling, Viscount Canada, and Lord Alexander of Tullibody. He frequently voted (by proxy) at the election of Scots Peers. In 1690 he married Elizabeth (Styles), widow of John Hoby M.P. for Great Marlow, her cousin. She died aged 27 in October 1694 and was buried in Bisham, Berkshire. Henry was granted a pension of 200 from June 1733. He was then described by the Earl of Egmont as "an old gentleman of seventy years old, very covetous and rich in money, which will fall at his death to [his nephew] Mr. Trumbal." The 5th and last Earl of Stirling died without children 4 Dec 1739 at his residence on Englefield Green in Egham, Surrey, and was buried in the Lee family plot at Binfield near his aunt Jane and brother William. His will was proved 15 Dec 1739 by his sister Lady Jane Trumbull, widow, and his nephew, Robert Lee. By his death the issue male of the 1st Earl appear to have expired and the peerage became dormant.
Henry's 2nd brother William was born in 1665, died 3 months later and was buried at Binfield. The 3rd brother William was born in 1667, educated at Eton, married Mary (D'Oyly), widow of Christopher Smith, and died childless in 1699. The 4th brother Robert was born in 1673, matriculated at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford in 1693, and died apparently unmarried in 1711. The 5th brother Peter was born in 1677 and died an infant. The 6th brother Peter was born in 1678, became a Clerk of the Signet, and died apparently unmarried in 1729 in London and was buried in St. Anne's Westminster.
The 1st daughter of the 4th Earl, Mary, was born in 1669 at Binfield, married Capt. John Phillips, died in 1721 and was buried at St. Anne's, Soho. She left children, of whom the 2nd and 3rd sons, Robert and William, took the name of Lee in accordance with the will of their great-uncle Robert Lee of Binfield, who died 1735. Robert was executor to his uncle the 5th Earl and died without children in 1755. William represented his mother, Judith, at the proving of the will of her brother, the 5th Earl, in June 1760. He died childless in 1778 at York. The 2nd daughter Elizabeth was born in 1671 and died an infant. The 3rd daughter Jane was born in 1645, married Dr. Ralph Stubbs, and died without children in 1729. The 4th daughter Judith was born in 1681 and married, as his 2nd wife, Sir William Trumbull, Secretary of State, and died in 1742, leaving a son William (died 24 April 1760) whose own daughter and heir Mary represented her grandmother, Judith Trumbull, in June 1760. Mary was ancestress of the present (1949) Marquess of Downshire.
The story, however, is far from over. On the death of the 5th and last Earl of Stirling in December 1739, the issue male of the 1st Earl appears to have expired and the peerage became dormant. The title was, however, assumed 20 years later by an American claimant as the heir male collateral. William Alexander, the only son and heir of James Alexander, a Jacobite who emigrated to America after the unsuccessful rising of 1715. James became a lawyer and later Surveyor-General of the province of New Jersey and one of the Council of that province and of New York. William's mother was Mary (Sprott), widow of David Provost. His father James died before 23 Apr 1756 and his mother Mary died 18 Apr 1760.
William Alexander was born in New York City, was well educated, and like his father, an excellent mathematician and astronomer. He was associated with his mother as a merchant in New York, and in the early stages of the French and Indian Wars he was a commissary, aide, and secretary to Governor William Shirley. He accompanied that unfortunate commander to England in 1756 and defended him, the next year, as a witness before the House of Commons.
During this visit William Alexander was encouraged by representatives of Archibald Campbell, the 3rd Duke of Argyll, and John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, to claim the title in order to obtain possession of those lands in America granted to the 1st Earl. He based his claim to be the 8th Earl of Stirling chiefly on the deposition of two old men who affirmed his descent from John Alexander 'uncle of the 1st Earl' before a jury at Edinburgh. William further claimed that his father James, the 7th Earl, was 2nd son of David Alexander 'in Muthil', the 6th Earl, who was 2nd son of Alexander Alexander 'in Millnab,' son of John Alexander 'in Gogar', 2nd son of Andrew Alexander of Menstrie, alleged to be father of Alexander Alexander, the father of the 1st Earl. [There was in fact only one Andrew Alexander of Menstrie and he was great-great-grandfather of the 1st Earl. A John Alexander was 3rd son of Alexander Alexander of Menstrie, son and heir of this Andrew]. The Scots jury, however, on 24 March 1759, served William as heir-male of Henry the 5th Earl. On 9 Nov 1759, he offered his sponsors a half share in whatever he might recover from this scheme. And at the proving of the will of the deceased 5th Earl of Stirling in June 1760, William Alexander, together with William Phillips Lee and Mary Trumbull, petitioned king George II for (a) possession of that part of New England called the County of Canada and (b) Â£7,000 and interest 'agreed to be paid by the Duke of York to the 4th Earl for the purchase of the Islands of Stirling or Long Island'; alternatively that those lands in Long Island not hitherto granted by the Crown should be restored to the Petitioners, together with Quit Rents from all other lands already so granted.
King George II died in October 1760 and The Earl of Bute saw his protege, the Prince of Wales, crowned king George III. The Duke of Argyll died suddenly in April 1761 in his 79th year and William Alexander returned to the American colonies that summer aboard the captured French man-of-war, Alcide, which convoyed a fleet of transports and merchantmen to the West Indies, arriving in New York in October. William assumed the title of Lord Stirling, and wrote the following letter to the Earl of Bute: [ ]. But on 10 March 1762 the Lords' Committee on Privileges resolved that he had not fully established his claim and that he was not "to presume to take upon himself the said title, honour, and dignity." Nothing further appears to have been done about it.
William dismissed the Lords' decision and styled himself Earl of Stirling until his death. During the War of Independence he as appointed by Congress Colonel of a Regiment in New Jersey, Nov. 1775, becoming Brigadier-General 1 Mar 1776 and Major-General 19 Feb 1777. Though taken prisoner in Long Island 27 Aug 1776, he was soon exchanged and served with distinction throughout the war, being present at the Battles of Brandywine, 11 Sep 1777, Germantown, 4 Oct 1777, and Monmouth 28 June 1778. For surprising a British detachment at Powles' Hook he received the thanks of Congress, 24 Sep 1779.
William married in 1747, Sarah, 1st surviving daughter of Philip Livingston, a prominent New York lawyer, by Catherine (Van Brugh). They had two daughters: Mary married Robert Watts of New York, and Catharine married Col. William Duer of New York whose son wrote Lord Stirling's biography. William died of gout 15 Jan 1783 at Albany and was buried there in the Dutch Church, aged 56. His widow, who was baptised in 1725, died in 1805. The American Lord Stirling had four sisters: Mary married Peter Van Brugh Livingston; Elizabeth married John Stevens; Catherine married Walter Rutherford; and Susannah married John Reid.
But the story is still not over. Another claim emerged, although it was founded on forgery. This was the claim in 1825 of Alexander Humphrys-Alexander, formerly Humphrys, who alleged (but did not prove) that his mother was great grand-daughter of the Hon. John Alexander, 4th son of the 1st Earl. The alleged descent of the claimant and of the dignity is as follows:
This Alexander was the only surviving son and heir of William Humphreys, Merchant, of the Larches, Birmingham (died 1807) by Hannah (died 1814), only surviving sister and heir of Mary Alexander (died unmarried 1794), sister and heir of the line of Benjamin Alexander (died unmarried 1768), brother and heir of John Alexander, a Presbyterian minister (died 1743), said to be the only son of John Alexander of Templepatrick, county Antrim (died 1712), who was alleged to be only son (by a 2nd wife) of the Hon. John Alexander of Gartmore, 4th son of the 1st Earl, which last-named John (usually said to have died without sons) is stated to have married twice, to have settled in Ireland in 1646 and to have died there in 1666. The Presbyterian minister is shown in the claim as the 6th Earl, 1739-43, being succeeded as 7th and 8th Earl by his two sons John, 1743-65, and Benjamin, 1765-68. By the latter's death, it was stated, all the male issue of the 1st Earl became extinct and the right to the title devolved successively, under an alleged charter dated 1639 on his sisters and heirs of line, Mary, 1768-94, and Hannah, mother of the claimant, 1794-1814.
This Alexander Humphrys-Alexander was born 21 June 1783 at Birmingham, and, with his father, was a prisoner-of-war at Verdun and in Paris, 1803-14. He married in France in 1812, Fortunata, daughter of Giovanni Bartoletti of Naples. Having assumed by Royal license, 8 March 1824, the surname of Alexander after that of Humphrys, he thereafter styled himself Earl of Stirling and made claim to that Earldom, voting at the election of Scottish Peers 1825, 1830 and 1831. His claim to the title was under (an alleged) charter of Novodamus, 7 Dec 1639, whereby, failing heirs male of the body of the grantee, the peerage was to go to the eldest heir female (without division) of the last of such heirs male, and to the heirs male of the bodies of such heirs female respectively.
This the claimant was, according to his pedigree, though he was not heir general of the body of the 1st peer, the daughters of whose 1st son had left descendants. He was served heir male to his mother, 7 Feb 1826, heir general to his great-great-great-grandfather, William 1st Earl of Stirling, 11 Oct 1830, and heir special to that Earl in his possessions in Nova Scotia, 2 July 1831, of which he had seisin, 8 July following, at Edinburgh Castle. Four days later, as "Hereditary Lieutenant, and Lord Proprietor of the Province of Nova Scotia, and the Lordship of Canada," he offered for sale "1,000,000 acres of the most excellent land in New Brunswick". He also "created" his friend and adviser, Thomas Christopher Banks, a Baronet, 14 July 1831, with a grant of 16,000 acres of land in Canada. His two services as heir of the 1st Earl were, however, reduced by the Lord Ordinary, 20 Dec 1836, and he was indicted for forgery, 18 Mar 1839.
The forged documents were the cleverly-executed work of Mlle. Marie Anne Le Normand, a well-known Parisian fortune-teller, an intriguer at the court of Napoleon and Josephine, and an intimate friend of Humphrys' wife. She had fraudulently acquired some papers from her acquaintance, Comte Ernest d'Hanache, a captain in the garde royale and an equerry to the Duchess of Berry. The comte was the son of Comte Alexander-d'Hanache who had written a letter to the American Lord Stirling referring to the family connections between them. These documents Mlle. Le Normand adapted sufficiently to the cause of Humphrys to deceive him, though not enough to fool anyone else. On 3 May 1839, after a five days trial, the "excerpt" (for the original doubtless never existed) of the charter containing the specified remainder was pronounced unanimously to have been forged, though by a too lenient majority it was held "not proven" that the prisoner was guilty of such forgery. Mlle. Le Normand died in 1843 leaving a large fortune, the result of tact and industry in her trade. Humphrys died 4 May 1859 in Washington D.C., aged 75. His eldest son, Alexander William Francis Humphrys-Alexander, self-styled Viscount Canada, and his brother Charles, who was the go-between with Mlle. Le Normand, undertook further proceedings in this claim. Perhaps the story is not yet over. [based on The Complete Peerage]