What do Sir William Alexander, Menstrie Castle, King James VI/I, Archibald Campbell 7th Earl of Argyle, Stirling, King Charles I, Victoria Park in Halifax, and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia all have in common? As it turns out, the simple answer is a lot!
One of the things that captures my imagination most when looking into our heritage and past, is when a glimpse of the arc of history comes suddenly into sharp focus and reveals the unexpected. It’s when we see seemingly random twists and turns of events come together, and in a moment of time and space, shape destiny in unforeseen ways. This is one of those times.
Let’s explore the characters and places and see how they are connected.
- Born 1577, in Castle Menstrie, Clackmananshire near Stirling, Scotland.
- Education: Old Grammar School at Stirling Castle Wynd, Tutored by Thomas Buchanan, (brother to George Buchanan, Tutor to young King James VI of Scotland), University of St Andrews and likely Lieden University in Holland.
- Due to his education and place as a young aristocrat in Stirling, he’s made Tutor to young Archibald, 7th Earl of Argyll. They later tour Europe and cement a lifelong friendship.
- He is introduced to the Royal Court in Stirling and young King James VI in 1601.
- In 1603, when King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England, William moves to the Royal Court in London and is made Gentleman of the Privy Council and Master of the Household
- He is appointed Tutor and Companion to King James’ son Henry.
- Henry later dies of typhoid and Alexander is appointed Gentleman Usher to young Prince Charles
- In 1607 he is granted mineral rights and establishes a silver mine in the Ochill Hills, near Menstrie.
- He is knighted in 1608 and made Master of Requests in 1619 to deal with the expanding international interests of the Crown in North America
- In 1621, King James grants him part of Newfoundland. This doesn’t amount to much but is later expanded to include lands to the south that Sir William names Nova Scotia. He proposed and is granted rights to sell hereditary baronetcies for a sum equivalent to 150 pounds sterling.
- King James IV/I dies in 1625 and his son and heir becomes King Charles and appoints William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling and Viscount Canada
- In 1626 Alexander is appointed Secretary of State for Scotland.
- By 1629 Nova Scotia settlement had begun with the creation of a few baronets.
- In 1630 he is given the title of Lord Alexander of Tullibody and Viscount of Stirling.
- By 1631 with only 85 baronets sold in Nova Scotia, England agrees to return much of the land to the French as treaty settlement.
- Sir William’s spending to keep up with the high life of Court, together with unrealized plans for the new world, begin to weigh heavily on his finances. He is deep in debt in spite of his position.
- At age 63, Lord Alexander dies in 1640 in London. In spite of having sold 109 baronetcies, he is declared insolvent and his property seized by the Town of Stirling
- Built by the Alexander family in 1560 as a family keep in the Ochill Hills, six miles to the northeast of Stirling Castle
- William Alexander’s father dies in 1580 and his education and the upkeep of Menstrie is given to his Uncle James, the Burgess of Stirling.
- A few miles to the east of Menstrie Castle lies Castle Campbell in Dollar. This is the Lowland residence of the Campbells of Argyle away from their primary one in Inverary. He meets young King James VI there.
- Alexander lives at Menstrie Castle until he moves to London in 1603, only to return very occasionally in the years ahead.
- After Lord Alexander’s death in 1640, Menstrie Castle is sold, eventually abandoned and falls into disrepair through centuries.
- In 1957 a local campaign was launched to save the residence core and a small portion of the courtyard. In 1962 two small main floor rooms were dedicated to the purpose of creating a mini-interpretive centre to honour the role Sir William played in the politics of his day.
King James VI of Scotland and I of England
- Born in Edinburgh in 1566, infant and only son of Mary Queen of Scots.
- 13 months later crowned King of Scotland in Stirling Castle
- The 7th Earl of Argyle, Archibald Campbell, introduces his friend William Alexander to the Court of King James and they establish a lifelong friendship
- February 1603, Battle of Glen Fruin between Clan Gregor and the Colquhouns
- King James VI immediately issues writ of proscription of Clan Gregor.
- March 1603 the crowns of Scotland and England are united in King James VI of Scotland and he becomes King James I of England.
- William Alexander moves to London to join the King’s Court and collaborates with James VI/I on a translation of the Psalms of David.
- 1617 King James makes his only return to Scotland
- In 1621 he grants William Alexander rights to settle what is now Newfoundland and Nova Scotia
- He dies in 1625 leaving his son, tutored by Alexander, to ascend to the throne as King Charles I
- King Charles I goes on to preside over the settlement of Nova Scotia with William Alexander as his Viscount Canada.
Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyle
- Born 1575, son of Colin Campbell, he was later tutored by William Alexander at Dollar Castle near Stirling. He and Alexander become friends and tour Europe together.
- Earning the name, Archibald the Grim, in 1594 King James VI gives him a commission to wage war “with fire and Sword” against the Catholic Earls, a task he pursues with vigor.
- Archibald grants Alexander title to all the lands of Menstrie and introduces him to the Royal Court
- Argyle is complicit in the instigation of the Battle of GlenFruin and subsequent efforts to punish Clan Gregor. In 1604 he is largely responsible for the arrest and public execution of Chief Alastair MacGregor of Glenstrae.
- He participates in the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603
- In 1619 he surrenders his estates to his son Archibald Jr. and announces his conversion to Catholicism. He is declared a traitor in Edinburgh and banned from his country.
- Argyle dies in London in 1638 having abandoned everything apart from his title to his heir.
Victoria Park, Halifax Nova Scotia
- In 1957 a quantity of stones from Scotland, from demolished parts of Mentries Castle arrive in Halifax.
- A cairn (right) is erected to Sir William Alexander and states, “His efforts created a New Scotland in the new world and led to the Royal Charter of Nova Scotia in 1621 and the creation of the Order of Knight-Baronets of Nova Scotia in 1624, the Coat of Arms of Nova Scotia in 1626, and the occupation of Port Royal by Scottish settlers in 1629.”
And so, connecting all these people and places we travel back to Castle Menstrie in Clackmananshire where it all started. In the two small rooms dedicated to telling the life and story of Lord William Alexander, we can begin to understand and celebrate the connections between Sir William, King James VI/I, Archibald Campbell, King Charles I, Menstrie Castle and Nova Scotia. One wall displays portraits of William, Archibald, and Kings James and Charles. Another shows painted armorials of the 109 baronetcies that were ultimately sold in Nova Scotia. The remaining Castle and walls may be modest, but the roles these men played in history celebrated here are significant and far reaching.
Sir William’s bold plans for territories in Canada left an indelible mark. Today we have a Province called Nova Scotia, an official coat of arms granted by HRH King James VI/I and an accompanying flag. There remain 100 baronets still in existence. And, perhaps almost magically, stones from Castle Menstrie are now permanently fixed in a monument in Halifax, while in the village of Menstrie, Scotland, the Nova Scotia Garden flies the flag of the Province known by that name in faraway Canada.
All of these things are the result of the dreams and vision of one William Alexander of Castle Menstrie.
Wayne MacGregor Parker