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Sir William Alexander Poet

  • Name  : Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling
  • Born  : c. 1567
  • Died  : 1640
  • Category  : Poets
  • Finest Moment : Foundation of Nova Scotia, in 1621

Born at Menstrie Castle, Clackmannanshire, Alexander made the Grand Tour of Europe as tutor to Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, and about 1602 became tutor to Prince Henry, son of James VI. When James VI became James I of England in 1603, with the Union of the Crowns, Alexander moved to London, becoming knighted in 1609.

He wrote his best poetic work in 1604, Aurora, a sonnet sequence, and perhaps better than the later tragedies he wrote such as the massive Doomsday in 1614, though this last at least prompted King James to choose him as a collaborator in translating the Psalms.

On the death of Prince Henry in 1612 he was attached as a courtier to the household of Prince Charles. His career in things Scottish continued to advance apace, and in 1621, as a favour, he was granted north-western Newfoundland. He abandoned that territory though, and was given a much larger area north of the Sainte-Croix River, what is now Nova Scotia.

Exploratory parties set out to colonise this area in 1622 and 1623, but it was not until 1629 that the first settlement was established. The French meanwhile were challenging Scottish rights to Nova Scotia, and war broke out, with Alexander's son leading reinforcements. In 1629 France and England agreed on the Treaty of Susa, and Alexander had to surrender Nova Scotia. Scottish settlers were ordered to withdraw in 1631, leaving Alexander in debt.

He was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1626 until his death, and remained a firm Royalist, which naturally made him unpopular in Scotland. He was created Viscount of Stirling and Lord Alexander of Tullibody in 1630, and Earl of Stirling, Viscount of Canada, and Lord Alexander of Tullibody (again) in 1633. He wrote several tragedies, including one entitled Julius Caesar, in 1607. It is safe to say that, as with other Scottish talents, the Union of the Crowns destroyed the unique culture which had been nourished at Holyrood. Alexander wrote in English, a strange language to him, and as such he could never be as good as the English poets around him.

He died a bankrupt, In London, on 12 February 1640. Menstrie Castle still survives, in part.

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