The Douglas Archives

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Whatever Happened to Lady Jane? A book by Karl Sabbagh

The truth about what happened to the beautiful Lady Jane Douglas in Paris in 1748 has never been established.  Did she give birth to twin boys in a bug-infested boarding house, or did she buy her two sons from poor French peasants to ensure that the distinguished line of Douglas survived in Scotland?  The exploration of this 18th century mystery took place in public over twenty years, culminating in a dramatic session in the House of Lords.  Combining, as it did, issues of sex, power, money, politics, and aristocracy, ‘the Douglas Cause’ was a fertile source of gossip and tittle-tattle.  Karl Sabbagh gets as near as anyone ever will to the truth, in a definitive account of a case which divided the chattering classes at every level from the burgers of Edinburgh to the English Royal Family.

Lady Jane Douglas was a woman who had everything.  Sister of the richest man in Scotland, she had intelligence, beauty, and a queue of aristocratic suitors.  But she preferred to live as a spinster until, at the age of forty-eight she married a man more than ten years older than her.  The question of what happened next was to hold the chattering classes of England and Scotland in thrall.  Lady Jane and her husband claimed that she gave birth to twin boys in Paris in 1748. By the time the Duke of Douglas died in 1761, a surviving twin, Archy, was eleven and stood to inherit his uncle’s vast wealth – provided he could prove that he was “born of the body” of the Duke’s sister.  But was he? Rumours that she had actually purchased 

her sons were promoted most vigorously by the family and guardians of the Duke of Hamilton, who stood to inherit if it turned out that Archy was an impostor.

The story has many villains and few heroes.  One man, a dour Scottish lawyer for the Hamiltons, devoted these years to an obsessive pursuit of evidence that would deny a noble birth to Archy Douglas by discovering whose child he really was.  On the other side, the Duchess of Douglas, married late in life by the Duke, and seen by many as a madwoman, poured the immense Douglas wealth into a team of lawyers who scoured Paris ten years after the birth to prove that Archy was indeed born to his mother at the age of forty-nine.

The eventual verdict in the House of Lords convinced no one. 


Karl Sabbagh's book is being published in June 2014, and will be launched at the Clan Gathering

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Comment by William Douglas on February 4, 2014 at 18:37

Confusingly, the book title has been changed to "The Trials of Lady Jane Douglas"

Making conections

The more information you can give about the people you mention, the more chance there is of someone else connecting with your family.

Dates and places of births, deaths and marriages all help to place families.

Professions also help.

'My great-grandmother mother was a Douglas from Montrose' does not give many clues to follow up! But a bit of flesh on the bones makes further research possible. But if we are told who she married, what his profession was and where the children were baptised, then we can get to work.

Maybe it is time to update the information in your profile?

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