William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling

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William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling

William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling (c. 1567 in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire – 12 September 1640) was a Scotsman who was an early developer of Scottish colonisation of Port Royal, Nova Scotia and Long Island, New York. He was the son of Alexander of Menstrie and Marion, daughter of an Allan Couttie.[1]

Early life[edit]

As a young man William Alexander became tutor to the Earl of Argyll and accompanied him abroad. At a later date he received the place of Gentleman Usher to Prince Charles, son of James VI of Scotland, and continued in favour at court after Prince Charles became Charles I of England in 1625. He built a reputation as a poet and writer of rhymed tragedies, and assisted King James I and VI in preparing the metrical version known as "The Psalms of King David, translated by King James" and published by authority of Charles I. James knighted him in 1609 and appointed him the Master of Requests for Scotland in 1614, effectively his private secretary. In 1615 he was made a member of the Scottish Privy Council.

Nova Scotia[edit]

Nova Scotia plaque on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.
William Alexander Monument, built of stones from his Menstrie Castle, Victoria Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia (1957)

In 1621, King James I granted William a royal charter appointing him mayor of a vast territory which was enlarged into a lordship and barony of Nova Scotia (New Scotland); the area now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and part of the northern United States. The creation of Baronets of Nova Scotia was used to settle the plantation of the new province.

He was appointed Secretary for Scotland in 1626 and held that office for the rest of his life.

Lord Stirling’s efforts at colonisation were less successful, at least in monetary terms. He briefly established a Scottish settlement at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, led by his son William Alexander (the younger). However the effort cost him most of his fortune, and when the region—now Canada's three Maritime Provinces and the state of Maine—was returned to France in 1632, it was lost. He spent his later years with limited means, and died in London on 12 September 1640. However Alexander's settlement provided the basis for British claims to Nova Scotia and his baronets provided the Coat of arms of Nova Scotia and Flag of Nova Scotia which are still in use today.[2]

Long Island[edit]

In 1630, King Charles rewarded his service by creating him Viscount of Stirling and in 1633 he became Earl of Stirling.

On 22 April 1636 Charles told that the Plymouth Colony which had laid claim to the Long Island but had not settled it give the island to Alexander. Through his agent James Farret (who personally received Shelter Island and Robins Island) in turn sold most of the eastern island to the New Haven Colony and Connecticut Colony.[3]

Farret arrived in New Amsterdam in 1637 to present his claim of English sovereignty and was arrested and sent to prison in Holland where he escaped. English attempted to settle at Cow Bay at what today is Port Washington, New York in 1640 but were arrested and released after saying they were mistaken about the title.[4] Following Alexander's death in 1640 eastern Long Island was quickly settled by the English while the western portion waited 40 years until the Dutch left.


Stirling also wrote closet dramas: classical tragedies titled Croesus, Darius, The Alexandrean, and Julius Caesar. His plays were published in several editions (1604, 1607, 1616, 1637).[5]


The Canadian Coast Guard has named the CCGS Sir William Alexander in his honour


  1. ^  Grosart, Alexander Balloch (1885). "Alexander, William (1567?-1640)". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 01. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 275. 
  2. ^ "Nova Scotia". Patrimoine canadien / Canadian Heritage. Retrieved 2 December 2008. 
  3. ^ The History of Long Island - Benjamin F. Thompson - Gould Banks and Company - 1843
  4. ^ Year book of the Holland Society of New-York By Holland Society of New York - 1922
  5. ^ Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923; Vol. 3, pp. 208-9.

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