James Stuart

Court Case 1822, June 10 and 11.
JAMES STUART (accused)
Before the High Court of Judiciary at Edinburgh, JAMES STUART, younger , of Dunearn, Fife, was charged with the murder of Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, Ayr, by engaging him in a duel at Balbarton, near Kirkcaldy, on the 26th March. Stuart was defended by Jeffrey, Moncrieff,and Cockburn, the greatest advocates then at the Scots Bar. On account of a scurrilous Whig song which had appeared in the “Sentinel,” differences had arisen between the two parties, and it was therefore arranged to settle the dispute by means of a duel.
A sequestered hollow on Balbarton was chosen. It was not far distant from Sir Alexander’s residence at Balmuto. The distance measured was twelve paces from station to station, and the opponents took up their positions and received the pistols from their seconds. The word of command was given, and the pistol shots rang out, with the result that Sir Alexander lay prostrate on the ground while Stuart was unhurt. Sir Alexander was removed to Balmuto, where he died a few hours later. Stuart fled to France, but at length returned and stood trial. In addition to the charge of murder it was also libelled that the prisoner conceived malice and illwill towards the deceased. Evidence was led and the Lord Advocate addressed the Jury.
Mr Jeffrey, in a powerful speech, said that it was not disputed that a duel had taken place, but that the provocation received was more than sufficient for fighting a duel. The law on the subject was carefully presented to the jury by the Lord Justice Clerk, who said that no man, whatever his grievance, had the right to engage another in a duel. The trend of his Lordship’s remarks was, however, not favourable to the accused. The jury, without retiring, after a few minutes’ consultation, gave their verdict viva voce by their Chancellor, Sir John Hope of Craighall, Bart., finding the prisoner not guilty.
The trial excited much interest among higher circles in Scotland. Stuart was accompanied in the dock by his relative, the Earl of Moray, Mr Erskine of Cardross, and a number of other gentlemen. Several persons of distinction sat on the Bench with the judges, including Lord Belhaven and Stenton and the Honourable Henry Fox.
A doggerel rhyme was current in Fife at that time:-
“For justice stood on Stuart’s side,
Though he’s awa’ to France to bide;
And justice felled the Tory’s pride,
That morning on Balbarton.
Prisoner not guilty
Broadside entitled ‘The whole particulars of the Trial of Mr James Stuart
The whole Particulars of the Trial of Mr James
Stuart, before the High Court of Justiciary on
Monday the 10th June 1822, for being concerned
in the Fatal Duel on the 26th March last, when
Sir Alexander Boswell was mortally wounded, and
died the following day.
This day came on the trial of Mr James Stuart. indicted for shooting
Sir A. Boswell in a duel on the 26th of March 1822. Mr Stewart ap-
peared at the bar, attended by the Earl of Moray, Mr Erskine of Card-
ross, Lord Loughborough and a few more-friends. He plad not guilty.
Mr Cockburn made a most clear and able speech on the part of Mr
Stewart, in which he stated that upon a Saturday Mr Stewart was walk-
ing in the Parliament house, when he was addressed by person who
introduced himself as the private agent of Borthwick. He told Mr
Stewart that Borthwick was willing to give up the paragraphs against
Mr Stewart in order to screen himself. Mr Stewart went to Glasgow,
he did not know that Borthwick had no right to give up these papers.
If Mr Stuart had not accepted of that offer of ascertaining the author,
he would be again attacked as the mean fellow, &c. Mr Stuart had no
communication with Borthwick, he did not pay the debt for which he
was incarcerated. Mr Stuart discovered on gaining possession of the
papers, that Sir Alexander Boswell, a person whose talents he admired,
and who was distantly related to him; was the author of these libellons
paragraphs, Mr stuart made two propositions to Sir Alexander, one to
deny that he was the author of the song; he admitted of being the au-
thor, The other was that Sir Alexander should’ say he was sorry for it,
that it was a squib, and would be friends. Sir Alexander’s answer was,
I cannot submit to be catechised. A meeting took place, and both
parteis fired at the same time. Mr Stuart gave notice to the crown office
that whenever he was wanted he would deliver himself up.
A number of witness were examined, but the principal evidence was that the
Earl of Rosslyn, who had acted as second to Mr Stuart, and Hon. John Douglas,
second to sir Alex. Boswell.
Earl of Roslin.?I was acquainted with the late Sir A. Boswell, I was employed
in a message between them on the 25th of March last. I saw Sir Alexander on that
day, in consequence of a note which I had written to him, requesting permission to
see him; and I stated to him that I came at the desire of Mr Stuart . I also stated
to him that Mr Stuart had been in possession of several paper, some of which ap-
peared to be in Sir A. Boswell’s hand ,writing and having been sent by the post,
bore the post-mark of Mauchline and of Glasgow ; That there papers were address-
ed to the editor of the Sentinel ; some of which were original, and printed in that
newspaper : That one of them, particularly A song, contained matter most injurous
to Mr Stuart’s character, charging him with cowardice : That the similarity of
of hand-writing, together with the circumstance of the post mark, formed so strong
a presumption that these papers had been sent by Sir A. Boswell, that Mr Stuart
thought himself entitled to ask Sir Alexander whether he was the author of them :
I stated, at the same time, that if Sir Alexander could say that he was not the author
of those papers, such denial on his part would be conclusire against any evidence
The explanetion was particularly asked for the song. In two passages it contained
a direct imputation of cowardice. I examined these papers,….They were now pre-
sented to his Lordship, and he recognized them. I saw Mr Stuart, and proceeded
immediately to Mr Douglas, and stated that I was grieved to find that no alterna–
tive was left to Mr Stuart. Mr Brougham staled to me (at half past 8, at Dysart)
that Sir A. Boswell and Mr Stuart, had been bound over in the course of the night.
by the Sheriff of Edinburgh, to keep the pence within that county and city; and
that in consequence of that proceeding. it had been settled during the night, that
Sir Alexander and Mr Stuart should meet at Auchtertoul that morning, and desir-
ing me to meet Mr Stuart, which I did. I met Mr Douglas in the inside of the
coach, we had some conversation. We fixed upon a piece of ground, in a field by
the road side. Mr Stuart and Sir Alexander arrived in carriage, and got out at
the place appointed, (I believe 12 o’clock was the time.)…….Mr Douglas received
from me the measured powder for each, and the ball, and rammed them down.
There were but two pistols, of which Mr Douglas took one, and I took the other,
The ground was measured first, immediately after loading the pistols, at 12 very
long paces. The distance was intimated to the two parties by Mr Douglas, and by
me and it was agreed that they should fire sogether by our word. They both fired,
and Sir Alexander fell. Every possible assistance was afforded to Sir Alexander
by the medical attendants, and no time was lost in removing Sir Alexander to Bal
The examination of the Hon. John Douglas was nearly the same as the above.
Mr Jeffrey stated that the evidence for the defender was closed : and the Lord
Advocate in a short but distinct speech stated, that he had considered it to be his
bounden duty to bring this case to trial. Mr Jeffrey made a very long argumentative
speech ; he spoke for nearly three hours. The Lord Justice Clerk commenced his
Charge to the Jury at three o’clock?A more distinct, candid, and important charge,
we venture to assirm, has seldom been heard within the walls of a Criminal Court.
The Jury chose Sir John Hope, Bart, as their chancellor , and after consulting for
a few minutes in the Jury box, the chancellor delivered an unanimous verdict of
Not Guilty- The verdict was received with loud cheers from without the doors,
and with marked approbation from those within.
The trial lasted eighteen hours, and was not finished till near five this morning.

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