Back then: the man who named the province “Nova Scotia”


There are hundreds of places in the world that take their name from Scotland, with towns and villages across the world all named after the original locations in Scotland. As far as I know, however, there is only one province known as Nova Scotia, Latin for Nova Scotia. One of the Atlantic provinces, it is the second smallest province in Canada and measures about two-thirds the size of Scotland and is home to just under a million people with its capital in Halifax.

Nova Scotia owes its name to a rather extraordinary Scotsman, Sir William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling, who gained great fame as a poet and author, politician – he was Secretary of State for Scotland for 14 years old – and courtier, settler. who dreamed of a New Scotland in the Americas, an adventurer who risked everything to try to make his dream come true, and who then lost all his wealth and reputation and died so heavily in debt that his creditors rallied around his deathbed when he died in that week of 1640.

Some 380 years after that ignominious death of September 12, 1640, Stirling’s reputation was somewhat restored, not only because he was a more than passable poet, but because the name he gave to his colony, Nova Scotia, has indeed remained this most beautiful of the Canadian provinces, is still a place where Scottish culture and the Gaelic language are very appreciated. It also has a flag which is the reverse of the saltire, a blue St. Andrew’s cross on a white background with a Rampant Lion shield in the center. It was all Alexander’s work, and the close connection between Nova Scotia and Scotland owes him much to this day.

Born around 1567, Alexander began as a member of a family which, although not part of the upper aristocracy, could claim certain claims to the nobility as lairds of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire. Later he would expand and build most of the castle which still stands today and is worth a visit in its location in the shadow of the Ochil Hills.

Little is known about his youth, but he received an excellent education, most likely by Dr Thomas Buchanan, nephew of George Buchanan, who was the tutor of King James VI and wrote a history of Scotland. Alexander then went on to become a student at the University of Glasgow, which has a striking image of him on his website, as he was both an alumnus and a benefactor of the university.

He didn’t graduate, probably because he didn’t need it as there was a job waiting for him. The Alexander’s were relatives of the powerful Campbell Chiefs, the Earls of Argyll, and it was decided that Alexander would accompany Archibald Campbell, the 7th Earl later known as Archibald the Grim, on a grand tour of the Continent. as a tutor. The count returned the compliment by presenting Alexander to the court of King James VI where he became a gentleman usher of the king’s second son and future king, Prince Charles.

Poetry was already becoming Alexander’s passion, and over the years he would write many poems, elegies, and sonnets, as well as longer works that were more stories than verses. He was quite a poet of his time, writing in a classical manner with many references to mythology and legend. His Tragedy of Darius published in 1603 established his reputation, and the timing was fortuitous because in that year King James ascended to the throne of England and took Alexander with him to London.

His poetry was not bad at all. Here is an example, Sonet 29.

I no longer envy Endimion now, Nor all the happiness his sleep has produced,

As Diana wandered the field, Suck’d from her sleep-sealed lip balm to her wound:

As I embraced the shadow of my death, I dreamed of much greater pleasure,

And gorged with Cupid’s sweet love drinks, Then like Jupiter feeding on a breath of nectar:

Now judge which of the two could be more prominent; He got a kiss but didn’t like it well,

And I didn’t have one, but I tasted this delight that Venus on Adonis once bestowed on me:

He only received the body with a kiss, And I the soul, which he lacked.

James VI and I promoted Alexander to the rank of Gentleman of the Private Chamber and Master of the House, which gave him considerable political power. After helping James translate King David’s Psalms, Alexander was knighted. James had already shown him favor, giving him income from the land around Menstrie, and in 1614 he was appointed to the Scottish Privy Council, in fact the government of Scotland.

It was at this point that Alexander formulated a plan to become himself and the king very wealthy. James gave Alexander a huge grant of land in the American colonies which were then disputed between England and France. Alexander quickly named the land Nova Scotia and, with the king’s cooperation, from 1621 he began to sell the titles associated with the new territory – there are still aristocrats whose ancestors bought their titles from the land today. ‘era.

He raised £ 225,000 for the King with his plan, and this continued under Charles I, who wanted Nova Scotia incorporated into the Kingdom of Scotland – so we could have had our own colony long before the failure. by Darien. But the French did not give up their claims on the territory and Nova Scotia was ceded to France and the few remaining settlers left.

Alexander had personally funded much of the failed colonial effort and was financially ruined, although Charles compensated him by making him the 1st Earl of Stirling before his death in 1640.

A century and a half later, shipments of immigrants from Scotland began to arrive in Nova Scotia, the land William Alexander named.

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