Our snapshot today is a legal trial that gripped the nation in 1822. James Stuart, Younger of Dunearn, was accused of the murder of Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck. Stuart, a keen supporter of the Whig movement and a member of the Society of Writers to the Signet, fatally wounded Boswell (a Baronet, ex-MP and poet) in a duel. The challenge of a duel was laid down by Stuart as the result of finding out that Boswell was the author of slanderous articles, including the ‘Whig Song’ (see images below,) that were published by Glasgow Sentinel.
The Glasgow Sentinel had a history of insulting Stuart who was a supporter of the Whig movement. This led to Stuart taking a libel case against both the Glasgow Sentinel and the Beacon, which was based in Edinburgh. When this song, however, was published Stuart was keen to find out who was responsible for this and managed to get manuscripts of the articles which showed that Boswell was the author. Stuart demanded that Boswell either apologise for or deny writing this defamatory song. Boswell refused and so to protect his honour Stuart challenged Boswell to a duel.
Neither party was planning for this duel to be deadly. Sir Boswell, who aimed the pistol in the air, fired to miss. Stuart, however, was not trained to use a pistol and so did not aim, thus hitting Boswell through the neck and shattering his collar bone. (See image below) The injury was fatal and Stuart fled the scene to Paris where he handed himself in.
James Stuart was found not guilty for the murder of Sir Alexander Boswell as the jury ignored the illegality of duels. This volume is able to provide insight into the political climate of the time as well as the processes of the law that allowed Stuart to go free.