James Boswell (1740-1795)

James Boswell (1740-1795)

Lawyer, diarist and biographer of Samuel Johnson

James Boswell, ninth laird of Auchinleck, is best remembered for his biography 'The Life of Samuel Johnson' published in 1791. It was only in the latter part of the twentieth century with the recovery of his private papers and publication of his London journal of 1762-1763 that his qualities as a diarist came to light. The honest, frank and sometimes shocking insights into his personal, professional and social life provide an almost tangible description of his time. James Boswell was proud of his social rank and his ancestors. Thomas, first laird of Auchinleck, had been gifted the castle and barony in 1504 by James IV; and he claimed descent from a cousin of Lord Darnley (second husband of Mary Queen of Scots and father of James VI and I) on his mother's side.

Birth in 1740

James Boswell was born in the morning of 18 October 1740, the son of Alexander Boswell younger of Auchinleck and Euphame Erskine. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Edinburgh gives the names of three witnesses to the baptism which took place the same day.

Baptism entry for James Boswell

Baptism entry for James Boswell in the OPR for Edinburgh (64 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-1/22, page 167

Marriage in 1769

James Boswell married Peggie Montgomerie on 26 November 1769. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Stewarton (National Records of Scotland, OPR 616/5) and the Stewarton kirk session record give his surname as Boazwell.

Marriage entry for James Boswell

Marriage entry for James Boswell in Stewarton Parish Church kirk session records (19 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, CH2/854/1/13

Testament of James Boswell

National Records of Scotland, CC9/7/77 pp 194-208

James Boswell died on 19 May 1795 in London and was buried in the family vault at Auchinleck Churchyard on 8 June 1795. The will makes reference to his father's 'curious collection' of classical texts and manuscripts. The most famous of these is the 'Auchinleck Chronicle' written by a monk of Paisley Abbey in circa 1460 which contains contemporaneous information about the reign of James II, such as the murder of his political opponent, William, eighth earl of Douglas and a description of how his reign ended prematurely due to his passion for artillery. It is also the earliest example of prose written in Scots. The will also reveals James Boswell's notions of a 'feudal society'. He wishes the estate to pass from 'generation to generation' in a male entail. He also sees himself as a benevolent laird, granting thirteen year leases to 'several Tennants whose families have possessed Their farms for many generations' and goes further to 'Beseech all the succeeding heirs of Entail To be kind to the Tenants and not to Turn out old possessors to get a little more Rent'.

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