ONE the Hillfoots’ most famous sons is the ‘Gudeman of Menstrie’ William Alexander.

A controversial figure, he became a courtier, poet and coloniser.

The Alexanders of Menstrie had been granted the lands and barony by the Campbells of Argyll in the 1520s.

Around 50 years later William Alexander was born to Alexander Alexander and his wife Marion Graham.

While still young, his father died and in 1580 he became heir to the Menstrie estate.

However, it fell to his uncle James Alexander, the burgess of Stirling, to raise and educate him.

He attended the Grammar School of Stirling where he became interested in the classics and was a keen scholar in a broader sense.

When he was a young man, it is thought he attended the University of St Andrews, or the University of Glasgow, and went on to study at Leiden, although his name does not appear on their records.

Being on the continent gave Alexander a thirst for travel and at Castle Campbell in Dollar where he was friends with the Argylls, the 7th Earl, Archibald, later asked Alexander to accompany him on his tour of Europe. Alexander had jumped at the chance.

In 1597, Argyll granted Alexander ‘the Five Pund land of Mains of Menstrie,’ and subsequently granted him all the Menstrie lands.

Argyll also introduced him to James VI, and soon the king and Alexander became close. It was around this time he recited his poetry for him, and James called him ‘my philosophical poet’.

His influence on the king grew and this helped his rise to power. He penned a long poem about Darius in 1603 which he dedicated to James and he was so pleased, he made him tutor and companion to his son Prince Henry.

Around this time, he met and married Janet, the daughter of William Erskine of Balgonie.

Alexander secured a royal pension of £100 per annum thanks to his discussions with the king about the recovery unpaid taxes to the Crown between 1547 and 1588.

Alexander believed he would receive thousands of pounds because he had come up with this idea, but was paid nothing, and James kept the money.

By this time the king had moved his court to London and, keeping Alexander close, he granted him a knighthood in 1608.

He had the finances to maintain his status and ran a silver mine in Menstrie. But, by 1616, the money and the silver had run out.

Notwithstanding, during the summer he still travelled back to his ancestral home in Menstrie.

IN 1619 Sr William Alexander of Menstrie had the unenviable task of preventing people in Scotland travelling to England in his role as Master of Requests, unless they were gentlemen.

Having been appointed to the Privy Council four years earlier, his reputation for helping the king covertly with one scheme or another spread through the court, and this led to him being disliked by many.

Around this time, Alexander conceived the idea of colonising in North America. On August 5, 1621, he was granted a charter from the Privy Council to execute his plan.

It granted him 60,000 square miles of land between Cape Sable and St Croix River – this was Nova Scotia.

He secured vast rights including mineral rights, taxes, the sale of land, and exemption from all customs in Scotland for seven years. His greatest achievement was the coining of money.

He also had power over the judiciary and therefore could make and change laws, grant charters and bestow honours. However, all of this came at a price, and from his own pocket the venture cost £6000.

With the scheme struggling to find people willing to go to what is now Canada, Alexander turned his attention to missionaries and the church. But, still, few took him up on the idea.

Six knights eventually purchased 6000-acre parcels of land and a baronetcy, but this led to angry demonstrations and with the Earl of Melrose at the helm, they protested to the king.

By this time Charles I was on the throne and he was having none of it. He sacked Melrose and appointed Alexander Secretary of State for Scotland.

In 1627, Alexander was appointed Keeper of the Signet which meant he had five seals in his care, with each signature to be paid for. This helped his finances.

A year later he secured the lands and barony of Menstrie, and Tullibody the following year. He donated money to the poor in Stirling where he received the freedom of the town and purchased his townhouse Argyll’s Lodging in 1629.

On September 4, 1630, he became Viscount Stirling and Lord Alexander of Tullibody and went on to design his own coat of arms. He also rebuilt and extended Menstrie Castle and bought Tillicoultry estate on July 12, 1634.

However, he returned to England impoverished, having overstretched himself financially, with creditors demanding what he owed.

On February 12, 1640, William Alexander died owing just £200. He was brought back to Stirling and buried. For more than 200 years he remained in situ until demolition works took place and his remains were scattered.