First name
Social status

Text source

James Duncan was born in Scotland. He migrated to Sweden where he became a captain of horse with P. F. de la Gardie's recruited cavalry regiment. Then he transferred to Klas Tott's recruited cavalry regiment in 1657(another source says it was under Paul Wurtz' command as Duncan released Wurtz from captivity by the Polish army). His promotion continued and in 1666, Duncan became a lieutenant colonel with Anders Planting Bergloos' recruited cavalry regiment. By 1668 he was lieutenant colonel with K. G. Wrangel's cavalry lifregiment along with his brother, David. Duncan earned a pension of 1700 Riksdaler. King Christian V offered him 600 riksdaler on top of his wage to enter Danish service in 1671 and both he and David took up the offer, although a James Duncan appears in Swedish muster roll as a lieutenant of a cavalry regiment in 1672. Four years later, hostilities broke out between Denmark-Norway and Sweden. Surprisingly, given his military background and social status within Sweden, he was made colonel and chief of the Fyn cavalry. In 1675 he recruited a company of dragoons and became major general of the Danish horse and undertook an operation in Mecklenburg with a company of 500 horse in August 1676. His dragoon company was recalled to Copenhagen from where Duncan was sent with a mixed force to Halmstad to take the garrison, during the Danish-Norwegian campaign there between July-August 1676. Duncan served with 6 infantry battallions and 500 cavalry at the siege of Bohus fort. Apparently his forces suffered defeat at Halmstad, with 1000 killed and two high-ranking officers captured. One source notes that the Swedish army under King Karl XI was victorious and Duncan and his wife were captured and placed in Eskilstuna. He did not spend long in captivity and he was exchanged for Swedish prisoners in 1677 (and a ransom of 1200 Rdl). Thereafter he became inspector of cavalry on Sjaelland and Fyn. He actively sought the governorship of Fyn in December 1677 with the help of Herman Mejer and, according to some sources, he got it. However, he was not long in that position and his wifes goods in Sweden were confiscated around the same time. This led to him travelling to Copenhagen to seek compensation. In April 1678 Duncan travelled to Norway to help defend it from the Swedes with a regiment of cavalry and some dragoons, landing in Marstrand on the 9th of the month. At Wenersborg he attacked a Swedish force in their left flank, but he was repelled. It was possibly during this attack that Duncan's horse was shot from under him. He managed to report back to Gylldenløve that the Swedes had crossed the river in force and were still on the move. After this Gylldenløve split his forces into three, one section of which Duncan took command of. At Wener he captured a troop of Swedish cavalry for which he was able to extract a handsome ransom. After February 1679 he took part in the campaign against Sweden with his cavalry and also in charge of 1,500 infantry. There was a month-long truce from 1 April. They managed to greatly trouble the Swedes throughout July and August in what is known in Norway as "Duncanskrig"(one source notes this phase being 15 Feb-14 March), particularly the destruction of Amål and Wermland through the use of scorched earth tactics. On his return to Christiania in November 1679, Duncan hosted a wedding in his house, but the identity of the bridal couple has not yet been established. The war finished soon after and Duncan returned briefly to Denmark in early 1682, though his home remained in Norway until the following year. He returned to Norway via Marstrand in March and received permission to cross Swedish territory back to Copenhagen in April - arriving in Copenhagen again in July. In 1683 he received the honour of being made a 'white knight' [Knight of the Order of Dannebrog]. The following year he became commander of the Holstein army. Duncan presented himself at the Imperial Court without royal permission from the Danish king and was he retired in January 1685 with a pension. Duncan and his wife returned to Gothenburg in Sweden thereafter, although James was dead by December and was buried in the city on 13 March 1686. He married Maria Sophia Maclean [SSNE 5428] daughter of Sir John Maclean [SSNE 1631] merchant and Baronet who owned land near her town of birth, Gothenburg. She was buried there on 20 September 1721.

Swedish Riksarkiv, P. Sondén, Militärachefer i svenska arméen och deras skrivelser; Swedish Riksarkiv, Adolf Johans Arkiv i Stegeborgssamlingen, 20 letters from James Duncan to Duke Adolf Johan, 1669-1671; Göteborg Landsarkiv (GLA) Förteckning över Landshövdingens i Göteborg och Bohus Län - Skrivelser till Kungl. Maj:t 1657-1840, 28/03/1682 and 18/04/1682; Swedish Krigsarkiv, Muster Roll, 1655/10; 1657/5,7; 1666/2; 1668/9. Also KRA/0386 Krigshandlingar 1672-79, vol.1, "den skotske ryttmästaren Jacob Duncans adventyr i Båhuslän åren 1676-1679", derived from Hirsch's work on Danish and Norwegian officers; J.C.W. Hirsch and K. Hirsch (eds.), 'Fortegnelse over Dansk og Norske officerer med flere fra 1648 til 1814 (12 vols. compiled 1888-1907), III, vol.2; I. Gulowsen, Gyldenløvefeiden 1675-1679 (Christiania, 1906), p.246; O. Ovenstad, Militærbiografier: Den Norske Hærs Officerer (Oslo, 1948), p.256; C. J. Anker, Norske Generalspersoner (Kristiania, 1885), p.79 - Here he is listed in the Norwegian rather than the Foreign officer section; D. Schnitler, Blade af Norges Krigshistorie (Christiania, 1895), pp.156, 166, 168-169; T. Riis, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Odense, 1988), II, p.86; W. Berg, Samlingar till Göteborgs historia Christina Kyrkas böcker,(Gothenburg, 1890), vol.1, p.501; N. P. Jensen, Den Skaanske Krig, 1675-1679 (Copenhagen, 1900), passim; A.F. Jensen, Kavaleriet: Norge, 1200-1994,(Trandum, 1995), pp.145-175.

Service record

Arrived 1655-01-01, as RYTTMASTARE
Departed 1668-12-31, as LT. COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1671-01-01, as MAJOR GENERAL
Departed 1677-12-31, as MAJOR GENERAL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1677-01-01, as OFFICER
Departed 1678-12-31, as OFFICER
Capacity GOVERNOR, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1678-01-01, as OFFICER
Departed 1683-12-31, as MAJOR GENERAL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1682-01-01
Departed 1682-03-28
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1682-07-01
Purpose MISC.
Arrived 1684-01-01, as OFFICER
Departed 1685-01-31, as MAJOR GENERAL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1685-01-01
Departed 1686-03-13
Capacity RETIRED, purpose MISC.