1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Douglas

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DOUGLAS, the name of a Scottish noble family, now represented by the dukes of Hamilton (Douglas-Hamilton, heirs-male), the earls of Home (Douglas-Home) who also bear the title of Baron Douglas of Douglas, the dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry (Montagu-Douglas-Scott), the earls of Morton (Douglas), the earls of Wemyss (Wemyss-Charteris-Douglas), and the baronets Douglas of Carr, of Springwood, of Glenbervie, &c. The marquessate of Douglas and the earldom of Angus, the historic dignities held by the two chief branches of the family, the Black and the Red Douglas, are merged in the Hamilton peerage. The name represented the Gaelic dubh glas, dark water, and Douglasdale, the home of the family in Lanarkshire, is still in the possession of the earls of Home. The first member of the family to emerge with any distinctness was William de Douglas, or Dufglas, whose name frequently appears on charters from 1175 to 1213. He is said to have been brother, or brother-in-law, of Freskin of Murray, the founder of the house of Murray. His second son, Brice (d. 1222), became bishop of Moray, while the estate fell to the eldest, Sir Archibald (d. c. 1240).

Sir William of Douglas (d. 1298), called “le hardi,” Archibald’s grandson, was the first formally to assume the title of lord of Douglas. After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander the Steward, he abducted from the manor of the La Zouches at Tranent an heiress, Eleanor of Lovain, widow of William de Ferrers, lord of Groby in Leicestershire, who in 1291 appeared by proxy in the court of the English king, Edward I., to answer for the offence of marrying without his permission. He gave a grudging allegiance to John de Baliol, and swore fealty to Edward I. in 1291; but when the Scottish barons induced Baliol to break his bond with Edward I. he commanded at Berwick Castle, which he surrendered after the sack of the town by the English in 1296. After a short imprisonment Douglas was restored to his Scottish estates on renewing his homage to Edward I., but his English possessions were forfeited. He joined Wallace’s rising in 1297, and died in 1298, a prisoner in the Tower of London.

His son, Sir James of Douglas (1286-1330), lord of Douglas, called the “Good,” whose exploits are among the most romantic in Scottish history, was educated in Paris. On his return he found an Englishman, Robert de Clifford, in possession of his estates. His offer of allegiance to Edward I. being refused, he cast in his lot with Robert Bruce, whom he joined before his coronation at Scone in 1306. From the battle of Methven he escaped with Bruce and the remnant of his followers, and accompanied him in his wanderings in the Highlands. In the next year they returned to the south of Scotland. He twice outwitted the English garrison of Douglas and destroyed the castle. One of these exploits, carried out on Palm Sunday, the 19th of March 1307, with barbarities excessive even in those days, is known as the “Douglas Larder.” Douglas routed Sir John de Mowbray at Ederford Bridge, near Kilmarnock, and was entrusted with the conduct of the war in the south, while Bruce turned to the Highlands. In 1308 he captured Thomas Randolph (afterwards earl of Moray), soon to become one of Bruce’s firm supporters, and a friendly rival of Douglas, whose exploits he shared. He made many successful raids on the English border, which won for him the dreaded name of the “Black Douglas” in English households. Through the capture of Roxburgh Castle in 1314 by stratagem, the assailants being disguised as black oxen, he secured Teviotdale; and at Bannockburn, where he was knighted on the battlefield, he commanded the left wing with Walter the Steward. During the thirteen years of intermittent warfare that followed he repeatedly raided England. He slew Sir Robert de Nevill, the “Peacock of the North,” in single combat in 1316, and in 1319 he invaded Yorkshire, in company with Randolph, defeating an army assembled by William de Melton, archbishop of York, at Mitton-on-Swale (September 20), in a fight known as “The Chapter of Myton.” In 1322 he captured the pass of Byland in Yorkshire, and forced the English army to retreat. He was rewarded by the “Emerald Charter,” granted by Bruce, which gave him criminal jurisdiction over the family estates, and released the lords of Douglas from various feudal obligations. The emerald ring which Bruce gave Douglas in ratification of the charter is lost, but another of the king’s gifts, a large two-handed sword (bearing, however, a later inscription), exists at Douglas Castle. In a daring night attack on the English camp in Weardale in 1327 Douglas came near capturing Edward III. himself. After laying waste the northern counties he retreated, without giving battle to the English. Before his death in 1329 Bruce desired Douglas to carry his heart to Palestine in redemption of his unfulfilled vow to go on crusade. Accordingly Sir James set out in 1330, bearing with him a silver casket containing the embalmed heart of Bruce. He fell fighting with the Moors in Spain on the 25th of August of that year, and was buried in St Bride’s Church, Douglas. Since his day the Douglases have borne a human heart in their coat of arms. Sir James was said to have fought in seventy battles and to have conquered in fifty-seven. His exploits, as told in Froissart’s Chronicles and in John Barbour’s Bruce, are familiar from Scott’s Tales of a Grandfather and Castle Dangerous. His half-brother, Sir Archibald, defeated Edward Baliol at Annan in 1332, and had just been appointed regent of Scotland for David II. when he risked a pitched battle at Halidon Hill, where he was defeated and killed (1333), with his nephew William, lord of Douglas. The inheritance fell to his brother, a churchman, Hugh the “Dull” (b. 1294), who surrendered his lands to David II.; and a re-grant was made to William Douglas, next referred to.

William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas (c. 1327-1384), had been educated in France, and returned to Scotland in 1348. In 1353 he killed in Ettrick Forest his kinsman, William,[1] the knight of Liddesdale (c. 1300-1353), known as the “Flower of Chivalry,” who had been warden of the western marches during David II.’s minority, and had taken a heroic share in driving the English from southern Scotland. Liddesdale had in 1342 lost the king’s favour by the murder of Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, whom David had made constable of the castle of Roxburgh and sheriff of Teviotdale in his place; he was taken prisoner at Nevill’s Cross in 1346, and only released on becoming liegeman of Edward III. for the lands of Liddesdale and the castle of the Hermitage; Liddesdale[2] was also accused of contriving the murder of Sir David Barclay in 1350. Some of his lands fell to his kinsman and murderer, who was created earl of Douglas in 1358. In 1357 his marriage with Margaret, sister and heiress of Thomas, 13th earl of Mar, eventually brought him the estates and the earldom of Mar. During a short truce with the warden of the English marches he had served in France, being wounded at Poitiers in 1356. He was one of the securities for the payment of David II.’s ransom, and in consequence of the royal misappropriation of some moneys raised for this purpose Douglas was for a short time in rebellion in 1363. In 1364 he joined David II. in seeking a treaty with England which should deprive Robert the Steward, formerly an ally of Douglas, of the succession by putting an English prince on the Scottish throne. The independence of Scotland was to be guaranteed, and a special clause provided for the restoration of the English estates of the Douglas family. On the accession of Robert II. he was nevertheless reconciled, becoming justiciar of southern Scotland, and the last years of his life were spent in making and repelling border raids. He died at Douglas in May 1384, and was succeeded by his son James. By his wife’s sister-in-law, Margaret Stewart, countess of Angus in her own right, and widow of the 13th earl of Mar, he had a son George, afterwards 1st earl of Angus.

James, 2nd Earl of Douglas and Mar (c. 1358-1388), married Lady Isabel Stewart, daughter of Robert II. In 1385 he made war on the English with the assistance of a French contingent under John de Vienne. He allowed the English to advance to Edinburgh, wisely refusing battle, and contented himself with a destructive counter-raid on Carlisle. Disputes soon arose between the allies, and the French returned home at the end of the year. In 1388 Douglas captured Hotspur Percy’s pennon in a skirmish near Newcastle. Percy sought revenge in the battle of Otterburn (August 1388), which ended in a victory for the Scots and the capture of Hotspur and his brother, though Douglas fell in the fight. The struggle, narrated by Froissart, is celebrated in the English and Scottish ballads called “Chevy Chase” and “The Battle of Otterburn.” Sir Philip Sidney “never heard the olde song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart mooved more than with a trumpet” (Apologie for Poetrie). The 2nd earl left no legitimate male issue. His natural sons William and Archibald became the ancestors of the families of Douglas of Drumlanrig (see Queensberry) and Douglas of Cavers. His sister Isabel became countess of Mar, inheriting the lands of Mar and his unentailed estates.

The earldom and entailed estates of Douglas reverted by the patent of 1358 to Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas, called “The Grim” (c. 1328-c. 1400), a natural son of the “good” Sir James. With his cousin, the 1st earl of Douglas, he had fought at Poitiers, where he was taken prisoner, but was released through ignorance of his real rank. On his return to Scotland he became constable and sheriff of Edinburgh, and, later, warden of the western marches, where his position was strengthened by his becoming lord of Galloway in 1369 and by his purchase of the earldom of Wigtown in 1372. He further increased his estates by his marriage with Joanna Moray, heiress of Bothwell. During the intervals of war with the English he imposed feudal law on the border chieftains, drawing up a special code for the marches. He was twice sent on missions to the French court. The power of the Black Douglas overshadowed the crown under the weak rule of Robert III., and in 1399 he arranged a marriage between David, duke of Rothesay, the king’s son and heir, and his own daughter, Marjory Douglas. Rothesay was already contracted to marry Elizabeth Dunbar, daughter of the earl of March, who had paid a large sum for the honour. March, alienated from his allegiance by this breach of faith on the king’s part, now joined the English forces. A natural son of Archibald, Sir William of Douglas, lord of Nithisdale (d. 1392), married Egidia, daughter of Robert III.

Archibald the Grim was succeeded by his eldest son, Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas, 1st duke of Touraine, lord of Galloway and Annandale (1372-1424), who married in 1390 Lady Margaret Stewart, eldest daughter of John, earl of Carrick, afterwards King Robert III. In 1400 March and Hotspur Percy had laid waste eastern Scotland as far as Lothian when they were defeated by Douglas (then master of Douglas) near Preston. With the regent, Robert, duke of Albany, he was suspected of complicity in the murder (March 1402) of David, duke of Rothesay, who was in their custody at Falkland Castle, but both were officially declared guiltless by the parliament. In that year Douglas raided England and was taken prisoner at Homildon Hill by the Percys. He fought on the side of his captors at Shrewsbury (1403), and was taken prisoner by the English king Henry IV. He became reconciled during his captivity with the earl of March, whose lands had been conferred on Douglas, but were now, with the exception of Annandale, restored. He returned to Scotland in 1409, but was in constant communication with the English court for the release of the captive king James I. In 1412 he had visited Paris, when he entered into a personal alliance with John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, and in 1423 he commanded a contingent of 10,000 Scots sent to the help of Charles VII. against the English. He was made lieutenant-general in the French army, and received the peerage-duchy of Touraine with remainder to his heirs-male. The new duke was defeated and slain at Verneuil (1424) with his second son, James; his persistent ill-luck earned him the title of the Tyneman (the loser).

Archibald, 5th Earl of Douglas (c. 1391-1439), succeeded to his father’s English and Scottish honours, though he never touched the revenues of Touraine. He fought at Baugé in 1421, and was made count of Longueville in Normandy.

His two sons, William, 6th Earl (1423?-1440), and David, were little more than boys at the time of their father’s death in 1439. They can hardly have been guilty of any real offence when, on the 24th of November 1440, they were summoned to court by Sir William Crichton, lord chancellor of Scotland, and, after a mock trial in the young king’s presence, were beheaded forthwith in the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle. This murder broke up the dangerous power wielded by the Douglases. The lordships of Annandale and Bothwell fell to the crown; Galloway to the earl’s sister Margaret, the “Fair Maid of Galloway”; while the Douglas lands passed to his great-uncle James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas, called the “Gross,” of Balvany (1371-1444), lord of Abercorn and Aberdour, earl of Avondale (cr. 1437), younger son of the 3rd earl.

The latter’s sons, William (c. 1425-1452) and James (1426-1488), became 8th and 9th earls respectively; Archibald became earl of Moray by marriage with Elizabeth Dunbar, daughter and co-heiress of James, earl of Moray; Hugh was created earl of Ormond in 1445; John was lord of Balvany; Henry became bishop of Dunkeld.

The power of the Black Douglases was restored by the 8th earl, who recovered Wigtown, Galloway and Bothwell by marriage (by papal dispensation) with his cousin, the Fair Maid of Galloway. He was soon high in favour with James II., and procured the disgrace of Crichton, his kinsmen’s murderer, by an alliance with his rival, Sir Alexander Livingstone. In 1450 James raided the earl’s lands during his absence on a pilgrimage to Rome; but their relations seemed outwardly friendly until in 1452 the king invited Douglas to Stirling Castle under a safe-conduct, in itself, however, a proof of strained relations. There James demanded the dissolution of a league into which Douglas had entered with Alexander Lindsay, the “Tiger” earl (4th) of Crawford. On Douglas’s refusal the king murdered him (February 22) with his own hands, the courtiers helping to despatch him. The tales of the hanging of Sir Herbert Herries of Terregles and the murder of McLellan of Bombie by Douglas rest on no sure evidence.

James Douglas, 9th Earl (and last), denounced his brother’s murderers and took up arms, but was obliged by the desertion of his allies to submit. He obtained a papal dispensation to marry his brother’s widow, in order to keep the family estates together. He intrigued with the English court, and in 1455 rebelled once more. Meanwhile another branch of the Douglas family, known as the Red Douglas, had risen into importance (see Angus, earls of), and George Douglas, 4th earl of Angus (d. 1463), great-grandson of the 1st earl of Douglas, took sides with the king against his kinsmen. James Douglas, again deserted by his chief allies, fled to England, and his three brothers, Ormond, Moray and Balvany, were defeated by Angus at Arkinholm on the Esk. Moray was killed, Ormond taken prisoner and executed, while Balvany escaped to England. Their last stronghold, the Thrieve in Galloway, fell, and the lands of the Douglases were declared forfeit, and were divided among their rivals, the lordship of Douglas falling to the Red Douglas, 4th earl of Angus. In England the earl of Douglas intrigued against his native land; he was employed by Edward IV. in 1461 to negotiate a league with the western highlanders against the Scottish kingdom. In 1484 he was taken prisoner while raiding southern Scotland, and was relegated to the abbey of Lindores, where he died in 1488.

The title of Douglas was restored in 1633 when William, 11th earl of Angus (1589-1660), was created 1st Marquess of Douglas by Charles I. In 1645 he joined Montrose at Philiphaugh, and was imprisoned in 1646 at Edinburgh Castle, only obtaining his release by signing the Covenant. His eldest son, Archibald, created earl of Ormond, Lord Bothwell and Hartside, in 1651, predeceased his father; Lord James Douglas (c. 1617-1645) and his half-brother, Lord George Douglas (c. 1636-1692), created earl of Dumbarton in 1675, successively commanded a Scots regiment[3] in the French service. William (1635-1694), created earl of Selkirk in 1646, became 3rd duke of Hamilton after his marriage (1656) with Anne, duchess of Hamilton in her own right. By the failure of heirs in the elder branches of the family the dukes of Hamilton (q.v.) became heirs-male of the house of Douglas.

James Douglas, 2nd Marquess of Douglas (1646-1700), succeeded his grandfather in 1660. His eldest son, John, by courtesy earl of Angus, raised a regiment of 1200 men, first known as the Angus regiment, later as the Cameronians (26th Foot). He was killed at its head at Steinkirk in 1692. The younger son, Archibald, 3rd Marquess (1694-1761), was created duke of Douglas in 1703, but the dukedom became extinct on his death, without heirs, in 1761. He was a consistent supporter of the Hanoverian cause, and fought at Sheriffmuir. The heir-presumptive to the Douglas estates was his sister, Lady Jane Douglas (1698-1753), who in 1746 secretly married Colonel, afterwards Sir, John Steuart of Grandtully, by whom she had twin sons, born in Paris in 1748. These children were alleged to be spurious, and when Lady Jane and the younger of the two boys died in 1753, the duke refused to acknowledge the survivor as his nephew; but in 1760 he was induced, under the influence of his wife, to revoke a will devising the estates to the Hamiltons in favour of Lady Jane’s son, Archibald James Edward Steuart (1748-1827), 1st baron Douglas of Douglas (cr. 1790) in the British peerage. The inheritance of the estates was disputed by the Hamiltons, representing the male line, but the House of Lords decided in favour of Douglas in 1769. Three of his sons succeeded Archibald Douglas as Baron Douglas, but as they left no male issue the title passed to the earls of Home, Cospatrick Alexander, 11th earl of Home, having married a granddaughter of Archibald, 1st Baron Douglas. Their descendants, the earls of Home, represent the main line of Douglas on the female side.

Authorities.—David Hume of Godscroft (1560?-1630), who was secretary to Archibald Douglas, 8th earl of Angus, wrote a History of the House and Race of Douglas and Angus, printed under his daughter’s superintendence (Edinburgh, 1644). He was a partial historian, and his account can only be accepted with caution. Modern authorities are Sir William Fraser, The Douglas Book (4 vols., Edinburgh, 1885), and Sir H. Maxwell, History of the House of Douglas (2 vols., 1902). See also G. E. C.[okayne]’s Peerage, and Douglas’s Scots Peerage; Calendar of State Papers, Scottish Series, The Hamilton Papers, &c.


  1. A descendant of a younger son of the original William de Douglas.
  2. On the murder of the knight of Liddesdale, his lands, with the exception of Liddesdale and the Hermitage forfeited to the crown and then secured by his nephew, fell to his nephew, Sir James Douglas of Dalkeith and Aberdour (d. 1420), whose great-grandson James Douglas, 3rd Lord Dalkeith (d. 1504), became earl of Morton in 1458 on his marriage with Lady Joan Stewart, third daughter of James I. His grandson, the 3rd earl, left daughters only, of whom the eldest, Margaret, married James Hamilton, earl of Arran, regent of Scotland, ancestor of the dukes of Hamilton; Elizabeth married in 1543 James Douglas, who became by this marriage 4th earl of Morton.
  3. Transferred to the British service in 1669 and eventually known as the Royal Scots regiment.