Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, William (1327?-1384)

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DOUGLAS, WILLIAM, first Earl of Douglas (1327?–1384), was younger son of Sir Archibald Douglas, regent of Scotland [q. v.], who was mortally wounded at Halidon Hill in 1333. Sir Archibald was youngest brother of the ‘Good’ Sir James Douglas, the comrade of Bruce. William, styled Dominus de Douglas (Exchequer Records, i. 396) in 1331, probably the son of ‘Good’ Sir James, who also lost his life at Halidon Hill, had succeeded his father in the Douglas estates, but, holding them a very short time, was succeeded by his uncle Hugh, lord of Douglas. Hugh, a canon of Glasgow, resigned the estates personally to David II at Aberdeen on 20 May 1342, by whom they were regranted under an entail, on 29 May following, in favour of William, son and heir of the late Sir Archibald, and his heirs male, whom failing to Sir William Douglas (knight of Liddesdale) and his heirs male, whom failing to Archibald a (natural) son of ‘Good’ Sir James and his heirs male.

The existence of William Dominus de Douglas, the legitimate son of Sir James, has been doubted, and is not mentioned by Hume of Godscroft in his history of the family, but appears proved by the entry in the Exchequer Records, which can hardly be a mistake as to the name, and by the reference to him in Knighton, and the ‘Scala Chronica’ of Gray, English contemporary historians. It is, however, singular that Hugh, lord of Douglas, is described in the ‘Charter of Resignation’ by David II as brother and heir of the late Sir James, omitting all reference to his nephew William; but this may be accounted for by the supposition that William, who survived his father only three years, never made up a title to the estates. Sir William of Douglas, the subject of the present notice, returned to Scotland from France, where he had been trained in arms, about 1348, and the Douglas estates being then in the hands of the English, he proceeded to recover them. He expelled the English from Douglasdale, and, aided by his maternal uncle, Sir David Lindsay of Crawford, took Roxburgh Castle from Sir John Copland, its English governor, thereby restoring the forest of Ettrick to the Scottish allegiance. In 1351 he was one of the commissioners who treated for the release of David II, and three years later took part in the treaty of Newcastle, by which the king's ransom was finally arranged. In the previous year he had reduced Galloway, and forced Duncan Macdonell and its other chiefs to take the oath of allegiance to the guardians of Scotland. In August 1353, probably on his return from Galloway, he slew his godfather and kinsman, the Knight of Liddesdale, at Galswood (now William's Hope) in Ettrick Forest. The Knight of Liddesdale had intrigued with the English king, Edward III, and this, combined perhaps with some family feud, but not the favour (sung of in the famous ballad) shown by the countess for the knight (for Sir William was not yet an earl), was the probable cause of the encounter. The charter, 12 Feb. 1354, soon after granted by David II to Sir William, includes Douglasdale, Lauderdale, Eskdale, the forest of Selkirk, Yarrow, and Tweed, the town castle and forest of Jedburgh, the barony of Buittle in Galloway, and Polbuthy in Moffatdale, all of which had been held by his uncle Sir James, and also Liddesdale with its castle, the baronies of Kirkandrews in Dumfries, Cairns, Drumlanrig, West Calder, and certain lands in Aberdeenshire, with the leadership of the men of Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, and the upper ward of Clyde, which are described as lately held by his father Sir Archibald. Liddesdale had been possessed by the Knight of Liddesdale, and a dispute with reference to it may have been the cause of the family feud which led to the death of that gallant warrior. The ‘Chronicle’ of Pluscarden expressly assigns the desire to possess Liddesdale as one of the causes of the murder of the Knight of Liddesdale. But the story that the Knight of Liddesdale had starved Sir Andrew Moray, his rival for the office of sheriff of Dumfries, to death in the castle of the Hermitage, seems to be unsubstantiated. Douglas took part in the raid on the English border, incited by the French king, and, along with Eugene de Garancières, defeated Sir Thomas Gray at the skirmish of Nisbet in 1355. In January 1356 Edward III recovered Berwick, which the Earls of Angus and March had seized the previous year, but when he advanced on Lothian Douglas succeeded in delaying him by negotiations until the Scotch had removed their goods in the line of his march, so that his retaliatory raid, which resulted chiefly in the destruction of abbeys and churches, got the name of the Burnt Candlemas. In April Douglas made a six months' truce with the Earl of Northampton, the English warden, and took advantage of it to visit France, where he was present and narrowly escaped capture at Poictiers. After the peace concluded in consequence of that battle, Douglas was appointed, along with the Earl of March, warden of the east marches, and on 26 Jan. 1357–8 he was created by David II, at last released from his long captivity, Earl of Douglas. Between 1358 and 1361 he made frequent visits to England, which were probably due to his being one of the hostages for the king's ransom, and the negotiations for a more permanent peace between the two countries. At other times he appears to have been in attendance on the king, from whom he received a grant of the office of sheriff of Lanark, and possibly also of justiciary of Lothian, an office he certainly held in the next reign. In 1363 a dispute arose between the king and Douglas, who was supported by the Steward and the Earl of March, relative to the application of the money raised for payment of the king's ransom, which these nobles accused David of appropriating. Douglas took up arms against the king, but after a skirmish at Inverkeithing he was defeated at Lanark, and obliged in May 1363 to submit. In Nov. 1363 Douglas went to London with King David, who with Douglas's assent negotiated with Edward III arrangements, whereby on certain terms the English king or his son Lionel should eventually succeed to the Scottish throne. Douglas was not at Scone in March 1364, when David's plan was laid before the Scottish parliament and rejected (LANG, Hist. of Scotland, 1899). A statement of Bower, amplified by Hume of Godscroft, that a claim was a few years later, in the beginning of Robert II's reign, put forward to the crown by Douglas for himself, through an alleged descent from Dornagilla, daughter of the Red Comyn, and niece of Baliol, is refuted by his genealogy, for his mother was Beatrice, daughter of Sir Alexander Lindsay of Crawford, and not Dornagilla (Burnett, Preface to Exchequer Records, iii. lxxxviii).

During the remainder of David II's reign Douglas, though frequently absent from parliaments and councils held with reference to raising the money for the king's ransom, took part with the patriotic nobles who, by great personal sacrifices, insisted that the ransom should be paid, and counteracted David's intrigues with England by stringent provisions for the control of the king. He also opposed David's imprudent second marriage to Margaret Drummond of Logie; and although a letter dated 26 July 1366 was signed by him as well as the Steward and the Earl of March consenting to the gift of Annandale to her stepson, John of Logie, this must have been a reluctant or nominal approval merely. In 1369 he accompanied the king in an expedition against John of the Isles, who submitted at Inverness on 15 Nov. On the death of David II in 1371 Douglas was present at the coronation of Robert II at Scone, to whom he swore homage on 27 March, and he also joined in the settlement of the succession on the king's eldest son, John, earl of Carrick, afterwards Robert III. About this time he was made justiciary south of the Forth, and shortly after acquired the castle of Tantallon and the port of North Berwick, which had formerly belonged to the Earl of Fife. His son James, who succeeded him, was, soon after Robert's accession, betrothed to Isabel, the king's daughter, and the marriage followed in 1373. In the following year we find traces of the earl's activity in a dispute with the abbey of Melrose as to the patronage of Cavers, in procuring the release of Mercer, a merchant of Perth taken prisoner on the coast of Northumberland, and in various transactions as warden of the marches. About 1374 he added to his already vast possessions in the south the territory and title of the Earl of Mar, through his wife Margaret, sister of Thomas, thirteenth earl of Mar, to whom he had been married in 1357. She was his only wife, for the other two assigned to him by Hume of Godscroft have no place in authentic records. The countess survived him, and the hypothesis of her divorce is without foundation. It was keenly disputed in the litigation for the peerage of Mar between the Earl of Kellie and the Earl of Mar (Mr. Goodeve Erskine) whether the Earl of Douglas took the title of Mar in his own right or in that of his wife. But as no grant of the Mar title to him is on record the inference is that he succeeded, according to the custom of Scotland, in right of his wife, who was the heir of her brother, who died childless. This inference does not seem overcome by the fact that he is styled Earl of Douglas and Mar, not of Mar and Douglas, or that his seal gave the first and fourth quarters to his own Douglas arms in preference to those of Mar, which are placed on the less honourable second and third quarters. Although the Mar title was the most ancient, being the premier earldom of Scotland, it was natural that Douglas should prefer to retain that of his own family, which had been conferred on himself in the first place in his designation and arms.

The closing years of the earl's life were occupied with border raids. In one of these, related by Froissart, he defeated and took prisoner Sir Thomas Musgrave, the commander of the English force at Melrose, in an engagement which was the sequel of the capture of Berwick by the Scots, who held it only nine days, when it was retaken by the Earls of Northumberland and Nottingham and Sir Thomas Musgrave. The date of the capture of Berwick was, according to Walsingham, 25 Nov. 1378, which would place the engagement between Douglas and Musgrave in the end of that or the commencement of the next year. This appears the most probable account, although the Scottish historians, Wyntoun and Bower, place Musgrave's defeat in 1377, and assign the credit of it to a vassal of the Earl of March, and not to Douglas. In the spring of 1380 Douglas headed a more formidable raid into England, in retaliation for the invasions of the Earl of March's lands on the Scottish borders by Northumberland and Nottingham. His troops are said on this occasion to have numbered twenty thousand men, and after carrying away great booty—as many as forty thousand cattle—from the forest of Inglewood, and ravaging Cumberland and Westmoreland, Douglas burnt Penrith. He was afraid, however, to attempt the siege of the strong castle of Carlisle, and returned to Scotland. Though successful in its immediate object, this incursion cost the Scots more than they gained, by introducing the pestilence from which the English were then suffering. On 1 Nov. 1380 Douglas, along with the bishops of Glasgow and Dunkeld, and his kinsman, Sir Archibald Douglas, lord of Galloway, was present at Berwick, where John of Gaunt met them and negotiated a truce to last till 30 Nov. 1381. The young Richard II was threatened by the rising of the peasants under Wat Tyler. John of Gaunt, who was specially aimed at by the insurgents, was soon after obliged to take refuge in Edinburgh, where he was hospitably received and remained till July 1381. Douglas and Sir Archibald were sent to conduct him from Ayton, where he had met the king's son John, earl of Carrick, and prolonged the truce till Candlemas 1384, to the Scottish capital, and perhaps took part also in re-escorting him to Berwick. Between 1381 and 1384 Douglas, now far advanced in years, was constantly in attendance on the king, who, as usual in these times, was travelling over his kingdom. He is shown by various charters to which he was a party or a witness to have been at Wigton in September 1381, at Edinburgh in October, and later in Ayrshire, where he remained till the following spring. In 1383 he was at Stirling and Dundee, and on 18 Jan. 1384 at Edinburgh. Almost immediately after the expiry of the truce hostilities were resumed on both sides of the border, and Douglas received a special commission from the king for the reduction of Teviotdale, where many of the inhabitants still refused to accept the Scottish allegiance. His satisfactory execution of this commission was the last act of his life, and in May 1384 he died of fever at Douglas, and was buried at Melrose. Besides his successor, James, he left a daughter Isabella, who succeeded after her brother's death to the unentailed lands of Douglas and the title and lands of Mar. This lady married, first, Malcolm Drummond, brother of Annabella, the wife of Robert III, and, second, Alexander, son of Alexander Stewart, earl of Buchan. He had also two illegitimate children, George, afterwards first earl of Angus, of the line of Douglas [q. v.], by Margaret Stewart, sister and heir of Thomas, third earl of Angus, and wife of Thomas, thirteenth earl of Mar, and Margaret, who married Thomas Johnson, from whom probably sprang the family of Douglas of Bonjedward in Roxburgh.

[The History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus, by Master David Hume of Godscroft, London, 1644, requires to be corrected by the more authentic records printed in Sir W. Fraser's family history, The Douglas Book, 1887, and by the Exchequer Records edited by Mr. George Burnett, Lyon King-of-arms. The English Chronicles—Knighton, Scala Chronica, and Walsingham—the Scottish of Bower, the Continuator of Fordun, and the Book of Pluscarden, and the French Chronicle of Froissart, should also be referred to.]

Æ. M.