Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, Archibald (1480?-1540?)

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DOUGLAS, Sir ARCHIBALD (1480?–1540?), of Kilspindie, high treasurer of Scotland, was fourth son of Archibald Douglas, fifth earl of Angus, commonly called ‘Bell-the-Cat’ [q. v.] He was a close adherent and adviser of his nephew Archibald, sixth earl of Angus [q. v.], during the minority of James V of Scotland. With the young king Douglas was an especial favourite, and received from him the sobriquet of ‘Greysteel,’ after the hero of a popular ballad of the time. When his nephew obtained possession of Edinburgh in 1519, Douglas was made provost of that town in place of the Earl of Arran, with whom the Douglases were at feud. But in consequence of an order from the regent Albany prohibiting the holding of that office by either a Hamilton or a Douglas, he resigned the provostship in the following year. In 1526, however, when his nephew regained his influence, it was again conferred upon him, and he continued provost of Edinburgh until 1528. At this time, too, he was made a member of the privy council of Scotland, and held the post of searcher-principal under an act of parliament which forbade the carrying of coined or uncoined gold or silver out of the country to Rome or elsewhere, and which gave to him and his deputies the half of all such bullion for their fee, the other half going to the royal treasury. In 1526 he obtained the office of lord high treasurer in place of the master of Glencairn, who had been detected taking part in a conspiracy to remove James V from the custody of the Douglases. As treasurer letters were addressed to Douglas offering him a reward to promote the marriage of the King of Scots with a kinswoman of the Emperor Charles V. But before the missives arrived a revolution had taken place in the government of Scotland, and the Douglases had been declared traitors and outlaws. While legal proceedings were pending Douglas was ordered to ward himself in Edinburgh Castle, but of course declined. On one occasion, however, while sitting at dinner in Edinburgh with some friends, his house was suddenly surrounded by a troop of horsemen under the leadership of Lord Maxwell, his successor in the provostship; but Douglas succeeded in effecting his escape, and joined his nephew at Tantallon.

When his nephews were driven out of Scotland, Douglas, accompanied by his wife, Isabel Hoppar, described as a rich Edinburgh widow, and said by Magnus, the English resident at the Scottish court, to have been the supreme ruler in her own house, sought and obtained refuge in England, and received while there from Henry VIII a yearly pension of rather less than 100l. Some say he went thence to France, but at any rate he soon wearied of exile. Returning to Scotland in August 1534 he accosted King James while hunting in Stirling Park, and falling on his knees earnestly entreated forgiveness. James, who had observed his approach, remarked to an attendant, ‘Yonder is my Greysteel, Archibald of Kilspindie, if he be alive,’ and passed the kneeling suppliant unheeded. Douglas, though burdened with a heavy coat of mail, followed and kept pace with the horse until the castle was reached. The king entered, and Douglas, sinking exhausted by the gateway, asked a draught of water from the servants; it was refused. The king on hearing of the incident reproved the servants, and sent to tell Kilspindie to retire for the present to Leith, and he should there learn his further pleasure. In a few days he was ordered to proceed to France for a short season; he obeyed, but was never recalled, and he died in exile there before 1540. Douglas had a son of the same name as himself, who was also twice provost of Edinburgh between 1553 and 1565, and the family can be traced down for several generations.

[State Papers, Hen. VIII; Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Fraser's Douglas Book.]

H. P.