Douglas, James (1286?-1330) (DNB00)

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DOUGLAS, Sir JAMES, of Douglas, ‘the Good,’ Lord of Douglas (1286?–1330), was the eldest son of Sir William Douglas of Douglas, ‘the Hardy’ [q. v.], by his first wife, Elizabeth Stewart; for Barbour calls James, high steward of Scotland, his eme or uncle. He was probably born about 1286. When his father was seized and imprisoned by Edward I, he was sent to France, whence, after a three years' sojourn in Paris, he returned to find his father dead and himself stripped of his inheritance, which had been given by Edward to Sir Robert Clifford. He was befriended by William Lamberton, bishop of St. Andrews, who, while yielding to circumstances, was no friend to English rule. In this bishop's retinue Douglas visited the court of Edward during the siege of Stirling, and Lamberton, introducing him, prayed that he might be permitted to tender his homage and receive back his heritage. On being informed that the son and heir of his late prisoner, Douglas ‘the Hardy,’ stood before him, Edward commanded the bishop to speak to him no more on such a matter. Douglas and the bishop at once withdrew.

Bruce now assumed the Scottish crown. He communicated his intention to Lamberton in a letter, which the bishop read forthwith to his retainers. Douglas heard the letter read, and shortly afterwards sought a private interview with the bishop, to whom he expressed his eager desire to share the fortunes of Bruce. Lamberton gave him his blessing and a sum of money, and sent by him a supply to Bruce. He gave Douglas leave to take his own palfrey, with permission, of which Douglas took advantage, to apply force to the groom if he interposed to prevent it. The same night he rode off and joined Bruce in Annandale, on his way to be crowned at Scone.

On 27 March 1306 Bruce was crowned at Scone. In his subsequent wanderings in Athol and Argyll, and his retirement for the winter to the islet of Rachrin on the Irish coast, Douglas was constantly by the side of his king, though he sustained some wounds in an encounter with the Lord of Lorne. With the opening spring of 1307 they returned to renew the contest. Arran, then Carrick (the home of Bruce), then Kyle and Cunningham were speedily subdued, and transferred their allegiance from Edward to Bruce. Successive English armies entered Scotland only to sustain ignominious disaster. At the pass of Ederford, with but sixty men, Douglas proved victorious over a thousand led by Sir John of Mowbray. Thrice by subtle stratagem he overthrew the English garrison in his own castle of Douglas, taking and destroying the castle twice. One of these occasions is perpetuated in history with ghastly memories as ‘The Douglas Larder.’ With but two followers Douglas ventured into his native Douglasdale, meeting with a cordial welcome from his old vassals. Palm Sunday was close at hand, and the soldiers would attend service in the church. Douglas and his followers, in the guise of peasants, also attended, and made the attack at a given signal. The device was successful, notwithstanding the desperate resistance of the English soldiers. After the victory Douglas repaired to the castle with his followers, where, after feasting and removing all valuables, they gathered together the remaining provisions, staving in the casks of wine and other liquor, and, throwing into the heap the carcases of dead horses and the bodies of the slaughtered soldiers, set fire to the buildings and consumed all to ashes. The other occasion on which Douglas destroyed his castle is the historical incident on which Sir Walter Scott based his romance of ‘Castle Dangerous.’ In the work of clearing the country of the English, the remaining portion of the south of Scotland was assigned to Douglas, while Bruce went north to deal with the Comyns. Both succeeded, and then with reunited forces they sought out the Lord of Lorne in his own country, and inflicted upon him a severe chastisement for his treatment of them in their late weakness. They also made several destructive retaliatory raids into England, committing such havoc that town and country alike eagerly purchased immunity from their depredations for fixed periods at a high rate, one condition always being that the Scots should have free passage through the indemnified district to others further south. During this period Douglas had the good fortune to capture Randolph, Bruce's nephew, who was in arms against his uncle's claim, but who became immediately one of Bruce's bravest leaders. By his means a clever capture was made of the castle of Edinburgh. Douglas showed equal skill in taking the castle of Roxburgh. On the eve of a religious solemnity he caused his followers to throw black gowns over their armour, and, similarly clad himself, bade them do as he did. In the deepening twilight they approached the castle, creeping on hands and knees, and were mistaken for cattle by the sentinels. They managed to fix a rope ladder to the walls without being observed, and overpowered the sentinels and the garrison, who were engaged in feasting.

At Bannockburn Douglas was knighted on the battle-field, and had command of the left wing of the Scots. When the fortunes of the day were decided, he, with but sixty horsemen, pursued the fugitive king of England to Dunbar, though he was guarded by an escort of five hundred. After Bannockburn a desultory warfare continued to be waged for thirteen years, during which the wardenship of the marches was assigned to Douglas. He was dreaded throughout the north of England. He was called ‘the Black Douglas,’ from his complexion. His favourite stronghold at this time was at the haugh of Lintalee, on a precipitous bank of the river Jed, where natural fortifications gave a lodg- ment securer than a fortress. Thence he made raids, and numerous stories are told of his extraordinary prowess and ready inventiveness of stratagems. On one occasion, with but fifty men-at-arms and a body of archers, he attacked and routed a force of ten thousand English soldiers, under the Earl of Arundel and Sir Thomas Richmond. They had come provided with axes to cut down Jedburgh Forest, which they supposed afforded too much cover to Douglas. Douglas resolved to attack Richmond at a narrow pass on his route. The place is described as bearing resemblance to a shield, broad at one end but gradually drawing to a point at the other. At this point Douglas plaited together young birch trees, placing his archers in ambush on one side and his men-at-arms in concealment on the other. The English on their approach were greeted with a shower of arrows from one side, and before they could recover from their surprise, the men-at-arms rushed upon them from the other. Richmond and Douglas instinctively sought each other, but the English knight fell before the Scottish leader, who seized as a trophy of his victory the furred cap worn by Richmond on his helmet, and, cutting his way through the English ranks, disappeared with his followers into the forest. Another detachment of three hundred English soldiers, which had been guided by a priest to Lintalee, was afterwards destroyed. Shortly after this two other English knights, Edmund de Carland and Sir Robert Neville, were similarly defeated.

In 1317 the Scots recaptured Berwick, but after two years it was invested by an English army. As the besieged garrison was somewhat straitened, Douglas and Randolph, to create a diversion, made a most destructive raid into Yorkshire, in the course of which they burned and destroyed in that county alone between eighty and ninety towns and villages. An attempt was made to resist the invasion by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ely. They assembled a motley army of about twenty thousand men, including many ecclesiastics, and barred the path of the Scots at the small town of Mitton on the Swale, about twelve miles north of York. But these raw levies were no match for the disciplined ranks of the Scots, and the slaughter among them which followed is known in history as ‘The Chapter of Mitton,’ in allusion to the vast number of ecclesiastics slain. The army investing Berwick was then withdrawn and marched southwards to meet the Scots on their return. But Douglas anticipated their action, and by taking a new route reached Scotland unmolested.

Another expedition under Edward II, nearly equal in numbers and splendour of equipment to that of 1314, entered Scotland in 1322. The country was laid waste, and retreat was enforced by starvation. As warden of the marches Douglas did what he could to accelerate the departure, and Bruce, entering England on the west, laid siege to Norham. When the English army crossed the border Douglas joined Bruce, and with united forces they pursued the English host through Northumberland and Durham into Yorkshire, where they found it resting at Biland Abbey, between Thirsk and Malton, and protected by a narrow pass. Douglas volunteered to take the pass, and did so successfully, whereupon the English army retreated.

When Edward III again threatened hostilities, the Scots at once led an army into England. Douglas was in command, ably assisted by Randolph, now earl of Moray, and Donald, earl of Mar. Through Northumberland, Weardale, and Westmoreland the track of the Scots was plainly traceable by their devastation; but the English army, commanded by Edward III, could not so much as obtain a glimpse of the enemy. He endeavoured to intercept the Scots by taking a post at Heyden Bridge, on the Tyne. An English knight, Sir Thomas de Rokeby, was taken prisoner by the Scottish outposts while scouting, and sent back with the news that the Scots were equally ignorant of the English position and awaited them upon a hill in Weardale. As the English had fifty thousand, to twenty thousand Scots, Douglas refused to attack, in spite of Randolph's importunities, while his own position was too strong for an assault. After some successful skirmishes Douglas moved to another strong position in Stanhope Park. The English followed, and Douglas, in a night attack with five hundred horsemen, surprised the camp and nearly seized Edward in his tent. Douglas at last retreated, deceiving the English by leaving camp-fires burning, and crossing a dangerous morass by strewing it with branches. Pursuit was hopeless. Edward dismissed his army, and peace soon followed.

One of the conditions of this peace was the restoration to Douglas of all the lands in England which had belonged to his father. These were duly returned to him. His king had from time to time bestowed on him extensive estates and baronies in the south of Scotland. He also received what is known as the ‘Emerald charter,’ which was not a gift of lands, but a grant of the criminal jurisdiction of all his lands, with immunity to himself and tenants from existing feudal services, and obtained its name from the mode of investiture adopted by the king—the taking an emerald ring from his own finger and placing it upon that of his heroic subject. Another presentation which Bruce made to Douglas, it is said on his deathbed, was a large two-handed sword, which is still a treasured heirloom at Douglas Castle. It has inscribed upon it four lines of verse eulogising the Douglases, and a drawing of it is given in ‘The Douglas Book,’ by Dr. William Fraser, C.B.

Bruce, when dying, was concerned that he had not fulfilled a vow he had made to go as a crusader to the Holy Land, and he desired, as a pledge of his good faith, to send his heart thither. Douglas, ‘tender and true,’ as Holland, in his ‘Buke of the Howlat,’ describes him, vowed to fulfil his sovereign's dying wish; and, after Bruce's death, having received his heart, encased in a casket of gold, Douglas set out on his mission. After sailing to Flanders he proceeded to Spain, where he offered his services to Alfonso, king of Castile and Leon, who was at war with the Saracen king of Granada. A battle took place on the plains of Andalusia, and victory had declared for Alfonso. But Douglas and a few of his comrades pursued the Moors too far, who turned on their enemies. Douglas was in no personal danger, but observing his countryman, Sir William Sinclair of Roslin, sorely beset, dashed in to his assistance and was slain. Other accounts say that he fell in the thick of the fight, when, owing to an untimely charge, he was not supported by the Spaniards, and that to stimulate his courage he took the casket with the Bruce's heart from his breast where he wore it, and, casting it afar into the ranks of the enemy, exclaimed, ‘Onward as thou wert wont, Douglas will follow thee,’ and rushing into their midst was soon borne down and slain. Some also add that he was at this time on his way home from the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, after presenting the Bruce's heart there. It is, however, generally agreed that the battle in which he fell was fought on 25 Aug. 1330. His remains were brought to Scotland and interred in the church of St. Bride's in his native valley, where his natural son, Archibald, afterwards third earl of Douglas [q. v.], erected a monument to his memory, which still exists. The ‘Good’ Sir James was married and left a lawful son who inherited his estates, William, lord of Douglas, but he was slain in 1333 at the battle of Halidon.

Barbour describes the personal appearance of Douglas from the testimony of those who had seen the warrior. He was of a commanding stature, broad-shouldered and large-boned, but withal well formed. His frank and open countenance was of a tawny hue, with locks of raven blackness. He somewhat lisped in his speech. Naturally courteous and gentle, he was beloved by his countrymen; while to his enemies in warfare he was a terror, though even from them his prudent, wise, and successful leadership extorted open praise.

[Barbour's Bruce; Scalacronica; Trivet's Annals; Chronicon de Lanercost; Chronicon Walteri de Hemingburgh; Palgrave's Documents and Records; Fœdera; Acts of Parliaments of Scotland; Rotulæ Scotiæ; Munimenta de Melros; Walsingham's Historia; Froissart's Chronicles; Priory of Coldingham (Surtees Soc.); Hume of Godscroft's Houses of Douglas and Angus; Fordun à Goodall; Fraser's Douglas Book; &c.]

H. P.