Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, James (1426-1488)
DOUGLAS, JAMES, ninth Earl of Douglas (1426–1488), second son of James, ‘the Gross,’ seventh earl [q. v.], and Beatrix Sinclair, daughter of Henry, earl of Orkney, succeeded to the earldom on the death of his brother William, the eighth earl [q. v.], at Stirling on 22 Feb. 1452. During his brother's life a singular question was raised, whether James Douglas or his brother Archibald, earl of Moray, was the elder twin of the marriage between James ‘the Gross’ and Beatrix Sinclair, daughter of the Earl of Orkney. After an inquiry before the official of Lothian, who took the evidence of their mother, the countess dowager, and other worthy women, the priority of James was declared and ratified by a writ under the great seal on 9 Jan. 1450. The year before Douglas took part in a famous tournament at Stirling between two knights of Flanders, James and Simon de Lalain, and a squire of Burgundy, Hervé de Meriadêc, lord of Longueville. Douglas, twice unhorsed by the squire, who went to help his friends against the other Scottish champions, was on the point of resuming the fight, but the king gave the order to cease fighting. One account of the contest states that some followers of Douglas, who had come to the tournament with three thousand men, had threatened to interfere and turn the duel into a general medley. In the year of jubilee, 1450, Douglas accompanied his brother to Rome, being, according to Pitscottie, ‘a man of singular erudition, and well versed in divine letters, brought up long time in Paris at the schools, and looked for the bishopric of Dunkeld, and thereafter for the earldom of Dunkeld,’ but this account is little consistent with the other facts of his life. Douglas next appears in 1451 as a prominent actor in the intrigues of the family with the English court. According to an obscure and fragmentary passage in the ‘Short Chronicle of James II,’ as soon as he heard of a truce between the two countries being made, ‘he posted till London in-continent and quharfor men wist nocht redlye bot he was thar with the king of Yngland lang tyme and was meekle made of.’ He returned towards the close of this or beginning of the next year, and, after his brother's treacherous assassination, February 1452, put himself at the head of a small force of a hundred men, and with his brother Hugh, earl of Ormonde, and Lord Hamilton, denounced the king as a traitor by a blast of twenty-four horns at Stirling, and dragged in derision the safe-conduct given the late earl at a horse's tail through the streets. Two other powerful members of the Douglas clan, the Earl of Angus and Douglas of Dalkeith, had sided with the king, and James Douglas and his followers attempted, but failed, to take the castle of Dalkeith. The civil war between the king and the Douglases was carried on with vigour in the north by their ally, the fifth Earl of Crawford, who was defeated at Brechin by the Earl of Huntly as the king's lieutenant, a character which, the contemporary chronicle hints, gave him a larger following. Archibald, earl of Moray, another brother of the earl, ravaged Huntly's lands of Strathbogie, in revenge for which Huntly harried those of Moray on his return from Brechin. A parliament was summoned, which met in Edinburgh on 12 June, when the Earl of Crawford and Lord Lindsay, two of the chief allies of Douglas, were forfeited. While it sat a letter signed with the seals of Sir James Douglas, the Earl of Ormonde, and Sir James Hamilton, was put by night on the door of the parliament house, disowning the king's authority and denouncing the privy council as traitors. The three estates, meeting in separate houses, answered this defiance by a declaration that the late earl did not come to Stirling under a safe-conduct, and that his death was the just penalty of his treason. The chief supporters of the king were rewarded with titles, especially the Crichtons, Sir James, the eldest son of the chancellor, being created Earl of Moray, a dignity from which he had been unjustly kept, for he had married the elder daughter of the last earl, but the influence of Douglas had procured it for his brother Archibald, the husband of her younger sister. The parliament was then continued for fifteen days, when a general levy of the lieges, both burgesses and landed men, was summoned. They came to the number of thirty thousand to Pentland Muir, and with the king at their head marched through Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, and Dumfriesshire, doing no good, says the chronicler, but wasting the country through which they passed, even lands belonging to the king's friends. The object, no doubt, was to overawe the Douglases. On 28 Aug. Earl James made a submission at Douglas, by which he bound himself to renounce all enmity against those who caused his brother's death, to do his duty as warden of the marches, and to relinquish the earldom of Wigton and lordship of Stewarton unless voluntarily restored by the queen. There followed a curious, and on the part of the king imprudent, return for this submission, a request to the pope to allow the earl to marry his brother's widow, the Maid of Galloway, for which a dispensation was granted by Nicholas V on 26 Feb. 1453. It is stated by Hume of Godscroft, on the authority of a metrical history of the Douglases which has not been preserved, that the marriage with her former husband had never been consummated, and this is supported by the terms of the dispensation, which is printed from the original in the Vatican by Andrew Stuart in his ‘Genealogical History of the Stuarts.’ On 18 April the earl was appointed one of the commissioners to make a truce with England. This brought Douglas again in contact with the English court, with which he, like his brother, kept up a constant intrigue. Before going to England, for which he received a safe-conduct on 22 May, the earl visited an ally in an opposite quarter, the Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles in Knapdale, exchanging gifts of wine, silk, and English cloth, for which he received mantles, probably of fur, in return, as signs of their alliance against the king. Another Douglas, a bastard of the fifth earl, about the same time joined Donald Balloch of the Isles in attacking by sea Inverkip in Renfrewshire and the Cumbrae Isles, and casting down Brodick Castle in Arran. Douglas appears, after making his peace with the king, to have paid a visit to England, for on 17 June 1453 Malise, earl of Strathearn, who had remained there as one of the hostages for James I, was released on the petition of the Earl of Douglas and Lord Hamilton, and on 19 Feb. 1454 certain disbursements were allowed to Garter king-at-arms for meeting Douglas on the border and attendance on Lord Hamilton in London and elsewhere, but the terms of the entries leave it doubtful whether Douglas himself had proceeded further than the border.
In the beginning of 1455 hostilities between the king and Douglas broke out anew. In March the king cast down the castle of Inveravon in Linlithgowshire, then marched to Glasgow, where he collected the men of the west and a band of highlanders, and passed to Lanark. There an engagement took place, in which the adherents of Douglas were routed, and Douglasdale, Avondale, as well as the lands of Lord Hamilton, were laid waste. The king then crossed to Edinburgh and thence to Ettrick Forest, which he reduced by compelling all the Douglas vassals to join him by a threat of burning their castles. Having thus subdued the two districts in which the Douglases were strongest, he returned to Lothian, and set siege to Abercorn, an important but isolated castle of the family. There Lord Hamilton, by the advice of his uncle James Livingstone, chamberlain of Scotland—Douglas having, it is said, imprudently told him he could do without his aid—came and submitted to the royal mercy, obtained a pardon, but was put in ward at Roslin. This desertion of his principal sup porter left Douglas, as men said, ‘all begylit,’ and ‘men wist nocht,’ says the chronicler, ‘quhar the Douglas was.’ In fact the large force which he had collected for the relief of Abercorn melted, and the earl himself now or soon after escaped to England, leaving his followers to maintain the unequal struggle as they best might. Within a month Abercorn was taken by escalade, and burned to the ground. The three brothers of the earl, Ormonde, Moray, and Lord Balvenie, were met at Arkinholm on the Esk by the king's forces, headed by their kinsman the Earl of Angus, and utterly defeated. Moray was killed, Ormonde taken prisoner and executed. It passed into a proverb that the ‘Red’ Douglas (Angus) conquered the ‘Black,’ and a vaunting epigram declared that as
Pompey by Cæsar only was undone,
None but a Roman soldier conquered Rome;
A Douglas could not have been brought so low
Had not a Douglas wrought his overthrow.
As a result of this defeat the castles of Douglas and Strathavon and other minor strongholds surrendered, and Thrieve in Galloway, which alone held out, after a long siege, in which the king took part, capitulated. Royal garrisons were placed in it and Lochmaben. The power of Douglas was now completely overthrown. The usual forfeitures followed in June 1455 of the earl, his mother, Beatrix, and his brothers. The act of attainder (Act Parl. ii. 75) recites the treasons, and shows how extensive the conspiracy of the Douglases had been. From Lochindorb and Darnaway in the north, to Thrieve in Galloway, they had fortified all their castles against the king, and from them they had made raids wasting the king's lands with fire and sword. Ettrick Forest was now annexed to the crown, and the other estates of the Douglases divided among the chief supporters of the king. Several families rose to greatness out of the ruin of the Douglases. One of their own kindred, George, fourth earl of Angus, was created Lord of Douglas, and a second line of Angus-Douglases almost rivalled the first. Another Douglas, James of Dalkeith, was made Earl of Morton.
On 4 Aug. the exiled earl received a pension of 500l. from the English for services to be done to the English crown, which was to continue till the estates taken from him ‘by him that calleth himself king of Scots’ were restored. In the war with England during this and the next reign Douglas, who remained in that country, appears to have taken no part. The historian of his house says, reproachfully: ‘For the space of twenty-three years, until the year 1483, there is nothing but deep silence with him in all histories.’
This silence is broken only by the record of his being the first Scotchman who received the honour of being made a knight of the Garter, in return for his services to Edward IV. During the reign of James III Douglas again for a brief moment appears in history. He took part in 1483 in a daring raid which Albany, the exiled brother of James III, made at the instance of Richard III on the borders during the fair of Lochmaben, when it was hoped his influence might still be felt. But the name of Douglas was no longer one to conjure by, and its representative showed the same incapacity for active warfare which he had displayed in the rebellion. A reward of land had been offered for his capture, and he surrendered to an old retainer of his house, Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, that he might earn it, and, if possible, save the life of his former master. The king granted the boon, and the old earl was sent to the abbey of Lindores in Fife, where he remained till his death four years later. Two anecdotes related by Hume of Godscroft illustrate his character. When sent to Lindores he muttered, ‘He who can no better be must be a monk,’ and shortly before his death, when solicited by James, sorely pressed by his mutinous nobles, to give him his support, he replied, ‘Sire, you have kept me and your black coffer at Stirling [alluding to the king's mint of black or debased coins] too long—neither of us can do you any good.’
He died on 14 July 1488, and was buried at Lindores. With him the first line of the earls of Douglas ended, for he had no children by his wife, Margaret, the Maid of Galloway. That lady, like others of his kin, deserted him when in exile in England, and returning to Scotland was given by James II in marriage to his uterine brother, John, earl of Atholl, the son of Queen Joanna, wife of James I and Sir John Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne. Her former marriage was treated as null, notwithstanding the dispensation by the pope. A single record (Inquisitiones post mortem 2 Henry VII) is supposed to prove a second marriage of this earl when in England to Anne, daughter of John Holland, duke of Exeter, and widow of Sir John Neville.[The Short Chronicle of James II; Major and Lindsay of Pitscottie's Histories and the Acts of Parliament, Scotland, are the chief original sources. The Exchequer Rolls with Mr. Burnett's prefaces and Pinkerton's History should also be referred to. See also Hume of Godscroft's History and Sir W. Fraser's Douglas Book.]