Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, Janet

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DOUGLAS, JANET, Lady Glamis (d. 1537), was a younger daughter of George, master of Angus, eldest son of Archibald, fifth earl of Angus (‘Bell-the-Cat’) [q. v.] Her mother was Elizabeth, second daughter of John, lord Drummond, the tragic death of whose three sisters by poisoning—one of them, Margaret [q. v.], being a mistress of James IV —has tinged the history of that king's reign with a melancholy interest. She must have been born during the last decade of the fifteenth century, and about 1520 married John, sixth lord Glamis, whose death in 1528 left her a widow with four children, two sons and two daughters.

She became a widow just at the time her brothers, Archibald, sixth earl of Angus [q. v.], Sir George Douglas of Pittendriech [q. v.], and William, prior of Coldingham, fell into disgrace with James V, and for evincing her sisterly compassion while they were being hunted to the death she was cited to appear before parliament in the beginning of 1529 to answer to the charge of communicating with them. She disregarded the citation, and after its frequent repetition sentence of forfeiture was pronounced against her in 1531, and her estates gifted away to an alien. The sentence, however, may not have been given effect to, as at that time she was absent from the country by royal license on a pilgrimage and other business.

After her return she was indicted on a new charge of poisoning her late husband, but after repeated delays, occasioned by the unwillingness of some Forfarshire barons to serve on an assize against Lady Glamis, the proceedings appear to have been abandoned. In 1537, however, the charge was preferred against her of conspiring the death of the king. She had by this time married Archibald Campbell of Skipnish, a younger son of Archibald, second earl of Argyll, and he, with her sons, John, lord Glamis, and his brother, George Lyon, and an old priest named John Lyon, a relative of her late husband, were arrested with her as implicated in the alleged crime. The trial took place at the instance of the king on information supplied to him by an informer, named William Lyon, himself a relation of the family, and who, some say, was actuated by feelings of revenge because he had offered his hand in marriage to Lady Glamis and been refused. She was convicted by an assize, on the evidence chiefly of her own young son, but before pronouncing sentence, her judges, greatly moved by her noble and dignified bearing, her protestations of innocence, and her final touching appeal, that if she must suffer she alone might suffice as the victim, and her children and other relations be set free, made an urgent but ineffectual appeal to King James for pardon, or at least for delay. He commanded them to do their duty, and, according to the manner of the time, she was condemned to be burnt alive on the Castle hill of Edinburgh. This cruel sentence was carried out on 17 July 1537.

Lady Glamis has generally been regarded as an innocent victim. Mr. Tytler takes exception to this opinion, and devotes a special dissertation in his history to prove that she was guilty of the crimes alleged against her. He in particular joins issue with Pitcairn, who has been at much pains to gather together in his ‘Criminal Trials’ all available information on the case. The historian lays much stress on the fact that Lady Glamis was convicted by an assize. Besides, the depositions of the informer, her own son, a youth of the tender age of sixteen years, condemned his mother as guilty, although he afterwards declared his evidence false, and only extorted from him by fear of threatened torture and the promise of thereby saving his own life and estate. There was one person then in Edinburgh well qualified by habits of close observation to judge in such a matter, Sir Thomas Clifford, the English representative at the court of James V, and he, in mentioning the occurrence to his master, Henry VIII, observes that so far as he could perceive Lady Glamis had been condemned ‘without any substanciall ground or proyf of mattir.’ Mr. Tytler dismisses this evidence as prejudiced in favour of the Douglases, who were at the time sheltered by Henry from the vengeance of the Scottish king. Those desirous of pursuing the question further may consult Tytler's ‘History of Scotland,’ iv. 234, 447–51; Pitcairn's ‘Criminal Trials,’ i. 183*–203*; and Fraser's ‘Douglas Book,’ where additional authorities are cited.

The second husband of Lady Glamis, after enduring imprisonment for some time in Edinburgh Castle, made an attempt to escape by descending the rocks with a rope. He fell, however, and was dashed to pieces on the rocks. Her two sons were detained in prison until the death of James in 1542, but the old priest was put to death. The informer, William Lyon, is said to have been stricken with remorse, and to have confessed his villany to the king, who refused to listen to him.

[Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, and authorities cited above.]

H. P.