Douglas, William (1423?-1440) (DNB00)

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DOUGLAS, WILLIAM, sixth Earl of Douglas and third Duke of Touraine (1423?–1440), was eldest son of Archibald, fifth earl [q. v.], and Euphemia Graham, daughter of Sir Patrick Graham and Euphemia, countess of Strathearn, the granddaughter of Robert II. If his father's marriage took place, as is most probable, in 1424, he can only have been a youth in his sixteenth year when he succeeded his father on 26 June 1439, but the ‘Short Chronicle of the Reign of James II’ calls him eighteen years of age when he was put to death at Edinburgh in 1440. His execution with its tragic circumstances is all that has been recorded of his short life, but historians, forced to seek some explanation for it, have amplified the narrative in a manner which may have some foundation, but is not consistent with his extreme youth. He is said to have held courts of his vassals, almost parliaments, at which he imitated royalty and even dubbed knights. A claim to the crown itself, through the descent of the Douglases from the sister of the Red Comyn, a daughter of Baliol's sister, who married Archibald, the brother of the ‘Good’ Sir James [q. v.], and the alleged illegitimacy of Robert III and the other descendants of the second marriage of Robert II with Elizabeth More, is suggested as the cause of this ostentation. But the actual possessions and power of the Douglas family seem sufficient to account for the jealousy of its youthful head entertained by the new and ambitious candidates for the rule of the kingdom, Sir William Crichton, governor of Edinburgh, and Sir Alexander Livingstone, governor of Stirling Castle, in whose hands James II, then only a boy of six, was a mere puppet. In his name an invitation is said to have been sent to the earl and his brother David to visit the king in Edinburgh in November 1440. They came, and were entertained at the royal table, from which they were treacherously hurried to their doom, which took place by beheading in the castle yard of Edinburgh on 24 Nov. Three days after Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, their chief adherent, shared the same fate. The bull's head served at the royal banquet, first mentioned by Boece and Pitscottie, and the popular verse preserved by Hume of Godscroft—

Edinburgh Castle, Tower, and Town,
God grant thou sink for sin,
And that even for the black dinner
Earl Douglas got therein—

are embellishments too romantic to be implicitly credited, yet resting on a tradition which cannot be altogether rejected from history. The chief authors of the execution were Crichton, who had become chancellor; Sir Alexander Livingstone, at this time reconciled to his rival; and (it has been conjectured) their kinsman, James Douglas, earl of Avondale, called the ‘Gross,’ who at least profited by their death and succeeded to the earldom of Douglas. The Galloway estates of the family passed to the sister of the murdered earl, Annandale and the March estates reverted to the crown of Scotland, and the claim to the duchy of Touraine, granted only to heirs male, was abandoned. Thus without an absolute forfeiture the great inheritance of the Douglases was for a time dispersed, and their power, which had grown too great for any subject, was broken.

[The continuation of the Scotichronicon by Bower and a Short Chronicle of the Reign of James II, commonly called the Auchinleck Chronicle, are the only original authorities; the fuller narrative of Boece's History of Scotland has been followed, though in parts doubted by subsequent historians, including the family historians, Hume of Godscroft and Sir W. Fraser in The Douglas Book.]

Æ. M.