Page:The Ancestor Number 1.djvu/263

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THE ANCESTOR

THE HOUSE OF DOUGLAS

These handsomely-equipped volumes[1] form the first instalment of what promises to be an interesting and valuable series of 'histories of those families which have more especially contributed to the development of Great Britain and Ireland.'In the course of a brief introduction Windsor Herald, the editor of this series, claims that hitherto no complete or satisfactory history of the Douglas family has been produced. And it is true that the delightful work of Hume of Godscroft is not only fragmentary but essentially uncritical in method; whilst the four goodly volumes of the late Sir William Fraser's 'Douglas Book,' besides being printed for private circulation only, were conceived (like most of the work of that late eminent genealogist) too much in the spirit of the courtier. We should be loth to tax Fraser with errors for which he cannot justly be accounted responsible, and in the present volumes, in dealing with the question of the first Earl of Douglas's complicity in a secret treaty with England—the first hint of opposition by a Douglas to his sovereign—Sir Herbert acquits Sir William of 'an unsuccessful attempt at special pleading,' on the ground that the Issue Roll for the year 1363 was not before him when he wrote. But should any one wish for a specimen of Fraser's courtly extenuations, let him compare the account of the battle of Melrose (1526), as given in the 'Douglas Book,' with an account of the same battle in The Scotts of Buccleuch. In the existing circumstances, the qualities specially to be desired in the present history were, on the one hand, impartiality, on the other, accuracy; and in respect of these qualities, so far as we have tested it. Sir Herbert's work leaves nothing, or little, to be desired. Moreover the author writes a terse and perspicuous style, and deals with his documents and authorities in the manner of an expert.

Of comparatively little that is positively new in his volumes, his theory regarding the first known ancestor of the Douglases is perhaps the most striking item. Instead of rejecting Gods-

  1. History of the House of Douglas, by Sir Herbert Maxwell, Bart. (London : Freemantle & Co., 1902).