Sir James of Douglas - The Good Sir James

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The 'Good Sir James' throws Bruce's heart at the Moors
The 'Good Sir James' throws Bruce's heart at the Moors
during the Battle of Teba, Spain, 1330
Image courtesy of Andrew Spratt
Le Hardi's son, SIR JAMES Of DOUGLAS (c1286—1330), lord of Douglas, called the,” Good,” whose exploits are among the most romantic in Scottish, history, ,was educated in Paris(3). On his return he found an Englishman., Robert de Clifford, in possession of his estates. His offer of allegiance to Edward I. being refused, he cast in his lot with Robert Bruce, whom he joined before his coronation at Scone in 1306. From the battle of Methven he escaped with Bruce and the remnant of his followers, and accompanied him in his wanderings in the Highlands. In the next year they returned to the south of Scotland. He twice outwitted the English garrison. of Douglas and destroyed the castle. 

One of these exploits, carried out on Palm Sunday, the 19th of March 1307, with barbarities excessive even in those days, is known as the” Douglas Larder.”


Douglas routed Sir John de Mowbray at Ederford Bridge, near Kilmarnock, and was entrusted with the conduct of the war in the south, while Bruce turned to the Highlands. In 1308 he captured Thomas Randolph (afterwards earl of Moray), soon to become one of Bruce’s firm supporters, and a friendly rival of Douglas, whose exploits he shared. He made many successful raids on tile English border, which won for him the dreaded name of the “Black Douglas” in English households. 


Also in 1308, he sprang the trap defeating the Macdougals at the Pass of Brander, before turning south to successfully assault the castle of Rutherglen near Glasgow, and then going on to a further campaign in Galloway.


In 1312 the Scots, under Sir James Douglas, (as a pay-back) penetrated to Hartlepool carrying off much

 spoil, and many prisoners of both sexes...” Two years later they again ravaged the county plundering and destroying villages. The frightened inhabitants of Hartlepool took to the sea in ships for safety.


Through the capture of Roxburgh Castle in 1314 by stratagem, the assailants being disguised as black oxen, he secured Teviotdale; and at Bannockburn, where he received the singular honour of being created a Knight banneret by the king, Robert the Bruce, a distinction only ever conferred on the battlefield.  He commanded the left wing with Walter the Steward. His presence at the disaster of Flodden is not recorded, but there is a claim that it was he who carried off the English pennon after the skirmish at Hornshole, something that is celebrated to this day.  During the thirteen years of intermittent warfare that followed he repeatedly raided England. He slew Sir Robert de Nevill, the ‘ Peacock of the North,” in. single combat in 1316, and in 1319 be invaded Yorkshire, in company with, Randolph, defeating an army assembled by William do Melton, archbishop of York, at Mitton-on-Swale (September 20), in a fight known as “The Chapter of Myton.” 


In 1322 he captured the pass of Byland in Yorkshire, and forced the English army to retreat. He was rewarded by the “Emerald Charter,” granted by Bruce, which gave him criminal’~ jurisdiction over the family estates, and released the lords of Douglas from various feudal obligations. 


The emerald ring which Bruce gave Douglas in ratification of the charter is lost, but another of the king’s gifts, a large two-handed sword (bearing, however, a later inscription), exists at Douglas Castle(1). In a daring night attack on the English camp in Weardale in 1327 Douglas came near capturing Edward III. himself. 


Monument to the Good Sir JamesAfter laying waste the northern counties he retreated, without giving battle to the English. Before his death in 1329 Bruce desired Douglas to carry his heart to Palestine in redemption of his unfulfilled vow to go on crusade. Accordingly Sir James set out in 1330, bearing with him a silver casket containing the embalmed heart of Bruce. He fell fighting with the Moors in Spain on. the 25th of August of that year, and was buried in St Bride’s Church, Douglas. Since his day the Douglases have borne a human heart in their coat of arms. Sir James was said to have fought in seventy battles and to have conquered in fifty-seven. 


His exploits, as told in Froissart’s Chronicles and in John Barbour's Bruce, are familiar from Scott's Tales of a Grandfather and Castle Dangerous. His half-brother, Sir Archibald, defeated Edward Baliol at Annan in 1332, and had just been appointed regent of Scotland for David II. when he risked a pitched battle at Halidon Hill, where he was defeated and killed (1333), with his nephew William, lord of Douglas. The inheritance fell to his brother, a churchman, Hugh the "Dull" (b. 1294), who surrendered his lands to David II.; and a re-grant was made to William Douglas, next referred to.




Second version:

Douglas, James (Sir) "Good James (Sir)/Black Douglas" b. 1286. d. August 25, 1330.
James of Douglas was the friend and ablest lieutenant of Robert the Bruce. Known as the Black Douglas to the English and as the Good James (Sir) to the Scots, Douglas was a brilliant fighter and master of guerrilla warfare. He commanded the left wing of Bruce's army at the battle of Bannockburn. Before his death, Bruce asked Douglas to take his heart on a crusade to the Holy Land. Douglas set out bearing Bruce's heart in a silver casket, but on the way fell fighting the Moors in Spain. The Scottish knights who survived brought back Douglas's body which was entombed in the town of Douglas and Bruce's heart which was buried in Melrose Abbey.

St Bride's Kirk, Douglas, Lanarkshire, Scotland.
Cause of Death: killed in battle with the Moors."


Father: William (le Hardi) 5th of Douglas
Mother: Elizabeth Steward

Marriage 1 Spouse Unknown

  1.  Archibald the Grim (3rd Earl of Douglas) Douglas b: ABT. 1320







In all his deeds was Douglas true
For nothing would he have to do
With treachery, nor with a lie
His heart was set on honour high
All things did he so nobly do
That he was loved by all he knew
But he was not so fair that we
Should praise his looks in high degree
In visage he was rather grey;
His hair was black, so I heard say
His limbs were finely made and long
His bones were large, his shoulders strong
His body was well knit and slim
As those say that set eyes on him
When happy, lovable was he
And meek and sweet in company
But those with him in battle saw
Another countenance he wore!
In speech a little lisp had he
That suited him right wondrously.......
(a part of the translation from the book "The Bruce" by John Barbour - the Archdeacon of Aberdeen, which was written in 1375)
A Douglas! A Douglas! is an 'on-demand publishing' novel by Pat Kane, based upon the story of Sir James Douglas.


This pewter model is part of Nigel Tranter's Bannockburn Limited Edition Chess Set. This specially devised and commissioned by Morag and John Morgan exclusively for Cornerstone.Sir James Douglas, 'The Good Sir James'















memorial stoneAnother old and interesting armorial monument is that of Sir James Douglas— the good Sir James— in St Bride's, Douglas, though its date is nothing like so ancient as Sir Alan Swinton's.

Sir James, as we all know, was killed in Spain, on his way to the Holy Land with the heart of Robert the Bruce. In commemoration of this event, the Douglases have ever after borne a heart in their shield under the three stars in chief.

But the arms which appear above the tomb of the good Sir James could never have been borne by him, because the heart is there along with the stars, which, of course, it could not have been before the incident occurred, which the heart was intended to commemorate.

This, then, is a warning to the heraldic archaeologist to be careful before accepting as absolute fact the testimony of monumental tombs — in other respects also notoriously untrustworthy — as to what the arms of any particular individual were.

Text and image from: Heraldry in relation to Scottish history and art-1898


Black Douglas at Teba

Andrew Hillhouse's depiction of Douglas at Teba.




1. Presumably no longer at Douglas Castle, considering it is now a ruin.
2. Bruce made Douglas a ‘knight banneret’ (a knight who could lead men in battle under his own banner) on the morning of 24 June, a distinction only ever conferred on the battlefield.
3. James was sent to France by his father to avoid his being held as hostage for his father's good behaviour following the Capitulations of Irvine.


See also:

  • Article on a painting of the Black Douglas

  • Enlarged image of statue at Bonaly Tower
  • Sword presented to Sir James by Robert the Bruce
  • Sword taken into battle at Teba
  • Who was the Black Douglas?
  • Battle of Byland Abbey
  • Wars of Scottish Independence
  • Sir James Douglas slays the Peacock of the North
  • Myth and History: The Case of the Black Douglases
  • This page was last updated on 29 July 2020

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