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Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus (1449 – 1513)








Angus was born about 1449 at Tantallon Castle and succeeded his father, George the 4th earl, in 1462 or 1463.

In 1481, Angus was made warden of the east marches, but the next year he joined the league against James III and his favourite Robert Cochrane at Lauder. Here he earned his nickname by offering to "bell the cat" – that is, to deal with the latter – beginning the attack upon him by pulling his gold chain off his neck, and causing him and others of the king's favourites to be hanged. The phrase "to bell the cat" comes from one of Aesop's fables, The Mice in Council, and means a dangerous task that is undertaken for the benefit of all.

Subsequently he joined Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, in league with Edward IV of England on the 11 February 1483, signing the convention at Westminster which acknowledged the overlordship of the English king. However, in March they returned, outwardly at least, to their allegiance, and received pardons for their treason.

Later, Angus was one of the leaders in the rebellion against James in 1487 and 1488, at the Battle of Sauchieburn, which ended in the latter's death.

He was made one of the guardians of the young king James IV. but soon lost influence, being superseded by the Homes and Hepburns, and the wardenship of the marches was given to Alexander Home. Though outwardly on good terms with James, he treacherously made a treaty with Henry VII around 1489 or 1491, by which he undertook to govern his relations with James according to instructions from England. He also agreed to hand over Hermitage Castle, commanding the pass through Liddesdale into Scotland, on the condition of receiving English estates in compensation.  See: Grant by Archibald, fifth Earl of Angus, to David Scott of Buccleuch, of the Castle of Hermitage [pdf 120kb]

In October 1491 he fortified his castle of Tantallon against James, but was obliged to submit and exchange his Liddesdale estate and Hermitage Castle for the lordship of Bothwell.

In 1493 he was again in favour, receiving various grants of lands, and was made chancellor, which office he retained till 1498. In 1501 he was once more in disgrace and confined to Dumbarton Castle. After the disaster at Flodden Field in 1513, at which he was not present, but at which he lost his two eldest sons, Angus was appointed one of the counsellors of the queen regent. He died at the close of this year, or in 1514.


5th Earl of Angus, in a feud with Spens of Kilspindie, tore off Spen's leg with one stroke of his great sword. This appears to be how the lands of Kilspindie passed to the Douglases. Also later Douglas of Kilspindie used the title 'Greysteel' which may refer to the sword stroke used to obtain the lands of Kilspindie.


Sword of Archibald 'Bell the Cat' Douglas

“The Bell-the-Cats blade, rightly considered the legacy sword of Scotland's most famous family, has been in the possession of every head of the family for centuries.
In 1745, after the outbreak of the Stuart insurrection, the family was in danger of losing this relic to a nefarious hand. The pretender's followers, perhaps out of a jealous feeling towards the Douglas, more likely out of a lack of feeling at all, hijacked this valuable curiosity from the armory of Douglas Castle, and it took long investigations in the warehouse before the old sword could find its rightful owner could be delivered again. It is now owned, of course, by Lord Douglas.” - Beyond the Tweed: A Tour of Scotland in 1858; Theodor Fontane.

Father: George (4th Earl of Angus) Douglas
Mother: Isabel Sibbard b: ABT. 1418

Marriage 1 Catherine Seton, a natural daughter of Alexander Gordon, 1st Earl of Huntly

Marriage 2 Elizabeth Boyd Children
  1. George (Master of Angus) Douglas b: ABT. 1469 k: 1513 at Flodden
  2. William (Sir) (of Glenbervie) Douglas k: 1513 at Flodden
  3. Janet Douglas, b1476 = Andrew 2nd Lord (of Terregles) Herries
  4. Marion\Mariot (of Angus) Douglas, b1470 = Cuthbert (3rd Earl of Glencairn) Cuninghame
  5. Gavin, b1472
  6. Elizabeth, b1474
  7. Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, b1475 - Given the nickname Greysteil by James V, Treasurer of Scotland

Marriage 3 Jean (Janet) Kennedy
  • Married: ABT. 1498

   1.  Lady Mary
   2.  Archibald

Marriage 4 Katherine Stirling
  • Married: 1500


Seal of Archibald, 5th Earl of Douglas

Note incorrect dates




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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024