The Earl of Wigton, in France

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This article forms part of the French section of the Douglas Archives, but covers more of the history than just in France.

Archibald Douglas, fifth Earl of Douglas and second Duke of Touraine 1391?-1439, was the eldest son of Archibald, fourth earl, by his wife, Margaret, daughter of Robert III. In his father's life he was created earl, or perhaps only lord (dominus), of Wigton.
In 1420 he accompanied his brother-in-law, the Earl of Buchan, the son of the regent Albany, to France in aid of Charles VI, fought in the battle of Beaugé, 23 March 1421, and was rewarded by a grant of the county of Longueville. The French nobles, jealous of the honours lavished on the Scottish leaders, called them wine bags and mutton gluttons, but Charles treated their complaints with silent contempt till Beaugé had been won, and then asked his nobles what they thought of the Scots now. In 1423, returning to Scotland with Buchan, he helped to persuade his father to head the reinforcements sent to the French war, but remaining himself at home in ill-health escaped being present at the battle of Verneuil, 17 Aug. 1424, where his father, Buchan, and his brother James lost their lives.
A rumour that he had died in Scotland led to the duchy of Touraine, conferred on his father by Charles VI, being regranted to Louis of Anjou, then betrothed to a niece of the French king. Douglas retained the titular dignity, but never returned to France or got possession of the revenue of the duchy. He was one of the ambassadors sent to conduct James I home from his English captivity.
One of the first acts of the king was to arrest Murdoch, duke of Albany, his wife, sons, and the nobles who were his friends. Among the latter Bower expressly mentions (Scotichronicon, xiv. 10) Archibald, earl of Douglas, as having been arrested on 9 March 1424. This passage has been challenged as corrupt and inconsistent with the fact stated by the same author, that on 24 and 25 May of the same year Douglas was one of the assize who sat on the trials of Walter Stuart, the son and heir of Albany, Albany himself, his second son, Alexander, and his father-in-law, the Earl of Lennox. It seems not improbable, however, that both statements are true, and that in the interval Douglas had been released, as it is expressly stated that Lord John Montgomery and Alan of Otterburn, the duke's secretary, had been, though it is singular that Douglas's release is not mentioned. The action of James is best explained as an attempt to divide the nobility implicated in the confederacy of which Albany was the head, and which must have been formidable indeed when it led to the arrest of twenty-six of the leading nobles and gentry of Scotland, besides the immediate relatives of Albany.
The alliance of Douglas with Albany was natural, for he was as closely connected with him as with the king by the marriage of his sister to Buchan, the eldest son of Albany, who fell at Beaugé. The whole of James's reign was a fierce struggle between him and the feudal aristocracy, whose power had become exorbitant owing to the absence of a king. In this struggle he partially and for a time succeeded, but in the end failed. The measures which followed or accompanied the treason trials of 1424, the execution of Albany and his two sons on the Heading Hill of Stirling, the drawing and quartering of five of the followers of the third son, James, the Wolf of Badenoch, and the confinement of their mother at Tantallon, were signs of the severity necessary to crush the rebellion.
To have included the Douglases in the proscription of the Stuarts would have been more than the king could have accomplished by one blow. He had to break the power of the nobles one by one. The charter of 26 April 1425, by which the barony of Bothwell was regranted on his own resignation to him and his wife, Euphemia Graham, granddaughter of David, earl of Strathearn, a son of Robert II, may have been in consideration of his taking the king's part against Albany, or perhaps was only a resettlement on his marriage. That marriage to a cousin of the king was another link to bind him to James I.
From this time till 1431 no mention of Douglas appears on record, but in that year he was again arrested and kept in custody for a short time, when he was released at the request of the queen and nobility. He took no part in the tragic murder of James, the principal conspirator in which was Sir Robert Graham, whose nephew, Malise, had been deprived of the earldom of Strathearn by the king, on the pretext that it was a male fief. As Malise was the brother of Euphemia Graham, the wife of Douglas, the absence of the earl from the plot against James, and his release at the commencement and close of the reign, appear to indicate that while his position made him suspected his character was destitute of the force which would have made him feared. He differed from the other members of his house in being less inclined for war, for after the battle of Beaugé, so far as appears, he never drew sword.
On the death of James I in 1437 he was one of the council of regency. In 1438 he was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom, an appointment probably due to a desire to place the supreme power in the hands of one of the great nobles whose position and prestige might control Crichton, the governor of Edinburgh Castle, and Sir John Livingstone, who were rivals for the custody of the young king and the government of Scotland. As lieutenant-general he summoned the parliament which met on 27 Nov. at Edinburgh.
On 26 June in the following year he died of fever at Restalrig, near Edinburgh, and was buried in the church of Douglas, where a monument with a recumbent statue was placed to his memory, which recorded the great titles in France and Scotland he had held: Hic jacet Dominus Archibaldus Douglas Dux Turoniæ Comes de Douglas et de Longueville; Dominus Gallovidiæ et Wigton et Annandiæ, locum tenens Regis Scotiæ. He left two sons, William, sixth earl of Douglas, and David (both of whom were executed(1) in 1440, though but youths, so great was the dread of this powerful family), and one daughter, Margaret, called the Fair Maid of Galloway, who married her cousin William, the eighth earl, and after his death the king's cousin John, earl of Atholl.

The character of the fifth Earl of Douglas would appear from the few facts history has preserved to have been less vigorous than that of his father; possibly his illness in 1424 and his death from fever point to a constitution naturally feeble, or enfeebled by the hardships of the French war. The panegyric of the family historian, Hume of Godscroft, that his only fault was that he did not sufficiently restrain the oppression of the men of Annandale, appears to corroborate this conclusion. But the absence of records and the confusion of the period of Scottish history which preceded and succeeded the death of James I, permit only a hypothetical judgment.

Published: 1888



1.  Assassinated




Sources for this article include:
  • The Chronicle of Monstrelet, the Scottish Chronicles of Bower, the Book of Pluscarden, and Major's History are the original sources.
  • Boece and the historians who followed him are untrustworthy, nor can Hume of Godscroft be relied on.
  • The modern historians Pinkerton, Tytler, and Burton differ in their estimates.
  • Sir W. Fraser's Douglas Book and Mr. Burnett's prefaces to the Exchequer Records give the most recent views and the fullest narrative of the facts known as to this earl's life.

    • Æ. M. [Aeneas James George Mackay]

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