Origins of the Douglas family


Flemish settlers

Whether the Douglases are a Clan, a Family or a House is a moot point.  We follow (mostly) common usage referring to ourselves as a Clan.


The origins of the Douglases are lost in the mists of time.  What follows is a series of notes on the topic.


Note:  errors are as found in the original document!


DOUGLAS, the name of a Scottish noble family, now represented by the dukes of Hamilton (Douglas-Hamilton, heirsmale), the earls of Home (Douglas-Home) who also bear the title of Baron Douglas of Douglas, the dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry (Montagu-Douglas-Scott), the earls of Morton (Douglas), the earls of Wemyss (Wemyss-Charteris-Douglas), and the baronets Douglas of Carr, of Springwood, of Glenbervie, &c. The marquessate of Douglas and the earidom of Angus, the historic dignities held by the two chief branches of the family, the Black and the Red Douglas, are merged in the Hamilton peerage. The name represented the Gaelic dub/-i glas, dark water, and Douglasdale, the home of the family in Lanarkshire, is still in the possession of the earls of Home. The first member of the family to emerge with any distinctness was William de Douglas, or Dufglas, whose name frequently appears on charters from 1175 to 1213. He is said to have been brother, or brother-in-law, of Freskin~ of Murray, the ~ounder of the house, of Murray. His second son, Brice (d. 1222), became bishop of Moray, while the estate fell to the eldest, Sir Archibald (d. c. 1240).

Sum WILLIAM 0~’ DOUGLAS (d. 1298), called “le hardi,”


Archibald’s grandson, was the first formally to assume the title of lord of Douglas. After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander the Steward, he abducted from the manor of the La Zouches at Tranent an heiress, Eleanor of Lovain, widow of William de Ferrers, lord of Groby in Leicestershire, who in 1291 appeared by proxy in the court of the English king, Edward I., to answer for the offence of marrying without his permission. He gave a grudging allegiance to John de Baliol, and swore fealty to Edward I. in 1291; but when the Scottish barons induced Baliol to break his bond with Edward I. he cornmanded at Berwick Castle, which he surrendered after the sack of the town by the English in 1296. After a short imprisonment Douglas was restored to his Scottish estates on renewing his homage to Edward I., but his English possessions were forfeited. He joined Wallace’s rising in 1297, and died in 1298, a prisoner in the Tower of London.



Extract from The Great Historic Families of Scotland, By James Taylor, M.A., D.D., F.S.A and published in 1887

In the story of Scotland,’ says Mr. Froude, ‘weakness is nowhere; power, energy, and will are everywhere;’ and this national vigour, determined will, and indomitable resolution seem to have culminated in the ‘Doughty Douglases.’ Their stalwart and tough physical frames, and the strong, resolute, unbending character of such men as ‘William the Hardy,’ ‘Archibald the Grim,’ and ‘Archibald Bell-the-Cat,’ the types of their race, eminently fitted them to be ‘premier peers‘-leaders of men. From the War of Independence down to the era of the Reformation, no other family played such a conspicuous part in the affairs of Scotland as the Douglases. They intermarried no less than eleven times with the royal family of Scotland, and once with that of England. They enjoyed the privilege of leading the van of the Scottish army in battle, of carrying the crown at the coronation of the sovereign, and of giving the first vote in Parliament. ‘A Douglas received the last words of Robert Bruce. A Douglas spoke the epitaph of John Knox. The Douglases were celebrated in the prose of Froissart and the verse of Shakespeare. They have been sung by antique Barbour and by Walter Scott, by the minstrels of Otterburn and by Robert Burns.’ A nameless poet who lived four hundred years ago eulogised their trustiness and chivalry. Holinshed, in the next century, speaks of their ‘singular manhood, noble prowess, and majestic puissance.’ They espoused, at the outset, the patriotic side in the War of Independence, and they contributed greatly to the crowning victory of Bannockburn. They sent two hundred gentlemen of the name, with the heir of their earldom, to die at Flodden. There was a time when they could raise thirty thousand men, and they were for centuries the bulwarks of the Scottish borders against our ‘auld enemies of England.’ They have gathered their laurels on many a bloody field in France, where they held the rank of princes, and in Spain and in the Netherlands, as well as in England and Scotland, and - 

'In far landes renownit they have been'


They have produced men not only of ‘doughty’ character, but of the gentle and chivalric type also, like the ‘Good Sir James,’ and the William Douglas who married the Princess Egidia, justifying the exclamation of the author of the ‘Buke of the Howlat ‘-

'O Douglas, Douglas!
Tender and true !


On the other hand, it cannot be denied that their haughtiness and turbulence and ambition often disturbed the peace of the country, and imperilled the stability of the throne. On the whole, however, setting the good and the evil against each other, it may be said, in lines which were old in the days of Godscroft, and were then, he says, ‘common in men’s mouths ‘-

'So many, so good, as of the Douglases have been,
Of one sirname were ne’er in Scotland seen


The cradle of the race was in Douglasdale, but their origin is hid in obscurity. ‘We do not know them,’ says Godscroft, in his ‘History of the House and Race of Douglas and Angus,’ ‘in the fountain, but in the stream; not in the root, but in the stem: for we know not who was the first mean man that did raise himself above the vulgar.’ The traditionary account of the descent of the family from ‘a dark-grey man’ (Sholto-Dhu-Glas), who rescued Solvathius, a mythical king of the Scots in the eighth century, from imminent danger of defeat in a battle with Donald Bane, is evidently fabulous. (cf. Footprints of the Douglas Scotti)' It is alleged by Chalmers that the founder of the family came from Flanders, about the year 1147, and was named Theobald the Fleming, and that he received from Arnold, Abbot of Kelso, a grant of lands on Douglas Water (Dhu-Glas), the dark stream, from which the family name was derived. But this is mere conjecture, not supported by any evidence; and it has been ascertained that the lands granted to Theobald are not those of which the first known Douglas, in the next generation, was in possession, and that these lands never formed a part of the barony of that name. Wyntoun is of opinion that the Douglases had the same origin as the Murrays, either by lineal descent or by collateral branch, as they have in their arms the same stars set in the same manner.


Through the innate energy of their character, the Douglases seem to have sprung almost at a bound into the foremost rank of the Scottish nobles. The first mention of their name in any authentic record is in a charter by Joceline, Bishop of Glasgow, to the monks of Kelso, between 1175 and 1199, which was witnessed by William of Dufglas, who is said to have been either the brother or brother-in-law of Sir Freskin de Kerdale in Moray. Sir William was a witness to a charter in 1240, and, along with Sir Andrew of Dufglas, to another charter in 1248. His great-grandson, surnamed the ‘Hardy,’ from his valour and heroic deeds, fought on the patriotic side in the War of Independence. He was governor of the Castle of Berwick in 1296, when that town was besieged and taken, after a resolute defence, by Edward I. The garrison of the castle on capitulating were allowed to march out with the honours of war; but Sir William Douglas was detained for some time a prisoner in one of the towers of that fortress. On regaining his liberty he rejoined the patriotic party, but fell once more into the hands of the English, and died in confinement in the Tower of York in 1302. He was the father, by a sister of the High Steward, of- SIR JAMES DOUGLAS, the ‘good Sir James,’ the friend of Robert Bruce, the most illustrious member of the Douglas family, and one of the noblest of the band of heroes who vindicated the freedom and independence of Scotland against the English arms. The romantic incidents in the career of this famous warrior and patriot would fill a volume. On the imprisonment of his father he retired to France, where he spent three years, ‘exercising himself in all virtuous exercise,’ says Godscroft, and ‘profited so well that he became the most compleat and best-accomplished young nobleman in the country or elsewhere.’ On the death of his father young Douglas returned to Scotland. His paternal estate having been bestowed by King Edward on Lord Clifford, he was received into the household of Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, with whom he ‘counted kin’ through his mother. He was residing there when Robert Bruce assumed the crown in 1305-6, and took up arms against the English invaders. Douglas, who was then only eighteen years of age, on receiving intelligence of this movement, resolved to repair at once to Bruce’s standard. According to Barbour, he took this step secretly, though with the knowledge and approval of the patriotic prelate, who recommended him to provide himself with a suit of armour and to take a horse from his stables, with a show of force, thus ‘robbing the bishop of what he durst not give.’ Lesley, Bishop of Ross, however, makes no mention of force, and says Douglas carried a large sum of money from Lamberton to Bruce. He met the future King at Erickstane, near Moffat, on his way to Scone to be crowned, and proferred him his homage and his services, which were cordially welcomed. From that time onward, until the freedom and independence of the kingdom were fully established, Douglas never left Bruce’s side, alike in adversity and prosperity, and was conspicuous both for his valour in battle and his wisdom in council. He was present at the battle of Methven, where the newly crowned King was defeated, and narrowly escaped being taken prisoner. He was one of the small band who took refuge, with Bruce and his Queen and other ladies, in the wilds first of Athole and then of Breadalbane, where for some time they subsisted on wild berries and the scanty and precarious produce of fishing and the chase. Barbour makes especial mention of the exertions of Sir James Douglas to provide for the wants and to promote the comfort of the ladies :- 

'For whiles he venisoun them brocht,
And with his hands whiles he wrocht,
Gynnes to take geddys (pikes) and salmonys
Troutis, eelys, and als menonys (minnows).'


Bruce himself was often comforted by his wit and cheerfulness.


At the encounter between the small body of men accompanying the King and the MacDougals of Lorn, at Dalry in Strathfillan, Douglas was wounded, and Bruce freed himself only by his great personal strength and skill in the use of his weapons from a simultaneous attack made upon him by three of the followers of the Lord of Lorn. It was Douglas who discovered the small leaky boat in which the remnant of Bruce’s followers were ferried, two at a time, over Loch Lomond. He spent the subsequent winter with the King on the island of Rachrin. On the approach of spring he made a successful descent on the island of Arran, and succeeded in capturing a large quantity of provisions, clothing, and arms. Shortly after, while Bruce was engaged in an effort to wrest his patrimonial domains in Carrick from the English, Sir James repaired secretly into Douglasdale, which was held by Lord Clifford, surprised the English garrison on Palm Sunday (1306-7), took possession of Douglas Castle, destroyed all the provisions, staved the casks of wine and other liquors, put his prisoners to the sword, flung their dead bodies on the stores which he had heaped up in a huge pile, and then set fire to the castle. This shocking deed, which we may hope has been exaggerated by tradition, was no doubt intended to revenge the atrocious cruelties which Edward had perpetrated on Bruce’s brothers and adherents, and especially the death of Douglas’s faithful follower, Dickson, who was killed in a conflict in the church. It was long commemorated in the traditions of the country by the name of the ‘Douglas larder.’ Sir James continued for some time after this exploit to lurk among the fastnesses of Douglasdale, for ‘he loved better,’ he said, ‘to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak.'


Douglas Castle was speedily rebuilt by Clifford, who placed a garrison in it under the command of a brave soldier named Thirlwall, and then returned to England. After his departure, Douglas determined to expel the enemy again from his patrimonial estates. For this purpose he had recourse to stratagem. ‘He caused some of his folk,’ says Godscroft, ‘drive away the cattle that fed near unto the castle, and when the captain of the garrison followed to rescue, gave orders to his men to leave them and to flee away. This he did often, to make the captain slight such frays, and to make him secure that he might not suspect any further end to be on it; which when he had wrought sufficiently (as he thought), he laid some men in ambuscade, and sent others away to drive such beasts as they should find in the view of the castle, as if they had been thieves and robbers, as they had done often before. The captain hearing of it, and supposing there was no greater danger now than had been before, issued forth of the castle and followed after them with such haste that his men (running who should be first) were disordered and out of their ranks. The drivers also fled as fast as they could till they had drawn the captain a little way beyond the place of ambuscade, which when they perceived, rising quickly out of their covert, they fell fiercely upon him and his company, and so slew himself and chased his men back to the castle, some of whom were overtaken and slain; others got into the castle and so were saved. Sir James, not being able to force the house, took what booty he could get without in the fields, and so departed. By this means and such other exploits he so affrighted the enemy that it was counted a matter of such great jeopardy to keep this castle that it began to be called the adventurous (or hazardous) Castle of Douglas. Whereupon Sir John Walton, being in pursuit of an English lady, she wrote to him that when he had kept the adventurous Castle of Douglas seven years [the real period prescribed was a year and a day], then he might think himself worthy to be a suitor to her. Upon this occasion Walton took upon him the keeping of it, and succeeded to Thirlwall; but he ran the same fortune with the rest that were before him. For Sir James having first dressed an ambuscade near unto the place, he made fourteen of his men take so many sacks and fill them with grass, as though it had been corn which they carried on the way towards Lanark, the chief market town in that country; so hoping to draw forth the captain by that bait, and either to take him or the castle, or both. Neither was the expectation frustrate, for the captain did bite, and come forth to have taken this victual (as he supposed). But ere he could reach these carriers, Sir James and his company had gotten between the castle and him; and these disguised carriers, seeing the captain following after them, did quickly cast off their upper garments, wherein they had masked themselves, and throwing off their sacks, mounted themselves on horseback, and met the captain with a sharp encounter, he being so much the more amazed that it was unlooked for. Wherefore, when he saw these carriers metamorphosed into warriors and ready to assault him, fearing (that which was) that there was some train laid for them, he turned about to have retired into the castle, but there also he met with his enemies; between which two companies he and his followers were slain, so that none escaped. The captain afterwards being searched, they found (so it is reputed) his mistress’s letters about him. The castle also fell into Douglas’s hands, and its fortifications were levelled with the ground.'


Sir James continued to take a prominent part in the struggles of the patriots to expel the English from the country, and was concerned in all the most perilous enterprises of that protracted warfare. He defeated a detachment of the English while marching from Bothwell into Ayrshire, under the command of Sir Philip Mowbray, and he cleared the wooded and mountainous district of Ettrick Forest and Tweeddale of the enemy. It was his skilful strategy that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Lord of Lorn at the Pass of Brander, near Loch Awe, in Argyleshire. On March 13, 1213, he captured the important fortress of Roxburgh and took the garrison prisoners. He commanded the left wing of the Scottish army at the battle of Bannockburn. His chivalrous behaviour towards Randolph, on the evening before that memorable conflict, shows the true nobility of his character. Randolph had failed to notice the movement of a strong body of horse under Sir Robert Clifford, who had been detached from the main army of the English, for the purpose of strengthening the garrison of Stirling Castle, and he being apprised of this movement by Bruce himself, had hastened at the head of an inferior force to arrest their march. Douglas, with great difficulty, induced King Robert to give him permission to go to the assistance of Randolph, whose little band was environed by the enemy and placed in great jeopardy. But on approaching the scene of conflict, he perceived that the English were falling, into disorder, and ordered his followers to halt. ‘These brave men,’ he said, ‘have repulsed the enemy; let us not diminish their glory by claiming a share in it.’ ‘When it is remembered,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘that Douglas and Randolph were rivals for fame, this is one of the bright touches which illuminate and adorn the history of those ages of which blood and devastation are the predominant characters.'


After the defeat of his army at Bannockburn, King Edward was closely pursued by Douglas in his flight from the battlefield. He came up with the fugitive monarch at Linlithgow; but as he had only sixty horsemen with him, while the royal escort numbered five hundred men, he could not venture to attack them. He continued the chase so closely, however, as not to give the fugitives a moment’s rest, killing or taking prisoners all who fell an instant behind, and did not cease from the pursuit until Edward found refuge in the Castle of Dunbar, sixty miles from the field of battle.


Douglas continued to take an active part in the measures adopted after Bannockburn to clear the country completely of the English, and during the expedition to Ireland, undertaken by King Robert and his brother, Edward Bruce, the government of the kingdom was intrusted to Sir James, in conjunction with Walter Stewart, Bruce’s son-in-law. Hostilities between the two kingdoms at this period were for the most part confined to occasional Border forays, in which the Scots were almost always successful, mainly through the activity and skill of Douglas. He inflicted a severe defeat on the Earl of Arundel at a place called Linthaughlee, near Jedburgh. The line of march of the invading army lay through an extensive wood, and Douglas having twisted together the young birch-trees on both sides so as to form a kind of abatis impenetrable by cavalry, posted a considerable body of archers in ambush at the narrowest part of the pass. The English advanced in careless security, and on reaching this spot they were assailed by the Scots both in front and on the flanks, and driven back with great slaughter. In the first onset Sir Thomas de Richemont, one of the English leaders, was slain by the hand of Douglas, who took as a trophy of victory a furred hat which Sir Thomas wore above his helmet. The estate of Linthaugh, which King Robert bestowed upon Douglas as a reward for this victory, is still in the possession of the family.


Shortly after the defeat of the English in Jedburgh Forest, a Gascon knight, named Edmund de Cailou, governor of Berwick, made an inroad into Teviotdale, but while returning through the Merse loaded with spoil, he was attacked by Douglas and killed, along with most of his men. A similar fate befell Sir Robert Neville, who at that time resided in Berwick. He boasted of his willingness to encounter this puissant Scottish leader if he would display his banner before that renowned stronghold. On receiving notice of this bravado, Douglas marched to the neighbourhood of Berwick, and sent out a detachment to burn some villages within sight of the garrison. Sir Robert on this issued out at the head of a force more numerous than the Scots. An obstinate engagement ensued, in which the English were defeated with the loss of their leader, who was slain in a hand to hand encounter with Douglas, and Sir Ralph Neville and various other persons of distinction were taken prisoners. In consequence of these and other similar exploits, Sir James excited such dread among the enemies of his country that all along the Borders the English mothers were accustomed to quiet their children by threatening that they ‘would make the Black Douglas take them.'


From this time onward Douglas and Randolph were almost always conjoined in the enterprises which the Scots undertook against the English. They carried out successfully the plan which King Robert arranged for the capture of the important Border fortress of Berwick in 1317. Two years later, while King Edward, at the head of a powerful army, was making a vigorous effort to recover that place, these two noble brothers in arms crossed the Borders with a well-appointed force of fifteen thousand men, and laid waste the northern counties with fire and sword. The Archbishop of York, to resist these ravages, hastily collected a large but ill-assorted and undisciplined force, composed of archers, yeomen, priests, clerks, monks, and friars, and gave battle to the Scots at Mitton. As might have been expected, they were completely defeated after a very brief conflict, and four thousand men are said to have fallen in the battle and the pursuit, among whom were three hundred priests. In allusion to this circumstance and to the clerical leaders of the defeated army, this rout was named by the Scots, in the savage pleasantry of the times, ‘The Chapter of Mitton.’ On the failure of the invasion of Scotland by King Edward in person in 1322, Douglas and Randolph grievously harassed the English in their retreat; and in retaliation for the ravages committed by the invaders, they laid waste the north of England, and, in company with King Robert and his son-in-law, inflicted a severe defeat on Edward at Biland, in Yorkshire, and captured his camp baggage and treasure, the King himself with difficulty escaping to York.


The last and most successful of the invasions of England by these two redoubted warriors took place in 1327, after the accession of Edward III. to the English throne. Crossing the western Border at the head of twenty-three thousand men, they plundered and laid waste the country as far as the Wear, and completely baffled the attempts of the young King, at the head of sixty-two thousand men, to arrest their progress. While the two armies were lying opposite each other, Douglas crossed the river at midnight with a chosen body of four hundred horse and penetrated into the English camp, which appears to have been carelessly guarded. He even forced his way to the royal tent, and would have carried off the young King but for the brave resistance of his chaplain and other members of the household, who lost their lives in their master’s defence, and thus gave him time to escape. Having failed in his attempt on the King’s person, Douglas cut his way through the gathering crowds of his enemies, and with inconsiderable loss returned in safety to the Scottish camp. A few nights later the Scots quitted their encampment unperceived by the English, passing over a morass in their rear, and were several miles on their way homewards before it was known that they had left their position. Pursuit was hopeless, and, unmolested by the enemy, they regained their own country in safety. The successful result of this expedition contributed not a little to bring about the recognition of the independence of Scotland by the English Government, and the conclusion of a treaty of peace between the two kingdoms.


In the year 1329, when King Robert was on his deathbed, after giving some general instructions to his most trusted barons and lords, Froissart says, ‘He called to him the brave and gentle knight Sir James Douglas, and said before the rest of the courtiers: "Sir James, my dear friend, none knows better than you how great labour and suffering I have undergone in my day for the maintenance of the rights of this kingdom, and when I was hardest beset I made a vow which it now grieves me deeply that I have not accomplished. I vowed to God that if I should live to see the end of my wars, and be enabled to govern this realm in peace and security, I would then set out in person and carry on war against the enemies of my Lord and Saviour to the best of my power. Never has my heart ceased to tend to this point, but our Lord has not consented thereto; for I have had my hands full in my days, and now at the last I am seized with this grievous sickness, so that, as you all see, I have nothing to do but to die. And since my body cannot go thither and accomplish that which my heart hath so much desired, I have resolved to send my heart there in place of my body to fulfil my vow; and now, since in all my realm I know not any knight more hardy than yourself, or more thoroughly furnished with all knightly qualities for the accomplishment of the vow in place of myself, therefore I entreat thee, my dear and tried friend, that for the love you have to me you will undertake this voyage and acquit my soul of its debt to my Saviour; for I hold this opinion of your truth and nobleness, that whatever you undertake I am persuaded you will successfully accomplish; and thus I shall die in peace, provided that you do all that I shall tell you. I will, then, that as soon as I am dead you take the heart out of my body and cause it to be embalmed, and take as much out of my treasure as seems to you sufficient for the expenses of your journey both for you and your companions, and that you carry my heart along with you and deposit it in the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord, since this poor body cannot go thither. And it is my command that you do use that royal state and maintenance in your journey, both for yourself and your companions, that into whatever lands or cities you may come all may know that you have in charge to bear beyond seas the heart of King Robert of Scotland"


‘At these words all who stood by began to weep, and when Sir James himself was able to reply, he said, "Ah! most gentle and noble king, a thousand times do I thank you for the great honour you have done me in making me the depositary of so great and precious a treasure. Most faithfully and willingly, to the best of my power, shall I obey your commands; albeit, I would have you believe that I think myself but little worthy to achieve so high an enterprise." "Ah, gentle knight," said the King, "I heartily thank you, provided you promise to do my bidding on the word of a true and loyal knight." "Assuredly, my liege, I do promise so," replied Douglas, "by the faith which I owe to God and to the Order of Knighthood." "Now praise be to God!" said the King, "for I shall die in peace, since I am assured that the best and most valiant knight of my kingdom has promised to achieve for me that which I myself could never accomplish"


Soon after the death of King Robert, Sir James Douglas prepared to execute the last injunctions of his beloved master. He had the heart of Bruce embalmed and enclosed in a silver case, curiously enamelled, and wore it suspended from his neck by a silver chain. Having settled all his affairs and made his will, he set sail from Scotland, attended by a numerous and splendid retinue, and anchored off Sluys, where he lay for twelve days, keeping open table on board his ship, and entertaining his visitors with almost royal magnificence. Froissart says that Sir James had in his train a knight bearing a banner, and seven other noble Scottish knights, and was served at table by twenty-six esquires, all ‘comely young men of good family; and he kept court in a royal manner with the sound of trumpets and cymbals. All the vessels for his table were of gold and silver, and whatever persons of good estate went to pay their respects to him were entertained with two sorts of wine and two kinds of spice'.


While lying off Sluys, Douglas learned that Alphonso, the young King of Leon and Castile, was carrying on hostilities with Osmyn, the Moorish King of Granada. As this was reckoned a holy warfare Douglas resolved, before proceeding to Jerusalem, in fulfilment of his own mission, to assist Alphonso in his contest with the enemies of the Christian faith. He accordingly sailed to Spain, and shortly after his arrival at Seville a battle was fought with the Moors near Theba, on the frontiers of Andalusia. Douglas, to whom the command of the vanguard was assigned, fought with his usual bravery and put the enemy to flight; but he and his companions, pursuing the fugitives too eagerly, were separated from the main body of the Spanish army. The Moors, perceiving the small number of their pursuers, rallied and surrounded them. Douglas, who had only ten men with him, cut his way through the enemy, and might have made good his retreat, had he not turned back to rescue Sir William St Clair of Roslin, whom he saw surrounded by the Moors and in great jeopardy. ‘Yon worthy knight will be slain,’ he exclaimed, ‘unless he have instant help.’ And putting spurs to his horse he galloped back to St. Clair’s. assistance. But, in attempting to save his friend, he was surrounded and overwhelmed by the crowds of the Moors, who were twenty to one. When he found himself inextricably involved, he took from his neck the casket which contained the heart of Bruce, and throwing it before him he exclaimed, ‘Now pass thou onward as thou wert wont, and Douglas will follow thee or die !’ He then rushed forward to the place where it fell, and was there slain, along with Sir William St. Clair and Sir Robert and Sir Walter Logan. On the following day the body of the hero of seventy battles was found on the field beside the casket, and by his few surviving friends sorrowfully conveyed to Scotland and interred in the sepulchre of his ancestors in St. Bride’s Church at Douglas. The heart of Bruce was buried by Randolph, Earl of Moray, in Melrose Abbey.


The portrait of Sir James Douglas has been drawn in very graphic and pleasing terms by the friendly hand of Barbour, from the testimony of persons who were personally acquainted with the hero. He was tall, strong, and well-made, though lean, broad-shouldered and large-boned, and of swarthy complexion, with black hair. He lisped a little in his speech, but, says the metrical historian, ‘that set him right wonder weel.’ He was pleasant and affable in his manners; his countenance had a modest and gentle expression in time of peace, but he had a very different aspect in the day of battle. Notwithstanding the perils to which he had been exposed and the numerous engagements in which he had fought, his face had escaped without a wound. There was a knight of great renown at the court of King Alphonso, whose face was all over marked with the scars of wounds received in battle, and who on meeting with Douglas, expressed his astonishment that a knight so famous for his warlike exploits, and who had seen so much hard service, should have no marks of wounds on his countenance. ‘I thank God,’ Douglas modestly replied, ‘that I had always hands to protect my face.’ He was universally beloved by his contemporaries for his kindness and courtesy, as well as admired for his bravery and chivalrous deeds, and he is affectionately remembered among his countrymen by the name of the ‘Good Sir James.’ Godscroft, who dwells with peculiar complacency on the daring exploits and many virtues of this great ornament of the Douglas family, winds up his eulogium on him in the following characteristic terms: ‘We will not omit here to shut up all the judgment of those times concerning him, in an old rich verse indeed, yet such as beareth witness of his true magnanimity and invincible mind in either fortune, good or bad:-

"Good Sir James Douglas,
who wise, and wight, and worthy was,
Was never over glad for no winning,
Nor yet over sad for no tyneing; (losing)
Good fortune and evil chance
He weighed both in one balance.

Godscroft states that Sir James was never married, but Dr. Fraser has discovered that he was married, and left a legitimate son, who fell at Halidon. Archibald the Grim, his natural son, became third Earl of Douglas. Sir James was succeeded by his next brother-

HUGH DOUGLAS. ‘Of this man,’ says Godscroft, ‘whether it was by reason of the dulness of his mind, or infirmity of his body, we have no mention at all in history of any of his actions.’ The true reason was that he was a canon of the Cathedral Church of Glasgow.


Following the death of the 2nd Earl at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 without legitimate issue, the Earldom passed to a bastard son of 'The Good Sir James', the poetically named Archibald the Grim, the Lord of Galloway. This occurred through articles of special entail in the resignation of title by Hugh the Dull, Lord of Douglas. George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus the bastard son of the 1st Earl by his sister-in law Margaret Stewart, Dowager Countess of Mar & Countess of Angus, inherited his mother's Earldom of Angus. Retrospectively the two branches of Douglas and Angus were described as the Black and Red lines respectively.

The Black Douglases fell from power and were attainted by King James II in 1455. The seventh Earl was created Earl of Avondale and Lord Balveny in 1437, also in the Peerage of Scotland. These titles also became forfeit in 1455.

The title of Douglas was restored in 1633 for the 'Red' Douglas line, when William Douglas, 11th Earl of Angus (1589–1660), was created First Marquess of Douglas by Charles I.


Dr. Deborah Richmond Foulkes writes:

1. I am unsure which William we are using (for the DNA)....We know that not all the Douglases today descend from William le Hardi b.1250 d.1298 although he was the first to call himself William Lord Douglas in the baronial style ...Which William are we using?

 If it is le Hardi , the father of the Good Sir James then we need to look at le Hardi's cousin William whose father was Andrew, brother of William long leg, Le Hardi's father... and from Andrew descended the Douglases of Linlithgow and Dalkeith...not to mention le Hardi's own sister Willelma who married a de Galbraithe...these people we know existed through the documents...and there are many others mentioned by Froissart and other if the DNA folks are using William le Hardi as the first of the line that might be a poor start...Do you know the identity of the William being referred to

2. And I would agree that in medieval times and even in later years some folk took their names from the lands...or their superiors...this even happened in the Lowlands where the Douglases dominated...and people took the name Douglas even though their wives may have been Douglases...(the Percy family was really the Lovaine family in the 13th c.) So I think the DNA test may be looking for a trend...anyone could be named Douglas...if the DNA folks are taking that into account then the results will be for the dominate that not correct?


3. There were other families known as Douglas...Sholto appears to have been real...lands tracing to him are in Lanarkshire but not of the Douglas barony. His son according to 17th c. letters from Count Marco Antonio Douglas Scotti of Agazzano, Italy began the Douglas Scotti line in Piacenza.

The more we know, the more we don't know...

Dr. Deborah Richmond Foulkes, FSAScot

See also:

•  The Morton Papers (Extract from the Register of the more ancient writs of the Douglases of Dalkeith, Earls of Morton, which is probably the oldest chartulary of lay possessions in Scotland.  This consists of two parts; the older written soon after the middle of the fourteenth century, and the latter about its close. Together they contain about three hundred charters. There was also preserved at Dalmahoy an immense mass of original charters and family papers, which have been used to some extent for a book entitled Registrum honoris de Morton, printed for the Bannatyne Club.

  • Origins of the name 'Douglas'
  • Extract from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  • The Douglas surname
  • Freskin the Fleming
  • Scotti Douglas of Italy
  • Scota, Egyptian Queen of the Scots
  • Jounalist Hamish MacPherson's series of articles The mightiest Scottish clans. [pdf]




    This page was last updated on 29 May 2024

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