William, Abbot Douglas


By Dr. Deborah Richmond Foulkes, FSA Scot

As with all research it is the unexpected find that pleases us the most. I was working on my third book of the Douglas Trilogy, MY TRUTH A MIST IN TIME, when I found references to a William Douglas as the abbot of Melrose in the beginning of the eleventh century. His name was mentioned in a catalogue of abbots for the monastery and included an anecdote that this William Douglas was a favourite of St. Fothad, the Bishop of St. Andrews who died in 962 and of Grime, King of Scots who died in 1003. From these facts we can deduce that his date of birth must have occurred before 940 as he was likely ordained in his twenty-second year or later to come under the watchful eye of his patron the Bishop of St. Andrews.


The records also reveal another strange fact: the cloister of Melrose Abbey was built by Abbot Douglas and at his own personal expense! From this bit of information we can be assured that this churchman and his family were people of substantial means. After the death of King Grime, the abbot became the confessor to Malcolm II who succeeded as King of Scots; another indication of the priest’s prominent standing within the community of the realm. Abbot Douglas was still alive according to the records in 1011. This wonderful bit of Douglas history found in the Melrose Abbey records supports the long held tradition that the Douglases were a prominent Borders clan for centuries; some 350 years prior to their ascendancy to power wielded from the acquisition of charters issued by Robert the Brus, King of Scots to the Good Sir James.


Added from our Forum, 5 Sep 2009:

My article on William Douglas and Melrose Abbey in the 10th century is based on information researched from this book, "The Monastic Annals of Teviotdale" by the Rev. James Morton, B.D. 1832. He said "that if Dempster is to be believed," citing information taken from a fragment of a catalogue of the abbots of the monastery that Dempster saw with his own eyes...then William Douglas was abbot of Melrose in the beginning of the 11th century.

The monastery was burned by Kenneth King of Scots in 839. It is believed that many of the buildings were restored and inhabited by 875 as the body of St. Cuthbert was recorded to have rested there (7 years) when Lindesfarne was under siege by the Danes, again according to Rev. Morton who cites Dempster as his source.

Rev. Morton states that William Douglas rebuilt the cloister of the monastery himself, at his expense. Abbot Douglas became the confessor to Malcolm II and was still alive in 1011. He is said to have written 'De Proelio ad Achnabart' and 'Pro Malcolmo Rege'.

Deborah R. Foulkes



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•  Deborah Richmond Foulkes

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