Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas


Douglas, Archibald, fifth earl of Douglas, and duke of Touraine in the French nobility (c.1391–1439), magnate and soldier, was the elder son of Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas and duke of Touraine (c.1369–1424), and Margaret Douglas, née Stewart (b. before 1373?, d. 1450/51), daughter of Robert III.


His early career was dictated by the ambitions of his father in Scotland, England, and France. During the fourth earl's English captivity his heir acted as a hostage for his good behaviour on temporary release from custody and, while in London, the younger Archibald witnessed two of his father's charters. Similarly, in Scotland Archibald and his younger brother, James, were associated with an indenture designed to regulate possibly uneasy relations between their father and the governor, Robert Stewart, duke of Albany, in 1409. The assumption by Archibald of the title earl of Wigtown (the lands of which earldom had been held by the Black Douglases since 1372) may have been part of his father's attempt to raise the status of his house in Scotland and beyond. More particularly, occurring as it did between 1417 and September 1419, Archibald's elevation was probably connected with his co-leadership of an army in France.

In the autumn of 1419 Archibald, earl of Wigtown, was one of the principal commanders of a Scottish force of up to 6000 men sent to France. He and the other main leader, John Stewart, earl of Buchan, second son of the duke of Albany and husband of Archibald's sister, Elizabeth, had been sent to support the dauphin, Charles (the future Charles VII), in his war against Henry V. Although he returned to Scotland on recruiting missions in early 1420 and late 1422, between 1419 and 1423 Wigtown's career was as a French commander. The high point of his efforts was the victory won by the Scots and their French allies at Baugé in Anjou on Good Friday 1421 in which Henry V's brother Thomas, duke of Clarence, was killed. Wigtown was rewarded for this success with the lands of Dun-le-roi in Berri and the title of count of Longueville (then in English hands). His role at Baugé and his prizes indicate that in the leadership of Scots troops on the continent he played a junior part to Buchan, who was made constable of France after the battle. Wigtown probably represented his father both at the French court and in the Scottish army—the latter contained considerable numbers of kinsmen, tenants, and adherents of the Black Douglases.

The return of Wigtown to Scotland in 1423 was once more in response to the ambitions of his father. The fourth earl was preparing for his own entry into the French war, encouraged by the offer of the duchy of Touraine from Charles VII, the imminent return of James I from English captivity, and the death of Henry V, whom the earl had promised to serve in France. Wigtown was again to stand in for his father, this time in Scotland. Since 1419 Wigtown had been confirming grants made by Archibald the elder. Such confirmations by an heir of alienations by his father are commonplace, but these may also reflect the fourth earl's long-standing intention to serve in France. Between late 1423 and the departure of the fourth earl to France in March 1424 Wigtown was given power to run the Douglas lands in his place, with the exception of Galloway, where his mother, Margaret, was left in authority. Although he had helped secure the king's release, the fourth earl was apparently not prepared to experience James's rule. Wigtown's marriage, around 1423, to Euphemia Graham (d. 1468), sister of Malise Graham, earl of Strathearn, and great-niece of Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl (d. 1437), forged connections with other magnates which could be valuable in the uncertain circumstances of the king's return.

In the event Wigtown found his uncle James I anxious to maintain Black Douglas support. Though he relinquished part of his father's dominance in the marches, Wigtown successfully forged a working relationship with the king; James knighted him in May 1424, which seemed to secure his family's power. This position was weakened in August by the death of the fourth earl and the destruction of the Scottish army at Verneuil. The French lands received by both Douglases were quickly repossessed by Charles VII and given to new owners, despite continued complaints from the family. More damagingly, the removal of the earl and so many of his adherents meant that his son had to concede influence in Lothian and Berwickshire to the king. Archibald, now fifth earl of Douglas, backed the king's attack on Murdoch Stewart, duke of Albany, in March 1425 not because he was the mainstay of royal power envisaged by the fourth earl, but in hope of reward. The support of the Black Douglas connection was none the less crucial to the assize which condemned Albany, and Douglas had his title to the lordship of Bothwell confirmed in return. Further recompense was not forthcoming. Instead in 1426 the king confirmed his sister, Douglas's mother, in her hold on Galloway and displayed his ability to intervene in the family's border power base.

The fifth earl was clearly dissatisfied with the limitations on the regional powers established by his father. He continued to concern himself in Galloway after 1426, and in 1429 sought to exert influence in Carrick in a dispute between members of the Kennedy kindred. James I distrusted such activities and, although Douglas was given the rank and role of a trusted councillor at court and served on James's 1429 highland campaign, the king blocked his local ambitions. Tension increased with the king's move towards a war in the highlands and with England, which Douglas saw as potentially disastrous. The earl was removed as a march warden and in 1431 was arrested, once again perhaps in connection with the feuding Kennedys. He was quickly restored to lands and offices, but his local role remained curtailed. While he did not go to France, as David Hume of Godscroft later claimed, his activities were confined to the heartlands of the family, Bothwell, Annandale, and Selkirk Forest, and his support drawn largely from those regions.

Throughout James's reign Douglas benefited from the rise of family servants. Men such as his uncle James Douglas of Balvenie, John Cameron, and William Crichton maintained contact between king and earl and prevented wider conflict. They were also vital in the earl's promotion following the assassination of James in February 1437. Douglas had no part in a plot which sought power for his rival, Walter, earl of Atholl. To many, though, he was the most acceptable lieutenant for the young James II, no doubt in part because of his descent from Robert III. In June he received the office from a general council, forcing Queen Joan to relinquish power. All the same, it is arguable that his rise owed less to legitimacy than to the support of Balvenie and Crichton. Both profited from his brief period of power, in which Douglas showed himself aware of the need to forge agreements with the other major Scottish magnates, the earl of Crawford and the lord of the Isles, and widened his own basis of support in Ayrshire and Lothian. However, the earl's own death on 26 June 1439 at Restalrig, Edinburghshire, was to prove the dangers of reliance on such powerful servants as Balvenie and Crichton, who orchestrated the murder of Douglas's sons, David and William Douglas, the following year.


tomb in St Bride'sThe earl was buried in an impressive tomb in the church of Douglas, St Bride's, on which were recorded his full titles—earl of Douglas and Wigtown and lord of Galloway, Bothwell, Selkirk and Ettrick Forest, Eskdale, Lauderdale, and Annandale in Scotland, and duke of Touraine, count of Longueville, and lord of Dun-le-roi in France.






•  Nicola Marshall-Roth asks:  I am trying to determine if there is any truth in our family folk lore that says Thomas Pringle married Lady Jane Douglas who was daughter of the 5th Earl of Douglas. Lady Jane and Thomas had a daughter Euphemia who married into the Caldwell family and that is my paternal grandmother's maiden name.




This page was last updated on 17 May 2024

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