No one could possible acquire even a superficial knowledge of Scottish history without discovering the importance of the house of Douglas. Black or Red, heroes or villains, they were always there, through every chapter of Scottish history. No other clan experienced the dramatic heights and depths of the Douglases. They ruled Scotland twice as Regents, they were ordered into oblivion, they raged a successful revolt against the Scottish King, and one was treacherously murdered by the king, himself.
The Black Douglases:
The Douglases were descended from an old aristocratic Celtic (southern Pict) family in the midst of the Welsh-speaking area of Lanarkshire in southern Scotland. The clan name is an obvious Anglicization of the P-Celtic du (for black, or dark) and glas (for blue or green in nature), not the Gaelic dubh (for black). If it were a derivative of the Gaelic dubh, as stated in several historical documents, the name would have came out as 'Dubglas'. It pertains to a valley south of Lanark which is dark green.
Every reference to the Douglases states their origin is obscure. That is a good indication they were descended from Celts, otherwise a suspected Norman or a Dalriadic ancestry would have been shouted from the rooftops.
The first mention of a Douglas in history was in 1175AD when William of 'Duglas' witnessed a charter. Between 1198 and 1211, William's son, Archibald Douglas flourished. He was succeeded by William of the senior line that would become the Black Douglases. William was the father of William "the Hardy', the companion of Wallace who was captured and died in the Tower of London in 1298.
His son, Sir James Douglas, occupies the third place among the heroes of the Scottish wars of independence. He was known as 'Good' Sir James, from the many battles he won for Scottish Independence. After fighting with Bruce at the Battle of Methven in 1306, James made a daring raid the following year on his occupied estate in Douglasdale. Disguised as peasants, his party surprised the English garrison as they attended the Palm Sunday Mass. Then, Douglas's men calmly ate the Englishmen's dinner before destroying their supplies, beheading the prisoners, and burning Douglas Castle. This bloodthirsty revenge became known as the 'Douglas Larder'.
He also played a large part in the defeat of a Highland army at the Pass of Brander, the Battle of Roxburgh, and the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1316, he defeated an English force that had been sent across the border in revenge hoping to ambush him Lintalee. It was James who ambushed the English and routed them. He attended Bruce at his death in 1328, and promised to take his heart to the holy land. However, he was killed in battle in Spain. His son fell fighting the English at Halidon Hill in 1333.
Sir James left a 'natural' son also. Sir James's brother, Sir Archibald, became regent during the minority of Bruce's son, David II, b: 1324, and also perished at Halidon Hill, leaving a son, William, who became Earl of Douglas in `1358, and later became the Earl of Mar through marriage.
The 2nd Earl married the daughter of the first Stewart king, Robert II, but he was killed at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, and so the 2nd legitimate line of Douglases was also extinguished. It was now that the remarkable 'natural' son of he good Sir James, Archibald the Grim. entered into his father's inheritance as the 3rd Earl of Douglas. He had already received huge grants from David Ii, in Galloway. He governed there with strength and justice, and the ruins of his castle of Threave still stands as a memorial to the Black Douglas Lords of Galloway.
Archbald the Grim fought against the English at Poitiers in 1356, was taken prisoner and escaped. His son, the 4th Earl fought at the battle of Shrewsbury against Henry IV of England in 1403. He was taken prisoner. After he had regained his freedom, he continued fighting against the English as a General under Joan of Arc's Dauphin, Charles VII of France. There, he was rewarded with the Duchy of Touraine but died in battle.
His young grandson's were lured to Edinburgh after their father's death and were executed in the castle by enemies of the mighty house of Douglas, and so the earldom passed to the 2nd son of Archibald the Grim. James the 7th Earl proved to be violent and impetuous. William the 8th Earl succeeded in 1443, and was made Lieutenant General of the Kingdom by James II.
He traveled to Rome in 1443 to attend the Papal Jubilee, and upon his return, James II sent him a safe conduct, and invited him to dinner in Stirling Castle. After dinner, the king ordered him to break his alliances with the Earls of Crawford and Ross. When he refused, the king stabbed him, the attendants finished him off and his body was thrown over the battlements.
A few weeks later, his brother, James, the 9th Earl of Douglas, rode through Stirling, dragging the dishonoured safe-conduct from his horse's tail. Three years after the Stirling murder, the curtain fell on the Black Douglases. First, James II secured the submission of the 9th Earl, there was a reconciliation but not for long. In 1455, the entire Black Douglas clan was up in arms against the king. Their army was defeated at Arkinholm by a royal army headed by - the Earl of Angus, chief of the Red Douglases. The 9th Earl died a prisoner at Lindores Abbey in 1488. The entire Douglas estates were forfeited and the Earldom was extinguished. The Black Douglases were never heard of again.
The Red Douglases:
Going back in the Douglas family history, Archibald, who disappeared in 1239, had a younger son, Sir Andrew, founder of the senior cadet branch of the family. In 1325, his grandson, Sir James Douglas was granted the property of Morton, originally a small holding in east Calder, Linlithgowshire. Soon, greater honours were bestowed upon this branch of a house to which the dynasty of Bruce owed so much.
David II raised Sir William, son of Sir James, to the ancient Earldom of Atholl in 1341, but then arranged for him to exchange it for Liddesdale. His descendants became first Lord of Dalkeith, then in 1458, Earls of Morton in Dumfries-shire. So when the Black Douglases were forfeited in 1455, a phoenix was already rising from their ashes.
Nor was it the only one. Going back to the 1200s, the 1st Earl of Douglas, William left a 'natural' son, George, who had married a daughter of King Robert III, and was raised to the Earldom of Angus, as befitting the husband of a Princess. By the time the Black Douglases were forfeited, the 4th Earl of Angus, George, represented the line of what would become known as the 'Red' Douglases. With the disappearance of the Black Douglases, George, 4th Earl of Angus, became Chief of the entire clan Douglas, and his heir, Archibald, had been born.
The Red Douglases began to occupy the centre of the stage of Scottish history almost as soon as the Black Douglases had departed from it. By siding with the crown against their clansmen, they succeeded in acquiring much of the former Black Douglas property. The 5th Earl of Morton, Archibald, fought at Flodden and was one of the few Scots of any note who survived.
He led the nobles rebellion against James III which ended in the defeat and death of the king at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. His grandson, also Archibald, the 6th Earl of Angus, and married Queen Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV who had fallen at Flodden. He conducted a fierce feud with the Hamiltons. Since he left no children, the earldom passed to the Douglases of Pittendriech.
After the death of the 8th Earl, the peerage was passed to the Douglases of Glenbervie. As the 10th Earl became converted to Catholicism, he eventually had to emigrate to France, where he died in 1611. The 11th Earl of Angus was promoted by Charles I to be Marquess of Douglas, and later served under Montrose. The 3rd Marquess was created Duke of Douglas in 1703. He fought on the Hanoverian side at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715, and during the 'Forty five', he again supported the Government. When he died in 1774, his Dukedom became extinct.
His title of Marquess was inherited by the Duke of Hamilton, and his estates were inherited by his nephew, Archibald Stewart Douglas of Douglas. The Earldom of Morton is still held by this family today. It would appear the senior representatives of the house of Douglas at present is Lord Home.
The Douglases of Drumlanrig:
The natural son of Sir James the Good, left a will leaving his estate at Drumlanrig to his natural son, William, founder of a house that would become as powerful and far-flung as any other. Sir William, the 9th of Drumlanrig entertained James VI there in 1617, on the only visit that monarch made to Scotland after he had inherited the throne of the Tudors. When Charles I succeeded to his father, he created Sir William Earl of Queensbury in 1628.
Once again, a cadet house of he Douglases had moved into the vacuum left by its seniors. After the Earl of Angus fell, Douglas of Morton had risen to supreme power. The very king who ordered Morton's execution, bestowed his favours on Drumlanrig. From this moment, its rise was rapid and spectacular.
The 2nd Earl of Queensbury was a fervent royalist during the wars that cost Charles his head, and his eldest son, William, reaped the reward after the restoration of Charles II. In 1660, he became Justice-General of Scotland. Two years later, he was appointed Lord High Treasurer and raised to the rank of Marquess. In 1684, he became 1st Duke of Queensbury, just before Charles was succeeded by his openly Catholic brother James VII.
Then William made the critical decision that would seal the fate of his family. Despite all he owed to the Stewarts, he was one of those who offered the crown to William of Orange, and thus placed himself on the winning side in the Revolution of 1688. A few years later, he died, only fifty-eight years old, leaving his son, James, the 2nd Duke, to play an even more resounding part in the history of Scotland.
James was principally responsible for the union between Scotland and England in 1707, which in reality, became an English take-over. This had been increasingly unpopular in Scotland so James used bullying and bribery to force it through the Scottish Parliament. His vast properties were passed to a younger son, but since then the English titles became extinct while Drumlanrig and his Dukedom passed to the Scott Dukes of Buccleuch (which were created by Charles II for his eldest illegitimate son).
It was the 9th Douglas Marquess of Queensbury that gave his name to the present rules of boxing. The present Marquess of Queensbury is a Professor, his brother Lord Gawain Douglas a musician.