Généalogie and Heritage



Type Valeur




The Douglases are an ancient clan or noble house from the Scottish Lowlands.

Taking their name from Douglas in Lanarkshire, their leaders gained vast territories throughout the Borders, Angus, Lothian, Moray, and also in France and Sweden. The family is one of the most ennobled in the United Kingdom and has held numerous titles.

The Douglases were one of Scotland's most powerful families, and certainly the most prominent family in lowland Scotland during the Late Middle Ages, often holding the real power behind the throne of the Stewart Kings. The heads of the House of Douglas held the titles of the Earl of Douglas (Black Douglas) and later the Earl of Angus (Red Douglas). The clan does not currently have a chief recognised by the Lyon Court. The principal Douglas today is the Duke of Hamilton, but as his surname is "Douglas-Hamilton" rather than simply "Douglas" the laws of the Lyon Court prevent him from assuming the chiefship of the name.

The original caput of the family was Douglas Castle in Lanarkshire. The Kirk of St Bride at Douglas, along with Melrose Abbey and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés holds the remains of many of the Earls of Douglas and Angus.

The Swedish branch is descended from Field Marshal Robert Douglas, Count of Skenninge, and has been one of Sweden's most prominent noble families since the 17th century.

The family's surname is derived from the village of Douglas, the name of which comes from the Gaelic elements dubh, meaning "dark, black"; and glas, meaning "stream" (in turn from Old Gaelic dub and glais).

In 1179 William Douglas was Lord of Douglas, he is the first certain record of the name Douglas and undoubtedly the ancestor of the family. He witnessed a charter between 1175 and 1199 by the Bishop of Glasgow to the monks of Kelso. His grandson, also Sir William de Douglas had two sons who fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 against the Norsemen.

One old tradition is that the first chief of Douglas was Sholto Douglas who helped the king of Scotland win a battle in the year 767. This is unsubstantiated and is today considered pseudohistory.

The true progenitor of Clan Douglas was probably "Theobaldus Flammatius" (Theobald the Fleming), who in 1147 received the lands near Douglas Water in Lanarkshire in return for services for the Abbot of Kelso, who held the barony and lordship of Holydean. The Douglas family names consisted of Arkenbald and Freskin, and were believed to be related to the Clan Murray, believed to be descended from a Flemish knight called Freskin. It seems likely that he was the father of the first William Douglas.

However the Flemish origin of the Douglases has been disputed, it has been claimed that the lands which were granted to Theobald the Fleming were not the lands which the Douglas family later emerged from.

Wars of Scottish Independence
During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Sir William Douglas the Hardy, Lord of Douglas was governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed when the town and Berwick Castle were besieged by the English. Douglas was captured and was released only after he had agreed to accept the claim of the Edward I of England to be overlord of Scotland. He subsequently joined William Wallace in fighting for Scottish independence, but was captured and taken to England, where he died in 1302, a prisoner in the Tower of London.

The "Good" Sir James Douglas or "Black Douglas"
Main article: James Douglas, Lord of Douglas

William Le Hardi's son, James Douglas, "The Good Sir James" (c. 1286–1330), was the first to acquire the epithet "the Black". He shared in the early misfortunes of Robert the Bruce and in the defeats at Methven and Dalrigh in 1306. But for both men these setbacks provided a valuable lesson in tactics: limitations in both resources and equipment meant that the Scots would always be at a disadvantage in conventional medieval warfare.

By the time the fighting flared up again in the spring of 1307 they had learned the value of guerrilla warfare – known at the time as "secret war" – using fast-moving, lightly equipped and agile forces to maximum effect against an enemy often dependent on static defensive positions. Sir James Douglas recaptured Roxburgh Castle from the English in 1313. He was made a knight banneret, a high honor, on the field and commanded a wing of the army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The English called Sir James "The Black Douglas" for what they considered his dark deeds: he became the bogeyman of a Northern English lullaby Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye. Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye. The Black Douglas shall not get ye. Unsubstantiated theories point to his colouring and complexion, this is tenuous. Douglas appears only in English records as "The Black" – Scots chronicles almost always referred to him as "The Guid" or "The Good." Later Douglas lords took the moniker of their revered forebear in the same way that they attached the image of Bruce's heart to their coat of arms: to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies and to exhibit the prowess of their race.

King Robert the Bruce had requested that Douglas, latterly his most esteemed companion in arms, should carry his heart to the Holy Land, as atonement for the murder of John III Comyn. Douglas and his knights had been invited to join the forces of Alfonso XI of Castile, Edward III of England's cousin by his mother Queen Isabella, to fight against the Moors in 1330 at the siege of Teba. Outnumbered and cut off from the main Christian force, Douglas was killed leading a cavalry charge; Alfonso kept his army back from the attack, likely in some arrangement with his cousin Edward. The casket containing the heart of the Bruce was recovered and returned to Scotland, to be interred at Melrose Abbey. Douglas' bones were boiled and returned to Scotland; his embalmed heart was recently recovered in the Douglas vaults at the Kirk of St Bride but his bones are not in the stone vault lying under his effigy and they have yet to be located.

Sir Archibald Douglas, Guardian of the Realm
Main article: Archibald Douglas (died 1333)

The Scottish army that fought and lost the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 was led by James' youngest brother who had been elected Regent of Scotland in late March 1333. Sir Archibald Douglas has been badly treated by some historians; frequently misidentifying this Douglas warrior as the Tyneman or loser when the moniker was intended for a later less fortunate but equally warlike Archibald. He was mentioned in Barbour's The Brus for his great victory during the Weardale campaign; leading the Scottish army further south into County Durham he devastated the lands and took much booty from Darlington and other nearby towns and villages.

Sir James 'The Good' Douglas' son William succeeded to the title as Lord of Douglas but may not have completed his title to the estates, possibly because he might have been underage. He died at Battle of Halidon Hill with his uncle, Sir Archibald Douglas. James' younger brother, Hugh the Dull, Lord of Douglas, a canon serving the See of Glasgow and held a prebendary at Roxburgh became Lord Douglas in 1342; Hugh of Douglas resigned his title to his nephew, the youngest surviving son of the Regent Archibald, William Lord of Douglas who was to become the first Earl. The First Earl's legitimate son James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas succeeded him. His illegitimate son by Margaret Stewart, 4th Countess of Angus was George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus, who was the progenitor of the Earls of Angus also known as the "Red Douglases."

The prestige of the family was greatly increased when James Douglas's great nephew, James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas married a House of Stuart princess. In 1388 at the Battle of Otterburn he was instrumental to the Scots' victory but was killed during the fighting. Leaving no legitimate heir, his titles passed to the illegitimate son of his great uncle.

15th century
Wars with England
Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas did much to consolidate the family's power and influence. He successfully defended Edinburgh Castle against Henry IV of England in 1400 but died the following year.

His son, Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, married the daughter of Robert III of Scotland. The fourth Earl fought against King Henry IV of England at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, where he was taken prisoner.

In 1406, with the death of the king, the 4th Earl of Douglas became one of the council of regents to rule Scotland during the childhood of James I of Scotland. In 1412, the 4th Earl had visited Paris, when he entered into a personal alliance with John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and in 1423, he commanded a contingent of 10,000 Scots sent to the aid of Charles VII of France against the English. He was made lieutenant-general in Joan of Arc's French army, and received the title Duke of Touraine, with remainder to his heirs-male, on 19 April 1424. The newly created French duke was defeated and slain at Battle of Verneuil on 17 August 1424, along with his second son, James, and son-in-law John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan.

Black Dinner
The Douglases became so powerful that by the early fifteenth century they were seen as a threat to the stability of the nation. In 1440, the 16-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas and his younger brother were invited to dine with the ten-year-old King James II of Scotland. Later called the Black Dinner, the occasion was organised by the Lord Chancellor, Sir William Crichton. While they ate, a black bull's head, a symbol of death, was brought in and placed before the Earl. The two brothers were then dragged out to Castle Hill, given a mock trial and beheaded. The Clan Douglas then laid siege to Edinburgh Castle. Perceiving the danger, Crichton surrendered the castle to the king and was rewarded with the title Lord Crichton....