Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XV


CUMBERLAND RAVAGED BY THE SCOTS – THE DOUGLAS RAID – THE ENGLISH PREPARE TO MAKE REPRISALS – A LARGE SOUTHERN ARMY ENTERS DUMFRIESSHIRE, AND ENCAMPS ON THE BANKS OF THE SARK – BATTLE OF THE SARK, AND UTTER ROUT OF THE ENGLISH – INCREASING AUDACITY OF DOUGLAS – HIS IMPOSING JOURNEY TO ROME – OPPRESSIVE CONDUCT OF HIS SUBORDINATES – A FINE LEVIED ON HIS CHIEF REPRESENTATIVE – THE ROYAL COMMISSIONER TRIES TO EXACT THE FINE IN NITHSDALE BY FORCE, AND IS COMPELLED TO RETREAT – KING JAMES ENFORCES HIS AUTHORITY IN THE DISTRICT – DOUGLAS, IN RETURNING HOMEWARDS, HEARS OF THE ROYAL VISIT TO HIS DOMAINS, VOWS VENGANCE, BUT POLITICALLY SMOTHERS HIS RESENTMENT – HE RECEIVES THE KING’S FORGIVENESS – ENTERS INTO A TREASONABLE ALLIANCE WITH OTHER LORDS – INSTANCES OF THE EARL’S CRUELTY AND TYRANNY – HE IS DECOYED TO STIRLING CASTLE, CARESSED AND FETED BY KING JAMES, AND THEN BASELY STABBED BY THE ENRAGED MONARCH, BECAUSE HE REFUSES TO BREAK THE REBELLIOUS BOND INTO WHICH HE HAD ENTERED – JAMES, NINTH EARL OF DOUGLAS, REBELS AGAINST THE KING – SOME OF THE DUMFRIESSHIRE BARONS TAKE ARMS AGAINST DOUGLAS – HIS THOROUGH DEFEAT AT THE BATTLE OF ARKINHOLM – HE AND ALBANY ENTER INTO AN ALLIANCE WITH KING HENRY OF ENGLAND, AND INVADE DUMFRIESSHIRE AT THE HEAD OF AN ENGLISH ARMY – THE INVADERS ARE ROUTED AT LOCHMABEN, AND DOUGLAS IS MADE PRISONER – FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DOUGLAS.

AFTER the burning of Alnwick, a truce for seven years was agreed upon between the two kingdoms; but, owing to the commotions in both, resulting from the weakness of their respective Governments, it was soon broken, the English in this instance being the aggressors. A large body of them, under the command of the younger Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, made an incursion into Annandale, burning several villages, and carrying off all the goods they could lay hands upon. Luckily, Douglas was not far distant from the post of duty and danger. Falling upon the retiring Southrons, he made them accelerate their retreat, and yield up all the spoil with which they were burdened. So far, so well; but Douglas, for reasons of his own, wished to widen the area of the war-field, in order to counteract the coalition formed against him by King James, now aged seventeen, the questionable Crichton, and Kennedy, the patriotic Bishop of St. Andrews. He therefore mustered a large army, and, under the plea of revenging a wrong for which he had already exacted a heavy penalty, entered Cumberland. Not contented with imposing upon it an ordinary amount of punishment, he acted with such merciless severity that it was reduced to the condition of a desert. Not only the barons on the English side of the Border, but the whole nation, felt aggrieved and indignant on account of this ferocious Douglas raid: forgetting how often Dumfriesshire had been gratuitously pillaged by them, and that for one complaint against the Scots, the latter could have preferred fifty against those who were loudly crying for vengeance, and busy preparing to exact it with their might.

Early in 1449, an army, that has been variously estimated at from 14,000 to 40,000, entered the County by the ordinary passage, and encamped on the banks of the Sark – the little stream that, after forming the boundary line between the kingdoms for a few miles, flows into the Solway. The force, which probably did not exceed 20,000 men in number, was commanded by the Earl of Northumberland and his son, the later anxious to wipe out the disgrace of his defeat in the preceding year. Not encountering any opposition, the invaders began forthwith to pillage and destroy. Whilst so employed, news was brought by their scouts that a Scottish army was advancing, as if for the purpose of giving them battle- information which proved strictly correct, the force from the north being about 12,000 strong, under the leadership of Douglas’s brother, George, Earl of Ormond. The conflict that ensued was, says Chalmers, “one of the greatest fought between two spirited nations, from the engagement at Homildon, in 1402, till the battle fought in Dumfriesshire since the formation of the Scottish monarchy.

As the Scots drew near, the English recalled their marauding parties, and prepared for the threatened encounter. They had the advantage of choosing their own ground; and, having selected what seemed to be a favouable spot, adjoining their tents, they calmly waited the coming onset. The centre was commanded by the two Percys; the right by one whose valour, bodily strength, and implacable hatred of the Scots, gained for him that distinction – a warrior whom the chroniclers of the period call Magnus Redbeard; while the left, composed chiefly of Welshmen, was entrusted to Sir John Pennington. [Pitscottie.] The centre of Ormond’s force was directed by himself; Herbert, the first Lord Maxwell of Carlaverock [He was twice married: first to a daughter of Sir Herbert Herries of Terregles, by whom he had two sons, Robert, second Lord Maxwell, and Sir Edward Maxwell, from the latter of whom are descended the Maxwells of Linwood and Monteith; and secondly to a daughter of Sir William Seton of Seton, by whom he had, with other issue, George, ancestor of the Maxwells of Carnsalloch, and Adam, of the Maxwells of Southbar.], and Sir Adam Johnstone of Lochwood, led the right wing, in opposition to Sir John Pennington; while Wallace of Craigie, a lineal descendant of the great patriot, conducted the left against the redoubtable Magnus.

Ormond, we are told, delivered a spirited address to his countrymen, based chiefly on the idea that “thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel just.” He prudently said nothing about his brother’s excesses, but dwelt strongly on the fact that the guilt of first breaking the truce lay with their old enemies the English. Justice was on the side of his countrymen; and they might therefore, he said, expect victory to smile upon their efforts. They had their homes to protect, their country’s honour to maintain – considerations which ought to stimulate their valour; and then, if success crowned their bravery, they would cover themselves with glory, and purchase a lengthened peace for the district and the nation. If the leader of the invaders said anything to them, the burden of it would doubtless be revenge for the cruel Douglas raid; but he either was silent, wishing to speak by deeds, and not by words, or there was no reporter in the camp to take down his eloquent address, or chronicler to put one into his mouth worthy of the occasion.

As usual, most of the Scots were armed with the national weapon – a pike or spear – the length of which was fixed by Parliament at six ells, or eighteen feet six inches. A phalanx so armed was all but invincible. “Standing at defence,” says the author of the “Journal of Somerset’s Expedition,” “they thrust shoulders likewise so nigh together, the fore ranks well nigh kneeling stoop low before, their fellows behind holding their pikes with both hands, and therewith in their left their bucklers, the one end of their pike against their right foot, and the other against the enemy, breast high, their followers crossing their pike’s point with them forward; and thus each with other so nigh as space and place will suffer, through the whole ward, so thick, that as easily shall a bare finger pierce through the skin of an angry hedgehog as any encounter the front of their pikes.”

Had the Scots at Sark been on the defensive, and attacked hand to hand by the enemy, the pikes would have vindicated the truth of the national motto, as they had often done on former fields: but when Wallace of Craigie marshaled his spearmen, there was no foe within reach; and a shower of missiles was rained down upon them from a distant eminence with irresistible effect. In this ominous way the battle was initiated, and seemed almost on the point of being decided against the Scots. Great gaps were formed in their left wing, which wavered in consequence, and appeared on the verge of being thrown into inextricable confusion – the sure prelude of a general panic and flight.

It is at a crisis such as this that generalship is invaluable. Wallace possessed military genius worthy of his great ancestor: he apprehended at once the full import of the danger in which, not only his own division, but the whole army, was placed; and he was not slow in devising relief. Addressing his soldiers, he said, “Why do we stand for thus, to be wounded afar off? Follow me, and let us join in hand-strokes, where true valour is only to be seen!” His men were reanimated by this appeal. They had not the passive endurance to enable them to stand much longer the arrow flights that were drinking their hearts’ blood; but they had courage sufficient to assail a host, however numerous or strongly posted.

The leader’s words were followed by corresponding action. What avail bow and arrow to the gallant English archers, who had so nearly decided the day, now that two thousand Scottish spearmen have crossed the intervening ground, and are grappling in close quarters with their assailants! Magnus the Redbearded stands aghast as he sees his ranks thinned and reeling. Why, when the right wing is decimated and threatened with total ruin, does no supporting force come to it from the centre? Whether it was that the nature of the ground forbade such a movement, or that Northumberland was so engaged in baffling Ormond that he had no men to spare, certain it is the leader of the English right found, to his dismay, that it was doomed to fight and suffer unaided. If the prowess of an individual could have redeemed the fortunes of the field, the superhuman exertions made by Magnus would have accomplished that result. He could not revive the courage of his followers, nor arrest the merciless march of their assailants; but he could die in harness like a dauntless warrior as he was. Surrounded by a few personal adherents, he kept his ground, nay, actually advanced in face of that bristling forest of spears, anxious, it is supposed, to engage in a personal combat with the Scottish chief – a fate which was not vouchsafed to him, as he fell, by some unknown hand, among heaps of slain.

The overthrow of the right division of the English might not in itself have led to their entire defeat; but when that disaster was followed by the death of Magnus, and both events became known over the entire army, a sore discouragement was the result. It would seem that the fighting on other parts of the field was mere child’s play, as compared with that in which the divisions led by Magnus and Wallace were engaged. The English fully anticipated that their archers would decide the battle in their favour; and being disappointed in this respect, they appear to have lost heart. At all events, they made no adequate effort, in the centre and left, to atone for the loss of the right division and its leader. They fought on doggedly, however, for a while – hopeless of success, yet loath to retire – till, pressed on all sides by the impetuous and exulting enemy, they at length gave way along their whole line. When the general retreat took place, the slaughter in their ranks was terrific. Three thousand of their numbers fell whilst the battle raged, and more than that number perished by the sword of the pursuer, or in the blood-dyed waters of the Sark, on whose banks they had the day before indulged in merry wassail. The Sark, as has been mentioned, is only a small river, but the retreating English found it swollen by the tide, and rushing fierce, like the conquering Scots, as if the latter had been in league with the Solway against the enemies of their nation.

Many men of rank, including the younger Percy and Sir John Pennington, were made prisoners, together with hundreds of gentlemen and common soldiers. According to Buchanan, the spoil in money, arms, and equipments that rewarded the victors “was greater than ever had been known in any former battle;” and a tradition, still current in the locality, tells of fabulous heaps of gold pieces being found by fortunate rustics on the banks of the Sark, generations after their luckless owners perished by flood or field. In this memorable battle the Scots lost only six hundred men, in addition to the wounded, who may be estimated at three times that number. There was, however, on sad drawback to their triumph – the brave Wallace of Craigie, to whose skill it was chiefly due, having died three months afterwards of wound he received during the heat of the conflict. [The authorities relied on for the account given of this battle are chiefly Pitscottie and Buchanan.]

A truce was concluded, which lasted for several years; but Dumfriesshire, though freed for a lengthened period from the presence of a foreign enemy, continued to be distracted by its own barons – and Douglas was still the chief offender. Actuated by a variety of motives, the chief of which was probably a love of display, the proud Lord, with a most imposing retinue, visited the city of Rome, proceeding through Flanders and France into Italy. Sir John Douglas, Lord Balveny, was left to act as his procurator or representative [Pitscottie, folio edition, p. 34.], a post which was no sinecure; and its difficulties were aggravated by the increased licentiousness shown by many retainers during the absence of their chief, he being the only one able to restrain them, when he chose so to act. Complaints of their tyranny and oppression were daily poured into the King’s ear; and Balveny himself was murmured against, as one who encouraged rather than checked the offenders. On the procurator being summoned to appear in Edinburgh, and plead to the charges brought against him, he, imitating his haughty master, despised the citation till he was taken thither by force. He underwent a regular trial; and it having been proved to the satisfaction of his judges that certain acts of extortion had been committed by himself and others in the name of Earl Douglas, heavy fines in money were imposed as a penalty – the same to be paid out of the Earl’s rents. Balveny, protesting that he durst not interfere with the revenue of his chief, prayed that the fines might be allowed to stand over till the Earl’s arrival, who was expected to return in the course of a few months. This evasive proposal did not satisfy King James, who, though wishing to be lenient, was resolved not to be trifled with; and he commissioned Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, to take means for collecting such an amount from the rents of the Douglas estates as should discharge the damages adjudged by law.

Easier said than done. A king gave the order; but barons, who acted in the name and according to the spirit of one who was mightier in Galloway and Dumfriesshire than himself, treated it with scorn. The very idea of the thing was laughed at by the relatives and dependents of Douglas. To be mulcted in their own district by a royal commissioner – and that as a punishment for deeds they gloried in – was totally out of question; and when Sinclair, “accompanied with a small number of folks,” made his appearance in Nithsdale as a penal rent collector, he was received with such a storm of ridicule that he was fain to hurry northward without obtaining a plack of the damages. James, enraged by the contempt thus poured on his authority, summoned “by a herald all men whatsoever, of high or low degree, pertaining or favouring a Douglas to underly the law,” and declaring all disobeyers to be rebels and traitors. [Piscottie, p. 34.]

No response having been made to this comprehensive summons, the King found there was no alternative left him but to give up his sovereignty over a great part of the south of Scotland, or enforce it by the sword. He resolved to adopt the latter course; and, putting himself at the head of a considerable army, he marched into Galloway to break the power which had defied him - “to beard the lion in his den – the Douglas in his hold.” He encountered no opposition in the open field, the enemy he came to punish having prudently retired to their places of strength, which they defended with such valour that those who followed to assail them were “very contumeliously repulsed.” [Pitscottie, p. 35.] When a portion of the royalists entered Annandale, they were dealt with in a similar fashion. The fortresses of Thrieve and Lochmaben, and other lesser strongholds, displayed each a rebel flag; and the King, unable to capture them by storm, had to subject them to a regular siege, which proved in most instances successful: after which result, the royal authority was – nominally at least – re-established in the district.

Even in his hour of triumph, the King tempered justice with mercy. No frowning gibbet, with its human “tassel,” rose to glut judicial vengeance: all he required was submission, and the money penalty originally imposed. The former was no longer refused, and the latter was promised in full, and partially paid. Well content with having humbled the haughty Douglasses, and, as he thought, taught them a lesson in loyalty, the King broke up his army, and returned to Edinburgh.

It may readily be conceived, that when the news of what had occurred in Nithsdale reached Douglas at Rome, he was overwhelmed by rage and shame. Whilst basking in the sunbeams of the Papal Court, “the observed of all observers,” to have his ancestral domains despoiled and his family degraded, was indeed mortifying to his proud mind; and, as he hastened homeward, schemes of “vaulting ambition,” rife with vengeance against his sovereign, would doubtless occupy his thoughts and give a colour to his dreams. But as he passed through England on his way, he learned that King James had so consolidated his regal authority that it could not be any longer safely defied, even by a Douglas. Smothering his resentment, he, on reaching the Border, sent his brother James in advance to sound the disposition of the King towards him, which was found to be conciliatory.

On presenting himself at Court, he was received not as an enemy, but as a friend – treatment he did not look for, which soothed his wounded spirit, and made him, for the time being, one of his Majesty’s most loyal subjects. The King, indeed, acted toward Douglas with an excess of tenderness, as if desirous of melting him with kindness rather than of crushing him with the rigour he had provoked. The incensed monarch and the turbulent baron became like sworn brothers to each other. “The Earl,” says Pitscottie, “was received right heartfully by the King, and was remitted of all things bygone: wherefore he promised faithfully to rule all things within his bounds at the King’s command and pleasure; and then he received all fortalices and strengths again out of the hands of the King’s men of war; and thereafter was holden in such great estimation and favour by the King, that he was made lieutenant-general of the kingdom. [Pitscottie, p. 35.]

How sad to find the Earl of Douglas, a few months afterwards, intriguing personally with the King of England, and justly exciting the suspicions of the sovereign from whom he was receiving so many favours. James was naturally indignant at such conduct on the part of Douglas; but the placable monarch once more extended his forgiveness to the offending noble, though he removed him the lord-lieutenantcy, and entrusted the administration of affairs to Sir William Crichton and the Earl of Orkney. Douglas was more offended by what he had lost than gratified by what he had regained. There was an old feud between him and Crichton, which the elevation of the latter caused to flame up afresh. Douglas hated his successful rival: and no love was lost between them; Crichton, enjoying the royal sunshine, being in no ways disposed to help his enemy out of the shade.

The ambitious and infatuated Earl had been more than suspected, half a year before, of treasonable tamperings with England: he now openly entered into a league with the Earls of Crawford, Ross, and Murray, to overthrow the King’s ministers – ay, and if need be for that end, to dethrone the King himself. Whilst his Majesty was highly exasperated at this combination, fresh causes of offence were given by Douglas, which called aloud for punishment; the chief of these being his treatment of Sir John Herries of Terregles and M’Lellan of Bombie, who he put to death – hanging the former, and beheading the latter – because they were not sufficiently submissive to his rule.

James II., now aged twenty-one, had acquired increased energy with his years. Fully prepared for the pending emergency, he resolved once more to try fair means with his contumacious subject; and should these fail, to crush him, and be truly king. The result is well known. Douglas, placated by a conciliatory  letter from his sovereign, visited the Court at Stirling, and, after being luxuriously banqueted, was summoned to a private chamber by his royal master, and there required to break the convenant entered into between him and other nobles. The Earl gave an evasive answer; but the King was not to be trifled with, and pressed the question: upon with Douglas, after saying he must first consult his associates, emphatically refused to comply with the King’s demand. James, losing all self-control, then exclaimed, “If thou wilt not break the bond, this shall!” plunged a dagger into the heart of Douglas, and some of the royal attendants who rushed in completed the deed of slaughter. [In an Edinburgh newspaper of 14th October, 1797, there is the subjoined paragraph: “On Thursday se’nnight, as some masons were digging a foundation in Stirling Castle, in a garden adjacent to the magazine, they struck upon a human skeleton, about eight yards from the window where the Earl of Douglas was thrown after he was stabbed by King James II. It is thought, and there is little doubt but what it is his remains, as it is certain that he was buried in that garden, and but a little distance from the closet window.”] Thus perished, in his prime and pride, William, the eighth Earl of Douglas. Rebellious and tyrannical though he was, his assassination by the King is utterly indefensible, and is a dark blot on the reputation of that prince. The atrocious deed was no more premeditated by him that the slaughter of Comyn at Dumfries by his royal ancestor; but that he should have allowed himself to be betrayed by passion into the perpetration of such a crime, aggravated by the breach of his work, and of the sacred right of hospitality, is truly deplorable.

Though the eighth Earl of Douglas involved Dumfriesshire in a “sea of troubles,” his death did not purchase tranquility. James, brother of the slaughtered nobleman, and ninth Earl of Douglas, took up arms to avenge his death; and the strife which ensued involved not the district merely, but the kingdom. It continued for upwards of two years; and, during its course, it was at times uncertain whether the Stewarts or the Douglasses should reign in Scotland. The general current of the contest need not be traced; and, confining our attention chiefly to its course in Dumfriesshire, let us state that the King, about eleven months after the outbreak of the rebellion, led a large army into the country, in order to punish Douglas in the chief seat of his power and pride. Being winter, however, he could not carry out his design effectually. “He burnt the corns and houses, herried the countries, and slew some spies” [Pitscottie, p. 35.]; and, in spring, sent his troops back to renew the destructive warfare. Annandale became the chief theatre of hostilities. In that district Douglas, notwithstanding numerous reverses, was still lord and king: but other parts of Dumfriesshire boldly disavowed his rule; for which act of independence and loyalty they were much harassed by his three brothers, the Earl of Murray, the Earl of Ormond, and Lord Balveny. Highly imprudent it was for these noblemen to inflame still further in this way the resentment of barons who would rather have served both Douglas and King James, had the conduct of the former not rendered that impossible. It was a bad day for this domineering family when they arrayed against them the chiefs of a County over which they had long exercised an unrivalled sway, and many of whom were of their own kith and kin. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

On the 1st of May, 1455, the ground now occupied by the town of Langholm, in Eskdale, was the scene of an engagement which sealed the doom of the house of Douglas. The three noblemen named above led one party of the belligerents, who were confronted by the men of the County, headed by Maxwell, Johnstone, Scott, Carlyle [This was William, Lord of Torthorwald. He presented a bell to the Parish Church of Dumfries, inscribed thus: “Guilielmus de Carleil, Dom. De Torthorwald, me sicut fecit fiere in honorem Sancti Michaelis. Ann. Dom. MCCCCXXXIII.” “William de Carlyle, Lord of Torthorwald, caused me to be made in honour of St. Michael. The year of our Lord, 1433.” This bell still survives. It hangs on the bartizan of the Mid Steeple, and was, down till about ten years ago, employed in the secular duty of warning the lieges when fires broke out in the Burgh.], and other chiefs. A brief sanguinary battle resulted in the utter rout of the Douglasses. Archibald, Earl of Murray, was slain, and his head sent as a trophy to King James; Hugh, Earl of Ormond, was taken prisoner, tried for treason, and executed: and John, Lord Balveny, fled to the Earl, his brother, in England. Those who were chiefly instrumental in freeing Dumfriesshire from the rule of this imperious family, were liberally rewarded for their services. Johnstone and Carlyle obtained a grant of the forty-pound land of Pittenain, in Clydesdale; Sir Walter Scott acquired the lands of Abington, Phareholm, and Glengoner, in the same district – thus making broader and deeper the basis of the noble house of Buccleuch; while the Maxwells and Beatties were not overlooked. In the following year an act of Parliament completed what the sword at Arkinholm had begun.

It attainted the Douglasses – deprived of their rank and estates by one fell swoop – their lordships of Eskdale and Galloway becoming the property of the Crown, and Annandale, with its appendant Castle of Lochmaben, being granted by King James to his second son, Alexander, whom he created Earl of March, Lord of Annandale, and Duke of Albany. It was not, however, till the King marched with an army into Galloway, that that province acknowledged the royal authority, and the Castle of Thrieve submitted to receive a royal garrison. Another fortress of the family, Lochrutton Castle, was placed in the keeping of Herries of Terregles, son of the loyal chief whom the eighth Lord of Douglas hanged like a felon, for the crime of being loyal to his sovereign. The exiled and disinherited Earl made repeated attempts to redeem his fortunes. In 1456 we find him undertaking a foray into Berwickshire, encountered and defeated by one of his own blood, George, Earl of Angus, descended from William, first Earl of Douglas, by his third wife, Margaret, Countess of Angus – which overthrow gave rise to a popular saying, founded on the different complexions of the two branches of the family, that “the Red Douglas had put down the Black.”

Before he comes again prominently on the scene, James II. is killed by the bursting of a cannon employed in the siege of Roxburgh Castle, which had been held by the English since the battle of Durham; and his son James, a boy who had just seen seven summers, ascends the throne. It is not till July, 1484, twenty-four years after the latter event, that James, ninth and last Earl of Douglas, is seen engaged in another enterprise, with the view of blotting out the sentence written against him in the records of Parliament and the book of fate. Alexander, Duke of Albany, the late King’s second son, and brother of the present sovereign, had long been inflamed by guilty ambition; and, fancying that, with the help of Douglas and the King of England, he might make a successful stroke for the throne, he entered into a negotiation with the expatriated nobleman, the result of which was their joint invasion of Dumfriesshire with an English army. The arrangement was of this nature: in the event of success, Albany to become King of Scotland, acknowledging Henry of England as his superior; Douglas to receive back his rank and estates. Once more the smaller proprietors of the County saved it and the nation from ruinous disaster. Dreading the restoration of a family whom they had good reason to dislike, and devotedly loyal to the throne, they turned out in great force when summoned by the signal fires which announced the approach of an enemy. The Master of Maxwell, Johnstone of Johnstone, Murray of Cockpool, Chrichton of Sanquhar, Carruthers of Holmains, and Charteris of Amisfield, were the principal leaders of the Dumfrisians, as they proceeded in the direction of Lochmaben, again to cope with their old enemies the English, and their old oppressor the Earl of Douglas.

The invader supposed that, as soon as they appeared, many of the country people, lured by hopes of pillage, would join them. In this expedition they were disappointed; but they expected, at all events, to succeed in doing a little in the way of plunder on their own account. Actuated by this motive, they prepared to make a ravenous descent on the rich wares exposed for sale in the streets of Bruce’s ancient burgh during the fair held on the 22nd of July, St. Magdalen’s Day. This scheme was equally abortive. The patriotic men of the County were there before them, to defend things small and great – the movables of the market – the permanent institutions of the kingdom; and had they not, by fighting heroically, rolled back the aggressive tide, the deluge of a destructive revolution would have swept over the land, engulfing perhaps the monarchy in its waters. An obstinate conflict took place. It commenced early in the forenoon; and when the summer’s sun sank, victory still hung in the balance. The clouds of night that gathered above failed to separate the combatants; but, long before the early dawn of another day, Albany, thoroughly beaten, was on the south side of the Border, with his back to Scotland – the remnant of his routed followers accompanying him; and Douglas was a captive. [Acts of Parliament of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 173.] The veteran warrior was struck from his horse towards the close of the fight, and might have been trampled to death in the tumult, had not one of his owl vassals, Kirkpatrick of Ross, stepped forward and claimed him as a prisoner. [Actæ Domin. Councilii, 19th January, 1484. The barony of Ross, in Mid-Annandale, was held by a branch of the Kirkpatricks at a very early period. On 22nd April, 1372, William Kirkpatrick of Ross granted a charter to John of Garroch of the two-merk land of Glengys (on the west side of the water of Wamphray), and Galvilgil. – Writs of the Carlyle Family.] The victors were liberally rewarded by their grateful sovereign – one of them, Sir Robert Crichton, being created a peer, under the title of Lord Sanquhar.

It is said that Kirkpatrick, stirred by a lingering love for his former chief, offered to set him at liberty, and that Douglas despairingly declined the offer, as if impressed with the feeling that his game of guilty ambition was fully played out, and irretrievably lost. When the distinguished captive was carried before King James, actuated by shame – perhaps by pride, or a mixture of both – he turned his back upon royalty; and when, instead of being sent to the scaffold, as his crimes merited, he was sentenced to confinement for life in the Monastery of Lindores, he muttered despondingly, “He who may no better, must needs turn monk.” (Hawthornden, Hist., p. 150; and Hume, p. 381.] In this inglorious way the proud earldom which had existed for ninety-eight years (an average of only eleven years to each possessor of the title), and the noblest branch of the lofty line of Douglas, became extinct.

Some few of its members were, as we have seen, virtuous as well as brave. Its chiefs, with perhaps one exception, were intellectually great; and several of them were highly accomplished, considering the age in which they lived. Ambition, “the last infirmity of noble minds,” was, however, the besetting sin of the family. Dumfriesshire, for a century, was so mixed up with their fortunes, that the history of the one during that period is almost the history of the other. Had the talents and influence of the Douglasses been always wisely directed, what a blessing they would have been to their native district and to the kingdom! We like to dwell on their indomitable valour, their military genius, their magnificent hospitality; but the tendency to yield them hero-worship is kept in check, when we reflect upon the wicked uses to which their natural gifts and power were often turned. None of the earls, except the stainless warrior who, though dead, conquered at Otterburn, was worthy of the epithet “good,” which their progenitor, Sir James, acquired. Speaking of them generally, they were mighty men of war, indifferent landlords, and bad subjects. Heavy penalties some of them paid; but punishment brought no reformation. The lessons taught by adversity were despised; and now we see the haughty house, that would not be curbed or counselled, utterly overthrown. 


Return to Book Index