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Significant Scots
Sir James Douglas


DOUGLAS, SIR JAMES, one of the most remarkable men of the heroic age to which he belonged, and the founder of the great fame and grandeur of one of the most illustrious houses in Scotland, was the eldest son of William Douglas, a baron, or magnate of Scotland, who died in England about the year 1302.

The ancestry of this family have been but imperfectly and obscurely traced by most genealogists; but it now seems to be established beyond doubt, that the original founder came into this country from Flanders, about the year 1147; and, in reward of certain services, not explained, which he performed to the abbot of Kelso, received from that prelate a grant of lands on the water of Douglas, in Lanarkshire. In this assignation, a record of which is yet extant, he is styled Theobaldus Flammaticus, or Theobald the Fleming. William, the son and heir of Theobald, assumed the surname of Douglas, from his estate. Archibald de Douglas, his eldest son, succeeded in the family estate on Douglas water. Bricius, a younger son of William, became bishop of Moray, in 1203; and his four brothers, Alexander, Henry, Hugh, and Freskin, settled in Moray under his patronage, and from these, the Douglases of Moray claim their descent. Archibald died between the years 1238 and 1240, leaving behind him two sons. William, the elder, inherited the estate of his father; Andrew, the younger, became the ancestor of the Douglases of Dalkeith, afterwards created earls of Morton. William acquired additional lands to the family inheritance; and, by this means, becoming a tenant in chief of the crown, was considered as ranking among the barons, or, as they were then called, magnates of Scotland. He died about the year 1276, leaving two sons, Hugh and William. Hugh fought at the battle of the Largs, in 1263, and died about 1288, without issue. William, his only brother, and father to Sir James, the subject of the present article, succeeded to the family honours, which he did not long enjoy; for, having espoused the popular side in the factions which soon after divided the kingdom, he was, upon the successful usurpation of Edward I., deprived of his estates, and died a prisoner in England, about the year 1302. Of this ancestor, the first whose history can be of any interest to the general reader, we have made mention in the life of Wallace, and, therefore, have no occasion to recur to him in this place.

The young Douglas had not attained to manhood, when the captivity of his father left him unprotected and destitute; and in this condition, either prompted by his own inclination, or influenced by the suggestions of friends anxious for his safety, he retired into France, and lived in Paris for three years. In this capital, remarkable, even in that age, for the gayety and show of its inhabitants, the young Scotsman for a time forgot his misfortunes, and gave way with youthful ardour to the current follies by which he was surrounded. The intelligence of his father’s death, however, was sufficient to break him off entirely from the loose courses upon which he was entering, and incite him to a mode of life more honourable, and more befitting the noble feelings by which, throughout life, he was so strongly actuated. Having returned without delay into Scotland, he seems first to have presented himself to Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews, and was fortunate enough to be received with great kindness by that good prelate, who promoted him to the honourable post of page in his household. Barbour, the poet, dwells fondly upon this period in the life of Douglas, whom he describes as cheerful, courteous, dutiful, and of a generous disposition, insomuch, that he was esteemed and beloved by all; yet was he not so fair, adds the same discreet writer, that we should much admire his beauty. He was of a somewhat grey or swarthy complexion, and had black hair, circumstances from which, especially among the English, he came to be known by the name of the Black Douglas. His bones were large, but well set; his shoulders broad, and his whole person to be remarked as rather spare or lean, though muscular. He was mild and pleasant in company, or among his friends, and lisped somewhat in his speech, a circumstance which is said not at all to have misbecome him, besides that it brought him nearer to the beau ideal of Hector, as Barbour fails not to remark, in a not inappropriate comparison, which he attempts making of the two characters.

Douglas was living in this manner, when Edward, having for the last time, overrun Scotland, called together an assembly of the barons at Stirling. The bishop of St Andrews attended the summons of the English king on this occasion; and taking along with him the young squire whom he had so generously protected, resolved, if possible, to interest the monarch in his fortunes. Taking hold of a suitable opportunity, the prelate presented Douglas to the king, as a youth who claimed to be admitted to his service, and at the same time, made earnest entreaty that his majesty would look favourably upon him, and restore him to the inheritance, which, from no fault of his, he had lost. "What lands does he claim?" inquired Edward. The good bishop had purposely kept the answer to this question to the end, well knowing the hasty and vindictive temper of the English king, and the particular dislike which he bore to the memory of the former Douglas; but he soon saw that the haughty conqueror was neither to be prepossessed nor conciliated. Edward no sooner understood the birth of the suitor, than, turning angrily to the bishop, he reproached him, in harsh terms, for his presumption. "The father," said he, "was always my enemy; and I have already bestowed his lands upon more loyal followers than his sons can ever prove." The unfavourable issue of this suit must have left a deep and resentful impression on the mind of the young Douglas; and it was not long before an occasion offered whereby he might fully discover the incurable inveteracy of his hostility to the English king.

While he yet resided at the bishop’s palace, intelligence of the murder of Comyn, and the revolt of Bruce, spread over the kingdom. Lamberton, who, it is well known, secretly favoured the insurrection, not only made no difficulty of allowing the young Douglas to join the party, but even assisted him with money to facilitate his purpose. The bishop, it is also said, directed him to seize upon his own horse for his use, as if by violence, from the groom; and, accordingly, that servant in an unwitting attention to his duty, having been knocked down, Douglas, unattended, rode off to join the standard of his future king and master. He fell in with the party of Bruce at a place called Errickstane, on their progress from Lochmaben towards Glasgow; where, making himself known to Robert, he made offer to him of his services; hoping that under the auspices of his rightful sovereign, he might recover possession of his own inheritance. Bruce, well pleased with the spirit and bearing of his new adherent, and, besides, interested in his welfare, as the son of the gallant Sir William Douglas, received him with much favour, giving him, at the same time, a command in his small army. This was the commencement of the friendship between Bruce and Douglas, than which, none more sincere and perfect ever existed between sovereign and subject.

It would, of course, be here unnecessary to follow Sir James Douglas, as we shall afterwards name him, through the same tract described in the life of his heroic master; as in that, all which it imports the reader to know has been already detailed with sufficient minuteness. Of the battle of Methven, therefore, in which the young knight first signalized his valour; that of Dalry, in which Robert was defeated by the lord of Lorn, and Sir James wounded; the retreat into Rachrin; the descent upon Arran, and afterwards on the coast of Carrick; in all of which enterprises, the zeal, courage, and usefulness of Douglas were manifested, we shall in this place take no other notice, than by referring to the life which we have mentioned. Leaving these more general and important movements, we shall follow the course of our narrative in others more exclusively referable to the life and fortunes of Douglas.

While Robert the Bruce was engaged in rousing the men of Carrick to take up arms in his cause, Douglas was permitted to repair to his patrimonial domains in Douglasdale, for the purpose of drawing over the ancient and attached vassals of his family to the same interest, and, in the first place, of avenging, should an occasion offer, some of the particular wrongs himself and family had sustained from the English. Disguised, therefore, and accompanied by only two yeomen, Sir James, towards the close of an evening in the month of March, 1307, reached the alienated inheritance of his house, then owned by the lord Clifford, who had posted within the castle of Douglas a strong garrison of English soldiers. Having revealed himself to one Thomas Dickson, formerly his father’s vassal, and a person possessed of some wealth, and considerable influence among the tenantry, Sir James, and his two followers were joyfully welcomed, and carefully concealed within his house. By the diligence and sagacity of this faithful dependent, Douglas was soon made acquainted with the numbers of those, in the neighbourhood, who would be willing to join him in his enterprise, and the more important of these being brought secretly, and by one or two at a time, before him, he received their pledges of fidelity and solemn engagements to assist him to the utmost of their power towards the recovery of his inheritance. Having, in this manner, secured the assistance of a small, but resolute band, Sir James determined to put in execution a project which he had planned for the surprisal of the castle. The garrison, entirely ignorant and unsuspicious of the machinations of their enemies, and otherwise far from vigilant, offered many opportunities which might be taken advantage of to their destruction. The day of Palm Sunday, however, was fixed upon by Douglas, as being then near at hand, and as furnishing, besides, a plausible pretext for the gathering together of his adherents. The garrison, it was expected, would, on that festival, attend divine service in the neighbouring church of St Bride. The followers of Douglas having arms concealed upon their persons, were, some of them, to enter the building along with the soldiers, while the others remained without to prevent their escape. Douglas, himself, disguised in an old tattered mantle, having a flail in his hand, was to give the signal of onset, by shouting the war cry of his family. When the concerted day arrived, the whole garrison, consisting of thirty men, went in solemn procession to attend the service of the church, leaving only the porter and the cook within the castle. The eager followers of the knight did not wait for the signal of attack; for, no sooner had the unfortunate Englishmen entered the chapel, than, one or two raising the cry of "a Douglas, a Douglas," which was instantly echoed and returned from all quarters, they fell with the utmost fury upon the entrapped garrison. These defended themselves bravely, till two thirds of their number lay either dead or mortally wounded. Being refused quarter, those who yet continued to fight were speedily overpowered and made prisoners, so that none escaped. Meanwhile, five or six men were detached to secure possession of the castle gate, which they easily effected: and being soon after followed by Douglas and his partisans, the victors had now only to deliberate as to the use to which their conquest should be applied. Considering the great power and numbers of the English in that district, and the impossibility of retaining the castle should it be besieged; besides, that the acquisition could then prove of no service to the general cause, it was determined, that that which could be of little or no service to themselves, should be rendered equally useless and unprofitable to the enemy. This measure, so defensible in itself and politic, was stained by an act of singular and atrocious barbarity; which, however consistent with the rude and revengeful spirit of the age in which it was enacted, remains the sole stigma which even his worst enemies could ever affix to the memory of Sir James Douglas. Having plundered and stripped the castle of every article of value which could be conveniently carried off and secured; the great mass of the provisions, with which it then happened to be amply provided, were heaped together within an apartment of the building. Over this pile were stored the puncheons of wine, ale, and other liquors which the cellar afforded; and lastly the prisoners who had been taken in the church, having been despatched, their dead bodies were thrown over all; thus, in a spirit of savage jocularity, converting the whole into a loathsome mass of provision, then, and long after, popularly described by the name of the Douglas’ Larder. These savage preparations gone through, the castle was set on fire, and burned to the ground.

No sooner was Clifford advertised of the miserable fate which had befallen his garrison, than, collecting a sufficient force, he repaired to Douglas in person; and having caused the castle to be re-edified more strongly than it had been formerly, he left a new garrison in it under the command of one Thirlwall, and returned himself into England. Douglas, while these operations proceeded, having dispersed his followers, bestowing in secure places, where they might be properly attended to, such among them as had been wounded, himself lurked in the neighbourhood, intending, on the first safe opportunity, to rejoin the king’s standard, in company with his trusty adherents. Other considerations, however, seem to have arisen, and to have had their share in influencing his conduct in this particular; for the lord Clifford had no sooner departed, than he resolved, a second time, to attempt the surprisal of his castle, under its new governor. The garrison, having a fresh remembrance of the fatal disaster which had befallen their predecessors, were not to be taken at the same advantage; and some expedient had therefore to be adopted which might abate the extreme caution and vigilance, which they observed, and on which their safety depended. This Douglas effected, by directing some of his men, at different times, to drive off portions of the cattle belonging to the castle, but who, as soon as the garrison issued out to the rescue, were instructed to leave their booty and betake themselves to flight. The governor and his men having been sufficiently irritated by the attempts of these pretended plunderers, who thus kept them continually and vexatiously on the alert, Sir James, aware of their disposition, resolved, without further delay, upon the execution of his project. Having formed an ambush of his followers at a place called Sandilands, at no great distance from the castle, he, at an early hour in the morning, detached a few of his men, who very daringly drove off some cattle from the immediate vicinity of the walls, towards the place where the ambuscaders lay concealed. Thirlwall was no sooner apprized of the fact, than, indignant at the boldness of the affront put upon him, which yet he considered to be of the same character with those formerly practised, hastily ordered a large portion of the garrison to arm themselves and follow after the spoilers, himself accompanying them with so great precipitation, that he did not take time even to put on his helmet. The pursuers, no ways suspecting the snare laid for them, followed, in great haste and disorder, after the supposed robbers, but had scarcely passed the place of the ambush, than Douglas and his followers starting suddenly from their covert, the party at once found themselves circumvented and their retreat cut off. In their confusion and surprise, they were but ill prepared for the fierce assault which was instantly made upon them. The greater part fled precipitantly, and a few succeeded in regaining their strong-hold; but Thirlwall and many of his bravest soldiers were slain. The fugitives were pursued with great slaughter to the very gates of the castle; but, though few in numbers, having secured the entrance, and manned the walls, Sir James found it would be impossible to gain possession of the place at this time. Collecting together, therefore, all those willing to join the royal cause, he forthwith repaired to the army of Bruce, then encamped at Cumnock, in Ayrshire. The skill and boldness which Douglas displayed in these two exploits, and the success which attended them, added to the reputation for military enterprise and bravery, which he had previously acquired, seem to have infected the English with an almost superstitious dread of his power and resources; so that, if we may believe the writers of the age, few could be found adventurous enough to undertake the keeping of "the perilous castle of Douglas," for by that name it now came to be popularly distinguished.

When king Robert, shortly after his victory over the English at Loudonhill, marched his forces into the north of Scotland, Sir James Douglas remained behind, for the purpose of reducing the forests of Selkirk and Jedburgh to obedience. His first adventure, however, was the taking, a second time, his own castle of Douglas, then commanded by Sir John de Wilton, an English knight, who held this charge, as his two predecessors had done, under the lord Clifford, Sir James, taking along with him a body of armed men, gained the neighbourhood undiscovered, where himself and the greater number immediately planted themselves in ambuscade, as near as possible to the gate of the castle. Fourteen of his best men he directed to disguise themselves as peasants wearing smock-frocks, under which their arms might be conveniently concealed, and having sacks filled with grass laid across their horses, who, in this guise, were to pass within view of the castle, as if they had been countrymen carrying corn for sale to Lanark fair. The stratagem had the desired effect; for the garrison being then scarce of provisions, had no mind to let pass so favourable an opportunity, as it appeared to them, of supplying themselves; wherefore, the greater part, with the governor, who was a man of a bold and reckless disposition, at their head, issued out in great haste to overtake and plunder the supposed peasants. These, finding themselves pursued, hurried onward with what speed they could muster, till, ascertaining that the unwary Englishmen had passed the ambush, they suddenly threw down their sacks, stripped off the frocks which concealed their armour, mounted their horses, and raising a loud shout, seemed determined in turn to become the assailants. Douglas and his concealed followers, no sooner heard the shout of their companions, which was the concerted signal of onset, than, starting into view in the rear of the English party, these found themselves at once, unexpectedly and furiously attacked from two opposite quarters. In this desperate encounter, their retreat to the castle being effectually cut off, Wilton and his whole party are reported to have been slain. When this successful exploit was ended, Sir James found means to gain possession of the castle, probably by the promise of a safe conduct to those by whom it was still maintained; as he allowed the constable and remaining garrison to depart unmolested into England, furnishing them, at the same time, with money to defray the charges of their journey. Barbour relates, that upon the person of the slain knight there was found a letter from his mistress, informing him, that he might well consider himself worthy of her love, should he bravely defend for a year the adventurous castle of Douglas. Sir James razed the fortress of his ancestors to the ground, that it might, on no future occasion, afford protection to the enemies of his country, and the usurpers of his own patrimony.

Leaving the scene where he had thus, for the third time, in so remarkable a manner triumphed over his adversaries, Douglas proceeded to the forests of Selkirk and Jedburgh, both of which he in a short time reduced to the king’s authority. While employed upon this service, he chanced one day, towards night-fall, to come in sight of a solitary house on the water of Line, which he had no sooner perceived, than he directed his course towards it, with the intention of there resting himself and his followers till morning. Approaching the place with some caution, Douglas could distinguish from the voices which he heard within, that it was pre-occupied; and from the oaths which mingled in the conversation, he had no doubt as to the character of the guests which it contained, military men being then, almost exclusively, addicted to the use of such terms in their speech. Having beset the house with his followers, and forced an entrance, the conjecture of the knight proved well founded; for, after a brief but sharp contest with the inmates, he was fortunate enough to secure the persons of Alexander Stuart, Lord Bonkle, and Thomas Randolph, the king’s nephew; who were, at that time, not only attached to the English interest, but engaged in raising forces to check the progress of Douglas in the south of Scotland. The important consequences of this action, by which Robert gained as wise and faithful a counsellor as he ever possessed, and Douglas a rival, though a generous one even in his own field of glory, deserves that it should be particularly noticed in this place. Immediately upon this adventure, Douglas, carrying along with him his two prisoners; rejoined the king’s forces in the north; where, under his gallant sovereign, he assisted in the victory gained over the lord of Lorn, by which the Highlands were at length constrained to a submission to the royal authority.

Without following the current of those events, in which Douglas either participated, or bore a principal part, but which have more properly fallen to be described in another place, we come to the relation of one more exclusively belonging to the narration of this life. The castle of Roxburgh, a fortress of great importance on the borders of Scotland, had long been in the hands of the English king, by whom it was strongly garrisoned, and committed to the charge of Gillemin de Fiennes, a knight of Burgundy. Douglas, and his followers, to the number of about sixty men, then lurked in the adjoining forest of Jedburgh, where they did not remain long inactive, before the enterprising genius of their leader had suggested a plan for the surprisal of the fortress. A person of the name of Simon of Leadhouse was employed to construct rope-ladders for scaling the walls, and the night of Shrove-Tuesday, then near at hand, was fixed upon as the most proper for putting the project in execution; "for then," says Fordun, "all the men, from dread of the Lent season, which was to begin next day, indulged in wine and licentiousness." When the appointed night arrived, Douglas and his brave followers approached the castle, wearing black frocks or shirts, over their armour, that, in the darkness, they might be the more effectually concealed from the observation of the sentinels. On getting near to the castle walls, they crept softly onwards on their hands and knees; and, indeed, soon became aware of the necessity they were under of observing every precaution; for a sentinel on the walls having observed, notwithstanding the darkness, their indistinct crawling forms, which he took to be those of cattle, remarked to his companion, that farmer such a one (naming a husbandman who lived in the neighbourhood) surely made good cheer that night, seeing that he took so little care of his cattle. "He may make merry to-night, comrade," the other replied, "but, if the Black Douglas come at them, he will fare the worse another time;" and, so conversing, these two passed to another part of the wall. Sir James and his men had approached so close to the castle, as distinctly to overhear this discourse, and also to mark with certainty the departure of the men who uttered it. The wall was no sooner free of their presence, than Simon of the Leadhouse, fixing one of the ladders to its summit, was the first to mount. This bold adventure was perceived by one of the garrison so soon as he reached the top of the wall; but, giving the startled soldier no time to raise an alarm, Simon sprang suddenly upon him, and despatched him with his dagger. Before the others could come to his support, Simon had to sustain the attack of another antagonist, whom, also, he laid dead at his feet; and Sir James and his men, in a very brief space, having surmounted the wall, the loud shout of "a Douglas! a Douglas!" and the rush of the enemy into the hall, where the garrison yet maintained the revels of the evening, gave the first intimation to governor and men that the fortress had been assaulted and taken. Unarmed, bewildered, and most of them intoxicated, the soldiery were unable to make any effectual resistance; and in this defenceless and hopeless state, many of them in the fury of the onset were slaughtered. The governor and a few others escaped into the keep or great tower, which they defended till the following day; but having sustained a severe arrow wound in the face, Gillemin de Fiennes thought proper to surrender, on condition that he and his remaining followers should be allowed safely to depart into England. These terms having been accorded, and faithfully fulfilled, Fiennes died shortly afterwards of the wound which he had received. This event, which fell out in the month of March., 1313, added not a little to the terror with which the Douglas name was regarded in the north of England; while in an equal degree, it infused spirit and confidence into the hearts of their enemies. Barbour attributes the successful capture of Edinburgh castle by Randolph, an exploit of greater peril and on that account only, of superior gallantry to the preceding, to the noble emulation with which the one general regarded the deeds of the other.

The next occasion, wherein Douglas signalized himself by his conduct and bravery, was on the field of Bannockburn; in which memorable battle, he had the signal honour of commanding the centre division of the Scottish van. When the fortune of that great day was decided, by the disastrous and complete overthrow of the English army, Sir James, at the head of sixty horsemen, pursued closely on the track of the flying monarch, for upwards of forty miles from the field, and only desisted from the chase from the inability of his horses to proceed further. In the same year, king Robert, desirous of taking advantage of the wide spread dismay into which the English nation had been thrown, despatched his brother Edward and Sir James Douglas, by the eastern marches, into England, where they ravaged and assessed at will the whole northern counties of that kingdom.

When Bruce passed over with an army into Ireland, in the month of May 1316, in order to the reinforcement of his brother Edward’s arms in that country, he committed to Sir James Douglas, the charge of the middle borders, during his absence. The earl of Arundel appears, at the same time, to have commanded on the eastern and middle marches of England, lying opposite to the district under the charge of Douglas. The earl, encouraged by the absence of the Scots king, and still more, by information which led him to believe that Sir James Douglas was then unprepared and off his guard, resolved, by an unexpected and vigorous attack, to take this wily and desperate enemy at an advantage. For this purpose, he collected together, with secrecy and despatch an army of no less than ten thousand men. Douglas, who had just then seen completed the erection of his castle or manor house of Lintalee, near Jedburgh, in which he proposed giving a great feast to his military followers and vassals, was not, indeed, prepared to encounter a force of this magnitude; but, from the intelligence of spies whom he maintained in the enemy’s camp, he was not altogether to be taken by surprise. Aware of the route by which the English army would advance, he collected, in all haste, a considerable body of archers, and about fifty men at arms, and with these took post in an extensive thicket of Jedburgh forest. The passage or opening through the wood at this place—wide and convenient at the southern extremity, by which the English were to enter, narrowed as it approached the ambush, till in breadth it did not exceed a quoit’s pitch, or about twenty yards. Placing the archers in a hollow piece of ground, on one side of the pass, Douglas effectually secured them from the attack of the enemies’ cavalry, by an entrenchment of felled trees, and by knitting together the branches of the young birch trees with which the thicket abounded. He himself took post with his small body of men-at-arms, on the other side of the pass, and there patiently awaited the approach of the English. These preparations for their reception having been made with great secrecy and order, the army of Arundel had no suspicion of the snare laid for them; and, having entered the narrow part of the defile, seem even to have neglected the ordinary rules for preserving the proper array of their ranks, these becoming gradually compressed and confused as the body advanced. In this manner, unable to form, and, from the pressure in their rear, equally incapacitated to retreat, the van of the army offered an unresisting and fatal mark to the concealed archers; who, opening upon them with a volley of arrows, in front and flank, first made them aware of the danger of their position, and rendered irremediable the confusion already observable in their ranks. Douglas, at the same moment, bursting from his ambush, and raising the terrible war cry of his name, furiously assailed the surprised and disordered English, a great many of whom, from the impracticability of their situation, and the impossibility of escape, were slain. Sir James himself encountered, in this warm onset, a brave foreign knight, named Thomas de Richemont, whom he slew by a thrust with his dagger; taking from him, by way of trophy, a furred cap which it was his custom to wear over his helmet. The English having at length made good their retreat into the open country, encamped in safety for the night; Douglas, well knowing the danger he would incur, in following up, with so small a number of men, the advantage which art and stratagem had so decidedly gained for him.

Had this been otherwise, he had service of a still more immediate nature yet to perform. Having intelligence that a body of about three hundred men, under the command of a person named Ellies, had, by a different route, penetrated to Lintalee, Sir James hastened thither with all possible expedition. This party, finding the house deserted and unguarded, had taken possession of it, as also of the provisions and liquors with which it had been amply provided; nothing doubting of the complete victory which Arundel would achieve over Sir James Douglas and his few followers. In this state of security, having neglected to set watches to apprize them of dangers, they were unexpectedly assailed by their dreaded and now fully excited enemy, and mercilessly put to the sword, with the exception of a very few who escaped. The fugitives having gained the camp of Arundel, that commander was no less surprised and daunted by this new disaster, than he had been by that which shortly before befell his own men; so that, finding himself unequal to the task of dealing with a foe so active and vigilant, he prudently retreated back into his own country, and disbanded his forces.

Among the other encounters recorded as having taken place on the borders at this time, we must not omit one, in which the characteristic and unaided valour of the good Sir James unquestionably gained for him the victory. Sir Edmund de Cailand, a knight of Gascony, whom king Edward had appointed governor of Berwick, desirous of signalizing himself in the service of that monarch, had collected a considerable force with which he ravaged and plundered nearly the whole district of Teviot. As he was returning to Berwick, loaded with spoil, the Douglas, who had intimation of his movements, determined to intercept his march, and, if possible, recover the booty. For this purpose, he hastily collected together a small body of troops; but, on approaching the party of Cailand, he found them so much superior to his own, in every respect, that he hesitated whether or not he should prosecute the enterprise. The Gascon knight, confident in his own superiority, instantly prepared for battle; and a severe conflict ensued, in which it seemed very doubtful whether the Scots should be able to withstand the numbers and bravery of their assailants. Douglas, fearful of the issue of the contest, pressed forward with incredible energy, and, encountering Sir Edmund de Cailand, slew him with his own hand. The English party, discouraged by the loss of their leader, and no longer able to withstand the increased impetuosity with which this gallant deed of Sir James had inspired his men, soon fell into confusion, and were put to flight with considerable slaughter. The booty, which, previously to the engagement, had been sent on towards Berwick, was wholly recovered by the Scots.

Following upon this success, and, in some measure connected with it, an event occurred, singularly illustrative of the chivalric spirit of that age. Sir Ralph Neville, an English knight who then resided at Berwick, feeling, it may be supposed, his nation dishonoured, by the praises which the fugitives in the late defeat bestowed upon the great prowess of Douglas, boastingly declared, that he would himself encounter that Scottish knight, whenever his banner should be displayed in the neighbourhood of Berwick. When this challenge reached the ears of Douglas, he determined that the self-constituted rival who uttered it, should not want for the opportunity which he courted. Advancing into the plain around Berwick, Sir James there displayed his banner, as a counter challenge to the knight, calling upon him, at the same time, by herald, to make good his bravado. The farther to incite and irritate the English, he detached a party of his men, who set fire to some villages within sight of the garrison. Neville, at the head of a much more numerous force than that of the Scots, at length issued forth to attack his enemy. The combat was well contested on both sides, till Douglas, encountering Neville hand to hand, soon proved to that brave but over-hardy knight, that he had provoked his fate, for he soon fell under the experienced and strong arm of his antagonist. This event decided the fortune of the field. The English were completely routed, and several persons of distinction made prisoners in the pursuit. Taking advantage of the consternation caused by this victory, Sir James plundered and desolated with fire all the country on the north side of the river Tweed, which still adhered to the English interest; and returning in triumph to the forest of Jedburgh, divided among his followers the rich booty which he had acquired, reserving no part of it, as was his generous custom, to his own use.

In the year 1322, the Scots, commanded by Douglas, invaded the counties of Northumberland and Durham; but no record now remains of the circumstances attending this invasion. In the same year, as much by the terror of his name, as by any stratagem, he saved the abbey of Melrose from the threatened attack of a greatly superior force of the English, who had advanced against it for the purposes of plunder. But the service by which, in that last and most disastrous campaign of Edward II. against the Scots, Sir James most distinguished himself, was, in the attempt which he made, assisted by Randolph, to force a passage to the English camp, at Biland, in Yorkshire. In this desperate enterprise, the military genius of Bruce came opportunely to his aid, and he proved successful. Douglas, by this action, may be said to have given a final blow to the nearly exhausted energies of the weak and misguided government of Edward; and to have thus assisted in rendering his deposition, which soon after followed, a matter of indifference, if not of satisfaction to his subjects.

The same active hostility which had on so many occasions, during the life of our great warrior, proved detrimental or ruinous to the two first Edwards, was yet to be exercised with undiminished efficacy upon the third monarch of that name, the next of the race of English usurpers over Scotland. The treaty of truce which the disquiets and necessities of his own kingdom had extorted from Edward II. after his defeat at Biland, having been broken through, as it would seem, not without the secret connivance or approbation of the Scottish king; Edward III., afterwards so famous in English history, but then a minor, collected together an immense force, intending not only to revenge the infraction, but, by some decisive blow, recover the honour which his father’s arms had lost in the revolted kingdom. The inexperience of the young monarch, however, ill seconded as that was by the councils of the faction which then governed England, could prove no match, when opposed to the designs of a king so politic as Robert, and the enterprise and consummate talent of such generals as Randolph and Douglas.

The preparations of England, though conducted on a great and even extravagant scale of expense, failed in the despatch essentially necessary on the present occasion; allowing the Scottish army, which consisted of twenty thousand light-armed cavalry, nearly a whole month, to plunder and devastate at will, the northern districts of the kingdom, before any adequate force could be brought upon the field to oppose their progress. Robert, during his long wars with England, had admirably improved upon the severe experience which his first unfortunate campaigns had taught him; and, so well had the system which he adopted, been inured into the very natures of his captains and soldiers, by long habit and continued success, that he could not be more ready to plan and dictate schemes of defence or aggression, than his subjects were alert and zealous to put them in execution. He was, besides, fortunate above measure, in the choice of his generals; and particularly of those two, Randolph, earl of Moray, and Sir James Douglas, to whose joint command, the army on the present occasion was committed. Moray, though equally brave and courageous with his compeer, was naturally guided and restrained by wise and prudential suggestions; while Douglas, almost entirely under the sway of a sanguine and chivalrous spirit, often, by his very daring and temerity, proved successful, where the other must inevitably have failed. One circumstance, deserving of particular commendation, must not be omitted, that while in rank and reputation, and in the present instance, command, these two great men stood, in regard to each other, in a position singularly open to sentiments of envious rivalry, the whole course of their lives and actions give ample ground for believing that feelings of such a nature were utterly alien to the characters of both.

Of the ravages which the Scottish army committed in the north of England, during the space above mentioned, we have no particulars recorded, but that they plundered all the villages and open towns in their route seems certain; prudently avoiding to dissipate their time and strength by assailing more difficult places. To atone somewhat for this deficiency in his narrative, Froissart, who on this period of Scottish history was unquestionably directed by authentic information, has left a curious sketch of the constitution and economy of the Scottish army of that day. "The people of that nation," says this author, "are brave and hardy, insomuch, that when they invade England, they will often march their troops a distance of thirty-six miles in a day and night. All are on horseback, except only the rabble of followers, who are a-foot. The knights and squires are well mounted on large coursers, or war-horses; but the commons and country people have only small hackneys or ponies. They use no carriages to attend their army; and such is their abstinence and sobriety in war, that they content themselves for a long time with half cooked flesh without bread, and with water unmixed with wine. When they have slain and skinned the cattle, which they always find in plenty, they make a kind of kettles of the raw hides with the hair on, which they suspend on four stakes over fires, with the hair side outmost, and in these they boil part of the flesh in water; roasting the remainder by means of wooden spits disposed around the same fires. Besides, they make for themselves a species of shoes or brogues of time same raw hides with the hair still on them. Each person carries attached to his saddle, a large flat plate of iron, and has a bag of meal fixed on horseback, behind him. When, by eating flesh cooked as before described, and without salt, they find their stomachs weakened and uneasy, they mix up some of the meal with water into a paste; and having heated the flat iron plate on the fire, they knead out the paste into thin cakes, which they bake or fire on these heated plates. These cakes they eat to strengthen their stomachs." Such an army would undoubtedly possess all the requisites adapted for desultory and predatory warfare; while, like the modern guerillas, the secrecy and celerity of their movements would enable them with ease and certainty to elude any formidable encounters to which they might be exposed from troops otherwise constituted than themselves.

The English army, upon which so much preparation had been expended, was at length, accompanied by the king in person, enabled to take the field. It consisted, according to Froissart, of eight thousand knights and squires, armed in steel, and excellently mounted; fifteen thousand men at arms, also mounted, but upon horses of an inferior description; the same number of infantry, or, as that author has termed them, sergeants on foot; and a body of archers twenty-four thousand strong. This great force on its progress northward, soon became aware of the vicinity of their destructive enemy by the sight of the smoking villages and towns which marked their course in every direction; but having for several days vainly attempted, by following these indications, to come up with the Scots, or even to gain correct intelligence regarding their movements, they resolved, by taking post on the banks of the river Tine, to intercept them on their return into Scotland. In this, the English army were not more fortunate; and having, from the difficulty of their route, been constrained to leave their camp baggage behind them, they suffered the utmost hardships from the want of provisions, and the inclemency of the weather. When several days had been passed in this fruitless and harassing duty, the troops nearly destitute of the necessaries of life, and exposed, without shelter, to an almost incessant rain, the king was induced to proclaim a high reward to whosoever should first give intelligence of where the Scottish army were to be found. Thomas Rokesby, an esquire, having among others set out upon this service, was the first to bring back certain accounts that the Scots lay encamped upon the side of a hill, at about five miles distance from the English camp. This person had approached so near to the enemies’ position as to be taken prisoner by the outposts; but he had no sooner recounted his business to Randolph and Douglas, than he was honourably dismissed, with orders to inform the English king, that they were ready and desirous to engage him in battle, whensoever he thought proper.

On the following day, the English, marching in order of battle, came in sight of the Scottish army, whom they found drawn up on foot, in three divisions, on the slope of a hill; having the river Wear, a rapid and nearly impassable stream, in front, and their flanks protected by rocks and precipices, presenting insurmountable difficulties to the approach of an enemy. Edward attempted to draw them from their fastness, by challenging the Scottish leaders to an honourable engagement on the plain, a practice not unusual in that age; but he soon found, that the experienced generals with whom he had to deal were not to be seduced by any artifice or bravado. "On our road hither," said they, "we have burnt and spoiled the country; and here we shall abide while to us it seems good. If the king of England is offended, let him come over and chastise us." The two armies remained in this manner, fronting each other, for three days; the army of Edward much incommoded by the nature of their situation, and the continual alarms of their hostile neighbours, who, throughout the night, says Froissart, kept sounding their horns, "as if all the great devils in hell had been there." Unable to force the Scots to a battle, the English commanders had no alternative left them, than, by blockading their present situation, to compel the enemy, by famine, to quit their impregnable position, and fight at a disadvantage. The fourth morning, however, proved the futility of such a scheme: for the Scots having discovered a place of still greater strength at about two miles distance, had secretly decamped thither in the night. They were soon followed by the English, who took post on an opposite hill, the river Wear still interposing itself between the two armies.

The army of Edward, baffled and disheartened as they had been by the wariness and dexterity of their enemy, would seem, in their new position, to have relaxed somewhat in their accustomed vigilance; a circumstance which did not escape the experienced eye of Sir James Douglas; and which immediately suggested to the enterprising spirit of that commander, the possibility of executing a scheme, which, to any other mind, must have appeared wild and chimerical, as it was hazardous. Taking with him a body of two hundred chosen horsemen, he, at midnight, forded the river at a considerable distance from both armies; and by an unfrequented path, of which he had received accurate information, gained the rear of the English camp undiscovered. On approaching the outposts, Douglas artfully assumed the manner of an English officer going his rounds, calling out, as he advanced, "Ha! St George, you keep no ward here," and, by this stratagem, penetrated, without suspicion, to the very centre of the encampment, where the king lay. When they had got thus far, the party, no longer concealing who they were, shouted aloud, "A Douglas! a Douglas! English thieves, you shall all die!" and furiously attacking the unarmed and panic-struck host, overthrew all who came in their way. Douglas, forcing an entrance to the royal pavilion, would have carried off the young king, but for the brave and devoted stand made by his domestics, by which he was enabled with difficulty, to escape. Many of the household, and, among others, the king’s own chaplain, zealously sacrificed their lives to their loyalty on this occasion. Disappointed of his prize, Sir James now sounded a retreat, and charging with his men directly through the camp of the English, safely regained his own; having sustained the loss of only a very few of his followers, while that of the enemy is said to have exceeded three hundred men.

On the day following this night attack, a prisoner having been brought into the English camp, and strictly interrogated, acknowledged, that general orders had been issued to the Scots to hold themselves in readiness to march that evening, under the banner of Douglas. Interpreting this information by the fears which their recent surprisal had inspired, the English concluded that the enemy had formed the plan of a second attack; and in this persuasion, drew up their whole army in order of battle, and so continued all night resting upon their arms. Early in the morning, two Scottish trumpeters having been seized by the patroles, reported that the Scottish army had decamped before midnight, and were already advanced many miles on their march homeward. The English could not, for some time, give credit to this strange and unwelcome intelligence; but, suspecting some stratagem, continued in order of battle, till, by their scouts, they were fully certified of its truth. The Scottish leaders, finding that their provisions were nearly exhausted, had prudently resolved upon a retreat; and, in the evening, having lighted numerous fires, as was usual, drew off from their encampment shortly after nightfall. To effect their purpose, the army had to pass over a morass, which lay in their rear, of nearly two miles in extent, till then supposed impracticable by cavalry. This passage the Scots accomplished by means of a number of hurdles, made of wands or boughs of trees wattled together, employing these as bridges over the water runs and softer places of the bog; and so deliberately had their measures been adopted and executed, that when the whole body had passed, these were carefully removed, that they might afford no assistance to the enemy, should they pursue them by the same track. Edward is said to have wept bitterly when informed of the escape of the Scottish army; and his generals, well aware how unavailing any pursuit after them must prove, next day broke up the encampment, and retired toward Durham.

This was the last signal service which Douglas rendered to his country; and an honourable peace having been soon afterwards concluded between the two kingdoms, seemed at last to promise a quiet and pacific termination to a life which had hitherto known no art but that of war, and no enjoyment but that of victory. However, a different, and to him, possibly, a more enviable fate awaited the heroic Douglas. Bruce dying, not long after he had witnessed the freedom of his country established, made it his last request, that Sir James, as his oldest and most esteemed companion in arms, should carry his heart to the holy land, and deposit it in the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, to the end his soul might be unburdened of the weight of a vow which he felt himself unable to fulfil.

Douglas, attended by a numerous and splendid retinue of knights and esquires, set sail from Scotland, in execution of this last charge committed to his care by his deceased master. He first touched in his voyage at Sluys in Flanders, where, having learned that Alphonso, king of Castile and Leon, was then at waged war with Osmyn, the Moorish king of Granada, he seems to have been tempted, by the desire of fighting against the infidels, to direct his course into Spain, with intention, from thence, to combat the Saracens in his progress to Jerusalem. Having landed in king Alphonso’s country, that sovereign received Douglas with great distinction; and not the less so, that he expected shortly to engage in battle with his Moorish enemies. Barbour relates, that while at this court, a knight of great renown, whose face was all over disfigured by the scars of wounds which he had received in battle, expressed his surprise that a knight of so great fame as Douglas should have received no similar marks in his many combats. "I thank heaven," answered Sir James, mildly, "that I had always hands to protect my face." And those who were by, adds the author, praised the answer much, for there was much understanding in it.

Douglas, and the brave company by whom he was attended, having joined themselves to Alphonso’s army, came in view of the Saracens near to Tebas, a castle on the frontiers of Andalusia, towards the kingdom of Grenada. Osmyn, the Moorish king, had ordered a body of three thousand cavalry to make a feigned attack on the Spaniards, while, with the great body of his army, he designed, by a circuitous route, unexpectedly, to fall upon the rear of king Alphonso’s camp. That king, however, having received intelligence of the stratagem prepared for him, kept the main force of his army in the rear, while he opposed a sufficient body of troops, to resist the attack which should be made on the front division of his army. From this fortunate disposition of his forces, the christian king gained the day over his infidel adversaries. Osmyn was discomfited with much slaughter, and Alphonso, improving his advantage, gained full possession of the enemy’s camp.

While the battle was thus brought to a successful issue in one quarter of the field, Douglas, and his brave companions, who fought in the van, proved themselves no less fortunate. The Moors, not long able to withstand the furious encounter of their assailants, betook themselves to flight. Douglas, unacquainted with the mode of warfare pursued among that people, followed hard after the fugitives, until, finding himself almost deserted by his followers, he turned his horse, with the intention of rejoining the main body. Just then, however, observing a knight of his own company to be surrounded by a body of Moors, who had suddenly rallied, "Alas," said he, "yonder worthy knight shall perish, but for present help;" and with the few who now attended him, amounting to no more than ten men, he turned hastily, to attempt his rescue. He soon found himself hard pressed by the numbers who thronged upon him. Taking from his neck the silver casquet which contained the heart of Bruce, he threw it before him among the thickest of the enemy, saying, "Now pass thou onward before us, as thou wert wont, and I will follow thee or die." Douglas, and almost the whole of the brave men who fought by his side, were here slain. His body and the casquet containing the embalmed heart of Bruce were found together upon the field; and were, by his surviving companions, conveyed with great care and reverence into Scotland. The remains of Douglas were deposited in the family vault at St Bride’s chapel, and the heart of Bruce solemnly interred by Moray, the regent, under the high altar of Melrose Abbey.

So perished, almost in the prime of his life, the gallant, and, as his grateful countrymen long affectionately termed him, "the good Sir James Douglas," having survived little more than one year, the demise of his royal master. His death was soon after followed by that of Randolph; with whom might be said to close the race of illustrious men who had rendered the epoch of Scotland’s renovation and independence so remarkable.


Pictures are the copyright of Patrick Hickey
The place where Douglas finally died was during the battle of Teba, a small town in Andalusia, on August 25th 1330. In the towns Plaza Espana there is erected a big granite stone in his memory. One side of this stone is in Spanish and the other side in English.
(Thanks to Patrick for sending us this note and these pictures.)

Note
"The statement of Chalmers (Caledonia, I, p 579) that the Douglases sprang from Theobaldus the Fleming, who obtained a grant of lands on the Douglas Water from the Abbot of Kelso is generally discredited. The lands granted by the abbot to Theobald the Fleming between 1147 and 1160, though on the Douglas Water, were not a part of the ancient territory of Douglas, and there is no proof nor even any probability that William de Duglas of the 12th century is descended from the Fleming who settled on the opposite side of his native valley."  (The Surnames of Scotland, 1946, George F. Black, p. 218)


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