Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

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.

Byways of Scottish Story
The Shrine of Douglas


IN these days of continental touring many, it is to be feared, travel further and fare worse in search of storied country than they might within an easy hour's ride of sober Glasgow. For the traveller who cares to think as well as to see, nothing could be more suggestive than a visit to the quiet, halfforgotten little town of Douglas among the Lanark uplands. Here remains a tangible link with many of the greatest events of Scottish history, and here a connected view is to be gathered of the succeeding branches of a family, who were alternately the Guelphs and the Medici of the North.

After the battle of Ancrum Moor, or Lillyard's Edge as it is oftenest called, in Queen Mary's time, when Henry VIII. threatened the Earl of Angus, head of the great Scottish House of Douglas, with reprisals for the overthrow of the English forces and the death of their leaders, that earl is said to have replied significantly, "Little does my royal brotherin-law know the skirts of Cairntable. I can keep myself there against all his English host." And here, in the remote fastnesses, where the narrow valleys run up in wild solitude upon the mountain foot, there can be little doubt that the earl would have kept his word. In this region for centuries his race, the king-makers of Scotland, ruled with Princely power. Here, beyond reach of the royal arm, and often in defiance of it, they did their own desire throughout the long Middle Ages of chivalry and terror. And here, under the shadow of the mountain mass of which the bold earl spoke, many of them were born and the greatest of them lie buried.

Greatly changed, doubtless, from its ancient aspect is the scene to-day, as the visitor drives westwards into Douglasdale, with smiling fields on either side, and bosky woodlands here and there shading the smooth-rolled road. The park wall of the Earl of Home, inheritor of the Douglas estates, runs for miles by the roadside; and in the sunny strath, half a mile to the right, where the battlements of the medieval keep, the "Castle Dangerous" of Scott's romance, once frowned, stands a fair mansion of last century, built by the first and last Duke of Douglas ; but the great shoulder of Cairntable at the head of the valley still shuts out the setting sun, the Douglas water still flows down under the quiet woodlands to join the distant Clyde, and still the upland moors around, untamable by plough and harrow, shut in with their ancient sky-line the Douglases' cradle-land.

The irregular little town itself, clustering about the castle gateway half-way up the valley, retains some vestiges of its ancient appearance. On the ther side of Cairntable lies Airds Moss, where The Covenanters were defeated in 1680; and here, in one of the narrow streets by the kirkyard, the house, small-windowed and low-doored, still stands, in the basement of which, after the battle, Hackston of Rathillet, one of the assassins of Archbishop Sharpe, was secured, while in the low-roofed room overhead the dragoons, with the head and hands of Richard Cameron in charge, kept watch throughout the night. The town was the dwelling in early times of many a stout Douglas vassal; and St. Bride's Kirk in its midst was the scene of one of the most famous exploits of the illustrious companion of Bruce, the Good Lord James. The incident was one of the first that happened after the landing of Bruce in Carrick, and it illustrates at once the extremities to which the king's party were driven, and the boldness to which they owed theit final success.

The prowess of the Douglases appears to have been so well recognised even then that the holding of their ancestral castle was considered by the English a dangerous enterprise. The story is told by Barbour in "The Bruce," and, three hundred years later, by Hume of Godscroft, the historian of the family. It appears that a fair English damsel, the Lady Augusta de Berkely, in the spirit of those times, had offered her hand to the knight who should hold Douglas Castle against the Scots for a year and a day, and that the gage was all but won by a gallant Englishman, Sir John de Walton, when Bruce landed and took Turnberry. At Turnberry Douglas was not far from his own country, and how he surprised the garrison in St. Bride's Kirk here on Palm Sunday, and slaying the last of them among the meal and wine on the floor of the castle cellar, gave the transaction the name of " The Douglas Larder," is known to every reader of history. It was then he set fire to his own castle, and betook himself to the fastnesses of the open country, choosing, as he said, rather to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak.

There was an old saying in the country that, however often Douglas Castle should be destroyed, it should always be rebuilt with greater magnificence than before ; and the saying seems to have held good throughout. The burning of one of these strongholds in old times appears, indeed, to have been of but small account, the place consisting of little else than stone walls. Readers of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel " will remember how Wat Tinlinn, fleeing before the southern raiders, as he leads his wife on her nag through Branksome gate, complains that his foes have burned his keep:

The fiend receive their souls therefore !
It had not been burnt this year and more.

It is not likely, therefore, that Douglas Castle lay long in ruins after the country's enemies had been expelled. Here, probably, in 1329, when Bruce lay dying at Cardross, came the messengers to summon Douglas for that last behest of carrying his master's heart to the Holy Land which was to cost him his life. And here, a little later, it may be supposed, the brother and heir of the Good Lord James brought his wife Dornagilla, sister of the Red Comyn and niece of Baliol, by right of whom the Douglases afterwards made a double claim to the throne of Scotland. In 1357 the tenth lord, son of this lady, and nephew of Bruce's companion-in-arms, was made Earl of Douglas by David II., and the power of the family increased by leaps and bounds. Alternately the bulwark and the menace of the throne at home, the House of Douglas was equally renowned and feared on the battlefields of the Continent. The third earl, James, married the sister of King Robert III.; and it was he who, on a moonlit night in 1388, won the famous fight against Lord Percy on the field of Otterburne, the fight celebrated in one of the most famous Border ballads. The fourth earl, Archibald, who was popularly named "Tine-man" or "Lose-man," was equally famous for his valour and ill-fortune in war. He it was who married his daughter to the ill-fated Duke of Rothesay, and it is his portrait, as noble as it is haughty and terrible, which has been so admirably drawn by Scott in "The Fair Maid of Perth." For services rendered to Charles VII. he was made Duke of Touraine and Marshal of France, before he fell, with so many of the Scottish nobility, on the battlefield of Verneuil.

To the exploits of the Douglases and their comrades at that period on the Continent was owed the beginning of the romantic esteem in which Scotland and the Scots are held in France to the present day. The later wanderings of Scottish scholars like George Buchanan and the Admirable Crichton added further to the romantic repute of the northern nation, and more recently the heroic exile and adventurous risings of the Jacobites confirmed the impression.

Presently, however, the Douglas power became too perilously great for the estate of a subject. While members of the family held the earldoms of Angus, Ormond, and Moray, the main branch were Dukes of Touraine, Lords of Longueville, and Marshals of France, and in Scotland Earls of Douglas and of Wigtown, and Lords of Bothwell, Galloway, and Annandale. When they rode abroad it was with a bodyguard of two thousand men; at their feudal court they even created knights; and their possessions covered no less than two-thirds of the land of Scotland south of Edinburgh. They felt themselves strong enough, in fact, to contest the throne. Through Dornagilla they represented the lines both of Comyn and Baliol, and they began to talk of their claim. At the same time the mischievous whisper went about that, owing to the irregular marriage of King Robert II., the reigning House of Stewart was illegitimate. Clearly the Douglases had become a menace to the crown.

The first blow to their power fell during the boyhood of James II. William, the sixth earl, a stripling of fifteen, was tempted away from his stronghold here in Douglasdale by the wiles of the Chancellor Crichton, and, seated with his brother David at the royal table in Edinburgh, saw the black bull's head, the sign of death, suddenly set upon the board. A popular rhyme, probably the last stanza of a contemporary ballad referring to the tragedy, has been handed down to the present day:

Edinburgh Castle, town and tour,
God grant ye sink for sinne;
And that even for the black dinnour
Earl Douglas gat therein.

It was William, the eighth earl, the most active and turbulent of his race, who first openly rebelled against the king. He it was who, deprived by James of his post of Lieutenant-General of Scotland, retired to his Castle of Douglas, meditating revenge; himself, against the king's authority, ordered the destruction of Lord Colville and Sir John Herries; delivered up at the royal mandate the person of his prisoner, Maclellan, the tutor of Bomby, "wanting the head"; and finally entered into a band of man-rent with the great Earls of Ross and Crawford to support each other in every quarrel, even against the royal authority. And he it was who, in the little supper cabinet in Stirling Castle, replying with refusal and taunts to James's request that he should break the disloyal compact, heard the sudden oath, "By Heaven, my lord, if you will not break the league, this shall!" and fell, stabbed by the dagger of the king.

In the three years' struggle, known in history as the Douglas wars, which succeeded this tragedy, it was more than once uncertain whether James Stewart or James Douglas, brother of the murdered earl, was to wear the crown of Scotland; and during that period Douglas Castle must have been a place of many transactions. Finally, however, at the river Carron, a Douglas army, 40,000 strong, melted without a battle before the king's forces. At the combat of Arkinholme two of Douglas's brothers, the Earls of Moray and Ormond, were slain; and after an exile of thirty years Douglas himself was taken in a Border raid, and sent to end his days in the Fifeshire Abbey of Lindores.

So ended the great race whose history for three hundred years had been the history of Scotland, and of whom it may truly be said, in the ancient popular rhyme:

So many, so good, as of the Douglases have been,
Of one sirname in Scotland never yet were seen.

In this struggle the House of Angus, a younger branch of the same family, sided with the king, giving rise to the popular saying, based on the complexion of the two houses, that "the Red Douglas had put down the Black." To the Earl of Angus accordingly passed a large part of the Douglas estates, and also, it would appear, a large part of the Douglas spirit.

Archibald, fifth in descent from the first Earl of Angus and the youngest daughter of Robert Ill., got his soubriquet of "Bell-the-Cat" from the transaction at Lauder Bridge, in which lie bearded Cochrane, the unworthy but all-powerful favourite of James III. His two eldest sons, with two hundred others of the Douglas name, fell with James IV. at Flodden. His third son was the famous Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, whose translation of the "AEneid " - not only the earliest, but one of the finest metrical versions of a classic in the English or Scottish language-deserves to be better known than it is in modern days. Whether or not the poet was born at Douglas Castle is unknown, but he must certainly have been familiar with its surroundings, and the fact lends a lettered interest to the place.

Archibald, the grandson and successor of "Bellthe-Cat," apart from the fact of his long and renewed ascendency in the government of Scotland during the minorities of James V. and -Mary, possesses a peculiar interest for students of history. By his marriage with Margaret, daughter of Henry VII. of England and widow of James IV., he became the father of Lady Margaret Douglas. She married Matthew, fourth Earl of Lennox, and her son, Lord Darnley, becoming the father of James VI., was the ancestor of the present royal family of Great Britain. When Henry VIII. granted the counties of Merse and Teviotdale to Sir Ralph Evers and Sir Brian Laitoun, and these leaders came northward ravaging the Border, it was this Earl of Angus who declared that lie would write the instrument of possession upon their bodies with sharp pens and in bloodred ink, and who, threatened afterwards by the English monarch, replied in the significant phrase regarding the skirts of Cairntable. It was he also who, rebuked for coming to Parliament contrary to proclamation with a guard of a thousand horse, answered jestingly that "the knaves would not leave him, and that he would be obliged to the Queen if she could put him in the way of being rid of them, for they consumed his beef and ale." And it was he who, when further urged by Mary of Guise, in pursuance of her policy of reducing the power of the Scottish nobles, to give up to her his stronghold of Tantallon, replied with ominous vehemence, "The castle, madam, is yours at command, but by St. Bride of Douglas I must be the captain, and I will keep it for you as well as any one you will put into it."

The notorious Earl of Morton, himself a Douglas, Regent of Scotland in the minority of James VI., owed his original influence to the fact that he was uncle and tutor, or guardian, to the Earl of Angus, then also a minor, and that he thus held control of all the Douglas estates and power. Morton's career remains the blackest blot on the Douglas roll of fame. After taking part in the murders of Rizzio and Darnley, ordering the execution of the bravest soldier of the time, his old friend Kirkaldy of Grange, and delivering up to the vengeance of Queen Elizabeth the unfortunate Earl of Northumberland, a refugee who might have expected nobler treatment on account of the ancient chivalry between the Houses of Percy and Douglas, he finished his career under the knife of the "maiden," a form of guillotine which he had himself introduced from Halifax in Yorkshire.

Morton was the last of the Douglases to figure largely in the history of the country. Since their first appearance in the national annals nothing had permanently humbled the race, and doubtless they would have continued longer in the ascendant; but the years of Morton's rule as practical monarch of Scotland were among the last of the old regime. So long as physical bravery and strength remained the titles to power, the influence of this great family had dominated the State. At the union of the crowns of England and Scotland, however, the old order of things began to pass away, and with it the House of Douglas passed from its place as the chief force to be reckoned with by rulers of the country. Twice again, when physical might became the arbiter of State affairs, the Douglas name emerged from retirement. William, the eleventh Earl of Angus, was made Marquis of Douglas by Charles I. in 1633, and during the troubles of the time shared to some extent the misfortunes of his royal master. At Douglas Castle, with princely lavishness, he kept alive the traditions of medieval hospitality ; and as a resort of persons devoted to the royal cause the stronghold was seized and held for a time by the Covenanting troops. The Marquis himself joined Montrose after the battle of Kilsyth, and, sharing in the defeat of the great Royalist general at Philiphaugh, was for some time afterwards a fugitive. The last appearance of a Douglas in the field was in 1715, when Archibald, the third marquis, who had been created a duke in 1703, took arms and fought against the Jacobites at the battle of Sheriffmuir. But the days of the fierce Douglas mastery were over, and the race which had twice, in the times of James II. and of the Regent Morton, been great enough to embroil the country from Berwick to Inverness in the flames of war, became no more than a memory, a succession of formidable names on the page of history.

Strangely enough, as if the destiny of the house had been accomplished, the line ended with the last of its members who appeared on a Scottish battlefield. The first Duke of Douglas was also the last, and he died childless. Upon that event the dukedom became extinct, the marquisate passed to the House of Hamilton, itself a younger branch of the House of Douglas, lineally descended from the first marquis; and presently over the vast estates was waged the great law battle of the Douglas Case, one of the most celebrated legitimacy trials in the history of the Courts. The estates passed first, by the judgment of the House of Lords, to the duke's nephew, Archibald Stewart, created Baron Douglas in 1790, and afterwards, through Stewart's grand-daughter, to the eleventh Earl of Home.

Little now remains of the ancient Castle of Douglas in Douglasdale, though part of the ruin still stands near the modern mansion. More remains to suggest the associations of the past about the ruined Kirk of St. Bride, close by the park gate, in the town of Douglas. Its quaint and unique little tower, half Moorish in character, with oriels in its octagon top, contains a clock presented by Queen Mary; and in the ruined aisle below, the Inglises still exercise the right of burial granted by the Good Lord James to one of their name for valour on the battlefield. But the interest centres in the choir of the church. There, under the high altar, the members of the great race of Douglas themselves were buried. For many years the place lay open and neglected, and the boys of the neighbouring school used to sport about the tombs of the mighty dead. The eleventh Earl of Home, however, who succeeded to the estates, had the choir repaired and restored with reverence and taste, and a beautiful recumbent figure in alabaster and marble commemorates his countess, through whom the succession passed to his house. There also reclines the figure of the Good Lord James himself, much defaced, it is said, by Cromwell's soldiers, who, as was their habit, quartered their horses in the kirk. His legs are crossed, the sign of the Crusader, and though when the wall was opened a few years ago nothing was found in the space below, doubtless his remains were among the others in the vault under the altar, for it is expressly stated in Barbour's "Bruce" that his bones were brought from Spain and buried here. Two silver cases containing hearts were found among these remains, the first believed to be that of the. Good Lord James, the second supposed to belong to Archibald, "Bell-the-Cat," whose recumbent figure lies opposite to that of his great ancestor. Among the figures of his children carved on the side of his tomb appears one in priestly robes, who may be taken to be the famous Gavin, Bishop of Dunkeld. The hearts now lie under glass, within a stone combing on the floor of the choir, and these grey, corroded cases, with their contents, remain for the visitor of to-day the suggestive centre for the associations of Douglasdale, as they abide the mortal relics of members of the race who, moving high in the dark and terrible drama of ages past, were respectively the makers and unmakers of kings.


Return to Book Index Page