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Douglas Castle


(Castle Dangerous, Douglas Estate)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Douglas Castle, an ancient ruin and a modern seat in Douglas parish, Lanarkshire, near the right bank of Douglas Water, ¾ mile NNE of Douglas town. The Douglases, 'whose coronet so often counterpoised the crown,' and who so closely linked the district of Douglasdale to Scottish story, 'were,' says Hill Burton, 'children of the soil, who could not be traced back to the race of the enemy or stranger, as, whatever may have been their actual origin, they were known as rooted in Scotland at the time when the Norman adventurers crowded in.' The first great man of the house was the Good Sir James, the friend and companion of Robert the Bruce in his valorous efforts to achieve the independence of Scotland. His own castle of Douglas had been taken and garrisoned by the troops of Edward I.; and he resolved to recapture it, and at the same time inflict signal chastisement on the intruders. Tradition tells us that a beautiful English maiden, the Lady Augusta de Berkely, had replied to her numerous suitors that her hand should be given to him who should have the courage and ability to hold the perilous castle of Douglas for a year and a day; and Sir John de Walton, anxious to win by his valour so lovely a prize, with Edward's consent, undertook the defence of the castle. For several months he discharged his duty with honour and bravery, and the lady now deeming his probation accomplished, and not unwilling perhaps to unite her fortunes to one who had proved himself a true and valiant knight, wrote him a letter of recall. By this time, however, he had received a defiance from Douglas, who declared that, for all Sir John's valour, bravery, and vigilance, the castle should be his own by the Palm Sunday of 1307; and De Walton deemed it a point of honour to keep possession till the threatened day should be past. On the day named Douglas, assembling his followers, assailed the English as they returned from the church, and, having overpowered them, took the castle. Sir John de Walton was slain in the conflict, and the letter of his lady-love, being found on his person, afflicted the generous and good Sir James 'full sorely.' The account of this capture of the Castle of Douglas, taken from Barbour's Brus by Hume of Godscroft, is somewhat different. 'The manner of his taking it is said to have beene thus-Sir James, taking with him only two of his servants, went to Thomas Dickson, of whom he was received with tears, after he had revealed himself to him, for the good old man knew him not at first, being in mean and homely apparel. There he kept him secretly, in a quiet chamber, and brought unto him such as had been trusty servants to his father, not all at once, but apart, by one and one, for fear of discoverie. Their advice was, that on Palm Sunday, when the English would come forth to the church, and his partners were conveened, that then he should give the word, and cry "the Douglas slogan," and presently set upon them that should happen to be there, who being despatched the castle might be taken easily. This being concluded, and they come, as soon as the English were entred into the church with palms in their hands (according to the custom of that day), little suspecting or fearing any such thing, Sir James, according to their appointment, cryed too soon, "A Douglas, a Douglas !" which being heard in the church (this was St Bride's church of Douglas), Thomas Dickson, supposing he had beene hard at hand, drew out his sword and ran upon them, having none to second him but another man, so that, oppressed by the number of his enemies, he was beaten downe and slaine. In the meantime, Sir James being come, the English that were in the chancel kept off the Scots, and having the advantage of the strait and narrow entrie, defended themselves manfully. But Sir James, encouraging his men, not so much by words as by deeds and good example, and having slain the boldest resisters, prevailed at last, and entring the place, slew some twenty-six of their number, and tooke the rest, about ten or twelve persons, intending by them to get the castle upon composition, or to enter with them when the gates should be opened to let them in. But it needed not, for they of the castle were so secure that there was none left to keep it, save the porter and the cooke, who knowing nothing of what had hapned at the church, which stood a large quarter of a mile from thence, had left the gate wide open, the porter standing without, and the cooke dressing the dinner within. They entred without resistance, and meat being ready, and the cloth laid, they shut the gates and took their refection at good leisure. Now that he had gotten the castle into his hands, considering with himself (as he was a man no lesse advised than valiant) that it was hard for him to keep it, the English being as yet the stronger in that countrey, who if they should besiege him, he knewe of no reliefe, he thought it better to carry away such things as be most easily transported, gold, silver, and apparell, with ammunition and armour, whereof he had greatest use and need, and to destroy the rest of the provision, together with the castle itselfe, than to diminish the number of his followers there where it could do no good. And so he caused carry the meale and meat, and other cornes and grain into the cellar, and laid all together in one heape: then he took the prisoners and slew them, to revenge the death of his trustie and valiant servant, Thomas Dickson, mingling the victuals with their bloud, and burying their carkasses in the heap of corne: after that he struck out the heads of the barells, and puncheons, and let the drink runn through all; and then he cast the carkasses of dead horses and other carrion amongst it, throwing the salt above all, so to make all together unuseful to the enemie; and this cellar is called yet the Douglas lairder. Last of all he set the house on fire, and burnt all the timber, and what else the fire could overcome, leaving nothing but the scorched walls behind him. '

In 1313, Sir James took the castle of Roxburgh, and in the following year commanded the centre of the Scottish van at Bannockburn. In 1317 he defeated the English under the Earl of Arnndel; and in 1319, in conjunction with Randolph, Earl of Moray, he entered England by the west marches with 1500 men, routed the English under the Archbishop of York at the so-called Chapter of Mitton, and, eluding Edward II., returned with honour to Scotland. When Robert the Bruce was on his deathbed, in 1329, he sent for his true friend and companion in arms the Good Sir James, and requested him, that so soon as his spirit had departed to Him who gave it, he should take his heart and ` bear it in battle against the Saracens. ' Douglas resolved to carry the request of the dying king into execution, and for this purpose obtained a passport from Edward III., dated 1 Sept. 1329. He set sail in the following year with the heart of his honoured master, accompanied by a splendid retinue. Having anchored off Sluys, he was informed that Alphonso XI., the King of Leon and Castile, was engaged in hostilities in Grenada with the Moorish commander Osmyn; and this determined him to pass into Spain, and assist the Christians to combat the Saracens. Douglas and his friends were warmly received by Alphonso, and encountering the Moslems at Theba, on the frontiers of Andalusia, on Aug. 25,1330, put them to rout. Douglas eagerly followed in the pursuit, and, taking the casket which contained the heart of Bruce, he flung it before him, exclaiming, 'Onward, as thou wert wont, thou noble heart, Douglas will follow thee !' The Saracens rallied, and the Good Sir James was slain. His companions found his body upon the field along with the casket, and sorrowfully bore them back to Scotland, where the heart of the Bruce was deposited at Melrose, though his body was interred in the royal tomb at Dunfermline, whilst Sir James was buried at douglas, and a monument erected to him by his brother Archibald. The old poet Barbour, after reciting the circumstances of Sir James's fall in Spain, tells how-

'Quhen his men lang had mad murnyn,
Thai debowiyt him, and syne
Gert scher him swa. that mycht be tane
The flesch all haly fra the bane,
And the carioune thar in haly place
Erdyt. with rycht gret worschip, was-
The banys have thai with them tane
And syne ar to thair schippis gane
Syne towart Scotland held thair way,
And thar ar cummyn in full gret hy
And the banys honorabilly
In till the kirk off Douglas war
Erdyt, with dull and mekill car.
Schyr Archebald has sone gert syn
Off alabastre, baith fair and fyne,
Or save a tumbe sa richly
As it behowyt to swa worthy.'

Sir James's nephew was raised to the earldom of Douglas in 1357 by David II.; and during this reign and -the two which succeeded the house of Douglas attained a degree of power scarcely inferior to that of royalty itself; so that, as has been remarked by an old historian, it became a saying that 'nae man was safe in the country, unless he were either a Douglas or a Douglas man.' The Earl went abroad with a train of 2000 men, kept a sort of court, and even created knights. In 1424, Archibald, the fourth Earl, became possessed of the dukedom of Touraine, for services rendered to Charles VII. of France. William, the sixth Earl, a stripling not yet 15, succeeded to the family power at a stage when it had attained a most formidable height. Their estates in Galloway- where they possessed the stronghold of Threave-and those of Annandale and douglas, comprised two-thirds of Scotland to the S of Edinburgh; the people viewed them as the champions of Scotland, especially after the victory of Otterburn, and since single-handed they had won back the border lands ceded to England by Edward Baliol; lastly, through the marriage of the Good Sir James's brother and heir with Dornagilla, the Red Comyn's sister and Baliol's niece, the Douglases could found a most plausible claim to the Scottish throne, and, but for Baliol's unpopularity, might have contested the accession of Robert II. It was at this time, however, the policy of Crichton-one of the ablest of those who had the direction of affairs during the minority of James II.-to humble the overgrown power of the nobles; and accordingly Earl William, having been decoyed into the castle of Edinburgh, was subjected to a mock trial for treason, and beheaded 24 Nov. 1440. 'This noble youth and his brother and a few other principal friends,, says Hume of Godscroft,' on their arrival in Edinburgh, went directly to the castle, being led as it were and drawn by a fatal destiny, and so came in the power of their deadly enemies and feigned friends. At the very instant comes the Governor, as was before appointed betwixt them, to play his part of the tragedy, and both he and the chancellor might be alike embarked in the action, and bear the envy of so ugly a fact, that the weight thereof might not be on one alone. Yet to play out their treacherous parts, they welcome him most courteously, set him to dinner with the king at the same table, feast him royally, entertain him cheerfully, and that for a long time. At last, about the end of dinner, they compass him about with armed men, and cause present a bull's head before him on the board. The bull's head was in those days a token of death, say our histories; but how it hath come in use to be taken and signify, neither do they nor any else tell ns; neither is it to be found, that I remember, anywhere in history, save in this one place; neither can we conjecture what affinity it can have therewith, unless to exprobrate grossness, according to the French and our own reproaching dull and gross wits, by calling him calf's-head (tête de veau) but not bull's head. The young nobleman, either understanding the sign as an ordinary thing, or astonished with it as an uncouth thing, upon the sight of the bull's head, offering to rise, was laid hold of by their armed men, in the king's presence, at the king's table, which should have been a sanctuary to him. And so without regard of king, or any duty, and without any further process, without order, assize, or jury, without law, no crime objected, he not being convicted at all, a young man of that age, that was not liable to the law in regard of his youth, a nobleman of that place, a worthy young gentleman of such expectation, a guest of that acceptation, one who had reposed upon their credit, who had committed himself to them, a friend in mind, who looked for friendship, to whom all friendship was promised, against duty, law, friendship, faith, honesty, humanity, hospitality, against nature, against human society, against God's law, against man's law, and the law of nature, is cruelly executed and put to death. David Douglas, his younger brother, was also put to death with him, and Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld; they were all three beheaded in the back court of the castle that lieth to the west.'

'When Earl Douglas to the Castle came
The courts they were fu' grim to see;
And he liked na the feast as they sat at dine,
The tables were served sae silentlie.
'And full twenty feet fro the table he sprang
when the grisly bull's head met his e'e,
But the Crichtouns a' cam' troupin in,
An' he coudna fight an' wadna flie.
'O, when the news to Hermitage came,
The Douglasses were brim and wud;
They swore to set Embro' in a bleeze,
An' slochen't wi' auld Crichtoun's blood.'

The dukedom of Touraine reverted to the French king; but, after three years of depressed fortune, the Douglases rose to a greater degree of power than ever in the person of William, the eighth Earl, who, professing to be in favour with the young king, James II., appointed himself Lieutenant-General of the kingdom. Having fallen, however, into partial disgrace, he went abroad (1450), and his castle of Douglas was demolished during his absence by order of the king, on account of his vassals' insolence. On the return of the Earl, he made submission to the king, a submission never meant to be sincere. He sought to assassinate Crichton the chancellor, hanged Herries of Terregles in despite of the king's mandate to the contrary, and in obedience to a royal warrant delivered up the Tutor of Bombie-headless. By leaguing, moreover, with the Earls of Crawford and Ross, he united against his sovereign almost one-half of the kingdom. But his credulity led him into the selfsame snare that had proved fatal to the former Earl. Relying on the promise of the king, who had now attained to the years of manhood, and having obtained a safe-conduct under the great seal, he ventured to meet him in Stirling Castle, 13 Jan. 1452. James urged him to dissolve the Bands, the Earl refused. 'If yon will not,' said the en raged monarch, drawing his dagger, 'then this shall !' and stabbed him to the heart. The Earl's four brothers and vassals ran to arms with the utmost fury; and, dragging the safe-conduct, which the king had granted and violated, at a horse's tail, they marched to Stirling, burned the town, and threatened to besiege the castle. An accommodation ensued, on what terms is not known; but the king's jealousy, and the new Earl's power and resentment, prevented its long continuance. Both took the field, and met near Abercorn (1454), at the head of their armies. That of the Earl, composed chiefly of Borderers, was far superior to the king's, in both numbers and valour; and a single battle must in all probability have decided whether the house of Stewart or the house of Douglas was henceforth to sit upon the throne of Scotland. But while his troops im patiently expected the signal to engage, the Earl ordered them to retire to their camp; and Sir James Hamilton of Cadzow, in whom he placed the greatest confidence, convinced of his lack of genius to improve an opportunity, or of his want of courage to seize a crown, deserted him that very night. This example was followed by many; and the Earl, despised or forsaken by all, was soon driven out of the kingdom, and obliged to depend for his subsistence on the King of England. The overgrown strength of this family was destroyed in 1455; and the Earl, after enduring many vicissitudes, retired in his old age to Lindores Abbey in Fife, and died there in 1488.

The title of Earl of Douglas, of this the first branch of the family, existed for 98 years, giving an average of 11 years to each possessor. The lands of the family reverted to the Crown, but shortly afterwards were bestowed on the Earl of Angus, the head of a younger branch of the old family, descended from George Douglas, the only son of William, first Earl of Douglas, by his third wife, Margaret, Countess of Angus, who in 1389, on his mother's resignation of her right, received her title. This family assisted in the destruction of the parent-house; and it became a saying, in allusion to the complexion of the two races, that the red Douglas had put down the black. Among its members were several who figured prominently in Scottish story, such as Archibald, fifth Earl, known by the soubriquet of 'Bell-the-Cat;' and Archibald, sixth Earl, who, marrying Margaret of England, widow of James IV., was grandfather of the unfortunate Henry Lord Darnley, the husband of Queen Mary and father of James VI This Archibald, during the minority of his step-son James V., had all the authority of a regent. William, eleventh Earl of Angus, was raised to the marquisate of Douglas, in 1633, by Charles I. This nobleman was a Catholic and a royalist, and inclined to hold out his castle against the Covenanters, in favour of the king; but he was surprised by them, and the castle taken (1639). He was one of the best of the family, and kept up to its fullest extent the olden princely Scottish hospitality. The king constituted him his lieutenant on the Borders, and he joined Montrose after his victory at Kilsyth (1645), escaped from the rout at the battle of Philiphaugh, and soon after made terms with the ruling powers. The first Marquis of Douglas was the father of three peers of different titles-Archibald, his eldest son, who succeeded him as second Marquis; William, his eldest son by a second marriage, who became third Duke of Hamilton; and George, his second son, by the same marriage, who was created Earl of Dumbarton. Archibald, third Marquis, succeeded in 1700, and was created Duke of Douglas in 1703. In the '15 he adhered to the ruling family of Hanover, and fought as a volunteer in the battle of Sheriffmuir. He died childless at Queensberry House, Edinburgh, in 1761, when the ducal title became extinct, the Marquisate of Douglas devolving on the Duke of Hamilton, on account of his descent from the first Marquis. The real and personal estate of the Duke of Douglas was inherited by his nephew, Archibald Stewart, Esq., who assumed the surname of Douglas, and in 1790 was created Baron Douglas of Douglas-a title re-granted in 1875 to the eleventh Earl of Home (1799-1881), who had married the granddaughter of the above-named Archibald Stewart, and now borne by his son and successor, Chs. Alex. Douglas Home (b. 1834), the present Earl, who holds in Lanarkshire 61,943 acres, valued at £24,764 pee annum, besides a large and increasing revenue from minerals. (See also Bothwell and The Hirsel.)

Such are some of the memories of this time-worn ruin, interesting also as the ` Castle Dangerous ' of Sir Walter Scott's last romance, and the last place to which he made a pilgrimage in Scotland. His preface, transmitted from Naples in 1832, contains the following passage:-'The author, before he had made much progress in this, probably the last of his novels, undertook a journey to Douglasdale, for the purpose of examining the remains of the famous castle, the Kirk of St Bride of Douglas, the patron-saint of that great family, and the various localities alluded to by Godscroft, in his account of the early adventures of Good Sir James. But though he was fortunate enough to find a zealous and wellinformed cicerone in Mr Thomas Haddow, and had every assistance from the kindness of Mr Alexander Finlay, the resident chamberlain of his friend Lord Douglas, the state of his health at the time was so feeble that he found himself incapable of pursuing his researches, as in better days he would have delighted to do, and was obliged to be contented with such a cursory view of scenes, in themselves most interesting, as could be snatched in a single morning, when any bodily exertion was painful. Mr Haddow was attentive enough to forward subsequently some notes on the points which the author had seemed desirous of investigating; but these did not reach him until, being obliged to prepare matters for a foreign excursion in quest of health and strength, he had been compelled to bring his work, such as it is, to a conclusion. The remains of the old castle of Douglas are inconsiderable. They consist, indeed, of but one ruined tower, standing at a short distance from the modern mansion, which itself is only one wing of the design on which the Duke of Douglas meant to reconstruct the edifice, after its last accidental destruction by fire. His grace had kept in view the ancient prophecy that, as often as Douglas Castle might be destroyed it should rise again in enlarged dimensions and improved splendour, and projected a pile of building, which, if it had been completed, would have much exceeded any nobleman's residence then existing in Scotland; as, indeed, what has been finished, amounting to about one-eighth of the plan, is sufficiently extensive for the accommodation of a large establishment, and contains some apartments the extent of which is magnificent. The situation is commanding; and though the Duke's successors have allowed the mansion to continue as he left it, great expense has been lavished on the environs, which now present a vast sweep of richly undulated woodland when viewed from the Cairntable mountains, repeatedly mentioned as the favourite retreat of the great ancestor of the family in the days of his hardships and persecution.' See David Hume of Godscroft, History of the House and Race of -Douglas and Angus (1644; new ed. by Ruddiman, 2 vols. 1743).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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