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James Douglas


(4th Earl of Morton)

c.1516 - 1581

Noble and Regent of Scotland. Douglas was the grand-nephew of Archibald, 5th Earl of Angus (Bell-the-Cat; 1449 - 1513), gaining his title by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of James Douglas, 3rd Earl of Morton. He gained estates at Dalkeith and he built Dalkeith Palace on the site of the old castle.

Douglas was a noble in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). He was involved in the murder of David Rizzio (1533 - 1566) and fled to England, returning the following year after receiving a pardon. Mary eventually surrendered to Douglas at Carberry Hill (by Musselburgh) and was imprisoned in his castle at Loch Leven. After Mary's enforced abdication, and the untimely demise of the Earls of Moray, Lennox and Mar, Morton became Regent of Scotland in 1572, acting for the young King James VI (1566 - 1625). His strict rule and financial mismanagement ensured he had many enemies, who eventually drove a wedge between him and the young King. He resigned the Regency in 1578 and retired to Loch Leven Castle. He returned to power briefly the following year as President of the Council, principal advisor to the King, but further intrigue soon saw him excluded once again.

Douglas was beheaded in Edinburgh for his part in the murder of Mary's second husband Lord Darnley (1545 - 1567), which was largely a charge of convenience invented because he had fallen from favour. In 1564, Douglas had introduced an early form of guillotine known as The Maiden as the preferred method of capital punishment in Scotland. Ironically, it was with this very device, now preserved in the Museum of Scotland, that he met his end.


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