Taking their name from Douglas in Lanarkshire, their leaders gained vast territories throughout the Borders, Angus, Lothian, Moray, and also in France and Sweden. The family is one of the most ennobled in the United Kingdom and has held numerous titles.
The Douglases were one of Scotland's most powerful families, and certainly the most prominent family in lowland Scotland during the Late Middle Ages, often holding the real power behind the throne of the Stewart Kings. The heads of the House of Douglas held the titles of the Earl of Douglas (Black Douglas) and later the Earl of Angus (Red Douglas). The clan does not currently have a chief recognised by the Lyon Court. The principal Douglas today is the Duke of Hamilton, but as his surname is "Douglas-Hamilton" rather than simply "Douglas" the laws of the Lyon Court prevent him from assuming the chiefship of the name.
The original caput of the family was Douglas Castle in Lanarkshire. The Kirk of St Bride at Douglas, along with Melrose Abbey and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés holds the remains of many of the Earls of Douglas and Angus.
The family's surname is derived from the village of Douglas, the name of which comes from the Gaelic elements dubh, meaning "dark, black"; and glas, meaning "stream" (in turn from Old Gaelic dub and glais).
In 1179 William Douglas was Lord of Douglas, he is the first certain record of the name Douglas and undoubtedly the ancestor of the family. He witnessed a charter between 1175 and 1199 by the Bishop of Glasgow to the monks of Kelso. His grandson, also Sir William de Douglas had two sons who fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 against the Norsemen.
One old tradition is that the first chief of Douglas was Sholto Douglas who helped the king of Scotland win a battle in the year 767. This is unsubstantiated and is today considered pseudohistory.
The true progenitor of Clan Douglas was probably "Theobaldus Flammatius" (Theobald the Fleming), who in 1147 received the lands near Douglas Water in Lanarkshire in return for services for the Abbot of Kelso, who held the barony and lordship of Holydean. The Douglas family names consisted of Arkenbald and Freskin, and were believed to be related to the Clan Murray, believed to be descended from a Flemish knight called Freskin. It seems likely that he was the father of the first William Douglas.
However the Flemish origin of the Douglases has been disputed, it has been claimed that the lands which were granted to Theobald the Fleming were not the lands which the Douglas family later emerged from.
During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Sir William Douglas the Hardy, Lord of Douglas was governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed when the town and Berwick Castle were besieged by the English. Douglas was captured and was released only after he had agreed to accept the claim of the Edward I of England to be overlord of Scotland. He subsequently joined William Wallace in fighting for Scottish independence, but was captured and taken to England, where he died in 1302, a prisoner in the Tower of London.
William Le Hardi's son, James Douglas, "The Good Sir James" (c. 1286–1330), was the first to acquire the epithet "the Black". He shared in the early misfortunes of Robert the Bruce and in the defeats at Methven and Dalrigh in 1306. But for both men these setbacks provided a valuable lesson in tactics: limitations in both resources and equipment meant that the Scots would always be at a disadvantage in conventional medieval warfare.
By the time the fighting flared up again in the spring of 1307 they had learned the value of guerrilla warfare – known at the time as "secret war" – using fast-moving, lightly equipped and agile forces to maximum effect against an enemy often dependent on static defensive positions. Sir James Douglas recaptured Roxburgh Castle from the English in 1313. He was made a knight banneret, a high honor, on the field and commanded a wing of the army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
The English called Sir James "The Black Douglas" for what they considered his dark deeds: he became the bogeyman of a Northern English lullaby Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye. Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye. The Black Douglas shall not get ye. Unsubstantiated theories point to his colouring and complexion, this is tenuous. Douglas appears only in English records as "The Black" – Scots chronicles almost always referred to him as "The Guid" or "The Good". Later Douglas lords took the moniker of their revered forebear in the same way that they attached the image of Bruce's heart to their coat of arms: to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies and to exhibit the prowess of their race.
King Robert the Bruce had requested that Douglas, latterly his most esteemed companion in arms, should carry his heart to the Holy Land, as atonement for the murder of John III Comyn. Douglas and his knights had been invited to join the forces of Alfonso XI of Castile, Edward III of England's cousin by his mother Queen Isabella, to fight against the Moors in 1330 at the siege of Teba. Outnumbered and cut off from the main Christian force, Douglas was killed leading a cavalry charge; Alfonso kept his army back from the attack, likely in some arrangement with his cousin Edward. The casket containing the heart of the Bruce was recovered and returned to Scotland, to be interred at Melrose Abbey. Douglas' bones were boiled and returned to Scotland; his embalmed heart was recently recovered in the Douglas vaults at the Kirk of St Bride but his bones are not in the stone vault lying under his effigy and they have yet to be located.
The Scottish army that fought and lost the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 was led by James' youngest brother who had been elected Regent of Scotland in late March 1333. Sir Archibald Douglas has been badly treated by some historians; frequently misidentifying this Douglas warrior as the Tyneman or loser when the moniker was intended for a later less fortunate but equally warlike Archibald. He was mentioned in Barbour's The Brus for his great victory during the Weardale campaign; leading the Scottish army further south into County Durham he devastated the lands and took much booty from Darlington and other nearby towns and villages.
Sir James 'The Good' Douglas' son William succeeded to the title as Lord of Douglas but may not have completed his title to the estates, possibly because he might have been underage. He died at Battle of Halidon Hill with his uncle, Sir Archibald Douglas. James' younger brother, Hugh the Dull, Lord of Douglas, a canon serving the See of Glasgow and held a prebendary at Roxburgh became Lord Douglas in 1342; Hugh of Douglas resigned his title to his nephew, the youngest surviving son of the Regent Archibald, William Lord of Douglas who was to become the first Earl. The First Earl's legitimate son James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas succeeded him. His illegitimate son by Margaret Stewart, 4th Countess of Angus was George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus, who was the progenitor of the Earls of Angus also known as the "Red Douglases".
The prestige of the family was greatly increased when James Douglas's great nephew, James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas married a House of Stuart princess. In 1388 at the Battle of Otterburn he was instrumental to the Scots' victory but was killed during the fighting. Leaving no legitimate heir, his titles passed to the illegitimate son of his great uncle.
Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas did much to consolidate the family's power and influence. He successfully defended Edinburgh Castle against Henry IV of England in 1400 but died the following year.
His son, Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, married the daughter of Robert III of Scotland. The fourth Earl fought against King Henry IV of England at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, where he was taken prisoner.
In 1406, with the death of the king, the 4th Earl of Douglas became one of the council of regents to rule Scotland during the childhood of James I of Scotland. In 1412 the 4th Earl had visited Paris, when he entered into a personal alliance with John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and in 1423 he commanded a contingent of 10,000 Scots sent to the aid of Charles VII of France against the English. He was made lieutenant-general in Joan of Arc's French army, and received the title Duke of Touraine, with remainder to his heirs-male, on 19 April 1424. The newly created French duke was defeated and slain at Battle of Verneuil on 17 August 1424, along with his second son, James, and son-in-law John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan.
The Douglases became so powerful that by the early fifteenth century they were seen as a threat to the stability of the nation. In 1440 the 16-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas and his younger brother were invited to dine with the ten-year-old King James II of Scotland. Later called the Black Dinner, the occasion was organised by the Lord Chancellor, Sir William Crichton. While they ate, a black bull's head, a symbol of death, was brought in and placed before the Earl. The two brothers were then dragged out to Castle Hill, given a mock trial and beheaded. The Clan Douglas then laid siege to Edinburgh Castle. Perceiving the danger, Crichton surrendered the castle to the king and was rewarded with the title Lord Crichton. It is still unclear exactly who else was ultimately responsible, though it is thought Livingstone and Buchan were likely candidates.
The king gave the Earl of Atholl's confiscated lands of Strathbogie to Clan Gordon. The castle there became known as Huntly, a reminder of the Gordons' Berwickshire lands. Sir Alexander Gordon was created Earl of Huntly in 1449. At this time the king was at enmity with the Black Douglases. The Gordons stood on the king's side, and with their men involved in the south of the country, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray took the opportunity to sack the Gordon lands, setting Huntly Castle ablaze. However, the Gordons returned and quickly destroyed their enemies. Although the castle was burned to the ground, a grander castle was built in its place.
The Douglases had a long feud with Clan Colville. Sir Richard Colville had killed the Laird of Auchinleck who was an ally of the Douglases. To avenge this murder the Douglases attacked the Colvilles in their castle, where many were killed. The Douglases levelled the Colville's castle and put their men to the sword. William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas personally executed Richard Colville.
After fruitless feuding with the Douglases, the King invited William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas to Stirling Castle in 1452 under the promise of safe conduct, but then the King accused the Earl of conspiracy in his dealings with the Yorkists in England and through a pact made between Douglas, the Earl of Crawford and the Lord of the Isles. Upon Douglas' refusal to repudiate the pact and reaffirm his loyalty to James II, the King drew his dagger and stabbed Douglas in the throat. The story goes that the King's Captain of the Guard then finished off the Earl with a pole axe. The body was thrown from the window into a garden below, where it was later given burial. A stained glass window bearing the Douglas Arms now overlooks "Douglas Garden", the spot where the Earl is said to have fallen.
In 1455 James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas (the Black Douglas) rebelled against the king but his forces were defeated at the Battle of Arkinholm by the king's forces who were commanded by George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus (the Red Douglas). This brought an end to the Black Douglases. After the battle an act of parliament gave the Earl of Angus the lordship of Douglas with the original possessions of his ancestors in Douglasdale. The 9th Earl of Douglas was later defeated by the forces of King James III of Scotland at the Battle of Lochmaben Fair in 1484.
In 1526 Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus defeated Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, chief of Clan Scott, at the Battle of Melrose, who was attempting to rescue the young James V of Scotland from Douglas.
A dispute occurred in 1530, when Sir Robert Charteris, the 8th Laird and chief of Clan Charteris fought a duel with Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig in what was said to have been one of the last great chivalric contests. It was fought with all the observance of a medieval tournament with heralds and the king himself watching from the castle walls. The joust was apparently fought with such fury that Charteris' sword was broken and the king had to send his men-at-arms to part the combatants.
Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus held the post of Lord Chancellor and became guardian of James V of Scotland by marrying his widowed mother, Margaret Tudor, with whom he had a daughter, Margaret Douglas, mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. In 1545, Angus led his forces to victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor where they defeated the English army during the Rough Wooing, and he was also present at the defeat in 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh.
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, nephew of the 6th Earl of Angus, was a bitter enemy of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was one of the murderers of the queen's secretary David Rizzio and was heavily implicated in the murder of her second husband Lord Darnley. As regent, he was brutal in crushing factions still loyal to Mary, however, he was accused of complicity in the murder of Darnley and was executed in 1581.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, William Douglas, 11th Earl of Angus, a Catholic, was a supporter of King Charles I. In 1633, he was created Marquess of Douglas. Following the Battle of Kilsyth in 1645, he joined James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, and was present when Royalist forces fought Covenanter cavalry at the Battle of Philiphaugh where he barely escaped with his life. Following Cromwell's victory, he was able to make peace and was fined £1,000.
In 1660, William Douglas, the brother of the second Marquess of Douglas became, through marriage, the Duke of Hamilton. Eventually, the titles of Marquess of Douglas, Earl of Angus, and several others devolved to the Dukes of Hamilton and the heir of that house is always styled 'Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale'. The Douglas and Hamilton lines became Douglas-Hamilton and, under Scots law, are barred from inheriting the title of chief of Clan Douglas due to the hyphenated surname. This similarly applies to the Douglas-Home family who joined their surnames in the nineteenth century.
In 1689, James Douglas, Earl of Angus raised the Cameronian regiment (Earl of Angus's regiment) Although greatly outnumbered, the regiment managed to defeat a larger Jacobite force at the Battle of Dunkeld. The regiment was victorious under the command of Captain George Munro, 1st of Auchinbowie.
In 1703 the Marquisate of Douglas was elevated to a Dukedom. Archibald Douglas, 1st Duke of Douglas married Margaret Douglas (a distant relation) late in life and had no direct heir – the title of Duke became extinct on his death. By the late 17th century, more political power was wielded by the Douglases of Drumlanrig, in Dumfriesshire who are also descended from the Black Douglases. The Douglases of Drumlanrig had become Earl of Queensberry in 1633, Marquises in 1682 and Dukes in 1684. The maneuvers of James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, contributed to the Union of 1707.
Later, in the 18th century, during the Jacobite risings, the Douglases continued their support for the British Government. Archibald Douglas, 1st Duke of Douglas led the volunteer horse during the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. Also at that fight was the Duke's young cousin, Archibald Douglas, 2nd Earl of Forfar, colonel of the 3rd Regiment of foot, and who died of wounds taken there shortly afterward. Douglas Castle was burnt by the Highland armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Douglas Castle was again burnt down in 1755, and the Duke commenced work on a new edifice designed by Robert Adam. Building work ceased on the Duke's death in 1761, and with it his Dukedom became extinct. The Marquisate of Douglas and Earldom of Angus devolved to James Hamilton, 7th Duke of Hamilton, the senior male-line descendant of William Douglas, 1st Marquess of Douglas, his great-great-great grandfather, by the way of his son, Lord William Douglas, 1st Earl of Selkirk, whom upon his marriage to Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, became William Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton, the adoption of the surname Hamilton being one of the conditions to inheriting the Dukedom. His descendants would later add Douglas back to the surname and become the Douglas-Hamilton branch.
In 1895, Alfred Douglas-Hamilton inherited the Dukedom of Hamilton from his cousin William Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton and became Alfred Douglas-Hamilton, 13th Duke of Hamilton. His Grace Alfred Douglas Hamilton was the great-great-great grandson of James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton through a collateral line. During World War 1, Hamilton Palace, the main family seat, was used as a hospital with his blessing. During World War 2, his sons, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, George Douglas-Hamilton, 10th Earl of Selkirk, Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, and Lord David Douglas-Hamilton made history by all being squadron leaders or above at the outbreak of the war. Of the 4 brothers, 1 was killed in action in 1944, Lord David Douglas-Hamilton. Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton was the first man to fly over Mt. Everest. His son, Angus Douglas-Hamilton, 15th Duke of Hamilton was also in the Royal Air Force and achieved the rank of flight lieutenant during his service in the Cold War. He was the father of the current Duke, Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton. The current heir presumptive to the Dukedom is the 16th Duke's son, Douglas Charles Douglas-Hamilton, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale.
The Swedish branch of the Douglas family is descended from the Scottish-born Field Marshal Robert Douglas, Count of Skenninge, who entered Swedish service in 1627. He received the Swedish title of Baron in 1651 and the title of Count (the highest title awarded to non-royalty in Sweden) in 1654. His descendants, the Swedish Douglas family, is one of Sweden's most prominent noble families since the mid 17th century and has included numerous prominent individuals, such as Foreign Minister Ludvig Douglas. Walburga Habsburg, Countess Douglas, the daughter of Austria-Hungary's last crown prince, is a member of this family by her marriage to Count Archibald Douglas. The escutcheon of the Swedish Douglas family's arms is the Scottish Douglas arms.
Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton, and 13th Duke of Brandon is heir to the chiefdom of the house of Douglas, but he cannot assume the title of chief since the Lord Lyon King of Arms requires him to assume the single name Douglas. Note that the Duke of Hamilton is the Chief of Clan Hamilton. For a list of the historic chiefs of Clan Douglas see: Earl of Douglas, until 1455 and Earl of Angus for after 1455.
|Douglas Tartan (modern). The Douglas tartan was worn by the former British Army Regiment, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and is still worn by the Royal Gurkha Rifles. In its grey form, it is worn by the officers of all Scottish squadrons of the RAuxAF as part of their mess uniform.|
|Douglas tartan, as published in 1842 in the Vestiarium Scoticum. Whether the Douglasses wore tartan in the sixteenth century, as the Vestiarium asserts, can be questioned.|
The Black Dinner served as inspiration for the events of the Red Wedding depicted in A Storm of Swords, the third book of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Material based on the Red Wedding was included in the episode "The Rains of Castamere" of the HBO drama Game of Thrones which aired on 2 June 2013 in the United States.