Clan Douglas, also referred to as the House of Douglas, is an ancient family from the Scottish Lowlands taking its name from Douglas, South Lanarkshire, and thence spreading through the Scottish Borderland, Angus, Lothian and beyond. The clan does not currently have a chief, therefore it is considered an Armigerous clan.



Clan crest of Clan Douglas

The Douglases were once the most powerful family in Scotland. The chiefs held the titles of the Earl of Douglas, and following their forfeiture the chieftancy devolved upon the Earl of Angus (see also: Duke of Hamilton). The 4th Earl of Morton held the chieftaincy during the 16th century, the Earldom of Morton was then a subsidiary title of the 8th Earl of Angus after the 4th Earl’s forfeiture and death in 1581.

The family’s original seat was Douglas Castle in Lanarkshire, but they spread to many properties throughout Southern and North-Eastern Scotland.



Origins of the clan



Seal of William Douglas the Hardy

From Gaelic dubhghlais meaning ‘black water’. In Gaelic, dubh means black, and glas means grey. These are the main shades used in the Douglas tartan. The name is territorial, deriving from the lands around the Douglas Water in South Lanarkshire.

The Douglas family records, in the extent to which they survive and/or might be accurate, list the following ancestors:

      Sholto Dhu Glas c. 770

      Aoidh or Hugh Dhu Glas c. ?

      Aoidh Dhu Glas of Caledonia c. ?

      Gilmour Dhu Glas, who fought Charlemagne in Gaul c. 810

      Eachunn or Hector Dhu Glas c. 844


      Gillesburg Dhu Glas c. 944


      Freskin de Strabroch Dhu Glas c. 1135

      William Douglas (created Lord Douglas by Norman rule, the first use of the modern spelling) c. 1161

Two of the greatest of the Flemish families to immigrate to Scotland were Murray and Douglas. The founder of Murray was a Fleming named Freskin, who was granted land in West Lothian and Moray by David I of Scotland. Although they were first recorded in the 1170s, the Douglas family names consisted of Arkenbald and Freskin, and were undoubtedly related to the Murrays, and to be of Flemish origin. Though the Flemish origin of the Douglases is not undisputed, it is often claimed that he was descended from a Flemish knight who was granted lands on the Douglas Water by the Abbot of Kelso, who held the barony and lordship of Holydean. However this is disputed, it has been claimed that the lands which were granted to this knight were not the lands which the Douglas family came from.

The undisputed ancestor of the modern lineage is William of Douglas, whose name appears as a witness to charters between 1175 and 1211 around Lanarkshire, including a charter by the Bishop of Glasgow to the monks of Kelso. There is also record of his son, Sir John de Douglas, and his grandson Sir William de Douglas, believed to have been the third head of the family, was the father of two sons who fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 where the Norwegians were defeated by the Scots.



Wars of Scottish Independence

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 forces of Edward I of England. Douglas was captured and was released only after he had agreed to accept the claim of the English king 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 1298, a prisoner in the Tower of London.



The Good Sir James (or “Black Douglas”)

William the Hardy’s son, James Douglas, “The Good Sir James”, was the first to take the epithet “Black”. Douglas was set to share in Bruce’s early misfortunes, being present at the defeats at Methven and Dalrigh. But for both men these setbacks were to provide a valuable lesson in tactics: limitations in both resources and equipment meant that the Scots would always be a disadvantage in conventional Medieval warfare. By the time the war was renewed in the spring of 1307 they had learnt 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 locked in to static defensive positions. His actions for most of 1307 and early 1308 were local rather than national in nature, confined for the most part to his native Douglasdale.

Nevertheless, he was soon to create a formidable reputation for himself as a soldier and a tactician. While Bruce was campaigning in the north against his domestic enemies, Douglas used the cover of Selkirk Forest to mount highly effective mobile attacks against the enemy. He also showed himself to be utterly ruthless, particularly in his relentless attacks on the English garrison in his own Douglas Castle, the most famous of which quickly passed into popular history. Barbour dates this incident to Palm Sunday 1307, which fell on 19 March. This would seem to be far too early, as Bruce and his small army were not yet properly established in south-west Scotland, suggesting Palm Sunday 1308 – 17 April – as a more accurate date.

With the help of a local farmer, a former vassal of his father, Douglas and his small troop were hidden until the morning of Palm Sunday, when the garrison left the battlements to attend the local church. Gathering local support he entered the church and the war-cry ‘Douglas!’ ‘Douglas!’ went up for the first time. Some of the English soldiers were killed and others taken prisoner. The prisoners were taken to the castle, now largely empty. All the stores were piled together in the cellar; the wine casks burst open and the wood used for fuel. The prisoners were then beheaded and placed on top of the pile, which was set alight. Before departing the wells were poisoned with salt and the carcases of dead horses. The local people soon gave the whole gruesome episode the name of the ‘Douglas Larder.’ As an example of frightfulness in war it was meant to leave a lasting impression, not least upon the men who came to replace their dead colleagues. Further attacks followed by a man now known to the English as ‘The Black Douglas’, a sinister and murderous force “mair fell than wes ony devill in hell.” It would seem in this that Douglas was an early practitioner of psychological warfare – as well as guerrilla warfare – in his knowledge that fear alone could do much of the work of a successful commander.

In the years before 1314 the English presence in Scotland was reduced to a few significant strongholds. There were both strengths and weaknesses in this. The Scots had no heavy equipment or the means of attacking castles by conventional means. However, this inevitably produced a degree of complacency in garrisons provisioned enough to withstand a blockade. In dealing with this problem the Scots responded in the manner of foxes; and among the more cunning of their exploits was Douglas’ capture of the powerful fortress at Roxburgh. His tactic, though simple, was brilliantly effective. On the night of 19/20 February 1314 – Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday – several dark shapes were seen beneath the battlements and mistakenly assumed to be cattle. Douglas had ordered his men to cover themselves with their cloaks and crawl towards the castle on their hands and knees. With most of the garrison celebrating just prior to the fast of Lent, scaling hooks with rope ladders attached were thrown up the walls. Taken by complete surprise the defenders were overwhelmed in a short space of time. Roxburgh Castle, among the best in the land, was slighted in accordance with Bruce’s policy of denying strongpoints to the enemy. Douglas was knighted on the field and fought at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.




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 Comyn. Douglas and his knights had been invited to join the forces of Alfonso XI of Castile, Edward of England’s cousin by Queen Isabella, mother of King Edward III of England to fight a Crusade against the Moors in 1330 at the Castle of the Stars at Teba. Douglas was killed as he led a cavalry charge against the enemy while outnumbered and cut off from the main Christian force; Alfonso kept his army back from the attack; likely in some arrangement with his cousin Edward who could never beat the Douglas in combat. 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; they have yet to be located.



“The Black Douglas”

James was called “The Black Douglas” by the English for his dark deeds in English eyes, becoming 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.” There are also unbsubstantiated theories that this was because of his colouring and complexion, this is tenuous, Douglas only appears in English record as “The Black”, in Scots’ chronicles he is almost always referred to as “The Guid” or “The Good”. Later Douglas Lords took the moniker of their revered forebear in the same way that they attached Bruce’s Heart to their Coat of Arms, to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies and exhibit the prowess of their race.



Sir Archibald Douglas, Guardian of the Realm

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 of 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. He was elected by the Estates to the position of Regent when his cousin Andrew de Moray, then Regent of Scotland, was captured and taken to Durham to surrender to King Edward III of England. The earls and barons of the kingdom recognized his prowess as a warrior; leading the successful rout at Annan earlier in the year; bringing fire and sword to Cumbria to chase Edward and his vassals further south and out of Scotland. He had brought the Scottish army to Tweedsmouth; relieving the garrison at Berwick Castle with Sir William Keith and others; all in response to a treat of peace initiated by the constantly wavering Earl of March; then proceeded south burning his way through Northumbria as his brother James would have done; finally arriving at the mighty fortress of Bamburgh Castle where Edward’s queen Phillipa was secretly hiding from the Scots. He was found there laying siege to that castle when the representations of Sir William Keith and the Earl of March appeared to the Regent; they announced the sad tidings that the Governor of Berwick and the Garrison Commander had both entered into a second treaty; with express covenants to surrender the castle and the town of Berwick on Tweed should the Regent not return by St. Margaret’s Day and either relieve the garrison in full view of the English and only during the daylight hours or risk battle with Edward’s army. The Regent reluctantly raised the siege at Bamburgh and returned to Duns Law where he called a muster; likely at the demand of the estates as it was well known Sir Archibald was of the party of Brus and would not break his solemn word to never again engage the English in battle when he could burn the countryside instead. On the Eve of St. Margaret, Sir Archibald of Douglas was mortally wounded at the foot of Halidon Hill; taken prisoner and held until he died; reportedly one hour after his nephew William, Lord Douglas passed from his wounds; the son and heir to James, Lord Douglas, Chief of the Douglas Clan. At nearby Bondington stood Halyston, St. Leonard’s; a Cistercian nunnery and hospital where the Regent likely spent his last hours. Archeologists found lead shot at Bondington and records indicate that the English brought with them a large artillery train. During earlier encounters with Edward III in 1326-1327 the English had used gunpowder as a weapon against the Scots. It appears that they may have perfected the weaponry with the amount of devastation that was caused to both the Scottish army on the field and to nunnery which was destroyed and burned. Later Edward awarded the nuns some payments for the damages sustained to their buildings during the fight and dedicated an altar to St. Margaret there after the battle.



The inheritance

Sir James Douglas’ natural son William fined for his lands in 1332 but likely was underage and died at Battle of Halidon Hill with his uncle, Sir Archibald Douglas. James’ younger brother, Hugh the Dull, 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, and started the line of the Black Douglases; his illegitimate son by the Countess of Angus, George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus was the progenitor of 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 Stewart 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.

In the late 14th century Bothwell Castle which belonged to the Clan Murray was taken by the Earls of Douglas (the Black Douglases) of the Clan Douglas who began a project to restore and expand the castle, and by 1424 they had constructed the Great Hall and adjacent chapel with towers at the north east and south east corners and curtain walls connecting to the Donjon, enclosing the courtyard.



15th Century Conflicts

Defence of Edinburgh Castle 1400, 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. He became a general in Joan of Arc’s army and continued the fight against the English. He was rewarded for his efforts with the Duchy of Touraine.

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 the 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.

Murder of the Douglases

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 young William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas and his brother were invited to dine with the ten year-old King James II of Scotland. The dinner was organised by Sir William Crichton of Clan Crichton. Known as the Black Dinner’, a black bull’s head, the symbol of death, was brought in. After the dinner the Douglases were dragged out to Castle Hill, given a mock trial and beheaded. The Douglases then laid siege to Edinburgh Castle. Crichton perceiving the danger surrendered the castle to the King and was raised to the title of Lord Crichton. It is still unclear exactly who else was ultimately responsible, though it is thought Crichton, Livingstone and Buchan as likely candidates.

In 1448 Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormond held command along with John Wallace of Clan Wallace when he led a Scottish force to victory against an English army at the Battle of Sark in 1448.

Huntly Castle 1449, 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 powerful Clan Douglas. The Gordons stood on the king’s side, and with their men involved in the south of the country. The Earl of Moray was a relation and ally of the Douglases. He and the Douglases 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. The head of the House, William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas personally executed Richard Colville. The strength of the Douglases made it impossible for James II of Scotland to rule freely. 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 the supporters of James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas were defeated at the Battle of Arkinholm bringing 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 was later defeated by the forces of King James III of Scotland at the Battle of Lochmaben Fair in 1484.



16th Century Conflicts

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.

His grandson, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, similarly held the post of Lord Chancellor and became guardian of James V by marrying his widowed mother, Margaret Tudor, with whom he had a daughter, Margaret Douglas, mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. In 1545, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, led his forces to victory at the Battle of Ancrum Moor where they defeated the English army during the Anglo-Scottish Wars.

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.



17th century & the Civil War

During the Civil War, William Douglas, the 11th Earl of Angus, a Catholic, was a supporter of Charles I of Scotland. In 1633, he was created Marquess of Douglas. Following the Battle of Kilsyth in 1645, he joined James Graham, the 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. The Douglas Earls were raised to the level of Marquess in 1633.

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 eighteenth century.

In 1689, many Douglases formed part of the Cameronian regiment (Earl of Angus’s regiment) who, although greatly outnumbered, managed to defeat a larger Jacobite force at the Battle of Dunkeld. The Douglases were victorious under the command of Captain George Munro of Auchinbowie.



18th century & the Jacobite risings

Later in the 18th century, during the Jacobite Uprisings, the Clan Douglas continued their support for the British government.

In 1703 the Douglas Marquess title was raised to that of a Duke, however, in the 17th century, leadership of the family passed to the Douglases of Drumlanrig, in Dumfrieshire who also descended from the Black Douglases. The Douglases of Drumlanrig had become Earls of Queensbury in 1633, Marquesses in 1682 and Dukes in 1684. The manouvers of James Douglas, the second Duke of Queensbury, contributed to the Union of 1707.



19th century

The family began a slow decline in the 19th century. Whilst retaining their titles and lands, their political power began to ebb as the British parliamentary democracy and an ever rising commercial middle class sidelined the aristocracy in general. Unhelpfully, the men of the family were increasingly plagued by mental illness and an increasing rate of suicide, plus they had a nasty tendency to keep suing people for perceived slights or being sued for libel (all of which was very costly). However, the women of the family such as Lady Florence Douglas played an important part in the women’s suffrage movement.

The family also splintered with various branches emigrating to Australia and Canada where they have prospered. Of those who stayed in Britain, including the Marquessship, they tended to stay in London townhouses away from their seats in Scotland and tended to attend Oxford or St. Andrews for their university education.

The last major public mention of the head of the Douglas clan was the infamous incident involving Lord Alfred Douglas and the noted 19th century playwright Oscar Wilde when his father, John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, did everything in his power to end their relations after his first son had committed suicide after a homosexual affair with the British Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery. This led to an infamous libel trial which many attribute to the premature end of Oscar Wilde.



20th century

The recession of the 1870’s greatly damaged the Douglas family estates - indeed, the 9th Marquess had to sell his seat of Kinmount in Dumfriesshire. For a while, they married daughters of rich industrialists to prop up the family finances but the 1929 depression saw the end of Douglas family seats in Scotland with the 1931 sale of Grangemuir, just north of Pittenweem in Fife. Grangemuir is now a ruin and a caravan park. The descendents of that final seat, taken by William Robert Keith Douglas, are buried in the Douglas family graveyard in Dunino, just south of St. Andrews. The family papers are additionally lodged in the special collections of St. Andrews University Library.

Interestingly, many of the Douglases spontaneously & individually converted to Roman Catholicism during the 20th century.

By the 1950’s, the Douglas family was completely broke and had to take jobs which have mostly been in teaching or academia. The current head of the Douglas family, David Harrington Angus Douglas, 12th Marquess of Queensberry, was Professor of Ceramics at the Royal College of Art in London.



Douglas castles



Douglass 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.

      Aberdour Castle, Fife, held by the Earls of Morton (partially preserved).

      Balvenie Castle, Moray, held by James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas (ruined).

      Berwick Castle, Northumberland. Governed by William “le Hardi”.(ruined, now forms part of Berwick-upon-Tweed train station)

      Bothwell Castle, South Lanarkshire (ruins).

      Bowhill House, Selkirkshire. Home of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry (preserved).

      Dalkeith Castle, Mid-Lothian. (heavily converted)

      Douglas Castle in South Lanarkshire (now only minimal ruins remain).

      Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway. 17th century mansion house of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry (preserved).

      Duffus Castle, Moray

      Grangemuir House, Fife

      Hermitage Castle, Roxburghshire, 13th century Douglas stronghold (restored ruin).

      Hume Castle, Berwickshire. ancient links with Douglas, home of Sir Alexander Douglas.

      Kilspindie Castle, East Lothian. Home to the Douglases of Kilspindie, (scant ruins)

      Lennoxlove House, East Lothian. Home of the Duke of Hamilton, (also the Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale, Earl of Angus etc.) (preserved).

      Leven Castle, Kinross. First home of the Earl of Morton (ruins).

      Lochindorb Castle, Strathspey

      Morton Castle, Nithsdale, Dumfries and Galloway. ruined former home of the Douglas Earls of Morton.

      Newark Castle, Selkirkshire

      Ormond Castle, Black Isle

      Roxburgh Castle, captured by Sir James Douglas.

      Sandilands Castle, Fife (ruins).

      Strathaven Castle, South Lanarkshire

      Tantallon Castle, East Lothian. Stronghold of the Red Douglases (partially ruined).

      Threave Castle, Dumfries and Galloway (ruins).

      Timpendean Tower, Roxburghshire (ruins).



Clan profile

      Patron Saint: St. Bride

      Motto: Jamais arrière (Never behind)

      Crest: A salamander Vert encircled with flames of fire Proper



Clan septs











































Popular culture

In the Highlander novel Scotland the Brave, James Douglas is a fictional Scot born into Clan Douglas and died his First Death in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden.

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