The Earls of Angus Part 2

(Taken from the writings of Robert Maxwell in A History of the House of Douglas )


What is the origin of ‘Douglas’ ?

What we do know is that the name represents the Gaelic ‘dark water’ and is borne to this day by many streams in Scotland .

We also know that the first mention of a Douglas was between 1174 and 199 when William de Douglas witnessed a charter granted by Jocelyn, the bishop of Glasgow in favour of the monks of Kelso.

At that time in 12th Century Scotland surnames were not yet in use, the baptismal name was used, but to distinguish one William from another a temporary patroymic name or one indicating one’s office, place of residence or type of work was introduced..

And so this William de Douglas acquired this territorial designation and his descendants used Douglas as their regular surname.

(Maxwell suggests that the origin of the Douglases may have been Flemish as Flemish people came across and settled in the area of Douglas and were intermarried)

Although the land and possessions of William de Douglas c1174 – c 1214 are not known, they must have been considerable as a layman’s influence was in proportion to his landed property. Douglas attended the court of William le Lion and his name appears in good company witnessing the charters of that monarch


Thus giving some information of the ‘first Douglas’, let us continue with the Earls of Angus line.But before doing so, I must mention that Scottish History is complicated by the ever changing of loyalties to the King and Clan which finally bring every man (and woman) to look over their shoulders as to whom the enemy may be or become.



As I mentioned in Part 1, George Douglas, the first Douglas Earl of Angus b.1378 died in captivity of the plague in c. 1403 aged about 24 years, leaving his widow, the Princess Mary and son William b.c.1398 and daughter Elizabeth.


William Douglas b. 1398 2nd Earl of Angus was only about 4 years old when he inherited the Angus title. His mother, the widowed Princess Mary married her second husband, Sir James Kennedy in 1409 and in this year, the influencial Grandmother, Margaret Stewart had him betrothed to Margaret, daughter of Sir William Hay of Yester (William was about 11 years old and later he married her in 1425)

During his lifetime, he added to his great possessions the lands of Cluny in Perthshire and he was later appointed Warden of the Marches.

In 1421 he was nominated as one of the 21 hostages in security for the payment of King James 1’s ransom. At this time the annual value of his estates was estimated at a considerable 600 merks.

He became very involved with the intriques of the court of James 1 and of the ongoing battles of the chieftains, nobles and the English.

In 1435 he won a battle against 4,000 English at Piperdean.

William died in 1437 (the same year as King James 1 was assassinated) and was survived by his wife Margaret and three sons, James, George and William.


James Douglas b.c1426 3rd Earl of Angus was about 11 years old when his father died One of his earliest public appearances in his capacity as Lord Liddesdale and Jedburgh Forest was to preside at an inquest concerning the fee of one silver penny to be paid annually on St. John’s day at the Earl of Douglas’s tower at Lintalee

This stronghold tower, so closely associated with the exploits of the Black Douglas, had passed into the hands of the Red (Angus) and the Black and Red were on the eve of a mortal feud.

The first act of that feud opened with the forfeiture of the Earl of Angus title in 1445 at the instance of the Earl of Douglas whose influence over the young King was at its height. The forfeiture seems only to have been a temporary disgrace and Angus regained the King’s favour. (But it probably was the cause for future hostilities between the Red and the Black)

James died in 1446 having never married, although in 1440 he had entered a contract to marry Princess Joan, the mute daughter of King James 1. Joan could have been not more than 12 at the time of this betrothal and in 1445 was sent to her eldest sister the Dauphiness and so was in France at the time Angus died.


George Douglas b.c1428 4th Earl of Angus succeeded his brother James. He added to the power and dignity of the Earldom but was also faced with the dilemma of supporting his clansman the Earl of Douglas’ faction or his kinsman, King James ll.

Upon the absence of the Earl of Douglas in Rome in 1450, James ll was persuaded to make a hostile attack on that Douglas’s estates killing many of his vassals and servants and destroying his tower of Craig Douglas.

The Earl returned, made peace with the fickle King and signed several charters of which Angus was a witness.

But within a year, the Earl of Douglas fell to the King’s dagger at Stirling. His brothers mustered followers in rebellion to avenge their murdered Earl.


What part should Angus take?

The blood of his kinsman, so shamefully done to death cried to him from the ground.

Had he thrown in his strength with the Douglas cause, all the might of Scotland could not have kept the Stuarts upon the throne.

But, were the kinship the question, Angus was nearer and more honourably akin to King James than he was to the Earl of Douglas. Through his Grandmother, the Princess Mary, a daughter of Robert lll, he was the King’s cousin; whereas to the 8th Earl of Douglas he was related through his bastard and incestuous descent from the

1st Earl of Douglas.

Angus remained true to his allegiance to the King, with all its consequences and he dealt with the King’s enemies as if they had been his own.

When the 9th Earl of Douglas and his brothers finally flung down the gauntlet and took the field in 1455, Angus received high command in the Royalist army and fought beside the King, The Earl of Douglas, sensing defeat fled to England, leaving his 3 brothers, the Earls of Moray, Ormond and Balvany to continue the unequal strife until Angus finally routed them after mustering further Border clans in the .King’s name.

Angus, the Red Douglas, received immediate and substantial reward for his loyalty by being made Lord Douglas. After that Angus used Lord Douglas as his second title after Lord Abernethy.

Later, in the summer of 1460, Angus was with the King, who had always shown great interest in new artillery, when a piece exploded beside them, killing the King and wounding Angus. Not seriously enough to prevent him from capturing the castle a day or so later and being present soon after at the coronation of King James lll at Kelso. A certain incident marked the ceremony when the officials disputed as to procedure ---Angus, brushing the great men aside, claimed the privilege of bearing the crown and then placing in on the young King’s boyish head, exclaimed, “ There! Now that I have set it upon your Grace’s head, let me see who will be bold enough as to remove it.”

Great as the power of Angus had already become, it continued to increase during the reign of King James lll. Although Parliament had decreed that the wardship of the Marches no longer be hereditary in the Douglas family, yet Angus continued to exercise jurisdiction of the East and Middle Marchers and was appointed Lieutenant of the Realm by the Queen-mother. At the same time he devoted great attention to the consolidation of his estates, placing trusted vassals in possession of his lands in various counties. Eg he placed Liddesdale and the castle of Hermitage in the keeping of his kinsmen Sir Archibald Douglas of Cavers and his son William.

In 1462 Angus obtained a gift from the Crown of the whole lands, rents and goods of all the forfeited Earls of Douglas in Roxburghshire, with the exception of those already given to his brother William of Cluny. In that same year, Angus executed a covenant with King Henry VI which also bore from King James lll licence that it was untreasonable

Before succeeding his brother to become the 4th Earl of Angus, he had married Isabella, the only daughter of Sir John Sibbald of Balgony in Fife, and they had 2 sons and 7 daughters.. The daughters married well into noble and distinguished families and Isabella married a second time, to Sir Robert Douglas of Lochleven.

His son Archibald succeeded him as the 5th Earl of Angus . ( Bell the cat)


To be continued.