Sir James Douglas

views updated May 14 2018

Sir James Douglas

The Scottish patriot Sir James Douglas (1286-1330) supported Robert Bruce, later King Robert I, in the Scottish struggle for independence from England.

James Douglas was the eldest son of a notable Scottish patriot, Sir William Douglas, called "the Hardy." Sir William had been among the early leaders of resistance to the ambitions of Edward I of England to dominate Scotland. Edward imprisoned Sir William in the Tower of London and, on the latter's death in 1297, confiscated the Douglas estates.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the young James appears to have grown up with passionate anti-English feelings. He reached manhood just as Robert Bruce laid claim to the crown of Scotland (1306) and from that time was one of Bruce's most faithful and important lieutenants.

Douglas's career may be divided into two phases. The first was the 8 years of Bruce's struggle to claim the Scottish crown. This was a period of virtual guerrilla warfare, with Douglas emerging from his hiding places for a daring raid or the capture of a strategic castle. At the decisive Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314, Douglas commanded one of the four divisions of the Scots and, for his skillful leadership, was knighted on the battlefield by Bruce, now firmly established on the throne.

After Bannockburn, in the second phase of his public career, Douglas served as Warden of the Marches (the disputed frontier area between England and Scotland). In 1317 he diverted an English threat to the borders by staging a raid deep into English territory. Ten years later he dispersed the danger of an English invasion by an audacious attack in which he surprised the enemy forces by night and nearly captured the young Edward III in his bed.

Bruce's reliance on, and affection for, Sir James never ceased. When the King was dying in 1329, he apparently asked Sir James to carry out the spirit of an unfulfilled crusading vow by bearing Bruce's heart to the Hold Land. During the subsequent journey Douglas joined the King of Castile in a "crusade" against the Moslems in Spain and died there in battle in 1330.

It is as a hero of Scotish romance and legend that Douglas's real fame lies. Two sobriquets, "the Good" and "the Black Douglas," indicate his differing reputations in Scotland and in England (though "black" probably referred originally to the color of his hair). His name lives on, especially through the works of Sir Walter Scott, Castle Dangerous and Tales of a Grandfather.

Further Reading

A full treatment of Douglas is in Sir Herbert E. Maxwell, A History of the House of Douglas … (2 vols., 1902). The principal near-contemporary source is John Barbour's long poem The Bruce (ca. 1375; trans. by W. M. Mackenzie, 1909, and by Archibald A. H. Douglas, 1964).

Additional Sources

Davis, I. M., The Black Douglas, London, Routledge and K. Paul, 1974. □

Douglas, Sir James

views updated Jun 11 2018

Douglas, Sir James (d. 1330). One of the most successful leaders in the Scottish Wars of Independence. In 1306, Douglas rallied immediately to Robert Bruce. His forte was the daring surprise attack. Early in 1307, he wiped out the English garrison of his family's castle at Douglas; probably in August 1308 he helped Bruce gain his victory at the pass of Brander by climbing the slopes of Ben Cruachan to attack the enemy unexpectedly in the rear. In 1314, he recovered Roxburgh by a night attack; led one of the brigades at Bannockburn; and repeatedly thereafter raided into England. His final service was to carry Bruce's heart in a campaign against the Muslims in Spain, in which he himself was killed, though the heart was recovered and brought back to Scotland. The rewards which he received from Bruce during his life established his family as one of the most powerful in Scotland.

Bruce Webster

Myton, battle of

views updated May 29 2018

Myton, battle of, 1319. While Edward II was besieging Berwick in 1319, Robert I Bruce sent Sir James Douglas and the earl of Moray on a diversionary raid, deep into Yorkshire. They were confronted at Myton-on-Swale, just east of Boroughbridge, by a scratch army hastily collected by William Melton, archbishop of York. The Scots routed their opponents and Edward abandoned the siege. So many clerics joined the archbishop that the episode was known sardonically as the Chapter of Myton.

J. A. Cannon

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Sir James Douglas

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