James Douglas was born about 1280-1286 in Scotland. He was the son of William "the Hardy" Douglas, Lord of Douglas and Elizabeth Stewart. James's father, William, was Constable of Berwick Castle in 1297 and was present in Berwick in 1296, when it was sacked by Edward I of England. Most of the civilian population of Berwick was killed in a three day period following Edward I's capture of the city in a complete slaughter. The carnage only ceased when Edward I saw a woman giving birth being hacked to death by his men. Most of the Scot's garrison was allowed to flee. It was after this, in 1297 that William Douglas was the first Lord to join with William Wallace in an attempt to overthrow the English in Scotland. After Douglas joined Wallace, Robert the Bruce, who had been Edward I's lackey during the reign of John Balliol, his rival for the throne of Scotland, had been ordered to storm the Douglas castle in Lanarkshire. However, upon arriving at the Douglas castle, Bruce announced that he was now fighting for Scotland and any who wished could join him. From the Ramparts of the castle, James, then twelve, watched his future king and dreamed of the day he could fight beside Bruce's side. William was captured and taken, again in chains, to the Tower of London, as he had now twice defied the England and incurred Edward I's wrath, where he died between 1298 and 1302.

Douglas Tartan

James had been sent to France, as other children ot the Scot gentry, in order to learn a wider view of their allies, the French. James returned to Scotland upon the death of his father and was received by the bishop of St. Andrews, William Lamberton, of whom he was related through his mother, agreed to take him as his squire and train him for knighthood. In 1301, the young squire, black headed, tall and broad shouldered, fifteen year old James, stood with Lamberton and other Scot nobles, pledging fealty to Edward I. James also made the oath of fealty in order to regain the Douglas lands as the oldest son of Sir William Douglas. However, upon hearing who the boy was, Edward I grew angry, recalling how Sir William Douglas had defied England and then later joined William Wallace. Lamberton then bowed himself and his squire from the king's presence.

Lamberton was appointed bishop of St.Andrews in 1298 and became the most powerful bishop of the wealthiest See in Scotland. He was appointed principal guardian of Scotland. He backed and financed William Wallace. When Wallace was executed, William Lamberton, who as Bishop of St. Andrews had crowned Robert the Bruce, was later tried at Newcastle and escorted by Sir William de Wessington to Nottingham and put into irons at Winchester. Swearing fealty to Edward I in August 1308, and paying a ransom of six thousand pounds, he promised to remain within the bounds of Durham, but by March 1309 was attending Robert the Bruce at parliament at St.Andrews. He died 20 May 1328.

In the years that James had been kept safely in France, his father had been captured and had died. The inheritance of James had been given to Sir Robert Clifford.

Edward I saw the Scots as "filth" and was determined to hold Scotland as little more than a feudal holding. Many of the lords of Scotland were Anglo-Normans, who had received their Scottish holdings from William I of Normandy. The Douglas family was a part of the remaining original Celtic Lowland lords who had been pressured into swearing fealty to England.

William Wallace was captured and hideously executed in 1305, having been sold out by self-serving Scot nobles. Among these Anglo-Norman families was the Bruce, who was being set forth as the most likely candidate for the throne of Scotland. He had joined Wallace at first but had backed away in Wallace's final defeat. Most Scots saw the Bruce as a vascilating self-seeking traitor.

Robert the Bruce was chosen as co-regent of Scotland and by 1306, he began to fall into suspicion by the English. At the church of Greyfriars in Dumfries, northeast of the Douglas Castle, Robert Bruce killed his rival for the throne, John Comyn, under mysterious circumstances. He then marched towards Scone, gathering adherents.

As the Bruce was traveling to Scone in 1306 for his coronation, Bruce's party was approached by a young squire with a message of support and, according to Lesley, Bishop of Ross, a large sum of money from the now captive Bishop of St.Andrews, William Lamberton. The squire introduced himself as James Douglas and pledged his support and allegiance to Bruce. Douglas knew that he only way to regain the Douglas lands was through offering his fealty to Bruce. Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland on March 27, 1306. The English court was now alarmed. Bruce was excommunicated by the Pope for the murder on sanctifed ground of John Comyn. He was outlawed by Edward I. In 1306, the Countess of Buchan was imprisoned in a cage above Berwick's town walls for the crime of crowning King Robert the Bruce. At the same time, Bruce's sister, Mary, was held in a cage above Roxburgh Castle.

Then Douglas alone on his way he rides
Toward the town of Lochmaben;
Then, not far from Ericstane,
He met The Bruce with a large army;
When Douglas saw Bruce approaching,
Douglas rode up and greeted him
With great politeness and deference.
Douglas told Bruce what he wished to do
And just who he (Douglas) was.
Once Bruce had heard him out,
He welcomed Douglas with all honour,
Giving Douglas weapons and men to lead,
For Bruce thought Douglas a man to be trusted."

"Blind Harry"---- Minstrel

In June, Bruce's small army was defeated at Methven, near Perth, by the English with the English executing all they could find. The Bruce, James Douglas, along with about five hundred others narrowly escaped Edward I's wrath.

Again, Bruce was defeated at Dairy by Comyn's vengeful relatives, near the coast of West Scotland. James was slightly wounded and the party divided. Bruce's brother, Nigel, was captured at Kildrummy. In October, Nigel was executed as a traitor (hung, drawn and quartered) at Berwick.At Tain, the Queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, Marjorie, Bruce's daughter, two of the kings sisters and the Countess of Buchan were captured by the Earl of Ross and sent to England. Several noblemen were executed. Bruce's daughter, twelve year old, Marjory sent to a Yorkshire nunnery. Bruce's sister, Mary as well as the Countess of Buchan were imprisoned in a cages placed in a tower at Roxburgh Castle for the duration of the few years of their imprisonment. The Queen, Elizabeth, was placed in honorable captivity in Holderness, seemingly saved from punishment by the allegiance of her father, the earl of Ulster, to Edward I.

Bruce escaped to the wilds of Athole and then of Breadalbane, where they existed on wild berries and scanty fishing. In an encounter with the MacDougals of Lorn, at Dalry in Strathfillan, James was slightly wounded, while Bruce overcame a simultaneous attack made upon him by the followers of Lorn. James discovered a small, leaky boat in which Bruce's followers were ferried, two at a time, over Loch Lomond. They then made their way to the Isle of Arran and later to Rachlin off the coast of Ireland. Both in Scotland and in Ireland, Bruce was aided by the enemies of the Comyns, the Macdonalds and the Campbells.

At Bruce's side was James, an intrepid spirit and resourceful. Bruce spent the winter of 1306-1307 training an army and then returned to the mainland, landing at Carrick. In the crossing, at the Isle of Arran, in 1307, they succeeded in capturing a large quantity of provisions, clothing and arms. Both Bruce and James agreed that victory must be in a guerilla strategy of raid and ambush due to the vast outnumbering of the Scots. In a skirmish in Galloway, Bruce's youngest brothers, Thomas and Alexander, were captured and executed.

James decided it was time to strike for the return of Scottish lands and with only two soldiers, he set off for Douglas Castle, now in the possession of Englishman, Robert de Clifford, but garrisoned by troops from Reconnoitering. With help from the people of Douglasdale, James set a trap. On Palm Sunday, March 16, disguised as peasants, he and his men, ambushed the British soldiers in the church of St.Bride's and with a cry, which would strike terror in the hearts of the English in years to come, "A Douglas! A Douglas!" He ransacked his own house of everything useful, pitching ruined food and the decapitated bodies of the English soldiers into the cellar, poisoned the water and then set fire to the castle. The event was so sanguinary that it has become known as "Douglas Larder".

Remnants of Douglas Castle

He then moved into western Scotland with only sixty men and set a trap at the river passage Edryford, near Kilmarnock, where he defeated Sir John de Mowbray. He cleared the wooded and mountainous district of Ettrick Forest and Tweeddale of the English. As James led the southern campaigh, Bruce led the northern one.

Bruce, along with six hundred men, appeared in May of 1307, at Loudon Hill, south of the Clyde, where he defeated 3,000 English of Edward's General Aymer Valence.

On 7 July 1307, Edward I died while en route to invade western Scotland; only the weak Edward II could stop Bruce from reuniting Scotland.

By September, James had twice more visited his family castle and driven the English away. He was now in control of the family castle and using the wooded uplands of the three counties west of the Douglas home base, James recruited and trained soldiers, galling the English at every opportunity.

In the winter of 1307, Bruce had marched into Aberdeenshire and without a fight, defeated the earl of Buchan, head of the Comyns family, near Inverurie, northwest of Aberdeen in May of 1308. Moving south, Bruce took Brechin and Forfar. In Argyllshire, Bruce and James secretly occupied the narrow, forested Pass of Brander, near Loch Awe in Argyleshire, ambushing the Macdowell clan and inflicting a crushing defeat on the Lord of Lorn, who themselves had planned an ambush. They took the castle of Dunstaffnage by early in 1309, ending the native resistance to the kingship of the Bruce and uniting Scotland.

By the end of 1310, Linlithgow, west of Edinburgh, fell and by the summer of 1311, Bruce, his brother Edward and James Douglas invaded Northumbria, ravaging and burning towns that resisted from Redesdale and Tynedale. Dumbarton in western Scotland, fell October 1311 and Perth early in 1312. Once again Bruce and James swept into England with James and Edward Bruce raiding under cover of darkness, penetrating England as far as Durham.

Only a handful of major fortresses were still in English control. On 13 March 1313, James stood at Roxburgh with a special portable ladder he had developed. With his men dressed in black tunics and under the cover of night, (another account says the men were dressed as oxen) he ordered everyone to crawl towards the castle. The English were completely surprised by the Scots as they scaled the walls, threw up the ladders and surprised the garrison. James then took Teviotdale south of Selkirk. In March, James made two successful raids into England.

Caslte Rock and Edinburgh fell to Bruce by May 1313. Only Bothwell, Berwick and the main English fortress of Stirling remained in enemy hands. Bruce and James joined in the siege of Stirling with Bruce exacting a deadline for the English governor of the castle to surrender. Edward II marched north of the border with the largest army ever raised against the Scots of between 21,000 and 38,000 men and 3,000 armored cavalry. Bruce with about 6,000 men, moved south of Stirling, holding the main road north through the Torr Wood to lure the English forward. Bruce then fell back over the Bannockburn River, occupying the ridge of high ground at Bore Stone. The English held the flat, swampy, confining ground on the other side of the river.

On the eve of Bannockburn, James was knighted by the Bruce. James was well-skilled in the tactics of guerilla warfare. At Bannockburn, he held the left wing of Bruce's army. The Battle of Bannockburn, 23 June 1314, in a short combat, was won by the right wing of Bruce's army. Repeating the tactics of Loudon Hill, Bruce positioned camouflaged pits, three feet deep before the infrantry center of long spears along the ridge, with his two wings slightly before them. The English cavalry charged up the steep hill with the foremost entangled in the pits or trying to break through the pikes. The battle became a melee as the Scots moved down to engage battle. The English paniced and began a frantic retreat in which many of the English knights drowned in the Bannock. James Douglas pursued Edward II, who fled to the coastal fortress of Dunbar, where he and some of his men escaped by boat to the security of Berwick. Scotland had won its independence.

Douglas Badge


Following Bannockburn, Bruce and James continued to raid the border for another thirteen years. As joint warden of Scotland, Douglas considered his chief task to be the March Warden, protector of the border. The "Black Douglas" became a legend on both sides of the border with even the most hardened English warriors respecting him, except one, Sir Robert Neville, "peacock of the North". This Robert Neville held Berwick and awoke one morning in 1316 to find James Douglas at the gate, challenging him to single combat. Prideful and unseasoned in battle, Nevelle and his three brothers rode out to meet James. One Peacock killed and three taken ransom.

James severely defeated the Earl of Arundel at Linthaughlee, near Jedburgh. Arundel's march lay through an extensive wood. James twisted together young birch trees on either sides so as to form a kind of abatis impenetrable by cavalry and posted archers in ambush at the narrowest points in the pass. The unsuspecting English were assailed by the Scots in both their front and rear and were driven back. In the first onset, Sir Thomas de Richemont, one of the English leaders, was slain by James, who took as a trophy, a furred hat which Sir Thomas wore above his helmet. In reward for this service, Bruce bestowed upon Douglas, the estate of Linthaugh.

In 1318, James captured Berwick Town, starving the castle garrison into surrender, fully mindful of the bloody carnage dealt by Edward I upon the Castle in 1296. Bruce laid waste the English border. In 1319, James, along with the Bruce's nephew, veteran warrior, Thomas Randolph, headed an invasion party further south than ever, penetrating into Yorkshire. Archbishop of York, William de Melton, gathered a force and rode to meet the Scots but was defeated on September 20 in the battle known as The Chapter at Myton. Bruce rewarded James with the "Emerald Charter", giving James criminal jurisdiction over his own estates as well as excusing the lords of Douglas from certain feudal obligations.

On 6 April 1320, James joined 37 other Scots Lords in the sigining of the Arbroath Declaration of Scottish Independence, signed at Arbroath Abbey in Arbroath. This declaration was probably written by the Abbot, Bernard de Linton, who was also the Chacellor of Scotland. The Declaration urged the Pope to recognize Scottish independence. The Pope, upon receiving the Declaration, accepted the Scottish case.

In 1322, James again penetrated into Yorkshire, seizing the pass of Byland in the Hambleton Hills. He outflanked the English army led by the teen Edward III and forced them to retreat. This campaign forced Edward II into a thirteen year truce in 1323 in the Treaty of York. Abdicating in favor of his son, Edward II was murdered in 1327.

In England, where James was known as "the Black Douglas", the following nursery rhyme was repeated to English children:

Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,
Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,
The Black Douglas shall no get ye.

Edward III, full of youthful pride and ignoring the treaty, made a raid into southern Scotland and then hastily retreated. James Douglas followed with a smaller force and at the Wear River, near Stanhope, made a surprise raid of the English camp at Weardale, almost capturing Edward III in his tent. By morning, James Douglas and the Scots were gone, to the surprise of Edward III, who then burst into tears as James raided northern England on his return to Scotland.

In 1328, the Treaty of Northampton, once again confirmed Scotland's independence. The Bruce had contracted leprosy and retired to Cardross on the Firth of Clyde. He called is faithful lieutenant, Sir James Douglas to come to him. The Bruce had long before vowed to go on a crusade to the Holy Land but events in Scotland had prevented his leaving.

From the earliest days of the wars of independence, James could always be found at the Bruce's side. During the dark months in which the Bruce travelled in exile in the West Highlands, James was with him.

James "the Good" Douglas, a freedom fighter, shares, with William Wallace and Robert Bruce, the heroes share of those men whose hearts were true to the Scots. James was the friend, companion and most able lieutenant of Robert the Bruce. Known as the "Black Douglas" to the English and as the "Good Sir James" to the Scots. He was a myth, a legend even in his own time, called "the most illustrious member of the Douglas family, and one of the noblest of the band of heroes who vindicated the freedom and independence of Scotland against the English arms." (3)

Before Bruce's death, he ask James to take his heart on a crusade in the Holy Land. On 7 June 1329, Robert Bruce, King of Scots died. His heart was embalmed and given to Sir James Douglas. With the Bruce's heart in a silver casket around his neck, James set out for the Holy Land in 1330, as his friend had requested. He set sail, "attended by a numerous and splendid retinue and anchored off Sluys, where he lay for twelve days, keeping an open table on his ship, and entertaining his visitors with almost royal magnificence. Froissart says that Sir James had in his train a knight bearing a banner, and seven other noble Scottish knights, (including the Sinclairs of Roslin and Keith the Marischal) and was served at table by twenty-six esquires, all 'comely young men of good family, and he kept court in a royal manner with the sound of trumpet and cymbals. All the vessels for his table were of gold and silver, and whatever persons of good estate went to pay their respects to him were entertained with two sorts of wine and two kinds of spice.'

While lying off Sluys, Sir James learned that Alphonso, the young King of Leon and Castile was carrying on hostilities with Osmyn, the Moorish King of Granada. As this was reckoned a holy warfare, Douglas resolved, before proceeding to Jerusalem, in fullfilment of his own mission, to assist Alphonso in his contest with the enemies of the Christian faith."

He then set sail for Spain, whereupon shortly after his arrival at Seville, a battle was being fought with the Moors near Teba on the frontiers of Andalusia, where the Moorish castle of the Star was being besieged. Sir James had been assigned to the command of vanguard and fought with his usual bravery, putting the enemy to flight. However, he and his companions, following too eagerly, were separated from the main body of the Spanish army. Cutoff by a cavalry maneuver of the outnumbering Moors, Sir James and his ten men were surrounded. He and his men cut through the enemy and might have escaped, had Sir James not turned back to rescue Sir William St.Clair of Roslin, who was surrounded and in great peril. Sir James wearing the three stars on his coat, a sign of his arms, put his spurs to his horse, he galloped to St.Clair's assistance, but in attempting to save his friend, he himself was surrounded and overwhelmed by the Moors by twenty to one.

The 'Good Sir James' at Teba, 1330
by Andrew Spratt
A Douglas! A Douglas! Douglas History (4)

Realizing that he was about to die, Sir James threw the heart encased in the silver casket at the attacking Moors, shouting, "Always before me, Great Heart!" and then followed his master into battle one last time, he ran to the place where it fell and where he was then slain. Sir James Douglas, hero of seventy battles was dead, 8 September 1330. Also slain were Sir William St.Clair and Sir Robert and Sir Walter Logan. They found the body of Sir James Douglas, with five mortal wounds and a ring of dead Moors around him. Those Scottish knights who survived the battle, carried the body of James as well as the heart of the Bruce back to Scotland with them. James is entombed in the town of Douglas at St.Bride's Church. An inscription on his tomb reads, "He bore himself in such a manner that all him loved who were him near." The heart of the Bruce was buried in Melrose Abbey.


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