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Fall Of The Black Douglases

The Black Douglases
The Black Douglases

Fall Of The Black Douglases

The Douglases, through a royal marriage of an ancestor to a daughter of the more legitimate marriage of Robert II., had a kind of claim to the throne which they never put forward. The country was thus spared dynastic wars, like those of the White and Red Roses in England; but, none the less, the Douglases were too rich and powerful for subjects.

The Earl at the moment held Galloway and Annandale, two of his brothers were Earls of Moray and Ormond; in October 1448, Ormond had distinguished himself by defeating and taking Percy, urging a raid into Scotland, at a bloody battle on the Water of Sark, near Gretna.

During the Earl of Douglas’s absence in Rome, James had put down some of his unruly retainers, and even after his return (1451) had persevered in this course. Later in the year Douglas resigned, and received back his lands, a not uncommon formula showing submission on the vassal’s favour on the lord’s part, as when Charles VII., at the request of Jeanne d’Arc, made this resignation to God!

Douglas, however, was suspected of intriguing with England and with the Lord of the Isles, while he had a secret covenant or “band” with the Earls of Crawford and Ross. If all this were true, he was planning a most dangerous enterprise.

He was invited to Stirling to meet the king under a safe-conduct, and there (February 22, 1452) was dirked by his king at the sacred table of hospitality.

Whether this crime was premeditated or merely passionate is unknown, as in the case of Bruce’s murder of the Red Comyn before the high altar. Parliament absolved James on slender grounds. James, the brother of the slain earl, publicly defied his king, gave his allegiance to Henry VI. of England, withdrew it, intrigued, and, after his brothers had been routed at Arkinholm, near Langholm (May 18, 1455), fled to England. His House was proclaimed traitorous; their wide lands in southern and south-western Scotland were forfeited and redistributed, the Scotts of Buccleuch profiting largely in the long-run. The leader of the Royal forces at Arkinholm, near Langholm, was another Douglas, one of “the Red Douglases,” the Earl of Angus; and till the execution of the Earl of Morton, under James VI., the Red Douglases were as powerful, turbulent, and treacherous as the Black Douglases had been in their day. When attacked and defeated, these Douglases, red or black, always allied themselves with England and with the Lords of the Isles, the hereditary foes of the royal authority.

Meanwhile Edward IV. wrote of the Scots as “his rebels of Scotland,” and in the alternations of fortune between the Houses of York and Lancaster, James held with Henry VI. When Henry was defeated and taken at Northampton (July 10, 1460), James besieged Roxburgh Castle, an English hold on the Border, and (August 3, 1460) was slain by the explosion of a great bombard.

James was but thirty years of age at his death. By the dagger, by the law, and by the aid of the Red Douglases, he had ruined his most powerful nobles, and his own reputation. His early training, like that of James VI., was received while he was in the hands of the most treacherous, bloody, and unscrupulous of mankind; later, he met them with their own weapons. The foundation of the University of Glasgow (1451), and the building and endowment of St Salvator’s College in St Andrews, by Bishop Kennedy, are the most permanent proofs of advancing culture in the reign of James.

Many laws of excellent tendency, including sumptuary laws, which suggest the existence of unexpected wealth and luxury, were passed; but such laws were never firmly and regularly enforced. By one rule, which does seem to have been carried out, no poisons were to be imported: Scottish chemical science was incapable of manufacturing them. Much later, under James VI., we find a parcel of arsenic, to be used for political purposes, successfully stopped at Leith.

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