Sir James Douglas

The Black Douglas was one of the most prominent families in South - West Scotland in the later mediaeval period. The family's traditional lands were in and around Douglas Castle in Clydesdale. The repeated opposition of Sir James' father to King Edward I led to the confiscation of the family estates by the English king in the late 1290's, leaving James Douglas a landless, minor Scottish nobleman. He found he had common cause against the English with Robert the Bruce, who after he was crowned Robert I , fought the English presence in Scotland first in Galloway, from his power base in the Earldom of Carrick in Southern Ayrshire.

Douglas became one of Robert I's key supporters and military leaders. Later writers held up Sir James as the exemplar of chivalry in his long loyalty to the king. This appears to be where he acquired his epithet 'the Good'. It seems the relationship of the two developed into one of trust and friendship. From 1307 to 1327, Sir James fought for the king, initially in Galloway, later in the Borders (using the Forest of Selkirk as his base), and he also took annual raiding parties into England, as far south as Pontefract on one occasion. He was knighted by Robert I on the eve of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. 

In 1325 the king granted him the lands of Buittle, near Dalbeattie, the former stronghold of the Balliol family - the bitter opponents of the Bruce. Galloway was generally pro-Balliol, and anti-Bruce. The land grant to Sir James, allowed him to maintain a degree of control over the rebellious area of Galloway. 

However Sir James time in Buittle was short-liven. On his deathbed in 1325, Robert I asked Sir James to take his heart on crusade against the Islamic Moors of Spain. Loyal to the last,. Sir James and followers sailed south to join the Crusaders. He was killed in his first encounter with the Moors at Teba de Ardales in 1330. According the medieval poem The Howlatt' , Sir James in a chivalrous way by throwing the heart into the ranks of the Moors, and then throwing himself in after it. The heart of Bruce was thereafter incorporated in the Douglas family coat of arms, and was used until recently in the coat of arms of Castle Douglas. The town has no medieval connections with the family, but was created by Sir William Douglas, who liked to think that there was a connection between. 

Sir James illegitimate son - Archibald 'the Grim' - became Lord of Galloway in1369. His purchase of the Earldom of Wigtown in 1372 gave him extensive powers across Galloway. In 1388 he became 3rd Earl of Douglas on the death of his brother. He built Threave Castle as his stronghold, and by the time of his death in 1400, the family was the most powerful in Scotland. Suspicion of the Douglas family loyalty and its wealth and lands eventually prompted the falling-out with the Crown in the 1450s. Threave was one of the last Douglas strongholds to surrender in 1455, and thereafter the power of the Black Douglas was broken as a political and military force in Scotland. 

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