Douglas, William (1554-1611) (DNB00)


DOUGLAS, WILLIAM, tenth Earl of Angus (1554–1611), eldest son of William, ninth earl [q. v.], was born in 1554. He studied at the university of St. Andrews, served for a few years under his kinsman, the regent Morton, and then made a short stay at the French court. He imbibed there the principles of the Romish faith, on account of which, on his return to Scotland, he was disinherited by his father and placed under surveillance by the crown authorities. Before the death of his father, however, the influence of his mother procured the paternal pardon and reinstatement in his birthright; but as at the time of his father's death he was a prisoner, he had to obtain special permission from the king to go home and bury his father, as well as for the necessary steps connected with his succession.

In 1592 the earl of Angus was employed as the king's lieutenant in the north of Scotland, chiefly for the purpose of composing the feud between the Earls of Atholl and Huntly. Angus succeeded in his mission and obtained the thanks of the king. Soon afterwards the popish conspiracy known as the ‘Spanish Blanks’ was discovered, in which he was implicated. He was immediately incarcerated in the castle of Edinburgh. His countess, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Laurence, lord Oliphant, whom he married in 1585, conveyed a rope to him in prison by means of which he escaped, and succeeded in joining the Earls of Huntly and Errol in the north, where they and others of the conspirators were still at large. His warder appears to have been privy to the escape, and for his complicity was taken and hanged two years later.

The trial of the three earls proceeded in their absence, when James took their part and secured delay. Provoked by this treatment of the case, the synod of Fife, as acting for the whole kirk of Scotland, laid the earls under the sentence of excommunication. They secretly travelled south and waylaid James while journeying from Edinburgh to Lauder, demanding that their trial should take place on an early date at Perth and not at Edinburgh. The king gladly promised to comply, though obliged to affect displeasure. They expected by assembling their friends in arms at Perth to intimidate the court, but their opponents met them by similar tactics, so that the king was obliged to cancel the order for the trial and remit the case to a commission. The result was a proposed ‘act of oblivion,’ by which the remembrance of the conspiracy was to be consigned to oblivion on condition that the earls either renounced their religion or went into exile within a stated time. They declined to entertain the proposal, and were condemned on the original charge and forfeited.

Meanwhile, the earls were secure in Strathbogie, the centre of Huntly's country. One day a ship arrived at Aberdeen, whose passengers were seized by the townspeople. They were catholic messengers to Huntly. The three earls at once took arms, made a descent on the town, and obtained the release of the prisoners and the restitution of their property. James VI immediately despatched the Earl of Argyll with a strong force to inflict chastisement. Argyll was defeated at Glenlivet in September 1594, but James, at the head of another expedition, overthrew Huntly's castle, destroyed his lands, and forced him to sue for peace, which was granted to Huntly and Errol on condition of their going abroad.

Angus was not present at Glenlivet or the conflict with the king in person. He had by arrangement with Francis, earl of Bothwell, gone south to attempt a diversion, but, saving a feint at the capturing of Edinburgh, their efforts were futile. For a time Douglas lurked in concealment among his vassals in the north. Then negotiations were set on foot to obtain terms of agreement for him similar to those granted to his partners, and these were so far successful that he was about to leave the country also, when Huntly and Errol secretly returned, and the earl remained. On behalf of all three application was then made for their reconciliation to both kirk and state. They made open confession of their apostasy, professed their belief in the presbyterian polity and their resolution to abide therein, receiving the communion and taking oath to be good justiciars. The people of Aberdeen, among whom the reconciliation took place publicly in June 1597, testified their joy by acclamations at the market cross and drinking the healths of the earls. Shortly afterwards Angus was appointed royal lieutenant over the whole borders, where he did much good service.

In less than a year after his reconciliation Angus was once more threatened with excommunication. A minister was appointed by the kirk to reside with him, but after several years' instruction in this way the earl still proved ‘obstinat and obdurat,’ and the threat was fulfilled in 1608. He was then warded in Glasgow, but obtained permission to retire to France. On his way thither in 1609 he passed through London and asked the favour of a few last words with King James, who now reigned in England, but his request was refused, and at the age of fifty-five he returned to Paris, feeling himself both ‘auld and seakly.’ He resided in the neighbourhood of the abbey of St. Germain-des-Prés, where he applied himself assiduously to works of devotion and piety, and dying on 3 March 1611, was buried in that abbey. His son William, first marquis of Douglas, erected there a magnificent monument to his memory, consisting of a sarcophagus of black marble, on which reposes an effigy of the earl, clad in armour, in white marble. An engraving is given in Bouillart's ‘Histoire de l'Abbaye de St. Germain-des-Prés.’ It was this earl who, at the request of James VI, originated the purpose of writing a history of the Douglas family, which Hume of Godscroft carried out.

[Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland; Calderwood's History; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Fraser's Douglas Book.]

H. P.