Douglas, William (d.1392?) (DNB00)


DOUGLAS, Sir WILLIAM, Lord of Nithsdale (d. 1392?), was the illegitimate son of Archibald, third earl of Douglas [q. v.], himself the illegitimate son of the ‘Good’ Sir James. For comeliness and bravery he was a worthy descendant of such ancestors, and the historians of the period describe him as inheriting several of the personal features of his grandfather, being large-boned, of great strength, tall and erect, bearing himself with a majestic mien, yet courteous and affable, and in company even hearty and merry. He inherited the swarthy complexion of the ‘Good’ Sir James, and was also called the Black Douglas. He was an active warrior against the English. In 1385, while still a youth, he accompanied his father in a raid into Cumberland, and took part in the siege of Carlisle. Making an incursion on his own account, accompanied by a few personal followers, he burned the suburbs of the town. While standing on a slender plank bridge he was attacked by three knights, reckoned among the bravest in the citadel; he killed the foremost, and with his club felled the other two. He then put the enemy to flight and drew off his men in safety. On another occasion, in open field, with but eight hundred men, he overcame an opposing host of three thousand, leaving two hundred of the enemy dead on the plain, and carrying five hundred off as prisoners.

Robert II was so pleased with the knightly bearing of young Douglas that in 1387 he gave him in marriage his daughter Egidia, a princess whose beauty and wit were so renowned that the king of France wished to make her his queen, and despatched a painter to the Scottish court to procure her portrait secretly. But in the meantime she was bestowed on Douglas, and with her the lordship of Nithsdale. He also received from his royal father-in-law an annual pension of 300l., and his own father gave him the barony of Herbertshire, near Stirling.

In 1388 he was entrusted with the command of a maritime expedition, which was fitted out to retaliate certain raids by the Irish upon the coast of Galloway. Embarking in a small flotilla with five hundred men he sailed for the Irish coast, and attacked Carlingford. The inhabitants offered a large sum of money to obtain immunity. Douglas consented, and a time was fixed for payment. The townsmen, however, had only wished to gain time, and immediately despatched a messenger to Dundalk for their English allies. Unsuspicious of treachery Douglas had only landed two hundred men, and half of these were now separated from him in a foraging expedition under his lieutenant, Sir Robert Stewart of Durrisdeer. He himself remained before the town. At nightfall eight hundred horsemen left Dundalk, and, meeting with the inhabitants of Carlingford, fell simultaneously upon the two companies of the Scots, with whom, however, the victory remained. Douglas thereupon took the town, and gave it to the flames, beating down the castle; and, lading with his spoils fifteen Irish vessels which he found harbouring there, set sail and returned to Scotland. On the way home they attacked and plundered the Isle of Man.

When Douglas reached Lochryan in Galloway, he learned that his father and the Earl of Fife and Menteith had just led an expedition over the western marches into England, and he immediately joined them with all his available forces. In connection with the same campaign James, second earl of Douglas, had simultaneously entered England by the eastern marches, and, meeting with Percy on the field of Otterburn (1388), was slain. The western portion of the Scottish troops at once returned.

Peace with England was shortly afterwards secured, and Douglas went abroad in search of adventure. He was received with great honour at Spruce or Danzig in Prussia, where Thomas, duke of Gloucester, was preparing to fight against the Lithuanians (1391). A fleet of two hundred and forty ships was fitted out for an expedition, the command of which Douglas is said to have accepted. Before leaving Scotland Douglas seems to have received a challenge from Thomas de Clifford, tenth lord Clifford [q. v.], to do wager by battle for some disputed lands. Clifford obtained a safe-conduct through England for Douglas, but nothing is known as to the result of the duel, or even whether it was fought. It is said to have taken place in 1390. From the Scottish Exchequer Rolls it is evident Douglas was alive in 1392, after which there is no further trace of him. By Princess Egidia he left a daughter of the same name, who married Henry, earl of Orkney, and was associated with him in the foundation of Roslin Chapel near Edinburgh. He also left a son, who succeeded him as Sir William Douglas of Nithsdale, but who disappears from record after 1408, while his sister lived at least thirty years later.

[Ferdun à Goodall; Wyntoun's Cronykil; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland; Hume of Godscroft's Houses of Douglas and Angus; Fraser's Douglas Book.]

H. P.