Douglas, William de (DNB00)


DOUGLAS, WILLIAM de, ‘the Hardy’ (d. 1298), the younger of two sons of Sir William de Douglas, surnamed ‘Longleg,’ is first noticed on record in 1256 as holding lands in Warndon from his father, though then quite young and under guardians. Another of his father's English manors was Faudon in Northumberland, in defending which in 1267 against an attack of the men of Redesdale he was so severely wounded that, according to the terms of the complaint, his assailants all but cut off his head. He seems next to have joined the ranks of the crusaders and been knighted. About 1288 he became lord of Douglas on his father's death, which had been preceded by that of his elder brother Hugh. By this time he had married, some say a daughter of William de Keith, but others, and with better authority, Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander, high steward of Scotland. She bore to him at least one son, who became the famous ‘Good’ Sir James Douglas, but she did not long survive, and to supply her place Douglas seized and carried off to one of his strongholds a young English widow, who had come to Scotland to see after some of her late husband's lands there, out of which she was to receive part of her terce. This was Eleanor de Lovain, daughter of Matthew, lord Lovain, who had married William de Ferrers, lord of Groby, Leicestershire, brother of the last Earl of Derby of the name of Ferrers. She was residing with a kinswoman at her manor of Tranent in Haddingtonshire, which Douglas one day stormed with an armed force, and took away the lady, whom he afterwards married. As by English custom she was a royal ward, this outrage roused the wrath of Edward I, who, claiming at this time to be lord paramount of Scotland, ordered the arrest of Douglas and the confiscation of his lands. The Scottish regents, however, one of whom was James, high steward of Scotland, the brother of Douglas's first wife, declined to obey the mandate, but the English domains of the defiant baron were seized, and he himself fell into the hands of Edward's officers about a year after the escapade, when he was imprisoned in the castle of Leeds. He obtained his liberty in a short time on four English barons becoming his sureties, and ultimately he was sentenced to a fine of 100l., which, however, Douglas never paid.

Douglas was among the barons who refused to acknowledge Baliol as king. On one occasion, when three of Baliol's officers presented themselves at the gate of Douglas Castle to enforce a decree of court in a civil case against him, he seized and threw them into his dungeons, whence one only made his escape, one dying while in durance, and the other being put to death. Events, however, ultimately obliged him to give way, and he proceeded to court to do homage to Baliol, whose majesty was vindicated by committing the recalcitrant baron for a short period to prison. But Baliol was soon afterwards forced to abdicate by the Scottish barons, who, resenting the commands of Edward that they should serve him in his foreign wars, entered into alliance with France and fortified Berwick and the borders against England. To Douglas was entrusted the command of the castle of Berwick. That town was besieged and taken by Edward amid a most sanguinary massacre of the inhabitants, but the garrison capitulated on assurance of life and limb, and were permitted to depart, all save Douglas, who was committed to close ward in a tower of the castle which has since been known as the Douglas tower. He regained his freedom by taking the oath of fealty to Edward, and received back his Scottish estates, but not his English manors, from Edward, who had compelled the Scots to lay down their arms. Douglas, however, on hearing of Wallace's movements in the cause of Scottish independence, though apparently without any communication with him, openly declared his adoption of the cause by attacking and capturing the castle of Sanquhar in Nithsdale, then held by an English garrison. One of his followers took the place of a wagoner who was wont to supply the garrison with wood, and, stopping the wagon under the portcullis, gave signal to Douglas and his companions, who lay in ambush near by. The capture was effected, but the castle was again besieged. Douglas found means to convey word of his straits to Wallace, who immediately brought relief and compelled the English to leave the district. Within a short time the most considerable of the Scottish barons joined Wallace, and as Edward was now moving a large army into Scotland, they consolidated their forces upon the water of Irvine in Ayrshire. The two armies met there in the month of July 1297, but the barons submitted voluntarily to the clemency of Edward. Douglas was at once loaded with irons and recommitted to prison in Berwick, whence he was carried to the Tower of London by the English, when in a few months they were obliged to evacuate the country. On 12 Oct. 1297 Douglas was committed to the Tower by an order signed by Prince Edward in his father's name, and he died there in the following year. In January 1299 Eleanor de Ferrers is mentioned as the widow of Sir William Douglas. Besides the ‘Good’ Sir James, he left two other sons: Hugh, who became a churchman, but afterwards succeeded his nephew William as lord of Douglas, and Sir Archibald Douglas [q. v.], who for a short time was regent of Scotland during the minority of David II, and was fatally wounded at the battle of Halidon in 1333. The Douglas estates in Scotland were, on the occasion of the capture of their lord, confiscated by Edward and bestowed by him on Sir Robert Clifford.

[Fordun's Scotichronicon; Liber de Calchou; Stevenson's Historical Documents; Rymer's Fœdera; Wyntoun's Cronykil; Chronicon Walteri de Hemingburgh; Ragman Rolls; Scalacronica; Barbour's Bruce; Hume of Godscroft's Houses of Douglas and Angus; Fraser's Douglas Book.]

H. P.