Douglas, Archibald, eighth Earl of Angus 1555-1588, was only son of David, seventh earl, and succeeded to the earldom on his father's death when only two years old. His uncle and guardian, James Douglas, earl of Morton [qv.], obtained his infeftment in the estates as his father's heir in 1559, notwithstanding the claim Margaret, countess of Lennox, as heir general of her father, the sixth earl, again made, as she had done after her father's death. When Queen Mary came of age in 1564, she confirmed in his favour the charter by James V in 1547 to the sixth earl, and on 13 May 1565 Morton obtained a renunciation of the claim of the Countess of Lennox and a ratification by her husband and her son Darnley of the entail by the sixth earl, under which his ward, as heir male, was entitled to the Douglas succession. As a consideration for this concession Morton and the young Angus bound themselves to support the marriage of Mary to Darnley.
     When Morton left Scotland, after Rizzio's murder in 1566, the Earl of Atholl succeeded him as tutor of Angus; but on his return next year Morton resumed the guardianship. Angus studied at St. Andrews under John Douglas, provost of the New College, afterwards archbishop. When only twelve he carried the crown at the first parliament of James VI, and signed the rolls of its proceedings by which the confession of faith was confirmed. The influence of his uncle secured his early education in the principles of the reformers. In the parliament of July 1570 he voted for the appointment of Lennox as regent, and next year again carried the crown at the parliament which met in Stirling. On the death of Mar, who succeeded Lennox in the regency, Angus supported his uncle, who became regent, and with him he appears to have resided. In January 1573 he was appointed member of the privy council, and on 12 June married Lady Mary Erskine, daughter of the late regent. In October he was appointed sheriff of Berwick, and in July of next year lieutenant-general south of the Forth, an office which naturally fell to the head of his house when in favour with the government. A quarrel between him and his uncle, the regent, as to whether he should have this office was made up by the good sense of both. From August 1575 he was actively engaged in its duties. The confidence felt in him is shown by his correspondence with the English wardens, and was justified by his endeavour to keep the peace in the districts which his ancestors had done so much to reduce to order. The submission made to him by a number of the smaller lairds of the border in November 1576 proved his judicious administration. In May 1577 he was appointed warden of the west marches, in succession to Lord Maxwell, and before the end of the year steward of Fife and keeper of Falkland Palace. On Morton's removal from the regency in 1578, Angus stood by his uncle, who destined him to be his heir, and had a real affection for him, addressing him in correspondence as his son. He was one of the nobles who signed the discharge or indemnity to Morton. He did not attend the council until Morton's return to power, when he was appointed lieutenant-general of the king. He marched with an army from Stirling against the nobles who opposed Morton, but at his suggestion refrained from an engagement. In 1579 he took part in Morton's measures against the Hamiltons, the hereditary enemies of the Douglases, and was a member of the convention at which they were forfeited. He afterwards led the force which took the castles of Hamilton and Draffen, and was present in the convention of August and the parliament of October 1579 which ratified Morton's acts. On Morton's final fall from power in the following year, Angus was present at the privy council and refused to vote for his imprisonment. His petition to the king to make up an inventory of Morton's estate was granted, and he was exempted, at the special request of James, from the banishment from Edinburgh of the other Douglases. He even attempted to rescue Morton when sent from Edinburgh to Dumbarton, but his force was not sufficient. Lord Rothes, whose daughter he had married after the death of his first wife, tried to persuade him to submit to the king, but he declined unless hostages were given for his personal safety. He went, however, to Edinburgh and was well received by James, but deemed it prudent to remove the principal effects of his uncle from Dalkeith and Aberdour to Tantallon. Shortly after he was ordered to place himself in ward north of the Spey or at Inverness, and, not having complied, was declared guilty of treason, and ordered to deliver up Tantallon, Cockburnspath, and Douglas. He now engaged in active correspondence with Randolph, the English envoy, in a plot for the release of Morton, and would not have shrunk with this object from slaying his chief enemies, and even seizing the king's person. In February 1581 he attended, under a safe-conduct, a meeting of the estates in Edinburgh, but discovered by intercepted letters a plot, to which his wife was a party, against his own person, devised by the Earl of Montrose. Leaving Edinburgh by night he rode to Dalkeith and sent his wife home to her father. His plots with Randolph continued, and he favoured the invasion of Scotland by an English force, but their schemes were found out. Randolph left Scotland; Mar, his only ally among the nobles, became reconciled to the court; and proclamations were issued against Angus, who, however, evaded pursuit. On the execution of Morton he crossed the border from Hawick and took refuge at Carlisle. He then went to London, where he was hospitably received by Elizabeth and her ministers. Among the other exiles there were two natural sons of Morton and Hume of Godscroft, the historian of his house. He became at this time a friend of Sir Philip Sidney, who communicated to him his Arcadia, still in manuscript. He is said to have studied the political institutions of England, but his conduct was more in accord with the less settled constitution of Scotland. When the raid of Ruthven effected a change in the administration of Scotland in August 1582, and put the Earls of Mar and Gowrie at the head of affairs, Angus came to Berwick, and, receiving a pardon in the end of September, crossed the border. He came to Edinburgh in October, was reconciled to the king, and allowed to bury the head of Morton, still fixed on the Tolbooth. His forfeiture was not, however, rescinded, which prevented him from sitting in council, but he exercised considerable influence as an intermediary between the English court and the Scottish ministry, of which Gowrie was the head. James, who had never forgiven the authors of the Ruthven raid for seizing his person, refused or delayed to call a parliament, and entered into secret negotiations with the French ambassador, Fénelon, and with the Duke of Lennox, then in France, to free himself from their control. In June 1583 he succeeded in this by the aid of Colonel Stewart, the captain of his guard, and going to St. Andrews placed himself in the hands of the Earls of Montrose, Crawford, and Huntly. Angus and Bothwell intended to intercept him, but arrived too late, and were ordered to disband their forces. Angus saw the king and attempted to effect a reconciliation, but was ordered to go to his own residence. He returned accordingly to Douglas, but in the parliament held in October the Earl of Arran was now all-powerful, and Angus, instead of being restored to favour, was directed to pass north of the Spey and remain there during the royal pleasure. He obeyed, and went to Elgin in winter, where he was well received by the gentlemen of Moray, who promised to defend him against Huntly, the king's lieutenant in the north.
     The administration of Arran did not give satisfaction to any class, and specially alienated the leading presbyterians, now becoming politically influential, by requiring the general assembly to pass a resolution condemning the raid of Ruthven. The nobles who had been concerned in it thought the time ripe for another coup d'état, and though their intrigues were suspected and Gowrie apprehended at Dundee, Glamis and Mar succeeded on 17 April 1584 in seizing the castle of Stirling. Angus, who had already come south to Brechin, joined them and summoned his vassals to meet him. But the success of the rebellion, for such it really was, was momentary. Several of those expected to take part in it hesitated. The king collected a force of twelve thousand men, and the lords, including Angus, unable to cope with it, fled from Stirling across the border to Berwick. Hume of Argaty, who had been left in charge of the castle of Stirling, surrendered without conditions on 25 April and was executed. Archibald Douglas, formerly constable of Edinburgh, was taken prisoner and shared the same fate. Gowrie also, though he had attempted to make terms for himself, and was distrusted by Angus, was tried for treason and beheaded on 2 May. A parliament hastily summoned towards the end of that month restored episcopacy, and another in August forfeited the nobles who had taken part in or favoured the seizure of Stirling. Angus was attainted and his estates forfeited on 22 Aug. Elizabeth at this juncture supported the exiles, who represented the English as opposed to the French interest in Scotland, and the protestant as opposed to the catholic party. At Newcastle, to which Angus and other of the Scotch exiles went from Berwick, they were joined by James Melville and other leading presbyterian ministers. Melville had come at the request of Angus, and Mar set on foot a presbyterian congregation in that town, and wrote a declaration setting forth the abuses of the episcopal church in Scotland. Angus was a zealous presbyterian, and the ministers regarded him as their best ally. Melville describes him as Good, godly-wise, and stout Archibald, earl of Angus. A series of negotiations and counter-negotiations between the different parties in Scotland and the English court occupied the year from the autumn of 1584 to the winter of 1585. Arran felt the necessity of dissociating himself from the charge of complicity with the papists, who were then busy with the plots which culminated in the Armada. He had a personal interview with Lord Hunsdon, Elizabeth's envoy, on the borders, and the Master of Gray was sent as his agent to England to give assurance of the desire of James and his advisers to be on good terms with Elizabeth. With this was coupled a request that the exiled Scottish lords should remove from Newcastle to Cambridge. Arran was specially afraid of the influence of Angus, and there was even a suspicion, though the evidence is not altogether trustworthy, that his life was threatened.
     The queen ostensibly complied with the request of Arran and Angus, and his fellow-exiles came south in February to Norwich, and in April to London. When there, they defended themselves to the satisfaction of the queen from a charge made by Arran, which Bellenden, the lord justice clerk, had been sent to urge that they were plotting against the life of James Elizabeth, and the able diplomatists in her service, knew that these lords were her real friends, and could be trusted better than Arran. Sir Philip Sidney came to them with an assurance of her ‘good affections.’ A plot was devised which, though it did not include the deposition of James, aimed at the overthrow of Arran and the restoration of the banished lords to the government. Its chief authors were Walsingham and Sir Edward Wotton, ambassador to Scotland. Angus and his confederates Mar and Glamis were reconciled to Lords John and Claud Hamilton, who had been also driven from Scotland through enmity to Arran, who had taken possession of the Hamilton estates. The Master of Gray, with objects of his own, joined in the intrigue, and so did Bellenden after his return to Scotland. In October Lord Maxwell raised the standard of rebellion on the borders, and on the 17th of that month Angus and the other banished lords returned to Berwick, where they were met by Wotton. They marched rapidly, raising troops by the way, to Lanark, where they were joined by the Hamiltons and Lord Maxwell. On 2 Nov. they issued a proclamation from St. Ninians, close to Stirling, declaring they had only come to release the king from the domination of Arran. Arran, who still retained his ascendency, issued a counter-proclamation; James also tried his personal influence on the Earl of Bothwell, one of the leaders of the opposite party. But Arran had few friends. The presbyterian ministers were to a man against him, and carried with them the citizens of the towns. Of the leading nobles, only Crawford and Montrose still supported the king. The surrender of the town on the 2nd was followed by that of the castle of Stirling on 4 Nov., almost without a blow, and with the single condition that the lives of the nobles on the king's side should be spared. James had an interview with Angus, Hamilton, and Mar, restored their estates, and placed the government in their hands. The office of chancellor was offered to but declined by Angus, and it was conferred on Secretary Maitland. In April 1586 he was made warden of the western marches, and in November lieutenant-general with command of the forces on the border. The ministers and strenuous presbyterians among the laity were much disappointed that the presbyterian form of church government was not restored. The Melvilles and Calderwood, the church historian, attribute this to the lukewarmness of the nobles, who when their estates were restored cared nothing for the church. Angus is treated by these writers as a conspicuous and solitary exception, ‘to whose heart,’ says James Melville, ‘it was a sore grief that he could not get concurrence with the presbyterian form of church government.’ There is no doubt he was the most zealous presbyterian among the nobles. But the dispute was not so simple as is represented by presbyterian authors, nor was the maintenance of episcopacy due only to the selfishness of the nobles. The king's favour for that form of government in the church was avowed. The English queen also supported it. It had a large portion of the people, especially in the north, on its side. Its opponents associated their advocacy of presbyterianism with views hazardously near republican principles. Angus expressed his views in a conversation with his retainer and biographer, Hume of Godscroft, upon a sermon John Craig (1512?-1600) [q.v.], one of the few moderates of the clergy, had preached against Francis Gibson of Pencaitland, who had insisted on the limitations of the royal authority and the duties of subjects on the point of religion. He indicated to Hume his distrust of all his colleagues, and ended by saying: ‘God knoweth my part I sall neglect nothing that is possible to me to do, and would to God the king knew my heart to his weal and would give ear to it.’
This is not the language of a strong man. He was in fact of a weak constitution, physically, and more fitted to be led than to be a leader. But he was a good figurehead for the presbyterian party. In the spring of 1587 he was placed in ward at Linlithgow, it is said on the accusation of Arran, who had then come back to Scotland. But nothing came of this, and he was present at the curious scene of the riding of the parliament from Holyrood to the castle on 15 May, when James, who had now attained majority, coupled the rival nobles two by two as a sign of their reconciliation and his own character as a peace-maker. Angus went with Montrose, a curious conjunction, for Montrose was suspected of a liaison with the second wife of Angus, Lady Margaret Leslie, from whom he was divorced in 1587. In July of the same year he married Jean Lyon, daughter of Lord Glamis and widow of Robert Douglas the younger of Lochleven. Angus bore the sceptre in the following parliament in July 1587, the crown being carried by the king's kinsman, the young duke of Lennox. In this parliament he obtained a ratification of the lands and honours of Morton which his uncle had entailed on him, and the title of Earl of Morton was conferred on him in October, but he held it so short a time that it is seldom given him. Both in this and the following year he acted vigorously in the administration of the border, doing justice on the border thieves, and taking part with James in person in an expedition against Lord Maxwell, which ended in his capture. But his health broke down, perhaps through these exertions, and he died at Smeaton, near Dalkeith, on 4 Aug. 1588. His body was buried at Abernethy, but his heart by his own wish at Douglas, perhaps one of the latest examples of that singular custom. He was only thirty-three, and his death was at the time attributed by the superstitious to sorcery. One poor woman was arrested on suspicion, but not condemned. Another, Agnes Sampson, who was burnt some years later for witchcraft, actually confessed to putting an image with the letters A. D. upon it into the fire, but said she did not know the letters referred to Angus. It appears to have been really due to consumption. He had no children by his first two wives, and a posthumous child of his last wife being a daughter, the estates and title of Douglas passed to Sir William Douglas of Glenbervie, the heir male of the eighth earl, those of Morton to Douglas of Lochleven. James VI used to call Angus ‘the ministers' king,’ and they have so loaded him with compliments as almost to excite suspicion of their truth. He was, according to Calderwood, ‘more religious nor anie of his predecessors, yea, nor anie of all the erlis in the countrie much beloved of the godlie.’ But Archbishop Spotiswood, a contemporary and more impartial writer, corroborates the testimony of the presbyterians, and describes him ‘as a nobleman in place and rank, so in worth and virtue, above other subjects; of a comly personage, affable, and full of grace, a lover of justice, peaceable, sober, and given to all goodness, and which crowned all his virtues, truly pious.’ Hume of Godscroft speaks of him not only with the panegyrical language he applies to all the Douglases, but in terms of strong personal attachment.


     Hume of Godscroft's History is specially valuable for the life of this earl.
     Sir W. Fraser's Douglas Book adds some documents.
     The Privy Council Records, James Melville's Diary, and Calderwood's and Spotiswood's Histories of the Church of Scotland are the best contemporary or nearly contemporary sources; McCree's Life of Andrew Melville; and Burton's Hist. of Scotland.

Contributor: Æ. M. [Aeneas James George Mackay]

Published:     1888