Douglas, James, second Earl of Douglas 1358?-1388, succeeded his father William in 1384. His mother, Margaret, was Countess of Mar in her own right. Froissart describes him as a fayre young childe at the date of his first visit to Scotland, when he was entertained for fifteen days by Earl William at Dalkeith in 1365, which gives the probable date of his birth as 1358. On the accession of Robert II in 1371, to conciliate the Earl of Douglas to the succession of the new Stuart dynasty, his son was knighted and contracted in marriage to the king's daughter Isabel. A papal dispensation was obtained on 24 Sept. 1371, and the marriage appears to have been celebrated in 1373, after which date payments to account of the king's obligations for his daughter's dowry appear in the exchequer records. In 1380 her husband received a royal grant of two hundred merks from the customs of Haddington, in which he is designated Sir James Douglas of Liddesdale, that portion of the family estates having been probably settled on him by his father. In 1384, soon after his father's death, which occurred in May, the young earl took part in a dashing raid along with Sir Geoffrey de Charney and thirty French knights, justified, according to Froissart, by a similar attack on the Scotch borders under the Earls of Northumberland and Nottingham, from which the lands of the Earl of Douglas and Lord Lindsay seriously suffered. The Scots force, said to have numbered fifteen thousand, ravaged the lands of the English earls and returned to Roxburgh with a great spoil of goods and cattle.
Although the truce with England had come to an end at Candlemas 1384, negotiations were in progress for its renewal. In spite of repeated attempts to maintain peace, preparations for war were made on both sides. In pursuance of a promise in 1383 on the part of the French to send support, both in men and money, to Scotland, Sir John de Vienne, admiral of France, was at last despatched, in April 1385, with two thousand men, fourteen hundred suits of armour, and the promise of fifty thousand crowns. Douglas was one of the nobles who welcomed Vienne on his landing at Leith in the beginning of May, and his share in the expedition which followed is vividly portrayed in the graphic narrative of Froissart. Though anxious as other Scotch border chiefs for the help of French allies, Douglas was not willing to take them on their own terms, or to yield the direction of the border war to foreign leaders. The numbers of the forces opposed, given by different authorities, vary even more than is usual in the narratives of war; but the English were largely in excess and better armed than the majority of the combined Scots and French army. The French knights were eager to fight, notwithstanding the disparity, but Douglas persuaded Vienne to follow the Scottish strategy of retreat and withdrawal of everything of value before the enemy advanced. The result was that Richard's raid, though it reached Edinburgh, resulted only in the burning of Melrose, Dryburgh, Newbattle, the church of St. Giles, and the houses of Edinburgh, but no victory or important conquest. Meanwhile the Scottish forces also declined to assail any strong fortress such as Carlisle and Roxburgh, still in the hands of the English, where a dispute between Douglas and Vienne prevented the prosecution of the siege. Vienne maintained that if it was taken it should be held for the French king, while Douglas refused to recognise the French in any other character than soldiers in the Scottish army. But a substantial advantage was gained by a sudden incursion subsequently made on the western English border, where the rich territories of the bishoprics of Durham and Carlisle yielded the Scotch more plunder than all the towns of their own kingdom. In this raid Douglas, along with his cousin and successor Sir Archibald, lord of Galloway, took part. The singular close of the French expedition was that the French knights and Vienne, weary of a war unproductive of honour or profit, and anxious to return home, were only allowed to do so on full payment of the subsidy of fifty thousand crowns promised by the French king. This appears from the receipt not to have been made till 16 Nov. 1385. The king himself took ten thousand as his share. Douglas received seven thousand five hundred. This sum, greater than any other noble's share, was probably due to the lands of Douglas having suffered most by the English. Another short raid of three days, in which Cockermouth and its neighbourhood were wasted, followed the departure of the French, and in this also Douglas took part.
His short life was made up of such raids. For the next three years little of note has been preserved. Its interest centres at its close in the famous battle of Otterburn, of which he was the victor and the victim. The Scotch, forewarned of the intention of Richard II, in the event of their renewing the war either on the east or the west borders, which had been the object in recent years of alternate attacks, to advance again into Scotland by the route left undefended, determined to check this policy by a simultaneous incursion on both of the marches. Having mustered their forces at Aberdeen, they were by a feint dispersed, only to reassemble on the north of the Cheviots at Yetholm or Southdean, near Jedburgh, to the number of fifty thousand. The great bulk of this large army under Sir Archibald Douglas was sent off to the west to ravage Cumberland and attack Carlisle, but a picked force of three hundred horse and two thousand foot, commanded by the Earls of Douglas, Dunbar, and Moray, was reserved for a diversion on the eastern border. So rapid was the movement of this force that it reached the neighbourhood of Durham before the English wardens were aware of its approach. It then retired on Newcastle, where it was met in the beginning of August by the levy of the northern counties, headed by the Earl of Northumberland's two sons, Henry Percy, to whom the Scots gave the name of Hotspur, and Sir Ralph his brother. In one of the skirmishes which took place near Newcastle, Douglas captured the pennon of Hotspur, and boasted that he would place it on the tower of Dalkeith. Hotspur declared it should not be taken out of Northumberland, and Douglas retorted that he might come that night and take it if he could from the pole of his tent. The Scottish force, which was on its way home, took the castle of Ponteland, but failed to take that of Otterburn, near Wooler, in the hilly parish of Elsdon, a little south of the English side of the Cheviots. It was an easy march across the Cheviots to the Scottish border; but Douglas, against the wish of some of the Scottish leaders, determined to entrench himself on the rising ground near Otterburn and give Hotspur the opportunity he had promised of trying to retake his pennon.
On the evening of 9 Aug. according to the English chronicles, on the 15th according to Froissart, on the 19th according to modern writers—in any case about the Lammas tide when husbands win their hay, the more poetical date of the famous ballad—Hotspur fell on the Scottish camp by night, with the war-cry of his house, A Percy! The Scotch, though surprised, were not unprepared. Their assailants were three to one, but the strength of their position, the too impetuous onslaught of Hotspur, and the personal courage of Douglas gave them the advantage. The earl, according to Froissart, who had conversed with eye-witnesses who fought on both sides, being of great haste and hygh of enterprise, seying his men recule back to recover the place, and to showe knyghtly valour, tooke his axe in both his handes, and entered so into the presse that he made himself waye in such wyse that none durst approche ner hym, and he was so well armed that he bore well such strokes as he received. Thus he went ever forward like a hardie Hector, wylling alone to conquer the felde and to discomfyte his enemies, but at last he was encountered with three spears all at once. The one struke him on the shoulder, the other on the breste, and the stroke glinted down to his belly, and the thyrde struke hyme on the thye, and sore hurte with all three strokes so that he was borne per force to the erthe, and after that he could not be again released. The English did not know who it was they had struck down, and Douglas continued till his last breath to encourage his comrades. Sir John St. Clair his cousin having asked him how he did, Rycht well, quoth the erle. But thanked be god, there hath been but a few of my ancestors that hath dyed in their beddes. Bot cosyn I require you thinke to revenge me, for I reckon myself bot deed, for my herte feintith oftten tymes. My Cosyn Walter and you I praye you rayse up again my banner which lyeth on the ground, and my Squyre Davye slayn; but, sirs, show neither to friend nor foe what case ye see me in, for if myne enemyes knew it they wolde rejoyse, and our frendes be discomfited. The two St. Clairs and Sir James Lyndsay, who was with them, did as they were desired, raised up his banner, and shouted his war-cry of Douglas! The remainder of the battle, in which both Hotspur and his brother were taken prisoners, is beyond the life of Douglas, for he was dead before it ended, and what, according to Hume of Godscroft, was a prophecy in the dying man's mouth became a saying that the victory was won by the dead man. Douglas was only thirty, according to the probable date of his birth, and having no legitimate issue the estates and earldom of Douglas went by the entail to Archibald the Grim, third earl of Douglas [qv.], a natural son of the Good Sir James Douglas.
The English ballad of Chevy Chase and the Scottish of the Battle of Otterburn have made the fame of the second Earl of Douglas second only to that of the comrade of Bruce, and the battle in which he fell is celebrated by Froissart as the best fought and most chivalrous engagement of the many he narrates. The Scottish poem is more in accord with history as handed down by the best authorities: for the English makes Percy the original assailant, in fulfilment of a vow, supposes both Percy and Douglas to have fallen, and represents the kings in whose reign the battle was fought as Henry VI and James I, instead of Richard II and Robert II. But the English version from Sydney's praise in his Defence of Poetry, and Addison's critique in the Spectator, Nos. 70 and 74, has gained a unique place as the representative of the ballads of the border, among the sources of English poetry.
Froissart, iii. 119, 125. The family histories of the Douglases by Hume and Fraser give additional details. Pinkerton of modern historians gives the best narrative of the border wars and battle of Otterburn. The ballads are in Percy's Reliques, ed. Bohn, i. 2 et seq.
Contributor: Ć. M. [Aeneas James George Mackay]