As far back as the 11th century, the barony of Douglasburn (once a populous area of Ettrick Forest) was the seat of the Douglases, who kept a tower at Blackhouse. Though the existing ruins are of a later rebuild (probably undertaken by the Stewarts of Traquair in the 16th century), the tower’s location has remained constant – by Yarrow Water on the Douglas Burn. Nearby Ettrick Forest (known simply as “the Forest” to the early kings of Scotland) was a bountiful hunting ground for medieval nobility, and an important military defensive and offensive position during the Wars of Independence. In 1308, Sir James Douglas – more typically known as “Good Sir James” and the “Black Douglas” – retook the family seat at Blackhouse, and used the Tower as a stronghold during his Ettrick-based campaigns as Captain, friend, and loyal supporter of Robert the Bruce.
Reputedly, Blackhouse Tower (or Blackhoose Toor) is also the site of the analogous ballad The Douglas Tragedy, in which one Margaret Douglas elopes with a Lord William, the enemy of her father and seven brothers. The ballad tells of how Margaret is whisked from Blackhouse Tower by her lover, the pair then stopping to drink from Douglas Burn, and of how Margaret’s brothers pursue her. Atop the neighbouring heights of Blackhouse, states Sir Walter Scott in Minstrelsy, the seven brothers were slain, and today there stand seven stones, marking the site of their deaths. Unfortunately, poor Margaret’s lover was injured in the fight, and when later he died from his wounds, she died of grief not long after.
Blackhouse Farm, which backs onto the ruins of the tower, also played host to James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, for about a decade at the end of the 18th century – luckily, he survived a severe snowstorms there in 1794, in which seventeen other Border shepherds perished.
‘Lord William was dead lang ere midnight,
Lady Margret lang ere day,
And all true lovers that go thegither,
May they have mair luck than they!’
- The Douglas Tragedy, by Anonymous