As with Clan Scott, no history of the Scottish Borders during the Middle Ages is complete without mention of the Douglases. One of Scotland’s most prominent and powerful families, whose two main branches (Douglas and Angus, known colloquially as the ‘Black’ and ‘Red’ Douglases) were often the real source of power behind the Stewart Kings, the family is one of the most ennobled in the United Kingdom, and has held numerous titles. Their leaders held vast territories throughout the Borders, Angus, Lothian, Moray, and also in France and Sweden.
Famously, the Douglases fought alongside both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence. James Douglas, ‘the Good’ or ‘the Black’ (depending on whether one reads the Scottish or English sources) was a close confidant of Robert the Bruce in their (largely unsuccessful) early forays against English rule. One successful venture, however, was James’ retaking of his familial seat at Douglasburn, when he recaptured Blackhouse Tower from the English in 1308. He then used Blackhouse as a base for some of his Ettrick-centred campaigns against the southerners. Learning from earlier mistakes, and developing a mastery of guerrilla warfare, James Douglas ‘the Good’ recaptured Roxburgh Castle from the English in 1313, and went on to fight in the victory at Bannockburn in 1314 which effectively won the Scots their independence. King Robert the Bruce had requested that Douglas should carry his heart to the Holy Land when he died, as atonement for the murder of John III Comyn. Outnumbered and cut off from the main Christian force at the siege of Teba in 1330, however, Douglas was killed whilst leading a cavalry charge. The casket containing the heart of the Bruce was recovered and returned to Scotland, to be interred at Melrose Abbey. Douglas’ bones were boiled and later also returned to his homeland.
Whilst not reivers themselves, the Douglases held many Border strongholds from which they interacted often with the reiving families about them. For example, in 1526, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus defeated the chief of Clan Scott, Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch (‘Wicked Wat’) at the Battle of Melrose, at which the latter was attempting to rescue young King James V from Douglas’ custody. The Douglases were also active in the Borders during the War of Rough Wooing, taking part in the Battles of Ancrum Moor and Pinkie Cleugh (1545 and 1547, respectively).
Clan Douglas constructed, or at one time possessed a staggering number of strongholds throughout Scotland, and overseas, several of which held strategically defensible positions in the Scottish Borders. These include: Berwick Castle, Bowhill House, Drumlanrig Castle, Hermitage Castle, Hume Castle, Morton Castle, Newark Castle, Roxburgh Castle, Threave Castle, and Blackhouse Tower (including an untold number of smaller outposts and towers).
The Douglas Clan’s heraldic symbol is a green salamander on a chapeau surrounded by fire, and their motto is Jamais arrière (‘Never behind’). (Other branches of the Douglases have also used mottoes ‘Tender and true’, and ‘Forwards’.)