Archibald Douglas (1328-1400)

Relation to me: 19th Great Grandfather

Archibald was the Earl of Douglas and of Wigtown. He was also Lord of Galloway, Douglas and Bothwell. Also known as Archibald the Grim and Black Archibald he was a late medieval Scottish nobleman.

He was an illegitimate son of Sir James “the Black Douglas”, King Robert I’s trusted lieutenant and Beatrice Lindsay. Archibald was also the first cousin of William, the 1st Earl of Douglas and inherited the earldom of Douglas and its entailed estates.

When Archibald was an infant, his father was out on crusade when he was killed at the Battle of Teba, while he was fighting against the Moors. For a mental image of what Archibald may have looked like we get a description from Walter Bower:

“He was dark and ugly and more like a coco (cook-boy) than a Noble.”

Jean le Bel, in his chronicle describes Douglas, as an adult, a large man capable of wielding a huge sword. It has been suggested that as a young man, Archibald had spent his time with his cousin, William, at the court of King David II at Chateau Gaillard in Normandy,


Chateau Gaillard Castle

while he was in exile. It would have only been natural for them to take service with the French King, keeping with the spirit of the Auld Alliance.

The Battle of Poitiers

Archibald’s first major appearance in history was in 1356 at the Battle of Poitiers. It was here that he was captured by the English. With his cousin, William, the Lord of Douglas, Archibald went to serve King John III of France in his wars against the Black Prince. Edward III of England had met a truce negotiation with the Scots that had would last from March 25 until Michaelmas, after the Burnt Candlemas of February 2nd. During this truce, Earl William had secured safe passage to travel to Chateau Gaillard to visit David II. Among his entourage was the, then, 28-year-old Archibald. Once they were in France, in good spirit, the Douglas’ joined the French army. They only joined to prevent their harnesses from rusting due to inactivity.
The Battle of Poitiers would end in a disastrous defeat for the French. It has been suggested, by Froissart, that part of the blame for the defeat would lie with Earl William, for his suggestion to the French king that his knights dismount from their horses and fight on foot. Whatever the actual cause for the defeat was, King John was captured along with many of his noblemen, including Archibald. Earl William would manage to evade being captured. Archibald’s armor and harness were of fine construction. He was thought to be a valuable prisoner by his captors because of this, thus his reason for being taken prisoner as well.
Archibald’s escape from English capture was aided by a Sir William Ramsay of Colluthie. Ramsay was also a prisoner of the English. It was in the presence of one of the guards that Ramsay had pretended to be furious with Archibald and had accused him of the theft of his cousin’s armor. Furthermore, he stated that his cousin had been killed by an English arrow and had died due his lack of protection. Ramsay then went on to insist that Archibald take off his boots. As soon as he had removed one, Ramsay started beating Archibald over the head with it. One of the guards would intervene, insisting that Archibald was the son of a great noble and should therefore be respected. Ramsay responded saying, “Not he, I tell you, and seek your master’s body amongst the slain, so that we may at least give him a decent burial”. Ramsay would end up paying a fee of forty shillings, the ransom rate of an esquire, he clocked Archibald around the head once more and told him to leave. He then made his way back to Scotland, and deprived the Black Prince’s army of what would have been a considerable ransom.

His Rise

In 1361, Archibald was appointed as the Constable of Edinburgh Castle, along with the office of Sheriff of Edinburgh, of which he held both until 1364. In that year he was then appointed Warden of the Western March. This would be an uneasy appointment, as the English held Annandale. The area had formed a great part of his new jurisdiction. In the following years, he would carry out numerous raids against them. In 1368, he was appointed as Lord Warden of the Marches and by 1383 he was successful in getting the English out of Annandale.

Edinburgh Castle


Marriage and Embassies

A year after becoming Constable of Edinburgh Castle, Archibald would further increase his power by marrying the widow and heiress Joanna de Moravia. She was the daughter of Maruice de Moravia, the Earl of Strathearn and Joanna Menteith, the daughter of Fause Menteith.
It is said that Archibald had offered to fight five English knights in single combat in reward for her hand in marriage. As Lady of Bothwell and heiress to the de Moravia dynasty, Joanna brought with her large estates and lordships throughout Scotland, of which Archibald would claim de jure uxoris. Her estates and lordships had included the semi-ruined Bothwell Castle, of which he quickly started to rebuild upon gaining it.
The marriage was a device of the king to ensure that Moray’s inheritance would be passed into a safe and loyal hand. Since the death of Joanna’s first husband, Sir Thomas de Moravia, Lord of Bothwell, in 1361, Joanna and her widowed mother had been wards of the court. Joanna would declare to not only be heiress of her father’s unentailed lands, but also those of her first husband’s as well. Her estates would stretch from Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ross in the north of Scotland, to Lanarkshire and Roxburghshire in the south. Though Archibald didn’t inherit his wife’s father’s Earldom of Strathearn, he would be able to use his new-found kindred ties to the advantage of the King in the center of the kingdom.
In 1369, Archibald was sent out on an embassy to the court in Avignon of Pope Urban V. This embassy was to protest against an appeal launched by the newly divorced Queen Margaret. A few years later, in 1371 he was sent to Paris. This embassy was about viewing the renewal of the Auld Alliance. The embassy was ordered by the new Stewart king, Robert II, three days after he had ascended to the throne. The end result was the Treaty of Vincennes, the second ratification of the alliance, the first was with the signing of the Treaty of Corbeil about fifty five years prior.

Archibald, Lord of Galloway

Archibald was appointed Lord of Galloway in 1369 by King David. David’s reason for appointing Archibald was “becaus he tuke git trawell to purge the cuntrey of Englis blude”. Galloway was a difficult place to rule. Prior to his becoming lord, it had been a patrimony of the Balliols, both ousted King John and his pretender son Edward Balliol. The Balliol’s inherited it through King John’s grandmother, Dervorguilla of Galloway. She was the daughter and heiress of Alan, Lord of Galloway, who one of the last of the Norse-Gaelic Kings of Galloway. The Galwegians had distinct laws and customs and, as with the Kingdom of the Isles, didn’t feel subservient to the Scottish crown, but rather to their ancient kings, of which they had viewed the Balliols as representing. In 1353, Earl William succeeded in bringing the eastern part of Galloway under the control of the Scottish crown.
In 1372, after retaking control of the east, Archibald acquired the Earldom of Wigtown from Thomas Fleming, the previous Earl of Wigtown. This would consolidate his power over all of Galloway, the first time it was under one man since 1234. The transfer of the earldom was ratified by Robert II on November 7, 1372. Archibald’s conquest of Galloway was depicted on his seal, which shows two “wild men” holding up his arms.
Six years later, in 1378, Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, a nephew of Archibald’s, took Berwick by surprise with fifty men. It was immediately besieged by the town’s governor Thomas de Musgrave. Douglas and Lord Lyndsay of the Byres compiled a relief army at Haddington of a little more than five hundred in number. They would march regardless of the low number in hopes to collect more men on the way. When Archibald’s army had approached Berwick his scouts told him that the English army that was around the castle numbered about 10,000, among them archers, siege engines, heavy horses and ships that were blockading the river. Douglas decided to retreat back to Melrose, and was then followed by the English army. Just short of Melrose, Musgrave, leader of the English army, attacked. Fortunately for Archibald’s army, they had been reinforced. During the ensuing Battle of Melrose, Musgrave was unhorsed and forced to yield a ransom. With Musgrave and other leaders captured, the remaining English that had not already been slain, fled back to Berwick with news of their defeat.
It was at about this time that Archibald had started working on his fortalice at Threave Castle and had endowed Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries with a hospital. Rather than taking over Buittle, which was the traditional seat of Balliols during construction of Threave, Archibald took up residence at Kirkcudbright, which was the traditional seat of the earlier lords.

Archibald, Earl of Douglas

In 1384, William, the 1st Earl of Douglas had died from a seizure at Douglas. He would be succeeded by his son James Douglas. However, James would be killed during his victorious Battle of Otterburn, four years later in 1388. Archibald would inherit his cousin’s earldom and all of the entailed Douglas lands. This would make him the most powerful magnate in Scotland.
During peaceful times with the English, Archibald imposed feudal law on the border chieftans, drawing up a special code for the marches. The power of who the English would call, The Black Douglas, overshadowed the crown under the weak rule of Robert III. Archibald appeared to have strengthened his line’s connection with that of the Royal Stewarts.
In 1390, Archibald arranged the marriage of his son and heir, Archibald, Master of Douglas to Princess Margaret. Nine years later Archibald’s daughter Marjorie would be married to David Stewart, the Duke of Rothesay. Both Marjorie’s and Archibald’s spouses were children of Robert III. David Stewart was the apparent heir to the throne and was already contracted to marry Elizabeth Dunbar, the daughter of George I, Earl of March. George had paid a large sum for the honor of marrying his daughter to David. George however, alienated from his allegiance, and by this breach of faith on the king’s part, he joined the English forces.

Archibald Dies

It was almost Christmas in 1400 when Archibald, Earl of Douglas had died at Threave Castle. He would leave behind his wife Joanna, and their four children, Archibald, James, Marjory, and Helen, as well as an illegitimate son, William. Archibald would be buried at Bothwell.

Threave Castle ruins




5 thoughts on “Archibald Douglas (1328-1400)”

  1. A very detailed and interesting story of a life lived during those troubled times. It must be rewarding to be able to claim a family connection with such people, and to have that history in your background.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your biographies of your ancestors are very detailed and intriguing. Thank you for sharing the life of our common ancestor, Archibald Douglas (my 19th great-grandfather.)

    Considering how my kin we seem to have in common, it would be interesting to see how far we can make the connection…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, since we determined how we were related through the Bruce/Stewart line, let’s see how we are related through the Douglas’ line. This Archibald Douglas is my twice over 19th great-grandfather, through both his son Archibald (who married Margaret Stewart, daughter of Robert III Stewart and Annabel Drummond) and his son James (who married Beatrice Sinclair, daughter of Henry II Sinclair and Egidia Douglas.) From which Douglas progeny do you descend?

    Liked by 1 person

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