Battle of Arkinholm
The Douglas clan may not have pursued their claim to the Scottish throne, but their power and influence had a tentacular reach through the turbid politics of medieval Scotland.
Feudal lords with connections to church and state, the Douglas were the most powerful family in the land. Their military prowess would spread fear that would transcend Scotland’s borders. Particularly during the First Wars Of Scottish Independence, Sir James ‘The Black’ Douglas was the bogeyman, an insurgent at large, the man most feared by the North Of England.
He would perish under a Spanish sun, fighting the Moors in Andalucia. But the Black Douglas reputation would live on through his sons, and by the time King James I ’s reign was coming to an end, they were becoming a real threat to the sovereign governance of the king. The campaign to neuter their puissance was bloody.
In 1440, on an evening known as the ‘Black Dinner’ – a dinner party-cum-execution – Sir William Crichton would engineer a brutal slaying. Before a young King James II, William Douglas, the 6th Earl of Douglas, and his younger brother were given a summary trial and executed. Reports say that the charge was treason, but there is little doubt that this was a savage act on behalf of Crichton; it was murder.
Twelve years later, and amidst a backdrop of atrocities committed by the Black Douglases, there was a need for royal intervention. They were now a direct challenge to the king. Rumours of plots involving Alexander Lindsay, 4th Earl of Crawford, and John, Lord Of The Isles, would test the king’s patience. He may have remained civil with William Douglas, but such mooted rebellion and the unedifying slaughter at Colville’s castle – the Douglases settled their feud with the Colville clan with swords, carving their own justice – would force James II’s hand.
William Douglas was summoned to Stirling Castle . It would be the king’s last chance to make an ally of Douglas. But in an act which served as the preamble to the Battle Of Arkinholm, and the end of the Black Douglases, the king stabbed him. It is unlikely to have been a premeditated attack – William Douglas arrived in peace. It was an act reminiscent of Robert Bruce ’s killing of John ‘The Red Comyn’ at Greyfriars church. The Black Douglases reacted. James Douglas, 9th Earl Of Douglas, summoned an army and began by razing Stirling .
By 1455, a royalist army under George Douglas, 4th Earl Of Angus, and bolstered by southern landowners such as the Laird Of Johnstone, would engage the Black Douglases at Arkinholm. James Douglas would head to England to seek support for his army; his brothers would lose the battle. Archibald Douglas, Earl Of Moray was slain in battle, while Hugh Douglas, Earl Of Ormonde was seized and executed. John Douglas, Lord Of Balvenie would flee south. The Black Douglases were finished.
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