The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455

The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455

The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455

The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455

Synopsis

The Black Douglases examines aristocratic power and status and its place in Scottish political society through the greatest and most notorious magnate dynasty of late medieval Scotland.

Excerpt

The Black Douglases were amongst the most powerful and certainly the most notorious of the great aristocratic families of late medieval Scotland. Their name and reputation creates an image of warfare on the borders with England, of the defence of king and kingdom by the Good Sir James Douglas, the first of the family to achieve widespread fame, and his heirs. the family was also associated with darker deeds. the great castles built or held by Douglas lords, Tantallon, Threave, Bothwell, the Hermitage and others, were seen to symbolise the power and arrogance of these great magnates within Scotland. This power rested on the rule, or misrule, of the family over its tenants and neighbours, a dominance maintained by fear and force and only ended by a bloody conflict with their own lord, the king of Scots. the climax of this conflict, the stabbing of the Douglas earl by King James ii himself, was a fitting culmination to a history punctuated by similar acts of violence by lords of the Douglas name. This two-sided reputation, as patriotic heroes and as overmighty subjects defying their king, was born, not simply from the actions of Douglas lords, but from the changing perceptions and preoccupations of Scottish historians from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. Whatever their view, though, these writers all regarded the rise and fall of the Douglas dynasty as central to the development of Scotland in the later middle ages. This importance is not just because the relationships of such great lords with the local communities they ran, and with the crown which, in theory, ran them, has consistently been identified as ‘the dominant theme’ of all European political societies in the later middle ages. It is also because the history of the Douglases as great magnates is bound up with the emergence of Scotland as an independent European kingdom in the later middle ages. For a nation lacking such status in the modern world, the place of great nobles in the independent kingdom, as defenders of its liberties and existence or as a check on the development of the Scottish state, assumes a special importance. As patriots or robber barons no magnates have greater significance for the history of Scotland than the Douglas earls.

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