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the black douglas

THE BLACK DOUGLAS—The Good Sir James Clan Douglas is an ancient clan or noble house from the Scottish Lowlands... The Douglases were one of Scotland's most powerful families, and certainly the most prominent family in lowland Scotland during the Late Middle Ages, often holding the real power behind the throne of the Stewart Kings... The heads of the House of Douglas held the titles of the Earl of Douglas (Black Douglases) and later the Earl of Angus (Red Douglases) “Their very clan name, strictly considered, signifies “the black man”” “”Black Douglas" must at one time have been a term interchangeable with "a black man" “Wherever you encounter the Black Douglas in history or tradition you will find he is a Black man" SOURCE; (David MacRitchie, "Ancient and Modern Britons. Vol.1"; p. 207; 1884) The Earls of Douglas, chiefs of Clan Douglas, and their successors claimed descent from Sholto Douglas... “Sholto Du Glas; in English, “Behold the black or swarthy-coloured man;” from which, the story goes, he was named Sholto the Douglas” SOURCE; (John Burke, “A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire: Volume 1”; 1833) “The Good Sir James Douglas (c. 1280-1330), called also 'the Black Douglas' from his swarthy complexion, was Bruce's greatest captain in the War of Independence” SOURCE; (David Patrick, Francis Hindes Groome, “Chambers's Biographical Dictionary: The Great of All Times and Nations”; 1907) The good Sir James was the most loyal of all Bruce’s knighthood, he came from a race that boasted its ancient, aboriginal blood, and that bore a surname which signified “The Black Man” Although by his time the family of Douglas had, likely enough, made more than one alliance with the whites, he himself was “of a black and swart complexion,” according to Godscroft (1558–1629) For which cause, he was known to his foes as “The Black Douglas” Thus, although his high birth, and all the chivalrous qualities attributed to him by Barbour, rendered him a splendid specimen of a brave and courteous gentleman, and although he died in battle with the Saracens of Spain, he was actually, in some degree, a Moor or Saracen himself… And farther, this “Moorish” blood must have run in the veins of the chiefs of his house for fully a century after his death… For the Black Douglases, or those of Liddesdale, retained the headship of their clan until the year 1455, when they were overthrown, and their estates forfeited in favor of the younger and rival branch of Angus…(Red Douglases) He belonged to the oldest sept of his clan, that known as the Black Douglases, a term which proves to be tautological when analyzed, since Dubh-glas signifies “the black swarthy” man… As already stated, Godscroft remarks that “he is said to have been of a black and swart complexion” This dusky skin earned for him, say the historians, the title of The Black Douglas; and although “the good Sir James” to his friends, he was such a terror to his foes that their most troublesome children could at once be hushed into good behavior by a single threat of a visitation from that dreaded bugbear, The Black Douglas… So say the run of historical writers… Not only was “the Good Sir James” known as The Black Douglas, but so also was his grandson, a son of Archibald The Grim… So, apparently, was the eighth Earl of his line, who was killed at Stirling in the year 1452, by King James the Second…

More than this, it seems very probable that Archibald The Grim, who has just been referred to, was really so called because he was Archibald The Black… This is actually stated by one writer, who says that “on account of his swarthy complexion [he] was commonly called ‘the grim:’” Accordingly, we have three successive chiefs of this clan, and another in the following century, all styled The Black Douglas,—or what is equal to that,—on account of their swarthy complexion… There is thus no room for doubting that the chiefs of The Black Douglas tribe were styled The Black Douglas because of their dusky skins,—and not from any accidental circumstance… Wherever you encounter The Black Douglas in history or tradition you find that he is a black man…

It is plain, then, that several (at least) of the chiefs of the Black Douglas clan were themselves Black skinned men… The last chief of the black division of the Douglases, the main stem of the Douglas tree, was James, ninth Earl… He had succeeded his elder brother in 1452, and his first act, after assuming the chiefship, was to take up arms against his king, James the Second, in order to avenge the deaths of his brother and the sixth Earl, both slain by the king or his partisans…


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