In Gaelic, dubh means black, and glas means grey. These are the main shades used in the tartan. The earliest recorded Douglas seems to be William of Douglas, whose name appears as a witness to charters between 1175 and 1211 around Lanarkshire, but from whom he was descended is unknown.
An 1814 etching of Hermitage Castle. The stone castle was built by the 1st Earl of Douglas in the 14th century and was a Douglas stronghold until it was taken by the Crown in 1491
William’s son was Archibald Douglas, who had a prosperous existence before vanishing in 1239. His son Sir Andrew founded the senior cadet branch of the Douglas family while his other son fathered ‘the Good Sir James’. The Good Sir James was the greatest Captain under Robert the Bruce in the War of Independence and is held as the third of Scotland’s finest patriots only after Bruce and William Wallace.
During these times the house of Douglas had expanded in its power and properties enormously. He was killed by the Moors of Spain in 1330 while attempting to reach the Holy Lands, where his King, Robert, had requested on his deathbed that his heart be buried.
His son was slain at the battle of Halidon Hill by the English in 1333, as was Sir Archibald. So it was Archibald’s son William who became the first Earl of Douglas in 1358, and also Earl of Mar through marriage. When he was killed at Otterburn in 1388 (battle depicted top) the second proper line of the Black Douglases had ended.
However, Sir James had also left an illegitimate son, Archibald the Grim, who took his half-brother’s place and became the 3rd Earl of Douglas. He was greatly respected and died in 1400.
His son, the 4th Earl, died fighting the English with France’s Charles VII and his young grandsons were tricked and murdered in Edinburgh Castle by family enemies.
James, the 7th Earl, was a violent man and created many enemies, to his sons’ cost. The 8th Earl was stabbed to death by King James II. Three years later the King accused the family of treason and the earldom and entire estates of the Black Douglases were decimated.