Local History

Douglas: the name and the History From Pre-Roman Times to The Wars of Independence

The oldest evidence of a human presence in the region comes from the neolithic period (a stone axe-head found on the Paigie Hill and ‘blasting’ fragments from stone-age furnaces in Glentaggart).

Information about the Douglas area before and during the Roman period is thin on the ground. It is most likely that the Brythonic tribe who resided in this region were the Damnonii. This is becuase Ptolemney suggests that they were present in both North Ayrshire and Clydesdale: since Douglasdale cuts a path through the Southern Uplands, linking these two plains, it is most likely that Douglasdale was a part of Damnonii territory.
However if Douglasdale was permanently inhabited at this point then the residents were likely on the frontier with the neighboring Selgovae tribe who some historians reckon also had a presence in or nearby the area.

It is thought that the nearby town of Sanquhar was a notable Selgovae settlement and some historians reckon that the nearby Roman Fort at Crawford was built not only to guard the road to the Antonine Wall but also to oust Selgovae resistance to Roman rule. This is advocated by historians for three reasons.
Firstly the Romans built only one fort in the territory of another neighboring tribe, the Novantae, who we know provided little resistance to the Roman Empire. The theory, therefore, is that there are so many forts in Selgovae territory because they were built to quell rebellion: therefore Crawford’s fort -which is not far from Douglasdale- may very well be part of this measure. This is somewhat corroborated by the popular theory amongst historians that the Selgovae were a part of the Brigantes tribe who we know offered severe resistance to Rome.
Secondly the Arbory Hill Fort has yet to be assigned to a specific tribe but it is most likely it was a Selgovae settlement. We know from Roman records they were far more likely to construct such megaliths than the other tribes in Southern Scotland.

Regardless, The Roman road is known to have passed near to where Douglasdale meets Clydesdale and so it is incredibly likely that the Roman presence was felt by the people of Douglasdale. However Roman presence here would have been short lived: aside from two forts which remained occupied (not continuously) until 370 AD the Roman presence in the area disappeared behind Hadrian’s wall during the latter decades of the 2nd century.

Out of the Damnonii came the Kingdom of Alt Clud, later known as the Kingdom of Strathclyde. This was a Cumbric speaking domain and Douglasdale fell within its broders. Douglas would have continued to be Strathclyde territory until that kingdom was conquered by the Kingdom of Scotland by 1070. It was during this period that Christianity came to Douglasdale, most likely via Galloway where Saint Ninian had spread the gospel during the 4th century. Galloway was the Christian Stronghold North of Hadrian’s wall. We know from Saint Patrick that by the 5th centruy the Kingdom of Strathclyde was dominated by Christianity.

The pre-Gaidhlig name for the Dubh glass (the dark water or the black stream) -the river we now call the Douglas Water- is now lost to history but we do know that the village got it’s name from the river it is built beside. This is fairly common in Scotland; for example we also see this with the river and the village of Annan.
In Scotland it is also common to see the adoption of a place name as one’s own surname; the Douglas name is most likely derived from the name of the village which is itself named after the river.

Gaeldom came to Douglas during the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. At this time Galloway was becoming a Gaidhlig dominated region due to the influx of norse-gaels to the area. It is from here that Gaidhlig spread to the Douglas area, ultimately resulting in Douglas receiving the new Gaidhlig name Dubh Glass. This probably occurred sometime between the 7th and 9th Century. It is possible that Gaidhlig remained thinly spread in this region as there is some evidence to suggest that Cumbric and Old English (oweing to the proximity to the Kingdom of Northumbria) were spoken here long after the collapse of the Kingdom of Strathclyde -for example, Lanark only 12 miles away is theorised to be derived from the Cumbric Lanerc meaning ‘clear space/glade’.

Galloway, centuries later, fell within the borders of the Douglas family’s titles, but in the 1100’s it is probable that, instead of being a part of the kingdom of Scotland, Douglasdale was a vassal of Galloway. We do not know for certain that this was the case but historians reckon that William I, Lord of Douglas, was a vassal of the Lords of Galloway (we know that Douglas’ men fought alongside Galloway’s during the reign of William I of Scotland). If this is the case then Douglasdale fully became part of the Kingdom of Scotland over a century -at least- after the Kingdom of Strathclyde had been absorbed by the King of Scots. Douglasdale would have joined Scotland’s Kingdom no later than sometime between the end of Donald Meic Uilleim’s rebellion against William I ‘The Lion’ of Scotland in 1187 and the annexation of Galloway into the Kingdom of Scotland in 1234. It was in this rebellion that William I of Douglas fought alongside the Lord of Galloway on William The Lion’s side.

William I, Lord of Douglas, is the first to enter history bearing the Douglas name. He appears as a witness to a charter of Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, in 1174 in favour of the monks of Kelso Abbey. Here he is mentioned as being in possession of the Lands of Douglas.

Mention of the Parish of Douglas is found in a charter by William’s son, Bricius de Douglas, Bishop of Moray. This is dated from between 1203-1222 and is addressed to the monks of Kelso Abbey. The bishop’s brother, Freskin Parson of Douglas, is mentioned as a witness. In order for Douglas to have been established as a parish it is most likely that the village, and its church, had been in existence for -at least- much of the previous century.
Further mention of the village of Douglas is made in regards to a local man who fought in the battle of largs in
1263.

In the case of Freskin and Bricius we see that they are referred to as ‘de Douglas’ or ‘of Douglas’. This can either mean ‘of the village, Douglas’ or ‘of the family, Douglas’. It is most likely that in this case the Douglas family is what is being referenced as these brothers were likely the sons of William I, Lord of Douglas who we see referred to as William of Douglas in older documents. They would have inherited the surname ‘of Douglas’ or ‘de Douglas’ from him. The ‘of’ or ‘de’ therefore originally meant ‘from the village of Douglas’. This probably evolved to mean ‘of the family’ or ‘of the clan’ before it was dropped by members of the Douglas Clan.

It is likely however that local commoners -non-relatives of the house of Douglas, a noble house by at the earliest the late 1100’s- would have also adopted the name Douglas or ‘of Douglas’, particularly when they were outside the village. Added to this confusion is the practice of commoners to adopt their chieftain’s or noble’s surname.

Regardless, the evidence would appear to suggest that the Douglas family name began when the new lords of the Douglas area, William I or one of his ancestors, adopted that name.

It has been theorised that the patriarch of the Douglas family was a mythical knight, Sholto. This, however, has been greatly contested. Yet the confusion medieval historians have made between Sholto and William I may indicate that William I was actually the family patriarch -Sholto and William I share a strikingly similar story, albeit separated by almost half a century.

The story of Sholto survives to the modern day via the historical works of David Hume of Godscroft, a Douglas family history buff of the middle ages. He himself Gleaned his information from the works of Buchanan and Boece. Godscroft’s narrative explains that during the reign of a King Solvathius, Sholto was instrumental in putting down an uprising by a usurper, Donald Bain, in 767AD. He is referred to as Sholto Du Glass in this passage and he is said to have received the lands that were later called after him which we now know as Douglas.

However most historians agree that this origin tale is mythic. Yet they also accept that William I, Lord of Douglas was indeed active at the time of a rebellion against William I of Scotland by the Meic Uilleim, under their chief Domnall mac Uilleim. The medieval historians may have confused the mythic Donald Bain with Domnall Bán mac Domnaill.

This may be corroborated by the facts that the Douglas region’s men marched with those of the leader of King William I of Scotland’s retaliatory forces, Lochlann, Lord of Galloway. Indeed, William I may have been a vassal of Lochhlann. Furthermore, all of William’s sons with the exception of the eldest later held privileged ecclesiastic positions within the former Meic Uilleim territories in Moray -hence Bricius de Douglas’ position of Bishop of Moray.

Nevertheless, we do not yet know the names of William’s ancestors or to whom the lands of Douglas belonged to before him and so it all remains a mystery. It is most likely that they were descendants of Flemish immigrants to Scotland, during the reign of David I (1124-53).

William I of Douglas died in 1214. And was succeeded by his son, Archibald.
Archibald was, in turn, succeeded by his son William Longleg until 1274. It is possible that his son, Hugh, inherited his titles but it is also possible that he pre-deceased him.
Regardless we do know that by the end of the decade William ‘le Hardy’ Douglas was in control of the estate.
Le Hardy possibly participated in the 8th crusade alongside David I Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, and other Scots nobility in 1270. However there is no evidence to support this other than a passage by David Hume of Godscroft who actually attributes the crusading to another William Douglas.
Le Hardy was prominent during the wars for independence and so too was his son, James Douglas.
James, often referred to as ‘The Black Douglas’ or ‘The Guid Sir James’ took Robert Bruce’s heart on crusade.
On route to the holy land he learned of the Spanish wars of reconquest against the moors and went to lend aid. He died at the battle of Teba in August 1330.
The next chapter of Douglas history began almost immediately.

The Douglas family grew in status and power until it even rivaled the Scottish Monarchy.
The family also split between two factions, the red and the black.
Following the wars of independence the history of Douglas and the Douglas family is dominated by their ever growing strength and influence; and their eventual fall.
But history trudges on.
Outside of battles over political power everyday life continued in the village.
Agriculture, war, mining, colonial activity, the reformation, the covenanting times, Jacobite rebellions, the world wars: all left their mark on Douglas history, and -equally as important- Douglas left its mark on them!