Le Hardy was knighted before 1288, when he was called upon by Sir Andrew Moray to imprison his uncle Sir Hugh de Abernethy at Douglas Castle. Abernethy had been party to the murder of Donnchadh III, Earl of Fife, one of the six Guardians of Scotland.
his seal is on the Treaty of Salisbury approving the putative marriage between Margaret, Maid of Norway with Edward of Caernarfon, and was amongst those nobles that hammered out the deal that would become the Treaty of Birgham. At Norham, in June 1291, the Guardians accepted King Edward as Lord Paramount of Scotland. Whilst the negotiations were progressing, regarding the choice of the next King of Scots, Edward was staying with Sir Walter de Lindsay at Thurston Manor, near Innerwick, when William Douglas paid an oath of fealty to him in the chapel there. By the end of 1291, Douglas had fallen again into disfavour and had his lands of Douglasdale forfeited to the English King. Edward appointed his own creatures as baronial officers and made one Master Eustace de Bikerton, Parson of St. Bride’s Kirk, the spiritual home and burying ground of the Douglases. John Balliol was declared King of Scots on 17 November 1292, and called his first parliament on 10 February 1293. Douglas along with Robert de Brus, Earl of Carrick, Aonghus Mór mac Domhnaill, Lord of Islay, John, Earl of Caithness failed to attend and were proclaimed defaulters. Douglas attended the second parliament of King John, but was imprisoned again for failing to comply with royal officers enforcing a judgement against him, and imprisoning said officers in Douglas Castle. Whilst in prison Douglas was duty bound to be at his lands in Essex, in order to provide service for Edward, his failure cost him £20 sterling in fines.
Upset at the humiliations heaped upon John Balliol and the ineffectiveness of his rule, a new Guardianship was created in 1295. These men concluded a treaty at Paris and ratified it at Dunfermline between the Kingdoms of Scotland, France and Norway, that would become known as the Auld Alliance. Douglas siding with his countrymen, was appointed Governor of Berwick upon Tweed, the most important commercial centre in Scotland at the time. When the Guardians threw down the Gauntlet to Edward, he arrived at the walls of Berwick with 5000 Cavalry and 30,000 Infantry. There followed one of the most brutal episodes in British history, the Sack of Berwick. The English army took the town by storm on Good Friday 1296 and gave no quarter to the inhabitants. The slaughter lasted for two days and the estimated death toll was between 7,500 and 8,500 men women and children. Appalled and after a resolute defence, the garrison of Berwick Castle under the leadership of William Douglas, gave themselves up to the mercy of King Edward. The garrison were freed and were allowed to march out of the castle with their arms, but Douglas was imprisoned and the last of his estates in Essex forfeit. (Douglas’ two-year-old son Hugh had been taken into ward by the Sheriff of Essex at Stebbing, one of the forfeited properties)
Douglas was imprisoned in the Hog’s Tower at Berwick castle and stayed there until gaining his freedom by appending his seal to the Ragman Roll, in common with the majority of the Scots nobility. Within days of his swearing his new oath of Fealty to Edward, Douglas was restored to his lands in Scotland, but not those in England. To add salt to the wound, Douglas’ Land at Fawdon and others in Northumberland were made over to his old foe Gilbert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus, Douglas had no reluctance in joining the patriotic party.
The Umfravilles’ latterly forfeited Earldom of Angus was granted in 1389 to Douglas’ great-grandson, George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus.
Following the Battle of Dunbar, a large section of the Scots nobility were languishing in prison in England. The countryside was fomenting and there was talk of a new champion for the Scots people, William Wallace of Elderslie had started his campaign. Douglas was summoned to attend King Edward in London on 7 July 1297, with fifty other barons to accompany him on an expedition to Flanders to aid Guy of Dampierre, Count of Flanders against Philip le Bel King of France. Douglas refused and joined company with Wallace. Most Scots magnates thought that Wallace was beneath their dignity, but Douglas had no such compunction. He was the first nobleman to join with Sir William Wallace in 1297 in rebellion; combining forces at Sanquhar, Durisdeer and later Scone Abbey where the two liberated the English treasury. With that booty Wallace financed further rebellion. Wallace joined his forces with that of Sir Andrew Moray and together they led the patriot army in the Battle at Stirling Bridge fought on 11 September 1297. They were joined by other patriots such as Robert Wishart Bishop of Glasgow, and the Morays of Bothwell, with a contingent of Douglases at the national muster at Irvine, North Ayrshire.
When Edward heard of Douglas’ supposed treason he commanded the future King of Scots Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, then governor of Carlisle for the English to take retribution. Bruce swept into Douglasdale at the king’s order. However, young Bruce, who was twenty-two years old at the time, stated, “I must join my own people and the nation in which I was born.” He then was joined by the men of Douglas and Lady Douglas, proceeding to join the rebels at Irvine.
The third time Douglas was held a prisoner of Edward Plantagenet, was after 9 July 1297 when he was accused by Sir Henry de Percy of breaking his covenant of peace with Edward that was agreed to in the document known as the Capitulation at Irving Water, where Douglas was in the company of Robert Brus, Alexander de Lindsay and John and James (the latter three his brothers in law). By the time Sir Andrew de Moray and William Wallace won their great victory at Stirling, Sir William the Hardy was again Edward’s prisoner at Berwick Castle; staying in what was now called ‘Douglas Tower’.
Following Wallace’s success at Stirling Bridge the English fled Berwick on Tweed with Douglas and another Scottish prisoner Thomas de Morham; both were later committed to the Tower of London on 12 October 1297 with Douglas meeting his end there in 1298 due to mistreatment.