The Good Sir James Douglas was King Robert the Bruce’s right-hand man during the Scottish Wars for Independence. As a Douglas descendant I recently visited this part of Scotland on a pilgrimage with my sons to pay our respects to this great man. Douglas not only fought with the rank and file at the great victory at Bannockburn, he also destroyed his own castle so the English could no longer occupy it. For this and his other valiant and brutal actions against them, the English called him “the Black Douglas.” When we visited Douglas Castle near the town of Douglas in South Lanarkshire, we visited the remains of the castle, which now sits in a bucolic field surrounded by sheep. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel about James and his castle entitled “Castle Dangerous.”
The Good Sir James and some of his descendants are buried in Douglas at St. Bride’s Kirk. Actually it is uncertain if his bones were returned from his last battle in Spain, where he had stopped to fight the Moors with the Spanish on the way to take King Robert the Bruce’s embalmed heart on crusade to the Holy Land. Seeing himself surrounded and cut off from his men, Douglas charged into the battle, throwing the casket containing the heart ahead of him, and saying something akin to “Forward great heart! Wherever thou goest I will always follow!” Although he died in southern Spain that day, Bruce’s heart was returned to Scotland and buried in Melrose Abbey, and James’s embalmed heart was returned to Douglas and buried in the church. His effigy, showing him as a knight, is also inside the church, and it was a high point of our trip to pay our respects to him there.
We also visited the battlefield at Bannockburn, where the Scottish won their independence at last, and greatly enjoyed the new high tech museum. We interacted with and listened to Sir James’s digital recreation tell his story (see photo at top of article), participated in a computerized version of the fight in the Battle Room, and later bought a highly enjoyable biography of this Scottish hero.
It is a trip I will always remember, and perhaps one day me and my two Scottish knights will repeat it.
“He rode yin nicht when it was mirk doon by the leopard’s lair
He chased the tyrant in his shirt around the field sae fair
Gan pack yer bags ye English loons, gan tak ye banners hame
Gan tak yer king wha sought oor croon and lost the bloody game!”
Roy Williamson of the Corries,The Black Douglas, 1973