The Douglas Larder




Douglas larder
Reconstructin by Andrew Hillhouse
In 1307, at a time that Bruce's forces were hiding in the Carrick hills near Turnberry, James Douglas sought permission to launch an attack on his own property of Douglas castle, still at this time in English hands. Accompanied by only two men James made his way to his ancestral estates in Douglasdale. Here he sought out a Thomas Dickson, a loyal tenant who would have known him as a young boy. With Dickson's help he recruited more of the local men in order to ambush the castle garrison.


On Palm Sunday while the garrison were attending church service some of Douglas's men mingled with the congregation with others waiting outside, although the attack started prematurely Douglas was victorious, capturing or killing the entire garrison. Douglas and his men then retired to the castle where they sat down to the meal ready prepared for the garrison upon their return. After taking what was useful from the castle stores, the wells were poisoned and all remaining supplies were scattered across the cellars, the remaining prisoners were brought down and beheaded with their bodies joining those of their already deceased comrades on the pile of stores, the whole lot was then fired, this episode became known as the "Douglas Larder".


Although this may seem barbaric to people of today, it must be kept in mind that it had been Edward the English King who had started the policy of killing any Bruce supporters out of hand, usually by hanging, drawing and quartering, therefore  Douglas had to consider the safety of the local men who would remain behind, there must be no-one to identify them.


Douglas castle was soon reoccupied by the English but Douglas struck again. He hid a large body of men near the castle and then sent a smaller party to drive off the cattle belonging to the garrison, which were grazing outside of the castle walls. Thirlwall, according to Barbour the castles new commander, rode out with an attacking force. The Scots quickly rode off in the direction of the ambush, pursued by Thirlwall and his men. The Scots came out from cover and waylaid the English, who broke and fled for the safety of the castle. Most were cut down before achieving the safety the castle afforded, the remainder slammed shut the gates and took refuge inside. Douglas had not come to lay siege, therefore he and his force rode off leaving the English to retrieve their dead, including their commander Thirlwall.


Douglas's third attack on his own castle again employed a ruse to draw out the castles defenders. What appeared in the distance to be a line of pack-horses laden with hay and led by gowned country women were seen from the castle. Since fodder was running short for the castles horses a force set out to capture this baggage train. On approaching close, the figures threw aside their long enveloping cloaks to reveal an armed Scot's force. They dropped their bundles of hay, mounted their horses and turned to the attack. A larger force which once again had lain in wait also emerged to join the fight. Once again the English were completely overwhelmed, Douglas this time having a greater body of men with him attacked the castle. Barbour points out that the captain of the castle was a Sir John of Webton, found amongst his possesions was a letter from a lady who promised that if he could defend "ye adventuris castell off Douglas" (the dangerous castle Douglas) for a year she would marry him. It seems that this triggered off the chivalrous side of Douglas, as he permitted all the prisoners captured in the castle to depart for England unharmed. Then in line with King Robert's policy he razed his own castle to the ground to deny it's use to the enemy, and displaying his own loyalty to his King.


After these three attacks on Douglas castle, James Douglas's reputation as a figure of terror was greatly enhanced. To the English he seemed to be able to appear from nowhere, wreak havoc and then disappear once again. The English dubbed him "the Black Douglas".




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