Archibald  'The Grim', 3rd Earl of Douglas


coat of armsArchibald Douglas [called Archibald the Grim, Archibald the Terrible, lord of Galloway and third earl of Douglas (c.1320–1400), magnate, was the illegitimate son of Sir James Douglas, lord of Douglas (d. 1330). He took his third nickname from his and his father's dark complexions. As lord of Galloway and earl of Douglas Archibald was the effective founder of the Black Douglas dynasty which dominated southern Scotland between 1388 and 1455: he had two legitimate sons, Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas, and James Douglas, seventh earl of Douglas and first earl of Avondale, and one illegitimate son, William Douglas, lord of Nithsdale.

Early advancement

Despite his later success, information on Archibald's origins and early life is extremely limited. He was probably born about 1320 and, to escape capture by the English, he may have been sent to France along with his cousin William Douglas, future first earl of Douglas, and David II. Although after the death of his half-brother, William Douglas, in 1333, Archibald was the only surviving son of the famous James Douglas, as a bastard he was initially excluded from any rights to the extensive lands of his father. This changed in 1342, when Archibald appears for the first time in contemporary records, being named as a possible heir to the Douglas estates. His inclusion was almost certainly the work of his distant cousin Sir William Douglas of Lothian, in whose interests the entail of 1342 was drawn up. While the document did not achieve its intended purpose in 1342, namely the diversion of the family lands to Sir William, forty-six years later Archibald used it to claim the principal Douglas estates.

In the decade from 1342 Archibald Douglas followed Sir William, witnessing one of his charters (in which he is named as a kinsman) and visiting England as his agent and servant. The death of his master at the hands of William, first earl of Douglas, in 1353 led Archibald to enter the latter's following. It was with the earl that Archibald fought for the French at Poitiers in 1356, when he escaped capture only through the efforts of a fellow knight, William Ramsay. However, the next year Archibald was taken prisoner, again as an accidental consequence of the actions of Earl William. The earl seized Hermitage Castle in Liddesdale while Archibald was visiting England, and in revenge he was detained by the English. His release was probably connected to the liberation of David II from captivity in late 1357. If so, it formed the basis of a lasting alliance between the king and Archibald. Although he continued to appear in Earl William's entourage during the late 1350s, from 1360 Archibald was moving into royal service, acting as the king's sheriff of Edinburgh and keeper of Edinburgh Castle. Adherence to the king earned Archibald his first significant estates. David II's influence was behind Archibald's marriage to Joanna Murray (d. after 1401) in 1362, which then brought Douglas not just Joanna's own estates, but also the lands of her first husband and cousin, Thomas Murray. By 1371 these included the baronies of Duffus, Petty, Balvenie, and Aberdour in north-east Scotland and the lordships of Bothwell and Drumsargard and a number of other baronies in Lower Clydesdale, providing Archibald with the status and resources of a major magnate. Bothwell became Archibald's favourite residence.

Royal patronage also made rivals for Archibald, among them Robert Stewart and William, earl of Douglas. When these two led a rebellion against David II in 1363, Archibald's interests lay firmly with the king, whom he accompanied throughout the crisis. His reward took the form of new opportunities. From 1364 Archibald was warden of the west march with England, and his responsibilities there included the final subjection of the province of Galloway, where strong regional identity combined with vestigial loyalty to the Balliol family to cause repeated problems for the Bruce dynasty and its allies. By 1369 Archibald had completed his task, forcing the chief local kindreds to recognize his authority. In return the king granted him the lordship of Galloway between the rivers Nith and Cree, and Douglas built a massive tower house at Threave to act as his chief stronghold. Associated with this venture was Archibald's chief ally, James Douglas of Dalkeith, the nephew of Sir William Douglas, and during the 1360s David II patronized both men as potential rivals to William, earl of Douglas.

War leader

The death of David II in early 1371 seemed to pose a major threat to Archibald Douglas's prospects. The new king, Robert II, had no compelling reason to favour Archibald and quickly reached an understanding with William, earl of Douglas, who had at first opposed his accession. Although he was sent on an embassy to France in 1371, during the 1370s Archibald's position in the south-west was still at risk from the earl of Douglas and his allies, but the new lord of Galloway possessed the local backing to forestall any major challenge to his influence in the region. Indeed Archibald was able to extend that influence. In 1372 he bought the earldom of Wigtown, which neighboured his lordship of Galloway, from its lord, Thomas Fleming. Unlike Archibald, Fleming lacked the ability to control the leading kindreds of the area and, though Robert II may have had his own plans for the earldom, he accepted the purchase, recognizing the difficulties involved in supplanting Archibald.

These difficulties were increased by the gradual escalation of war with England, which had begun in the late 1360s with raids by Archibald and another protégé of David II, George Dunbar, earl of March, on English-held lands in the west and middle marches. By the early 1370s the earl of Douglas too was leading attacks against England. While the Stewart royal house was slow to participate, the conflict secured Archibald's place in the marches and the kingdom. This was in part because, despite his prosecution of the war, Archibald was also active in the border negotiations which attempted, without success, to maintain the truce which was being breached by both Scots and English. These negotiations show that Archibald retained his influence in the borders, since from the 1360s to the 1380s he was consistently named as the sole warden and commissioner for the Scots in the west march. His role in war and diplomacy was the basis for his integration into the new Stewart-dominated polity in Scotland. By the early 1380s the source of royal lordship in the south was John Stewart, earl of Carrick, the king's eldest son and lieutenant in the marches. Between 1381 and 1388 Archibald was drawn into Carrick's following, which also included the earls of Douglas and March, by a number of significant acts of patronage. Thus Archibald's bastard son, William, was made lord of Nithsdale, assigned a pension, and given the king's daughter, Egidia, as his wife. And a second marriage alliance linked Archibald and Carrick when, about 1387, Douglas's elder son from his marriage to Joanna Murray, Archibald, the future fourth earl of Douglas, married Carrick's daughter Margaret.

These marks of favour were indications of Archibald's importance as a military leader in the marches, as war with England grew in scale and intensity with the end of the truce in February 1384. To coincide with this Archibald, with Douglas and March, at once besieged and captured Lochmaben in Annandale in revenge for attacks by the garrison on his men in Galloway. His success deprived the English of their last stronghold in south-west Scotland. Archibald's value in war was recognized beyond Scotland. In 1385 the French distributed a war subsidy to the Scots king and nobility. Archibald's share of this was 5500 livres tournois, a sum equal to that of Carrick and second only to the new earl of Douglas, James Douglas. When the French sent an expedition to Scotland in 1385, Archibald showed his worth, meeting the French force in the west march and leading it in a raid on Carlisle. Much of the devastation suffered by the west march in the 1370s and 1380s was inflicted by Archibald. It was during a large-scale invasion of the English west march, by a substantial Scottish army led by Archibald and the earl of Fife, that Archibald received the news of the death of James, second earl of Douglas, at Otterburn in August 1388, leaving the Douglas estates without an undisputed heir.

The earldom of Douglas

During late 1388 and early 1389 Archibald the Grim or the Terrible as he was nicknamed, secured a share of this Douglas inheritance, which included the earldom and principal border lordships of the family. He did so despite the initial opposition of a number of leading figures, mostly relatives and followers of Earl James, who supported the claims of Malcolm Drummond, husband of Isabella, the previous earl's sister and, by normal legal standards, heir. Archibald's case rested on the 46-year-old entail of Douglas lands which limited succession to the male line and named him as ultimate heir. While Drummond sought recognition of his rights at the royal court, Archibald pressed his claim in the borders. In alliance once again with James Douglas of Dalkeith, who had his own claims to certain Douglas estates, and also with the backing of the king's second son, Robert Stewart, earl of Fife, Archibald extended his influence into Eskdale, Liddesdale, and Ettrick Forest during the autumn and winter. This success in winning over local men arguably depended less on the entail than on Archibald's pedigree as a war leader and his possession of the Douglas name, major considerations to communities in the front line of Anglo-Scottish warfare. As Archibald triumphed, Drummond's support at court crumbled. The latter's brother-in-law, Carrick, was succeeded as lieutenant by the earl of Fife, who had been on good terms with Archibald and whose interests centred on the north. Fife quickly identified Archibald as the man in possession and in April 1389 recognized him as earl of Douglas and lord of Eskdale, Lauderdale, Ettrick Forest, and the other entailed estates of the family.

Archibald Douglas spent the rest of his life defending these gains against a number of rivals. In 1389 Malcolm Drummond had in vain sought English help against Douglas, but on his return to Scotland he won support from the men round Carrick, who became king as Robert III in 1390. The focus of this faction was the king's son and heir, David Stewart, the new earl of Carrick. With this backing Drummond obtained rights to the unentailed portion of the Douglas estate, while David Stewart and his guardians began to interfere with Archibald's position in the marches. In the early 1390s Stewart himself claimed Nithsdale, following the death on crusade of Archibald's son William, who had held it by royal grant; he also took a leading role in border negotiations, squeezing out Archibald as march warden, and attracted a number of borderers to his own paid retinue. In addition to this pressure, Archibald found his position challenged by a new rival, George Douglas, earl of Angus, bastard son of William, first earl of Douglas, and his mistress Margaret Stewart, countess of Angus. From 1397 George put forward claims to the lands held by his father, and was assisted by Robert III, whose daughter Mary he married. Such claims threatened both Archibald and James Douglas of Dalkeith and were backed by force. In response Archibald seems to have transferred possession of his border lordships to his elder son, Archibald, master of Douglas, thereby ending any uncertainty over his advancing age and handing power to an active and aggressive lord who immediately renewed war with England. Royal politics confirmed Archibald's security. In late 1398 David Stewart, now duke of Rothesay, sought Archibald's support in his efforts to become lieutenant of the realm. The alliance was confirmed by Rothesay's marriage to Douglas's daughter Mary, and Archibald was left to settle the dispute between Douglas of Dalkeith and Angus, using the opportunity to build closer links with the latter. Archibald died at Bothwell Castle on Christmas eve 1400 and was buried at Bothwell collegiate church. He had secured his family's hold on the earldom of Douglas, while his son had already begun the search for still greater land and lordship.


Archibald Douglas's fame extended beyond Scotland. Like many of the Douglas family, he maintained close contact with France. He fought at Poitiers in 1356 and in 1369 and 1371 was sent as an ambassador to Charles V of France by successive Scottish kings. The scale of their payment to Archibald in 1385 suggests the French were impressed. Archibald was seen as an exceptional figure by other contemporaries. Jean Froissart wrote of him as a giant warrior, while the Scottish chronicler Walter Bower claimed that Archibald ‘surpassed almost all other Scots … in worldly wisdom, resolution and daring [and] in the additions to his inheritance and wealth’ (Bower, 8.35). Bower added praise for Archibald's judgements, the size of his retinue, and his generosity to the church, recording Douglas's foundation of collegiate churches at Bothwell and at Lincluden, near Dumfries. The expulsion of the existing community of nuns from Lincluden brought a characteristic element of force into his act of piety. The great rectangular tower house which he built at Threave helped to set a fashion for such residences among the Scottish landowning class, at every level, which would last into the sixteenth century. In view of his longevity and his mastery of the skills of war and politics in fourteenth-century Scotland Archibald Douglas ranks with Robert II and Robert Stewart, duke of Albany, for his impact on Scottish political society.


Lord Douglas' coat of arms quartered the arms of Douglas with the arms of the Lordship of Galloway. Upon marriage, he placed an inescutcheon of his wife's arms over all, as she was an heraldic heiress. Heraldically, it was described:
Quarterly, first and fourth Argent, a heart Gules and on a chief Azure three stars of the field (for Douglas); second and third Azure, a lion rampant Argent crowned Or armed and langued Gules (for Galloway); overall, an inescutcheon Azure charged with three stars Or (for Moray).

The arms below bear the motto What Tyde, which is that of Archibald 'The Grim', but are they really his? What tyde can be seen in the beak of the peacock on his seal.

Seal of 3rd Earl of Douglas 'the Grim'What tyde







Father: James " the Good" Lord Douglas b: 1286

Marriage 1 Joan\Johana (of Strathearn) Moray b: ABT. 1350

  • Married: 1362
  1. Sir William Douglas, (Lord of Nithsdale)  b: ABT. 1364
  2. Archibald Tyneman 4th Earl of Douglas b: ABT. 1370
  3. James the Gross 7th Earl of Douglas b: 1370
  4. • Eleanor Douglas b: ABT. 1367 = William Fraser
  5. • Marjory (Mary) Douglas  b: ABT. 1377 = David, Duke of Rothesay
  6. • Catherine Douglas = William (lord of Dirleton) de Vaux

• Possible illegitimate son: William Douglas of Leswalt

• and/or William, Lord of Nithsdale

M.H. Brown's biography of Archibald, 5th Earl, he refers to James Douglas of Balvenie as his uncle. This would, presumably, make him a son of the 3rd Earl.




1.  From Doug Hickling:

"You show Archibald the Grim (3rd Earl of Douglas) Douglas as the son of William (le Hardi) Douglas and Elizabeth Steward. Both CP and SP show that Archibald the Grim was the bastard grandson of William (le Hardi) Douglas and his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander, High Steward of Scotland.

Archibald's father was James "Lord of Douglas" called the good James (Sir) and his natural mother is unknown. Your showing of the wife of Archibald the Grim and his wife and son James the Gross is in accord with CP and SP.

These authorities also agree with your listing of the parentage of Sir William (Lord of Nithsdale) Douglas but the comments made above as to the missing generation between William le Hardi and Archibald the Grim apply here also."

CP=The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the UK, Extant, Extinct or Dormant. By G.E.C, New edition, revised and much enlarged. Edited by The Hon. Vicary Gibbs, with the assistance of Arthur Doubleday. 1916, St Catherine Press London

SP=THE SCOTS PEERAGE edited by James (Sir) Balfour Paul, 1904

2.  From: JR Tomlin

I. M. vis's biography, Froissart's Chron contribution = Archibald the Grim was not born until after his father left Scotland for the crusades, possibly not until after his father's death which makes his birth at approximately 1330


3.  Nothing is documented as to how the Black Douglases first acquired Balvenie Castle, but the most likely account is that it came with the marriage of the heiress Joanna Murray to Archibald 'the Grim' , 3rd Earl of Douglas in 1362.


See also:
•  Chateau Gailliard

•  Timeline

•  Standoff at Tantallon Castle


 Archibald, 3rd Earl of Douglas, Lord of Galloway and Guardian of Scotland

Part of the frieze in the Great Hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in Edinburgh.




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