Archibald Douglas. 8th earl of Angus, 5th earl of Morton




Douglas, Archibald, eighth earl of Angus and fifth earl of Morton (c.1555–1588), magnate, was the only son of David Douglas, seventh earl of Angus (c.1515–1557), and Margaret Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton of Samuelston, a natural son of James Hamilton, first earl of Arran. He was only about two years old when his father died, and in his early years his uncle James Douglas, fourth earl of Morton, supervised Angus's affairs. Since he was an infant this would in any circumstance have been necessary, but the support of a powerful figure like Morton was doubly important because of the bitter legal wrangle which developed over his inheritance with Margaret, countess of Lennox, the daughter of his great-uncle Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus. This prolonged dispute was resolved only in May 1565 when the countess, eager to obtain Morton's support for the wedding of her son Lord Darnley to Mary, queen of Scots, renounced all her claims. A mutual contract between the two parties confirmed Angus in his possession of Tantallon Castle, one of the most formidable strongholds in the lowlands, the regality of Bothwell, in Lanarkshire, and ‘the Landis, lordschipps and baroneys of Abernethy, Jedburgh Forest, Bonkle, Preston, Dryburgh and Selkirk’ (Fraser, 2.261). He had established himself as a territorial magnate in central and south-east Scotland.

Morton's influence is also evident in Angus's education, which took place at St Andrews University under the tutelage of the provost of New College, John Douglas, a kinsman and protégé of his uncle, who subsequently became the first protestant archbishop of St Andrews. While the future primate was no radical, it is quite possible that Angus was influenced by Douglas's tutoring, since he undoubtedly became a devout Calvinist, indeed, he was unusual among the Scottish nobility of this period in the earnestness of his religious observance. As head of one of the principal families in Scotland, Angus played a leading role in a number of ceremonial occasions; in spite of his youth he carried the crown at the state opening of parliament in 1567 and again in 1571. But his career took off when Morton became regent in November 1572. One of Angus's main responsibilities during Morton's regency was to assist his uncle with the administration of the borders, an area of Scotland with a long tradition of disorder and unrest, where between 1573 and 1580 Angus held a number of appointments. In 1573, for instance, he was appointed sheriff of Berwickshire, one of the key administrative posts in the crown's possession while from July 1575 to February 1576 he was warden of Liddesdale, subsequently holding a similar position on the west march between May 1577 and March 1578. But his most important office, one placing him in overall control of the whole region, was as lieutenant from July 1574 to March 1578. In that capacity he took part in several judicial and military operations, notably Morton's expedition to Lauder and Jedburgh in November 1576; on that occasion Angus was personally in charge of the campaign against local lawbreakers. Morton's deposition as regent in March 1578 spurred Angus, who had been recently rewarded with the hereditary stewardship of Fife and the captaincy of Falkland Palace, into considerable activity on his uncle's behalf. Throughout the crisis he acted as the latter's spokesman and also kept him in touch with developments at Stirling, where James VI's parliament was bringing the regency to an end.

In summer 1578, with Morton effecting a political comeback, his nephew also returned to play a significant role in the new administration. In August 1578 Angus was put in command of the forces which Morton had assembled against the league raised against him by the disaffected earls of Argyll and Atholl. The rival armies faced each other near Falkirk but Angus's military capabilities were not on this occasion put to the test, since the parties accepted a truce and signed a joint agreement ending hostilities. Angus was also prominently involved in the vendetta pursued by Morton's government against the Hamilton family in 1579, being one of the commissioners appointed to enforce the measures prescribed against the outlawed family.

Although Angus reputedly had some kind of disagreement with Morton during 1580, he made strenuous efforts in support of his uncle following the ex-regent's arrest on 31 December 1580, an event at which Angus was present. Having abandoned plans to rescue Morton on his way to incarceration in Dumbarton Castle prior to his trial, Angus concentrated his energies into rallying noblemen sympathetic to his cause and making appeals for assistance to Thomas Randolph, the English ambassador, and Lord Hunsdon, the governor of Berwick. In the end nothing significant came of these endeavours, but his activities did result in March 1581 in the new administration of Lennox and Arran ordering him into exile beyond the River Spey. Initially he ignored this decree, but when it became obvious that his support was dwindling—a large number of border lairds withdrew their allegiance by renouncing their bonds of manrent in March—Angus reconsidered his position. Consequently, on 8 July 1581, six days after his uncle's execution, Angus and his followers arrived at Carlisle, to be taken under the protection of Henry, Lord Scrope, governor of that city and warden of the English west march, and as such an official with whom he had been on amicable terms since his own years as a border administrator.

Morton's downfall signalled the start of a bewildering series of fluctuations in Angus's fortunes, the outcome of the complex religious struggle within Scotland in these years. The immediate consequence was a period of exile in England. By summer 1581 Angus had moved to London, where he relayed his version of events to Elizabeth and her ministers. He also, apparently, became sufficiently friendly with Sir Philip Sidney for the latter to show him a manuscript copy of his Arcadia. Then in August 1582 the ultra-protestant faction to which Angus was aligned, headed by William Ruthven, earl of Gowrie, seized James VI and ousted the Lennox–Arran administration. Although the Ruthven raiders survived in power for less than a year, during their short ascendancy Angus received a royal pardon and was reconciled with the young king. He also persuaded James to order the removal of Morton's head from the Edinburgh tolbooth so that it be ‘layed in a fyne cloath, convayed honorabilie and layed in the kist where his bodie was buried’ (Calderwood, 3.692).

By summer 1583, following James VI's escape from the control of the Ruthven faction and a comeback by Arran and his supporters, Angus found himself in an awkward position. Once again ordered to take himself beyond the Spey he spent the winter of 1583–4 in Elgin. However, his involvement in an unsuccessful coup by the Ruthven party in April 1584 forced him to leave the country altogether and return to England. There followed a year of frantic intrigue by Angus and other Scottish exiles against Arran's regime. They were aided and abetted in their plotting by Elizabeth's minister Sir Francis Walsingham and by her Scottish ambassador, Sir Edward Wotton, both of whom had doubts of Arran's political reliability in England's conflict with Spain. The eventual upshot was that in October 1585 Elizabeth agreed to allow Angus and his associates to return to Scotland to assist in the overthrow of Arran. Their capture early in November of the town and castle of Stirling signified that Arran had been ousted, just as the return of their estates shortly afterwards to Angus, Mar, and the Hamiltons confirmed that Arran's opponents were back in royal favour.

These events heralded another upturn in Angus's career, and for the rest of his life (apart from an interval early in 1587 when Arran made a brief recovery) he once again played a significant role in the government of Scotland. Thus he was prominent at traditional ceremonial events such as the opening of parliament in July 1587 when he carried the royal sceptre. He was also restored to his old position in the borders, being appointed lieutenant and justiciar for the whole region on 2 November 1586. Moreover, he became warden of the west march from around March 1587.

While he was lieutenant, Angus took part in four judicial raids on the borders, during which he held courts and dispensed justice over the length and breadth of the region. In January 1587, for example, he held a court of justice at Jedburgh at which he had sixteen offenders hanged and took pledges for good behaviour from a number of others. In his last expedition, which took place in May–June 1588 and was directed against the rebellious Maxwell family, he accompanied James VI and the chancellor, John Maitland, into south-west Scotland. Lord Maxwell himself was arrested and several of his strongholds were captured.

Angus died on 4 August 1588 at Smeaton, near Dalkeith. The latter had been one of the principal residences of his uncle, whose lands and title Angus had inherited in July 1587, following ratification in parliament. His body was buried at Abernethy (Perthshire), a Douglas burgh of barony since 1459, although his heart was apparently interred separately at Douglas (Lanarkshire), another family possession. In all likelihood he died of tuberculosis, although Angus's biographer and younger contemporary, David Hume of Godscroft, made some curious references to sorcery and to the activities of a certain Agnes Sampson, who would feature in the witchcraft trials conducted by James VI in 1591. Angus married three times. His first wife was Mary Erskine, daughter of the seventeenth earl of Mar, whom he married at Stirling on 13 June 1573. She died less than two years later, on 3 May 1575, and Angus married, on 25 December following, Margaret Leslie, daughter of the fourth earl of Rothes; he was divorced from her in 1587 because of her liaison with John Graham, third earl of Montrose. Neither of these marriages produced children. Immediately afterwards, on 29 July 1587, Angus took as his third wife Jean (d. 1608×10), widow of Robert Douglas and daughter of John Lyon, eighth Lord Glamis. Their daughter, Margaret, who died aged fifteen, was born after her father's death. For want of a male heir Angus's title was inherited by the nearest claimant, Sir William Douglas of Glenbervie, great-grandson of the fifth earl.

Angus was held in high regard by contemporary churchmen, especially those who shared his ultra-protestant inclinations. Thus the presbyterian historian David Calderwood was to declare that Angus was ‘more religious nor anie of his predecessors, yea, nor anie of all the erlis in the countrie much beloved of the godlie’ (Calderwood, 3.498). Archbishop John Spottiswoode, who obviously did not share Calderwood's views on church polity, nevertheless described Angus in glowing terms as
a nobleman in place and rank, so in worth and virtue, above other subjects; of a comly personage, affable, and full of grace a lover of justice, peaceable sober and given to all goodness and which crowned all his virtues, truly pious. (History of the Church, 2.371)
The diarist James Melville, too, was greatly impressed by Angus when he met him in England in 1584.
This nobleman was felon weill myndit, godlie, devot, wyse and grave, and by and besyde their comoun was given to reiding and privat prayer and meditation and ordinarlie efter dinner and super haid an houres and sum tyme mair nor twa houres, conference with me about all maters; namely concerning our Kirk and comoun-weill, what war the abusses thairof and whow they might be amendit. (Autobiography and Diary, 185)
But all these eulogies notwithstanding, Angus's impact on the affairs of the kirk was marginal, and it is as a border administrator that he principally deserves recognition. In a letter written in August 1577 Lord Scrope, the English warden and Angus's border colleague, wrote, ‘I am well assured of your lordschippis honourable meaning and intention to reformacion of such disorders’ (Fraser, 4.232). His words underline the high regard in which Angus was held, and show that his contribution to the difficult task of taming the borders was a substantial one.


  • Birth: 1555
  • Death: 4 AUG 1588

Father: David (7th Earl of Angus) Douglas b: ABT. 1515
Mother: Margaret Hamilton

Marriage 1 Jean (of Glamis) Lyon

Marriage 2 Mary Erskine
  • Married: 13 JUN 1573

Marriage 3 Margaret Leslie
  • Married: 25 DEC 1575


See also:

•  The Earls of Morton
•  The Marriage of John, Lord Maxwell, and Elizabeth Douglas
•  The Marian civil war in Scotland (1568–1573) 

This page was last updated on 19 January 2022

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