Marriage of John, Lord Maxwell and Elizabeth Douglas

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The Marriage of John, Lord Maxwell, and
Elizabeth Douglas in 1572. By Mr David C. Herries.

In an important unfinished work on the eastern part of Dumfriesshire by Mr Robert Bruce Armstrong, of which the first part was pubUshed in 1883 under the title of "A History of Liddesdale, Eskdale, Ewesdale, Wauchopedale, and the Debateable Land," there occurs this passage (pp. 81-82) :

'' A custom, although not peculiar to the border, may here be noticed. At the junction of the White and Black Esk there is a place still called ' Hand-fasting- Haugh,' where in former days a fair was held, to which the young people of both sexes resorted in great numbers, between whom engagements were then made by joining hands, or ' hand-fasting, ' The connection so formed was binding for one year only, at the expiration of which time either party was at liberty to withdraw from the engagement, or in the event of both being satisfied, the ' hand-fasting- ' was renewed for life. The custom is mentioned by several authors, and was by no means confined to the lower classes, John, Lord Maxwell, and a sister of the Earl of Angus being thus contracted in January, 1572."

What is found in such a work as this if uncontradicted is apt to be copied into lesser works. I propose, therefore, to examine that part of this passage which relates to Lord Maxwell, and I think I shall be able to show that it is founded on a mistaken interpretation of an expression used by a writer, who is believed to have been a contemporary of this Lord Maxwell.

We are asked by Mr Armstrong to believe that a daughter of the great house of Angus—a girl, as we shall see, who was under age and in whose concerns such potentates as the Regent and the Lord Chancellor of Scotland were interested was allowed in January, 1572, to go to " Hand-stingHaugh," there to be taken by Lord Maxwell on trial for a year with a view to legal matrimony if that young gentleman —himself a minor—should graciously approve of her at the end of that time. Mr Armstrong gives as his authority Chalmers's Caledonia, vol. iii. note p. 104. What Chalmers says is as follows^ : —" John, Lord Maxwell, was contracted to the Earl of Angus's sister by ' hand-fis ting,' in January, 1572, and Morton gave a banquet at his castle of Dalkeith on that occasion ; but the feast was spoilt by the Queen's party in Edinburgh Castle, who intercepted the wine and other provision on the way to Dalkeith." If Chalmers by " hand-fisting " understood the same thing that Mr Armstrong did, he must have believed that the Earl of Morton, then Lord Chancellor and soon to be Regent, was so elated at Lord Maxwell's readiness to take his niece Elizabeth Douglas on trial for a year, that he was eager to celebrate the occasion by a feast. Chalmers, however, says that the " hand-fisting " took place at Dalkeith and not at " Hand-fasting Haugh."

Chalmers gives as his authority The Historie and Life of King James the Sext. p. 160. This work was printed under the editorship of Mr Malcolm Laing in 1804 from a manuscript belonging to Lord Belhaven, the work of an unknown author, who is believed to have been a contemporary with the events he relates.

This Historie says :
" At this tyme Johnne, Lord Maxwell, was contractit in marriage with ane sister of Archibald Earle of Angus. And Moirtoun hade provydit for ane bankett to have bein maid in Dalkeith, for feasting of sum nobill and gentle men to that handfasting.

And as the wyne was kairtit in Leith to haue bein caried to Dalkeith, with stoir of venisoun and uther great provisioun, the same was sa notified to the people of Edinburgh, that thair horsmen sortit, apprehendit the same in the way, with some siluer veshell, and broght the same saifly to Edinburgh.

The Earle of Moirtoun having sustenit this small lose, for recompence thairof, directit sum men of his to the lands perteining to the capitane of Edinburgh in Fyffe, quha brunt and distroyed all his coirnes and housses to his great enorme lessioun. Bot the toun of Dalkeith, apperteining to Moirtoun, that same nyght sustenit and incurrit als mikle skayth for that interpryse, be burning and slaughter ; quhilk was done upoun the 8 February, 1571."^

Now it will be observed that this anonymous writer distinctly says that Lord Maxwell was " contractit in marriage," while the custom mentioned by Mr Armstrong was by his own account not marriage but only a preliminary to a possible marriage in the future. And as one of the meanings'* of the word " hand-fasting " was to engage in a contract of marriage, it is, I think, clear that the anonymous writer uses it in this sense and not in the sense in which Mr Armstrong understood it. Let us now see who were the parties to this marriage.^

The bridegroom, John, Lord Maxwell, was the posthumous son of Robert, Lord Maxwell, by his wife, Beatrix Douglas, the second of the three daughters and co-heirs of James, third Earl of Morton. He was born the 24th April, 1553, and succeeded to the family honours and estates about 1555 on the death in early childhood of an elder brother. He was therefore between eighteen and nineteen years of age in January, 1572, and was still under the guardianship of curators, who were Edward Maxwell of Tinwald, Robert Maxwell of Cowhill, and William Douglas of Whittingehame. The bride, Elizabeth Douglas, was the sister of Archibald, the eighth Earl of Angus, and the daughter of David, the seventh Earl, who had died in July, 1557, after having held the earldom for a few months only. I do know the date of her birth, but the marriage contract of her parents was dated the 8th May, 1552, and she had an elder sister. She must therefore have been well under age in January, 1572. Her brother. Lord Angus, is said to have been born about 1555. The contemporary evidence concerning this marriage, in addition to that afforded by the Historic already quoted, is as follows : —The King at Leith, the 6th February, 1571-2, confirmed a charter dated at Duriifries, the 4th February, 157 1-2, whereby John, Lord Maxwell, with the consent of his abovenamed curators—in fulfilment of his part of a marriage contract between Archibald, Earl of Angus; James^ Ear! of Morton, Chancellor and Great Admiral of Scotland ; Elizabeth . Douglas, sister german of the said Archibald ; and John, Earl of Mar,6 Regent of Scotland, and the said Earl of Morton, as curators of the said Archibald, on the one part, and the said I-ord Maxwell with consent of his curators, on the other part, dated at Leith, the 13th January, 1571-2—granted to the said Elizabeth Douglas in liferent, in her virginity, certain lands, in consideration of the marriage contracted between himself and her, and to be solemnized.'' From this confirmation we learn that the marriage contract between Lord Maxwell and Elizabeth Douglas was signed at Leith the 13th January, 1572, and presumably after the signature the party adjourned to Morton's castle of Dalkeith for the banquet which was spoilt by the capture of the provisions by the Queen's party in Edinburgh. We learn,too, that the marriage was still to be celebrated when Maxwell granted his charter on the following 4th February. As early as the i8th January, 1572, Lord Hunsdon, writing from Berwick to Lord Burghley, mentions that—" On Sunday Lord Maxwell will marry the Earl of Anguyshe's sister "^—but this was a premature report, for in some " advyses off the presente state off Skotland " sent by Sir William Drury. Marshal of Berwick, to Lord Burghley, the 26th February, 1572, it is said that—" On Sonday, the 17th [February], Lord Maxwell was married at ' Dalkys' to the Earl of Angus' youngest sister; which Lord Maxwell is now at the obedience of the King. "9

The Marian civil war in Scotland (1568–1573) was a period of conflict which followed the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her escape from Lochleven Castle in May 1568. Those who ruled in the name of her infant son James VI fought against the supporters of the Queen, who was exiled in England. Edinburgh Castle, which was garrisoned in her name, became the focus of the conflict and surrendered only after an English intervention in May 1573.
Enough has been said, I think, to show that this marriage followed the course usual in such cases. It was probably arranged in the first place by the guardians of the two most concerned without much reference to their inclinations. Then followed the usual contract of marriage signed at Leith, the 13th January, 1572, and it may be that the two principals then went through a form of clasping each other's hands or '' handfasting " in token of their betrothal. Then in fulfilment of the contract came the usual charter of lands in life rent as dower for the bride executed by the bridegroom at Dumfries, the 4th February, 1572; and no man in his senses would grant lands for life to a woman whose connection with himself might end perhaps in a year's time. Finally came the wedding at Dalkeith Castle on the following 17th February. But though there was nothing unusual about the marriage itself, the circumstances in which it was celebrated were not ordinary even in those days. As we have seen Morton so resented the jest of the spoiling of his feast in celebration of the signing of the contract, that he sent a force to burn the lands of Kirkcaldy of Grange, the Captain for the Queen of Edinburgh Castle. Kirkcaldy's people took very prompt vengeance by burning Morton's good town of Dalkeith on the night of the 8th February. i^' The wedding ceremony on the 17th in the Castle surrounded by blackened ruins must therefore have been a somewhat dismal affair, and the host was probably not in the best of tempers.

James, 4th Earl of Morton,
Chancellor and Regent
The Earl of Morton, Chancellor and afterwards Regent, was the uncle of the bride, being her father's younger brother. He was also the uncle, by marriage, of the bridegroom. He had married the youngest of the three daughters and co-heirs of James Douglas, third Earl of Morton, a marriage to which he owed his title and his castle and lands of Dalkeith. Lord Maxwell's mother was the second of these co-heirs, and after the execution of his uncle, the Regent Morton, in 1581, he succeeded in getting himself created Earl of Morton and in obtaining some of the Morton lands, a business which led to much trouble later on, owing to the subsequent rescinding of the Regent's forfeiture.

The rest of the career of this Lord Maxwell or Earl of Morton is related in Sir William Fraser's Book of Carlaverock and in the Dictionary of National Biography. His end came some twenty years or more after his marriage with Elizabeth Douglas, when he was defeated and slain by his hereditary foes, the Johnstones, at Dryfesands, near Lockerbie, in December, 1593.

In the Book of Carlaverock there appears a letter from Lord Herries. dated nth December, 1593, inviting Sir John Maxwell of Pollok to the " buriall " of Lord Maxwell " vpon Soneday, the penult of December instant," and no doubt some sort of funeral celebration was held on that day at the family burial-place at Lincluden. No " buriall," however, took place; for some years later, on the i6th February, 1597-8, the Privy Council considered complaints that had been made that the " bodyis of umquhile James, Erll of Murray, and Johnne, Lord Maxwell," had been " sa many yeiris unburyit, to the offens of God and sclender of his worde. " The Council ordered the representatives of those lords to cause them to be " bureyit in the accustumat buriall placeis of thair predicessouris, within twentie dayis nixt eftir thay be chargeit thairto, under the pane of rebellion and putting of thame to the horne."ii The Earl of Moray mentioned was the " bonnie Earl of Moray," who, like Maxwell, had come to a violent end, having been killed by his enemy, Ihe Karl of Huntly, and his followers in February, 1591-2. The object, no doubt, in each case of leaving- the bodies of these lords unburied and exposed was to incite their clans and followers to take vengeance for their deaths.

Elizabeth Douglas survived Lord Maxwell for many years, and had two more husbands. Her second husband was Alexander Stewart of Garlies, father by a previous marriage of the first Earl of Galloway. He died in 1596. Her third husband was John Wallace of Craigie, the marriage contract being dated the 31st October, 1597.-'^^ Soon after this last marriage she married her daughter, Margaret Maxwell, to her step-son, John Wallace, her husband's eldest son and heir apparent by a former marriage. ^"^

In addition to the misfortune of losing her first husband by a violent death, much anxiety and grief must have come to her through the conduct of her eldest son, John, Lord Maxwell, who was beheaded at Edinburgh in 1613 for the " murder under trust " of the Chief of the Johnstones. She lived, however, to see her second son, Robert Maxwell, restored to the family honours. This son in 1620 received from the King, in lieu of the title of Earl of Morton, that of Earl of Nithsdale, with precedence from 29th October, 1581, the date of his father's creation as Earl of Morton. After this time his mother seems to have called herself Countess of Nithsdale. She died at Edinburgh in 1637, sixty-five years after her marriage to Lord Maxwell. " The Earle Nithsdale her son gave her a sumptuous buriall and after transported her corps to the Colledge Kirk of Lincluden to be interr'd with her first husband in a Vault therein. "^^

Unfortunately, the reference numbers did not all transcribe correctly.

1 I quote from the new edition of the Caledonia recently published, where (vol. v., p. 104, note n) the story about Lord Maxwell is reprinted without any comment.
2 Another version of this History was printed under the same title for the Bannatyne Club in 1825 from a manuscript belonging to the Marquess of Lothian. Here the story of Lord Maxwell's mar
3 That is the 8th February, 1571-2.
4 See under Handfast and Handfasting in Murray's New English Dictionary and Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scottish Language.
5 See under the titles of Douglas, Earl of Angus and Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale, in the Scots Peerage, ed. Sir J. B. Paul.
6 Mar's daughter, Mary Erskine, was, after his death, married to the eighth Earl of Angus, in June, 1573.
7 B.M.S., 1546-1580, No. 2012.
8 Cal. of Scottish State Papers, vol. iv., p.
9 Ibid., p. 135. These advices are endorsed by Lord Burghley, " ad vi Martii, " no doubt the day he received them.
10 The account in the " Historic of King James the Sext "
receives confirmation in a letter from Lord Hunsdon to Lord Burghley, dated 11th February, 1572, in which this burning of a great part of the town of Dalkeith
11 B.P.C., vol. v., pp. 444-445
12 B.M.S., 1593-1608, No. 762.
13 IMd., No. 763.
14 Terregles MS- Family History of the Maxwells, printed in the Harries Peerage Case Minutes of Evidence, p. 299.

Douglas Archives Notes:
15. Robert Chambers (Doviestic Annals of Scotland, 1859, vol. i., p. 79) quotes from Crawford's Memoirs, 215, as follows:—" These three scuffles [between Kirkcaldy and the Earl of Morton] went all under one name, and were ever after called Lord Maxwell's Handfasting."

16. David Douglas, 7th Earl of Angus (c. 1515-1558) was a Scottish nobleman. For most of his life he was known as David Douglas of Colbrandspath. He was the son of George Douglas of Pittendreich and Elizabeth Douglas of the Pittendriech family. Douglas succeeded as Earl of Angus in 1557, but died at Cockburnspath in 1558.

Douglas married Margaret Hamilton, daughter of John Hamilton of Samuelston (sometimes called 'Clydesdale John', and a half-brother of Regent Arran). Archibald and Elizabeth were two of three children.

17.  Archibald Douglas, 8th Earl of Angus and 5th Earl of Morton (1555 – 4 August 1588) was the son of David, 7th Earl of Angus. He succeeded to the title and estates in 1558, being brought up by his uncle, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, a Presbyterian. In 1573 he was made a Privy Councillor and Sheriff of Berwickshire; in 1574 Lieutenant-General in Scotland; in 1577 Warden of the West Marches and Steward of Fife; and in 1578 Lieutenant-General of the realm. As a supporter of Morton and "ultra-Protestant" policy he was twice forced in exile in England.

18.  John Maxwell, 8th Lord Maxwell (24 April 1553 – 7 December 1593) was a Scottish Catholic nobleman. In 1581 he was created Earl of Morton, and in 1587 he travelled to Spain where he took part in the planning of the Spanish Armada.

Lord Maxwell married Elizabeth Douglas (d.1637), daughter of the 7th Earl of Angus. They married during the Marian Civil War in 1571. Regent Morton planned a banquet for their handfasting at Dalkeith Castle but Marian forces ambushed those carrying food, wine, and silver ware. They had seven children.



Sources for this article include:
  • Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History Society; Transactions 1921-1922

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