William of Lochleven, 6th Earl of Morton

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coat of armsWilliam Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton (c.1540 - 1606) was the son of Sir Robert Douglas of Lochleven and Margaret Erskine, a former mistress of James V of Scotland.

Sir William's half-brother from his mother's liaison with the king was James Stewart, Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland from 1567 until his assassination in January 1570. Sir William's cousin was another Regent of Scotland James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, and was closely associated with him in his career, the two men being occasionally confused in the histories.

William's father was killed at the battle of Pinkie in September 1547. His wife was Agnes Leslie, daughter of George Leslie, 4th Earl of Rothes, by whom he had eleven children. The Leslies were active in Scottish Reformation.

Mary, Queen of Scots was a prisoner in the Glassin Tower at Lochleven Castle. William Douglas was the owner of the island Loch Leven Castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots had met John Knox in April 1563. Since 1546, he and his mother had built the "Newhouse of Lochleven" on the shore of Loch Leven where Kinross House now stands. The "Newhouse" eventually replaced the island castle as the centre of the estate.

William suffered from breathing difficulties all his life. After Queen Mary's marriage to Darnley, William was commanded on 7 Nov. 1565 to deliver Lochleven Castle to the Queen's officers with all the artillery and munitions, but because William was "extremelie sick, in perrell of his lyffe" he was allowed to keep the castle with the understanding that it may be taken over on 24 hours notice. William's malady must have been short lived as he was involved in Riccio's assassination on 9 March 1566 and was formally charged for murder on 9 March 1566.

In June 1567, Queen Mary was imprisoned in the island castle following her surrender at the Battle of Carberry Hill. On 24 July she was forced to sign abdication papers at Lochleven in favor of her infant son James VI. William Douglas had a legal paper drawn up on 28 July 1567, which stated that he was not present when the Queen signed her "demission" of the crown and did not know of it, and that he offered to convey her to Stirling Castle for her son's coronation which was the following day, which offer she refused. Mary also signed that paper. However, in 1581 Mary wrote that William was one of her few remaining enemies in Scotland, and should have witnessed that she was compelled to assent to her resignation. The Scottish government directed by his half-brother paid William Douglas £1,289-12d for keeping the Queen.

William's wife, Lady Agnes Leslie, became the Queen's chief female companion during her ten and a half months of imprisonment, accompanying her throughout the day and often sleeping in her bedchamber. Queen Mary had an opportunity of greater liberty following the birth of Agnes's child when she was recovering from her pregnancy. She chose to escape on 2 May 1568 from Lochleven with the aid of Sir William's brother George and a young orphaned cousin named William Douglas who also lived at the castle and may or may not have been the earl's illegitimate son. When Sir William learned of his royal captive's escape, he was so distressed that he attempted to stab himself with his own dagger.

The title Earl of Morton was declared forfeit in 1581 when Regent Morton, the 4th earl, was attainted; and the title was granted to John Maxwell, 7th Lord Maxwell, a grandson of the 3rd earl. While Regent Morton was on trial in January 1581, William and other leading members of the family were not allowed to come to Edinburgh, and in March he was ordered to live north of Cromarty. A year later he joined in the Raid of Ruthven, and when this faction was defeated he was exiled in France at La Rochelle, returning in 1586.

The 17th century historian David Hume of Godscroft relates that Agnes Leslie wrote to her husband saying she would prevent their son Robert from joining him at the Lords Enterprisers attempt to take Stirling Castle in 1584, saying it was a foolish work that would ruin them. William replied that their course was honourable, and intended for the good of the church, and he trusted in providence. Robert and their son-in-law Laurence Oliphant were banished to France despite their mother's efforts, and were lost at sea in a battle with "Hollanders" or pirates.

In 1586, the attainder on the Morton earldom was reversed and the title returned to the 4th earl's family. By the 4th earl's will, on the death of Archibald Douglas, 8th Earl of Angus in 1588, William Douglas succeeded to the earldom of Morton, which brought him additional lands and houses including Dalkeith Palace, Aberdour Castle, Auchterhouse and Drochil Castle.


Sir William's eldest son, Robert, Master of Morton, disappeared in travel circa 1585, so the Morton possessions devolved to Sir William's grandson upon his death on September 27, 1606. 

  • Birth: 1540
  • Death: 27 SEP 1606

    Father: Robert (Sir) (of Lochleven) Douglas
    Mother: Margaret (of Mar) Erskine

    Marriage 1 Agnes (of Rothes) Leslie
    • Married: 19 AUG 1554
    1.  James (of Morton) Douglas = x3
    2.  Archibald (Sir) (of Killour) Douglas 
    3.  George (Sir) (of Kirkness) Douglas
    4.  Christian (of Morton) Douglas = (2) Alexander 1st Earl of Home
    5.  Eupheme (of Morton) Douglas = Sir Thomas Lyon of Auldbar, Master of Glamis
    6.  Agnes (of Morton) Douglas = Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll
    7.  Elizabeth (of Morton) Douglas = Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Errol
    8.  Jean (of Morton) Douglas = ?
    9.  Mary (of Morton) Douglas = Sir Walter Ogilvy, 1st Lord Ogilvy of Deskford 
    10.  Margaret (of Morton) Douglas = Sir John Wemyss, of Wemyss 
    11.  Robert (Master of Morton) Douglas = Jean Lyon of Glamis


Dame Mary's coat of arms
Dame Mary Douglas' coat of arms from the Lairds Loft in St Mary's Church, Cullen, Banffshire, alongside her husband's.



See also:

•  The Earls of Morton
•  Forfeiture papers: 'Elizabeth: May 1581', in Calendar of State Papers, Scotland: Volume 6, 1581-83'  [183kb; pdf]



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