Sir William Douglas, Lord of Nithsdale

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Hohe Tor (High Gate) of Danzig Coat of arms of Lord William Douglas of Nithisdale.  Coat of arms of Lord William Douglas of Nithisdale.  Lord William Douglas of Nithisdale. 

William Douglas was an illegitimate son of Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas and an unknown mother.


  • Birth: ABT. 1364
  • Death: 1420, possibly whilst on crusade in Prussia


Note: the possibility exists that he was a natural son of Archibald.

Marriage 1 Princess Egidia Stewart b: ABT. 1368 in of Dundonald, Ayrshire, Scotland, dau of King Robert II

  • Married: 1387
  1. Has Children Egidia (of Nithsdale) Douglas b: ABT. 1391, married Henry (2nd Earl of Orkney) Sinclair, whose son's third marriage was to Elizabeth, dau of 4th earl of Douglas, her second marriage and by whom she had two children. She took with her, as a dowry, the barony of Herbertshire
  2. Has No Children William (Lord of Nithsdale) Douglas b: ABT. 1390

A man of apparently dashing bearing, Douglas was with the Franco-Scots army when it unsuccessfully besieged Carlisle Castle in 1385, the defending Governor being Lord Clifford. He is recorded as there performing feats of valour and killing many Englishmen.

"A yhowng joly bachelere
Prysyd gretly wes off were,
For he wes evyr traveland
Qwhille be se and qwhille be land
To skathe his fays rycht besy
Swa that thai dred him grettumly" (Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland ix, c.21)


Douglas certainly had gained his spurs by 1387 when he married the Egidia (or Gelis) Stewart, princess of Scotland, a daughter of King Robert II. According to the Liber Pluscarden, Egidia Stewart's beauty was well renowned. Charles V of France had "sent a certain most subtle painter to do her portrait and portray her charms, intending to take her to wife." But the King of France and all other of Egidia's admirers had lost out to the chivalric charms of Douglas. As part of her marriage portion went the lands of Nithsdale in south-western Scotland, Herbertshire in the county of Stirling and an annuity of £300.

Within his first year of marriage the young Nithsdale led a punitive raid against Irish raiders who had been troubling the tenantry of his father's Fiefdom of Galloway. In early summer 1388, with a party of 500 well prepared veteran men-at-arms he sailed into Carlingford Lough, landed outside the town and summoned their leaders. The chief of the townsfolk offered a sum for a temporary truce, to which Nithsdale agreed. Secretly the townsfolk sent off to Dundalk for reinforcements, with which they were obliged. 800 spearmen from Dundalk surprised the Scots camp by night, and were supported by a sortie from Carlingford town. The Scots, veterans of years of brutal Border warfare, beat the Irishmen off, captured the town and burnt it, seized the Castle and captured 15 ships in the harbour. Nithsdale and his expeditionary force sailed back into Loch Ryan with enough time to participate in the raiding of Northern England that was to culminate in the Battle of Otterburn on the 19th of August, in which he fought with distinction.

The year after Otterburn a truce was called between Scotland and England. Nithsdale on a knightly quest for glory decided, about 1389, to join the Teutonic Knights, who were fighting the Ottomans and Lithuanians in eastern Europe. Nithsdale had previously quarrelled with Lord Clifford, a former adversary at Carlisle and whose forebear had claimed Douglasdale under Edward I of England's oppression. While both were abroad, it is alleged that Clifford challenged Nithsdale to single combat, and that Douglas even went to France to obtain special armour for the fight. Clifford, however, died on August 18, 1391, but Nithsdale is said to have kept their 'tryst', and whilst walking upon on the bridge leading to the main gate at Danzig was "killed by the English". The burgers of Danzig decided that "upon account of a signal service which the Douglas family did to this city in relieving it in its utmost extremities against the Poles, the Scotch were allowed to be free burghers of the town". Subsequently the stone facia of the Hohe Thor (High Gate) was adorned with the coat of arms of this nobleman and for centuries it was commonly referred to as the Douglas Port or Douglas Gate, described as such as late as 1734.

As Nithsdale had drawn most of his rentals from the burgh of Dumfries in 1392 his death is assumed to have occurred that year or shortly afterwards - The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) by Stephen Leslie 1832-1904


DOUGLAS, Sir WILLIAM, Lord of NITHSDALE (d. 1392 ?)

Was the illegitimate son of Archibald, third earl of Douglas [q.v.], himself the illegitimate son of the ' Good ' Sir James. For comeliness and bravery he was a worthy descendant of such ancestors, and the historians of the period describe him as inheriting several of the personal features of his grandfather, being large-boned, of great strength, tall and erect, bearing himself with a majestic mien, yet courteous and affable, and in company even hearty and merry. He inherited the swarthy complexion of the * Good ' Sir James, and was also called the Black Douglas. He was an active warrior against the English. In 1385, while still a youth, he accompanied his father in a raid into Cumberland, and took part in the siege of Carlisle. Making an incursion on his own account, accompanied by a few personal followers, he burned the suburbs of the town. "While standing on a slender plank bridge he was attacked by three knights, reckoned among the bravest in the citadel ; he killed the foremost, and with his club felled the other two. He then put the enemy to flight and drew off his men in safety. On another occasion, in open field, with but eight hundred men, he overcame an opposing host of three thousand, leaving two hundred of the enemy dead on the plain, and carrying five hundred off as prisoners.

Robert II was soRobert II was so pleased with the knightly bearing of young Douglas that in 1387 he gave him in marriage his daughter Egidia, a princess whose beauty and wit were so renowned that the king of France wished to make her his queen, and despatched a painter to the Scottish court to procure her portrait secretly. But in the meantime she was bestowed on Douglas, and with her the lordship of Nithsdale. He also received from his royal father-in-law an annual pension of 300Z (?)., and his own father gave him the barony of Herbertshire, near Stirling.

In 1388 he was entrusted with the command of a maritime expedition, which was fitted out to retaliate certain raids by the Irish upon the coast of Galloway. Embarking in a small flotilla with five hundred men he sailed for the Irish coast, and attacked Carlingford. The inhabitants offered a large sum ot money to obtain immunity. Douglas consented, and a time was fixed for payment. The townsmen, however, had only wished to gain time, and immediately despatched a messenger to Dundalk for their English allies.

Unsuspicious of treachery Douglas had only landed two hundred men, and half of these were now separated from him in a foraging expedition under his lieutenant. Sir Robert Stewart of Durrisdeer. He himself remained before the town. At nightfall eight hundred horsemen left Dundalk, and, meeting with the inhabitants of Carlingford, fell simultaneously upon the two companies of the Scots, with whom, however, the victory remained. Douglas thereupon took the town, and gave it to the flames, beating down the castle; and, lading with his spoils fifteen Irish vessels which he found harbouring there, set sail and returned to Scotland, On the way home they attacked and plundered the Isle of Man.

When Douglas reached Lochryan in Galloway, he learned that his father and the Earl of Fife and Menteith had just led an expedition over the western marches into England, and he immediately joined them with all his available forces. In connection with the same campaign James, second earl of Douglas, had simultaneously entered England by the eastern marches, and, meeting with Percy on the field of Otterburn (1388), was slain. The western portion of the Scottish troops at once returned.

Peace with England was shortly afterwards secured, and Douglas went abroad in search of adventure. He was received with great honour at Spruce or Danzig in Prussia, where Thomas, duke of Gloucester, was preparing to fight against the Lithuanians (1391).

A fleet of two hundred and forty ships was fitted out for an expedition, the command of which Douglas is said to have accepted. Before leaving Scotland Douglas seems to have received a challenge from Thomas de Clifford, tenth lord Clilford, to do wager by battle for some disputed lands.

Clifford obtained a safe-conduct through England for Douglas, but nothing is known as to the result of the duel, or even whether it was fought. It is said to have taken place in 1390. From the Scottish Exchequer Rolls is evident Douglas was alive in 1392, after which there is no further trace of him.


By Princess Egidia he left a daughter of the same name, who married Henry, earl of Orkney, and was associated with him in the foundation of Roslin Chapel near Edinburgh. He also left a son, who succeeded him as Sir William Douglas of Nithsdale, but who disappears from record after 1408, while his sister lived at least thirty years later.


Extract from Peerage of Scotland:

William, lord of Nithsdale, prince of Danskin, and duke of Spruce, who, in many charters of King Robert II is designed Willielmus de Douglas miles, filius Archibaldi de Douglas domini Galovidiae consanguinei nostri. He was a man of eminent parts, great strength of body, and undaunted courage: he was often engaged in battles and rencounters against the English, and with small handfuls of men defeated great multitudes of the enemies.

He performed likeways many glorious actions in foreign countries, for which he had these high titles of prince, duke, conferred upon him.

King Robert II. on account of his singular probity and merit, bestowed his beautiful daughter Egidia upon him in marriage, and gave him a grant of the lordship of Nithsdale. The charter bears, Dilecto et fideli nostro Willielmo de Douglas, militi, filio Archbaldi de Douglas domini Galovidiae, et Egidiae filiae nostrae carissimae, in matrimonium inter ipsos Willielmum et Egidiam legitime faciendum, &c.
["To our beloved and faithful William of Douglas, knight, son of Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, and to our dearest daughter Egidia, for the lawful marriage to be made between William and Egidia, etc."]

This great man was treacherously assassinated, 'tis said, by the contrivance of Lord Clifford, leaving only one daughter, married to Henry Sinclair earl of Orkney.


Research notes:

William was with the Teutoinc knights around Danzig (Gdansk).

Also near that time around Vilnius was Henry Bolinbroke (later Henry IV) and possibly as part of his entourage maybe Thomas Clifford.

Is it credible that Clifford went all the way to Danzig to settle a single combat challenge?

I have seen different comments on Williams death, who by and how.

There is I understand a possible record of William being in Dumfries in 1392/1402 collecting rents/taxes.



See also:
•  Map of Nithsdale


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I would welcome a re-write of this biography, if anyone were to volunteer!


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