Who was Good Sir James Douglas aka “The Black Douglas”

 “Douglas Castle” artwork courtesy of Andrew Hillhouse Gallery www.andrewhillhouseprints.co.uk

This Tartan Day, April 6th 2021 is an auspicious day and the perfect day for Tuatha Dea and Sound Biscuit Productions to present the Epic Celtic Rock Musical tribute to one of  Scotland’s greatest heroes, “Good Sir James Douglas” known better to the English and history as “The Black Douglas” to the airwaves. The song 9 years in the writing pays homage to Robert the Bruce’s right hand man and a man known as the most feared Knight in Scottish history! The song aptly entitled “The Black Douglas”, (The name bestowed upon Sir James depicting his visage and the fear he struck into the heart of his enemies) carries a second name “Bravehearts” which is embraced and used as an audience participation part of the song during live performances. 

While the term was made popular by the 1995 film about William Wallace, the term according to a variety of sources actually applied to King Robert the Bruce and is forever connected to the last valiant battle on behalf of his King by Sir Douglas. According to historians, poets and storytellers alike, as the King lay dying in his bed he charged his most faithful Knight with one last task. The Bruce, having never had the opportunity to embark upon a crusade, asked Douglas to cut his heart from his chest upon his death and carry the King this way into one final battle. Douglas did as he was asked and placed the King’s embalmed heart into a cask which Douglas wore over his own heart.  The following is from an article in publication known as the, The Scotsman; ( Who was The Black Douglas? | The Scotsman )
“The death of Robert the Bruce in June 1329 led to a powerful pilgrimage of Douglas and a handpicked group of high-status followers to Jerusalem to take their leader’s heart on a crusade to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Douglas carried the embalmed heart of Bruce in a cask around his neck as the men set sail on the mission with a promise that it would be returned to Melrose Abbey to its final resting place. The men, who were joined by more supporters in Flanders, incorporated a stop in Spain after hearing of a crusade by Alfonso XI of Castile against Muslims of Granada. Douglas and his men joined Alfonso’s army after arriving in Seville and were to soon come into contact with the Moors near Teba, a castle on the frontier of Andalucia. The battle came to a swift, satisfactory conclusion for Alfonso but, not being fully aware of the mode of warfare, Douglas found himself deserted by his men. His end clearly upon him, the story as recounted by Sir Walter Scott goes that Douglas removed the cask from around his neck, declared aloud “Pass first in fight…as thou wert wont to do, and Douglas will follow thee, or die”, then charged the enemy one last time. When the surviving Scots searched the field, they found Douglas dead, hewed with “five deep wounds” but with the cask unharmed. Douglas’ flesh was boiled from his bones as per the usual custom for long-distance transport of noble remains and his heart was removed, now a companion to that of Bruce.”

Well, that’s the epic moment of how it ended but the real story of Good Sir James is nothing short of spectacular. I suppose I could just blog away here on my own or I could grab bits from other more accomplished writers to tell the tale. That seems reasonable … Ok so “The Castle Hunter”, David-C.-Weinczok says of The Douglas;  (James ‘the Black’ Douglas: The Most Feared Knight in Scottish History – Castle Hunter)

” James Douglas, Robert Bruce’s indomitable captain during the Wars of Independence, is overshadowed only by Bruce himself as the most compelling of Scotland’s fourteenth century personalities. Douglas is something of a Janus figure in the history of the British Isles. While many Scots came to know him as ‘the Good’ Sir James for his championing of Bruce’s cause, it was his mastery of fear as a tool of war, his personal ferocity in battle, and his brutally effective raiding style that caused people in the north of England, often subject to said raids, to bestow on him his most enduring moniker – ‘the Black’ Douglas. His bogeyman reputation amongst the English was such that, while he was still very much alive and active, mothers in Northumbria and Cumbria supposedly sang to their children:

 Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,

Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,

The Black Douglas shall not get ye…

 A chilling folk story has this refrain followed by a calloused hand grasping the mother’s shoulder, and a growling voice uttering, “don’t be too sure of that…”

I LOVE that part! But wait…there’s more! 
“Douglas led and partook in many dramatic episodes in the period between joining Bruce in 1306 and his death in 1330, including the crafty and brutal retaking of his ancestral home, Douglas Castle, in the incident know as the ‘Douglas Larder’ in 1307, and the capture of the nigh-impregnable Roxburgh Castle in the Borders by surprise attack in February 1314. Douglas fought at Bannockburn, though he was not a commander of his own schiltron spear formation as depicted in John Barbour’s The Bruce, but rather acted as a sub-commander connected to King Robert’s own force. In the aftermath of the battle, Douglas pursued the defeated Edward II to Dunbar, with Barbour suggesting he did so with a force outnumbered by the king’s five to one and following so close that the English king’s company dared not even stop to ‘make water’. This and other actions brought James the reputation of being “mair fell [fierce] than was ony [only] devill in hell”. His battle record speaks for itself: according to Barbour, Douglas gained fifty-seven victories to thirteen losses, and those losses were more tactical withdrawals than true routes. “

Definitely read Weinczok’s complete blog AND/OR just google “The Black Douglas” or “Good Sir James” (link above) … and you could check out the film “Outlaw King” if you want to catch The Douglas in a bit of cinema. Yes, there is a movie… Not about The Black Douglas. Rather about King Robert the Bruce!  But Sir James is definitely there of course! And of course there are books upon books upon books! That’s how I originally came to know his story and this song for Tuatha Dea has been 9 years in the making (or at least in my head)

So why April 6th? And what is Tartan Day? For the answer to that let’s rip it right out of Wikipedia itself! I mean I could paraphrase but that seems like a lotta work. so Tartan Day… Per Wikipedia; ( Tartan Day – Wikipedia )

“Tartan Day is a North American celebration of Scottish heritage on April 6, the date on which the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. It originated in Canada in the mid-1980s. It spread to other communities of the Scottish diaspora in the 1990s.”

OK … Now we are getting somewhere. The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 for today’s intents and purposes can be perceived as a kind of Scottish Declaration of Independence. It’s of course not that simple but you can look it up and read about that as well. To keep everything tied together as it should be one of the signatories of The Declaration was none other than … Yes …you guessed it “Sir James Douglas, Lord of Douglas” aka “Good Sir James” aka “The Black Douglas”. And yes Wikipedia is again a starting point or you can go here; ( The Declaration of Arbroath | National Records of Scotland (nrscotland.gov.uk ) !

Our blog today is about the song but you really need some context to go with it I think so making this easy.  A very special word regarding Artwork accompanying the song’s debut, We are beyond honored and blessed to have been offered  support from The Galleries of Andrew Hillhouse and the use of the amazing prints of The Black Douglas by this incredible artist estate. We are so grateful for this pairing, connection and friendship. Please visit the Hillhouse gallery at this link Home: Andrew Hillhouse (andrewhillhouseprints.co.uk) or stop by their page at(7) Andrew Hillhouse Prints | FacebookYou will be as awed as we are.

The blog would not be complete without a bit of Tuatha Dea’s own perspective intertwined.  The Douglas is simply larger than life, and his history is as powerful as his legend. I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to such potent figures in history. The likes of which are almost unfathomable in today’s world. Honor, loyalty and sacrifice may be outdated but still mean something to this storyteller and remain things to which we ought aspire. A little darkness is …well … human after all, and used proportionately gets the job done. We thought the phrase “Bravehearts” needed to be returned to its proper Heros and an Epic figure like “The Black Douglas” certainly deserved an Epic Celtic Rock tune. Tune in this Tartan Day, April 6th, 2021 AND be on the lookout for the airwaves debut of “The Black Douglas” PLUS a very special video compilation featuring the artwork of Andrew Hillhouse! REMEMBER! YOU can ask your local radio stations to contact Tuatha Dea or Sound Biscuit Studios for the airplayable download and help us get the airwaves rumbling and the Piper paid! 

LASTLY, If you’ve read this far… Here’s your EXCLUSIVE chance to get your download of  “The Black Douglas” EARLY! Go Either to www.tuathadea.com  OR www.soundbiscuit.com ON April 6th and buy yours straight from the source before it goes out to all the music forums on April 16th! Why wait …when you are in the know…you don’t have to! Next best thing to pre-ordering! NOW … In the meantime… How about some lyrics! Slainte!


Mother – Father, Can you hear me calling

Saint Andrew’s Sinner to reclaim my name

For Kith and Kin and Scotland’s Crown and Glory The Devil be damned …

And I’ll Carry the fight into the night so dark

For Country and King. Freedom will ring. Bravehearts

Come my kinsman. Tis the Bruce I follow

To Bannockburn across the Highland Way

By Blood and Bone, By Fire, Steel and Gallows The Devil be damned –

We’ll Carry the fight into the night so dark

For Country and King. Freedom will ring. Bravehearts

My King has fallen still his heart I carry

To a final battle in the Promised land

Go as ye will Sire and I will follow And the Devil be damned –

I’ll Carry the fight into the night so dark

For Country and King. Freedom will ring.

Bravehearts Bravehearts! … (repeated)