During the century and a half of their power the Black Douglases earned fame as the defenders of Scotland in the front line of war against England. On their shields the Douglases bore the bloody heart of Robert Bruce as the symbol of their claim to be the physical protectors of the hero-king's legacy. Yet others saw the power of these lords and earls of Douglas in a different light. To their critics the Douglases were a force for disorder in the kingdom, lawless, arrogant and violent, whose power rested on coercion and whose defiance of kings and guardians ultimately provoked James II into slaying the Douglas earl with his own hand. This volume examines aristocratic power and status and its place in Scottish political society through the greatest and most notorious magnate dynasty of late mediaeval Scotland. The rise and fall of the family as the dominant magnates of the south is analyzed, from the deeds of the Good Sir James Douglas in the service of Bruce to the violent destruction of the Douglas earls in the 1450s. Alongside this study of the accumulation and loss of power by one great noble house, "The Black Douglases" includes a series of thematic examinations of the nature of aristocratic power. In particular these emphasize the link between warfare and political power in southern Scotland during the 14th century. For the Black Douglases, war was not just a patriotic duty but the means to power and fame in Scotland and across Europe.
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Michael Brown is a lecturer in the Department of Scottish History, University of St Andrews.
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