Archibald Douglas, earl of Wigtown, fifth earl of Douglas, c.1391-1439

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Archibald Douglas, earl of Wigtown, fifth earl of Douglas and duke of Touraine, was a Scottish magnate and soldier who’s most significant military achievement was the Franco-Scottish victory at Baugé in 1421.

His early career was dominated by his father’s ambitions and misfortunes. Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas, was one of the most powerful Scottish magnates in a period which was dominated by the aristocracy. He was also an ambitious but unsuccessful military leader, suffering a series of serious defeats during his career. One of the first came at Homildon Hill on 14 September 1402, where he was captured, spending the next six years in captivity in England. During this period Wigtown spend some of his time acting as a hostage for his father’s good behaviour during his visits to Scotland, as well as acting as his father’s representative in Scotland.

He began to use the title earl of Wigtown at some point between 1417 and 1419, probably as a courtesy title – the lands of the earldom had been held by the Douglas family since 1372, but the title hadn’t been used for some time. This was probably done to raise his status as co-commander of the 6,000-strong Scottish army that was sent to France in 1419. His co-commander was John Stewart, third earl of Buchan, the second son of Robert Stewart, first duke of Albany and de facto ruler of Scotland. Although most of the men were followers of the Douglas family, Buchan, who was ten years senior to Wigtown, was the leader of the expedition.

The main event of Wigtown’s time in France was the Scottish victory at Baugé on 22 March 1421. This saw a mostly Scottish army defeat an English army under the duke of Clarence, who died in the battle. Wigtown was rewarded with the lands of Dun-le-roi in Berry, and the title of count of Lougueville (although that area was in English hands).

This success encouraged his father to consider coming to France in person, and so in 1423 Wigtown returned to Scotland, missing the defeat at Cravant on 31 July 1423. He remained in Scotland when his father led a new Scottish army to France in 1424, and so missed the defeat at Verneuil on 17 August 1424.

This was a major disaster for the Douglas family.  The death of Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas was accompanied by the deaths of a large number of his retainers, seriously weakening the family’s position. Wigtown, now the fifth earl of Douglas, faced a very different situation to his father. His uncle, James I, had finally returned from a long exile in England, and was in a stronger position than any recent Scottish king, especially after the death of the fourth earl in France. The remainder of Douglas’s career was spent in the murky waters of Scottish noble politics. He was able to maintain a reasonable working relationship with James I, although he was arrested in 1431, and briefly lost his lands and offices.

In February 1437 James I was assassinated. Douglas was chosen to act as lieutenant for the young James II. In his brief period in power, he attempts to come to an agreement with his fellow magnates, but he died after only two years, on 26 June 1439. His brief period of power came at a terrible price. In the year after his death, two of his former allies arranged the murder of his sons David and William.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 February 2008), Archibald Douglas, earl of Wigtown, fifth earl of Douglas, c.1391-1439 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_douglas_archibald_fifth_earl.html

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