Despite being one of Scotland’s most powerful families throughout their history, the origins of the Douglas clan remain obscure.
The first recorded mention of the Douglas name came between 1175 and 1199 when William de Dufglas was witness to a charter by the Bishop of Glasgow to the monks of Kelso.
The Douglas clan soon started to grow their influence within Scotland and by the 15th century, they had become so powerful that they were a threat to the stability of the nation. This threat led to the ‘Black Dinner’ – an unsavoury moment in Scottish history in 1440 when Sir William Chrichton, who had been appointed Chancellor of Scotland a year earlier, brutally murdered his rival the Earl of Douglas and his brother outside Edinburgh castle after inviting them to dine with the King. The two men were dragged from their table during dinner, given a mock trial and beheaded. The King was said to have been horrified at the time, however, only 12 years later, he is said to have invited their cousin, the 8th Earl, to Stirling Castle – where he murdered him in a similar fashion.
The 9th Earl would notice this danger and wisely spent much of his life in England. He died in 1491 after returning north to Scotland and was the last of his line. The chiefship of the clan then transferred to the 4th Earl of Angus and the ‘Red Douglas’ side of the family.
The clan chiefship is now unclaimed but should be held by Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton. However, as the Lord Lyon requires him to assume the single name Douglas to hold the position, he is unable to accept it. He is, though, the chief of Clan Hamilton.