Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas

Born: c. 1369


Died: August 17, 1424

Verneuil-sur-Avre, France (Age c. 55)

Douglas in History

Archibald Douglas was a member of the prominent Douglas family of southern Scotland. The family was considered by many contemporaries and historians alike to be even more powerful than the Scottish royal family itself. During the first thirty years of Archibald's life there were a number of conflicts between the Douglas family and that of the current Scottish King, Robert III. A large part of the conflict revolved around the situation with England. The royal family was anxious to reach a truce with the English while the Douglas clan, who were known as border lords against England, preferred to continue the fighting. Ultimately, a settlement was agreed to that Scotland would continue the war with their hated enemy, and Archibald (who inherited his father's earldom in 1400) led a number of raids into England. The action culminated in 1402 at the Battle of Humbleton Hill which saw the forces of Douglas take on those of the Percy family, led by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and his son Henry "Hotspur" Percy. By the end of the battle (which the English won decisively) Douglas had lost the sight in one of his eyes and was now a prisoner of the Percies.

The following year the Percies rebelled against King Henry IV (who they had been instrumental to putting on the throne) and joined forces with Douglas and the Welsh under Owen Glendower. One of the primary reasons for the Percies rebellion was Hotspur's reluctance to hand over the Scottish prisoners, of whom Douglas was the most prominent, to the king. The rebel army that included Hotspur, his Uncle Thomas, Earl of Worcester and Douglas was isolated by the king's forces before it had the chance to be joined by the armies of Northumberland and Glendower. A bloody battle ensued that saw the death of Hotspur and the capture and subsequent execution of Worcester. Douglas fought valiantly in the battle but was ultimately captured by King Henry - this time losing a testicle for his troubles. For the next five years, Douglas remained a prisoner of King Henry. He was treated honorably by the English king and was permitted to return to Scotland on several occasions to tend to his lands and affairs. In 1408, he returned to Scotland for good, despite the fact that he had left hostages in England to ensure his return to captivity.

Over the following decade Douglas continued to gain influence in Scotland. The fact that the young Scottish King James I was a captive of the English gave him even more power, and he took full advantage of his opportunities. He was the warden of all three marches against the English and had considerable power within the church of Scotland. The last few years of Douglas's life saw him become continuously more involved as an ally to France in their wars against England. King Henry V had renewed the claim of his great-grandfather Edward III to the throne of France and had been achieving some major victories (most significantly at Agincourt in 1415). Douglas sent aid to the French while still maintaining his position at home. Finally, in 1423, King James I was returned from the English. Douglas, who had promised to give aid to Charles the Dauphin (King Charles VII) in France, left his lands to the care of his wife and eldest son and departed with a large force to aid the French. As a reward for his services Douglas was created Duke of Torraine (despite opposition from the French people) and, for the next several months, lived recklessly with his men within his new lands. In August of 1424 Douglas captured the French town of Verneuil-sur-Avre, provoking an attack from the English under the leadership of John, Duke of Bedford (Regent of France and an uncle to the infant King Henry VI). The English army scored a huge victory at the subsequent Battle of Verneuil, and Douglas and his younger son James were killed in the battle (along with a majority of the Scottish army). Douglas had made a name for himself and continued the prominent position of his family in Scottish politics. Despite Douglas's political savvy, in the end, he died doing what he did best: fighting in wars.

Douglas in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry IV, Part 1

We are told of capture of Douglas in the opening scene of 1 Henry IV after the Battle of Homildon Hill. He does not appear, however, until the final act of the play when he is seen conferring with the English rebel army (whom he has joined forces with against the king) under Hotspur's command. During the battle, Douglas kills Sir Walter Blunt and several other soldiers disguised as the king. When he is finally on the verge of vanquishing the king himself, he is chased away by Prince Hal. He is last seen doing battle with Sir John Falstaff (after their encounter Falstaff pretends to be dead). In the play's final scene we are informed that Douglas is once again a prisoner of the English. Prince Hal, who is put in charge of him, asks the king to set him free without ransom. This event is purely fictitious, considering that the historical Douglas remained in the king's custody for five years as a royal prisoner.


Brown, M.H. ‘Douglas, Archibald, fourth earl of Douglas, and duke of Touraine in the French nobility (c.1369–1424)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [, accessed 4 Nov 2009]

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