James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas

James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas, 1st Earl of Avondale (1371 – 24 March 1443), latterly known as James the Gross, and prior to his ennoblement as James of Balvenie, was a late mediaeval Scottish magnate.[1] He was the second son of Archibald Douglas, 3rd Earl of Douglas, and Joan Moray of Bothwell and Drumsargard (now Cambuslang), d. after 1408.

James Douglas
Earl of Douglas
St Bride's Church Douglas - James the Gross.jpg
Tomb of James the Gross and his wife Beatrice Sinclair
PredecessorWilliam Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas
SuccessorWilliam Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas
Died24 March 1443
Abercorn Castle
BuriedSt Bride's Kirk, Douglas, South Lanarkshire
Noble familyDouglas
  • Beatrice Stewart
  • Beatrice Sinclair
FatherArchibald the Grim
MotherJoanna de Moravia

Regent of DouglasEdit

His rise to dominance in the kingdom began with the disastrous defeat of his elder brother Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, at the Battle of Homildon Hill in September of 1402, where he was captured by the English. James was now acting head of the main branch of the powerful Douglas family and was left to maintain their influence in southern Scotland. His successes in this regard preserved Douglas influence until the return of his elder brother from captivity in 1409, at which time he assumed the role of councillor and was rewarded with the grant of extensive estates. The most important of these was the stronghold of Abercorn Castle, which would become his principal residence for the rest of his life.

Relationship with the StewartsEdit

In the early 1420s James acted as the link between his brother, the earl, and the powerful Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany. Murdoch was acting as regent for his cousin, James I of Scotland, while James was being held by the English for ransom. Murdoch's links with the Albany Stewarts however, did not prevent him from becoming a councillor to the king once he returned from imprisonment in 1424. Along with his nephew, Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas, he sat on the jury which convicted Murdoch and two of his sons of treason for failure to pay the ransom and allowing the king to be imprisoned for 18 years. In 1426 as a reward for his loyalty Douglas received royal confirmation of his lands and his eldest son William was knighted in 1430. By 1435 he was made sheriff of Lanarkshire, further strengthening his place among the king's principal followers. This backing from the Earl of Douglas' senior kinsman was vital to the king for preventing a clash with the powerful Douglas affinity. Shortly before James' death in 1437 James I gave him the title of Earl of Avondale.

Earl of DouglasEdit

When King James was assassinated in 1437 Douglas backed his nephew who became Lieutenant General of Scotland and Regent for the young James II until the death of his nephew, the 5th Earl, in 1439 of a fever, set off a deadly chain of events that saw power being uneasily shared between Sir William Crichton, Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar and Douglas himself.

These events culminated in what would become known as the 'Black Dinner' at Edinburgh Castle, where his great-nephew William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas, 16 at the time, and his younger brother David were summarily beheaded on trumped up charges in the presence of a protesting young James II. Historians tend to place the blame for the Black Dinner on Crichton and Livingston, but especially Douglas, as the death of his great-nephews brought him the earldom of Douglas and the position as the most powerful magnate in Scotland.

Marriage and issueEdit

He married first Beatrice Stewart, daughter of Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany and Margaret Graham, Countess of Menteith. He married second Beatrice Sinclair, daughter of Henry Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Orkney, around 1425.

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
William Douglas
Earl of Douglas

Succeeded by
William Douglas
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Avondale
Succeeded by
William Douglas



  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Douglas". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 442–444.
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