Castle Dangerous, by Walter Scott

Introduction. —(1832.)

[The following Introduction to “Castle Dangerous” was forwarded by Sir Walter Scott from Naples in February 1832, together with some corrections of the text, and notes on localities mentioned in the Novel.

The materials for the Introduction must have been collected before he left Scotland in September 1831; but in the hurry of preparing for his voyage, he had not been able to arrange them so as to accompany the first edition of this Romance. A few notes, supplied by the Editor, are placed within brackets.]

The incidents on which the ensuing Novel mainly turns, are derived from the ancient Metrical Chronicle of “The Brace,” by Archdeacon Barbour, and from the “History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus,” by David Hume of Godscroft; and are sustained by the immemorial tradition of the western parts of Scotland. They are so much in consonance with the spirit and manners of the troubled age to which they are referred, that I can see no reason for doubting their being founded in fact; the names, indeed, of numberless localities in the vicinity of Douglas Castle, appear to attest, beyond suspicion, many even of the smallest circumstances embraced in the story of Godscroft.

Among all the associates of Robert the Brace, in his great enterprise of rescuing Scotland from the power of Edward, the first place is universally conceded to James, the eighth Lord Douglas, to this day venerated by his countrymen as “the Good Sir James:”

“The Gud Schyr James of Douglas,

That in his time sa worthy was,

That off his price and his bounte,

In far landis renownyt was he.”


“The Good Sir James, the dreadful blacke Douglas,

That in his dayes so wise and worthie was,

Wha here, and on the infidels of Spain,

Such honour, praise, and triumphs did obtain.”


From the time when the King of England refused to reinstate him, on his return from France, where he had received the education of chivalry, in the extensive possessions of his family — which had been held forfeited by the exertions of his father, William the Hardy — the young knight of Douglas appears to have embraced the cause of Bruce with enthusiastic ardour, and to have adhered to the fortunes of his sovereign with unwearied fidelity and devotion. “The Douglasse,” says Hollinshed, “was right joyfully received of King Robert, in whose service he faithfully continued, both in peace and war, to his life’s end. Though the surname and familie of the Douglasses was in some estimation of nobilitie before those daies, yet the rising thereof to honour chanced through this James Douglasse; for, by meanes of his advancement, others of that lineage tooke occasion, by their singular manhood and noble prowess, shewed at sundrie times in defence of the realme, to grow to such height in authoritie and estimation, that their mightie puissance in mainrent,* lands, and great possessions, at length was (through suspicion conceived by the kings that succeeded) the cause in part of their ruinous decay.”

* Vassalage.

In every narrative of the Scottish war of independence, a considerable space is devoted to those years of perilous adventure and suffering which were spent by the illustrious friend of Bruce, in harassing the English detachments successively occupying his paternal territory, and in repeated and successful attempts to wrest the formidable fortress of Douglas Castle itself from their possession. In the English, as well as Scotch Chronicles, and in Rymer’s Foedera, occur frequent notices of the different officers intrusted by Edward with the keeping of this renowned stronghold; especially Sir Robert de Clifford, ancestor of the heroic race of the Cliffords, Earls of Cumberland; his lieutenant, Sir Richard de Thurlewalle, (written sometimes Thruswall,) of Thirwall Castle, on the Tippal, in Northumberland; and Sir John de Walton, the romantic story of whose love pledge, to hold the Castle of Douglas for a year and day, or surrender all hope of obtaining his mistress’s favour, with the tragic consequences, softened in the Novel, is given at length in Godscroft, and has often been pointed out as one of the affecting passages in the chronicles of chivalry.*

* The reader will find both this story, and that of Robert of Paris, in Sir W. Scott’s Essay on Chivalry, published in 1818, in the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. — E.

The Author, before he had made much progress in this, probably the last of his Novels, undertook a journey to Douglasdale, for the purpose of examining the remains of the famous Castle, the Kirk of St. Bride of Douglas, the patron saint of that great family, and the various localities alluded to by Godscroft, in his account of the early adventures of good Sir James; but though he was fortunate enough to find a zealous and well-informed cicerone in Mr. Thomas Haddow, and had every assistance from the kindness of Mr. Alexander Finlay, the resident Chamberlain of his friend Lord Douglas, the state of his health at the time was so feeble, that he found himself incapable of pursuing his researches, as in better days he would have delighted to do, and was obliged to be contented with such a cursory view of scenes, in themselves most interesting, as could be snatched in a single morning, when any bodily exertion was painful. Mr. Haddow was attentive enough to forward subsequently some notes on the points which the Author had seemed desirous of investigating; but these did not reach him until, being obliged to prepare matters for a foreign excursion in quest of health and strength, he had been compelled to bring his work, such as it is, to a conclusion.

The remains of the old Castle of Douglas are inconsiderable. They consist indeed of but one ruined tower, standing at a short distance from the modern mansion, which itself is only a fragment of the design on which the Duke of Douglas meant to reconstruct the edifice, after its last accidental destruction by fire.* His Grace had kept in view the ancient prophecy, that as often as Douglas Castle might be destroyed, it should rise again in enlarged dimensions and improved splendour, and projected a pile of building, which, if it had been completed, would have much exceeded any nobleman’s residence then existing in Scotland — as, indeed, what has been finished, amounting to about one-eighth part of the plan, is sufficiently extensive for the accommodation of a large establishment, and contains some apartments the dimensions of which are magnificent. The situation is commanding; and though the Duke’s successors have allowed the mansion to continue as he left it, great expense has been lavished on the environs, which now present a vast sweep of richly undulated woodland, stretching to the borders of the Cairntable mountains, repeatedly mentioned as the favourite retreat of the great ancestor of the family in the days of his hardship and persecution. There remains at the head of the adjoining bourg, the choir of the ancient church of St. Bride, having beneath it the vault which was used till lately as the burial-place of this princely race, and only abandoned when their stone and leaden coffins had accumulated, in the course of five or six hundred years, in such a way that it could accommodate no more. Here a silver case, containing the dust of what was once the brave heart of Good Sir James, is still pointed out; and in the dilapidated choir above appears, though in a sorely ruinous state, the once magnificent tomb of the warrior himself. After detailing the well-known circumstances of Sir James’s death in Spain, 20th August, 1330, where he fell, assisting the King of Arragon in an expedition against the Moors, when on his way back to Scotland from Jerusalem, to which he had conveyed the heart of Bruce — the old poet Barbour tells us that —

“Quhen his men lang had mad murnyn,

Thai debowalyt him, and syne

Gert scher him swa, that mycht be tane

The flesch all haly frae the bane.

And the carioune thar in haly place

Erdyt, with rycht gret worschip, was.

“The banys haue thai with them tane;

And syne ar to thair schippis gane;

Syne towart Scotland held thair way,

And thar ar cummyn in full gret hy.

And the banys honbrabilly

In till the Kyrk of Douglas war

Erdyt, with dule and mekill car.

Schyr Archebald his sone gert syn

Off alabastre, bath fair and fyne,

Ordane a tumbe sa richly

As it behowyt to swa worthy.”

* The following notice of Douglas Castle, &c., is from the Description of the Sheriffdom of Lanark, by William Hamilton of Wishaw, written in the beginning of the last century, and printed by the Maitland Club of Glasgow in 1831:—

“Douglass parish, and baronie and lordship, heth very long appertained to the family of Douglass, and continued with the Earles of Douglass untill their fatall forfeiture, anno 1455; during which tyme there are many noble and important actions recorded in histories performed by them, by the lords and earls of that great family. It was thereafter given to Douglass, Earle of Anguse, and continued with them untill William, Earle of Anguse, was created Marquess of Douglass, anno 1633; and is now the principal seat, of the Marquess of Douglass his family. It is a large baronie and parish, and ane laick patronage; and the Marquess is both titular and patron. He heth there, near to the church, a very considerable great house, called the Castle of Douglas; and near the church is a fyne village called the town of Douglass, long since erected in a burgh of baronie. It heth ane handsome church, with many ancient monuments and inscriptions on the old, interments of the Earles of this place.

“The water of Douglas runs quyte through the whole length of this parish, and upon either side of the water it is called Douglasdale. It toucheth Clyde towards the north, and is bounded by Lesmahagow to the west, Kyle to the southwest, Crawford John and Carmichaell to the south and southeast. It is a pleasant strath, plentifull in grass and corn, and coal; and the minister is well provided.

“The lands of Heysleside belonging to Samuel Douglass, has a good house and pleasant seat, close by wood,” &c. — P. 65.

The monument is supposed to have been wantonly mutilated and defaced by a detachment of Cromwell’s troops, who, as was their custom, converted the kirk of St. Bride of Douglas into a stable for their horses. Enough, however, remains to identify the resting-place of the great Sir James. The effigy, of dark stone, is crossed-legged, marking his character as one who had died after performing the pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, and in actual conflict with the infidels of Spain; and the introduction of the HEART, adopted as an addition to the old arms of Douglas, in consequence of the knight’s fulfilment of Bruce’s dying injunction, appears, when taken in connexion with the posture of the figure, to set the question at rest. The monument, in its original state, must have been not inferior in any respect to the best of the same period in Westminster Abbey; and the curious reader is referred for farther particulars of it to “The Sepulchral Antiquities of Great Britain, by Edward Blore, F.S.A.” London, 4to, 1826: where may also be found interesting details of some of the other tombs and effigies in the cemetery of the first house of Douglas.

As considerable liberties have been taken, with the historical incidents on which this novel is founded, it is due to the reader to place before him such extracts from Godscroft and Barbour as may enable him to correct any mis-impression. The passages introduced in the Appendix, from the ancient poem of “The Bruce,” will moreover gratify those who have not in their possession a copy of the text of Barbour, as given in the valuable quarto edition of my learned friend Dr. Jamieson, as furnishing on the whole a favourable specimen of the style and manner of a venerable classic, who wrote when Scotland was still full of the fame and glory of her liberators from the yoke of Plantagenet, and especially of Sir James Douglas, “of whom,” says Godscroft, “we will not omit here, (to shut up all,) the judgment of those times concerning him, in a rude verse indeed, yet such as beareth witness of his true magnanimity and invincible mind in either fortune:—

“Good Sir James Douglas (who wise, and wight, and worthy was,)

Was never over glad in no winning, nor yet oversad for no lineing;

Good fortune and evil chance he weighed both in one balance.”

W. S.

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