Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie


Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie was appointed High Treasurer of Scotland on the 29th of October, 1526.

Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie was one of that [un]fortunate band of medieval Scottish courtiers who fell into and out of favour with their King. In Archie's case, that King was James V, son of James IV, son of James III, son of James II, son of James I, son of... oops, we've ran out of James'. Archie himsel' was well connected, being the 4th son of the 5th Earl of Angus and the uncle of the 6th Earl – those being Red Douglas Earls mind, rather than the Black. Archie's two elder brothers died with their King, James IV, at the Battle of Flodden Field on the 9th of September, 1513. Their Pa, the 5th Earl, died sometime after the 29th of November that same year. It's too trite to suggest he died of a broken heart, mourning the death of his sons and less likely when you consider his nickname of Greysteil or Graysteel. Of course, Archie didn't get the Earldom as that passed to the son of the Master of Angus, yet another Archibald Douglas, Archie's nephew; Archie's inheritance was the moniker Greysteil.

According to Douglas history, in a slice of legend spread with blood, the 5th Earl of Douglas gained the lands of Kilspindie in a feud with the then incumbent, Spens of Kilspindie. It's a shame we cannae link Spens here with Sir Partick Spens of ballad fame, but we can link Douglas of Kilspindie with the 'Ballad of Greysteil', which will do. There's no information available to throw some light on just exactly what the Earl and Spens were arguing about, but the upshot was that they resorted to cold steel in an attempt to resolve their differences. There's a thrillingly graphic reconstruction of the outcome of the duel on the Douglas history website, painted by Andrew Spratt. You can image the protagonists squaring up at opposite ends of the lists, before thundering pell mell towards each other aboard half a ton of horseflesh, to a soundtrack compiled from peasants thumping staves on the terraces, and the Queen's rendition of 'We will rock you'. Aye, it's a little known fact that yon Margaret Tudor was a gey handy lute player, ye ken.

With no certain outcome derived from the first headlong charge with lances, the two heavily armoured Lords slid off their mounts and approached each other, swords in hand. Equally matched, they swung and parried and grunted and sweated and hewed and dunted and kicked up a lot of dust. The sound of straining leather as heaving chests rose and fell and lungs gasped for air through parched throats on fire is imaginable, but was barely audible above the rasping breath of the two men. Audible to the crowd was the clanging of swords, of steel on steel or iron, admixed with its own yells and shouts of encouragement and advice. Rents and dents appeared in breastplates and mail, but still the two fought on, neither willing to yield.

After a momentary pause, during which they both leant, panting, on their sword hilts, Spens launched a desperate attack, but lost a cuisse as he led with his left leg, ready for a mad, right angled, overhead swipe at his opponent. As the thigh plate dislodged and fell to the ground, Douglas, exhausted, but with a triumphant gleam in his eye, recognising the frailty of the exposed limb, seized his chance. One mighty sword stroke later and Spens collapsed to the ground without a leg to stand on, his bloody severed left oozing gore in the dust.

When James V was still a loon and the 'Ballad of Greysteil' was well known, Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie inherited the nickname from his father. Kilspindie and his uncle, the 6th Earl, were conspicuous members of the Royal Council, with the Earl having married the late King's widow and having much to do in the affairs of Scotland. For a time, Kilspindie became a favourite of the impressionable boy King, who was undoubtedly familiar with the legend of Greysteill as it was surely recited to him by another famous courtier, Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, who referred to the poem in 1549, in the 'Complaynt of Scotland'.

In 1519, during the minority of James V, the Angus Earl had control of Edinburgh, albeit not the castle in which the King resided for a time, and, in the style of true patronage, his uncle was made Provost, which is akin to being Mayor. Note that the office of Lord Provost dates from 1667, some hundred and twenty years later. Despite the Duke of Albany then barring either a Douglas or a Hamilton from holding the office, apart from that first year of 1519, Kilspindie was Provost again in 1521 and for a third term between 1525 and 1527, when Angus' fortunes recovered following Albany's departure for France in 1524.

During that time and according to the Electric Scotland website (see also http://www.scotsindependent.org/dates1-c.htm ), Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie was made Lord High Treasurer of Scotland on the 29th of October, 1526. The Douglas History website suggests he had acquired the office of treasurer by the 15th of October. Perhaps the fourteen days is explained by the difference between the old style and new style calendars. At any rate, by November, 1525, Kilspindie had also gained the important office of Keeper of the Privy Seal. Interestingly enough, the account which Kilspindie submitted as Treasurer, for the period October 1526 to August 1527, shows the substantial Government debt – for the time – of £3654 8s. 1d. Not much changes.

Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie was born circa 1490; there is no exact date. Despite his high ranking positions and having held favour of the King, Kilspindie suffered ultimately from being a Douglas. At a Parliament on the 5th of September, 1528, the Douglases were condemned for treason with a sentence of forfeiture of life, lands, and goods. An almighty 'back to earth' bump for the descendants of the 'Good Sir James', you might say. Kilspindie's properties, including his residence in Edinburgh, were distributed amongst new favourites as he was forced into exile in England.

Kilspindie seems to have made attempts at reconciliation or rehabilitation, negotiating in February 1529 and again in early 1533 by representation to Thomas Erskine, the Secretary to James V. The latter plea, cheekily enough, despite his having accompanied an English campaign in the Merse on the 11th of December preceding. Finally, encouraged by a peace treaty between Scotland and England, Kilspindie risked returning to Scotland, which he did in August of 1534, seeking clemency. Instead of exacting any more serious revenge, perhaps in recollection of earlier familiarity, James V merely banished Kilspindie 'overseas', probably to France. Wherever he ended up, Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie seems to have died abroad, sometime before 1540.

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