Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus

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Archibald Douglas
Earl of Angus
Archibald 'Bell-the-Cat' depicted as a notable figure in Scottish history by the Victorian artist William Hole
Predecessor George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus
Successor Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus
Father George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus
Mother Isabella Sibbald
Born 1449
Died October 1513
Buried Whithorn Priory[1]

Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus (1449 – October 1513), was a late medieval Scottish magnate. He became known as "Bell the Cat". He became the most powerful nobleman in the realm through a successful rebellion and established his family as the most important in the kingdom.


Angus, born about 1449 at Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, succeeded his father, George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus, in 1462 or 1463 at the age of just fourteen.

In 1481, Angus became Warden of the East March, but the next year he joined the league against James III and his favourite, Robert Cochrane, at Lauder. Here he is said to have earned his nickname by offering to "bell the cat"—specifically, to deal with Cochrane—beginning the attack upon him by pulling his gold chain off his neck, and then ordering the hanging of Cochrane and others of the king's favourites from Lauder old bridge (the site of which is in the grounds of Thirlestane Castle). The earliest written source for the story is in David Hume of Godscroft, the Douglas family biographer.[2] The phrase "to bell the cat" comes from the fable "The Mice in Council", erroneously ascribed to Aesop, and refers to a dangerous task undertaken for the benefit of all.

Subsequently he joined Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, in league with Edward IV of England on 11 February 1483, signing the convention at Westminster which acknowledged the overlordship of the English king. However, in March Albany and Angus returned, outwardly at least, to their allegiance, and received pardons for their treason.

After a period of peace between them, Angus and the king again started to quarrel. Angus now decided to rebel against the king. Having the support of the Scottish nobility this time, he marched against James III and they fought the Battle of Sauchieburn during which the king was killed.

Angus became one of the guardians of the young king James IV. but soon lost influence, to the Homes and Hepburns, and the wardenship of the marches went to Alexander Home. Though outwardly on good terms with James, Angus treacherously made a treaty with Henry VII around 1489 or 1491, by which he undertook to govern his relations with James according to instructions from England. He also agreed to hand over Hermitage Castle, commanding the pass through Liddesdale into Scotland, on the condition of receiving English estates in compensation.

In October 1491 he fortified his castle of Tantallon against James, but had to submit and to exchange his Liddesdale estate and Hermitage Castle for the lordship of Bothwell.

In 1493 Angus again returned to favour, receiving various grants of lands. He became Chancellor, which office he retained till 1498. In June 1497 he opened talks for the surrender of Perkin Warbeck at 'Jenyn Haugh'.[3] In 1501, in disgrace once more, he was confined to Dumbarton Castle. At the disaster at Flodden Field in 1513, though absent himself, Angus lost his two eldest sons. As the Scottish nation licked its wounds, Angus won appointment as one of the councilors of Margaret Tudor the queen regent; but the newly appointed councilor died at the end of October 1513.[4] His successor to the Earldom of Angus was his grandson, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus.

Marriages and children

Angus married twice:[4]

  1. On 4 March 1468: Elizabeth (d. 1498), daughter of Robert Boyd, 1st Lord Boyd[4]
  2. In the summer of 1500: Katherine Stirling, daughter of Sir William Stirling of Keir[4]

Janet, daughter of John Kennedy, 2nd Lord Kennedy, was one of his mistresses.[4]

Children by first marriage

Name Birth Death Notes
George Douglas, Master of Angus 1469 9 September 1513 married in March 1488, Lady Elizabeth Drummond; had issue, killed at the Battle of Flodden
Lady Mariot Douglas 1470 married Cuthbert Cunningham, 2nd Earl of Glencairn; had issue
Sir William Douglas 1471 9 September 1513 married Lady Elizabeth Auchinleck; had issue, killed at the Battle of Flodden
Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld c.1476[4]  
Lady Elizabeth Douglas 1474  
Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie c.1490[4] c.1540 Given the nickname Greysteil by James V
Lady Janet Douglas 1476  


  1. Angus's heart was removed and is buried at St Bride's Kirk, Douglas. Fraser vol ii p106 & p608
  2. Tom Betteridge (11 October 2002). Sodomy in Early Modern Europe. Manchester University Press. p. 145 note 47. ISBN 978-0-7190-6115-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, 1357-1509, vol. 4, HM Register House, Edinburgh (1888), 329
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Norman Macdougall, ‘Douglas, Archibald , fifth earl of Angus (c.1449–1513)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.


  • Fraser, Sir William, The Douglas Book IV vols. Edinburgh. 1885
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Angus, Earls of" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
George Douglas
Earl of Angus Succeeded by
Archibald Douglas
Political offices
Preceded by
1st Earl of Argyll
Lord Chancellor of Scotland
Succeeded by
2nd Earl of Huntly
Military offices
Preceded by
1st Earl of Arran
Lord High Admiral of Scotland Succeeded by
5th Lord Maxwell