Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas

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Archibald Douglas, Parson of Douglas, (b. before 1540 - d. after 1587) was also Parson of Glasgow, a Senator of the College of Justice, Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and a notorious intriguer.

Archibald Douglas was Parson of Douglas, Lanarkshire, prior to 15 January 1561/2 on which day he was awarded the Third of the Benefices for that parsonage. He was appointed to the College of Justice on 13 November 1565 as an Extraordinary Lord in place of Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney.

Accused with his brother, William Douglas of Whittinghame, of involvement in the conspiracy to murder David Riccio, he was obliged to retire to France for some time. But the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, secured his return to Scotland, where Douglas then successfully negotiated the pardons of the other conspirators, gazetted on 25 December 1566.

He then entered into the intrigues of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell and his confederates for the assassination of Darnley, and acted as the agent between them and the Earl of Morton, and, according to the on-the-scaffold confession of his servant Binney or Binning, was actually present at Kirk o' Field on the night of the murder (9/10 February 1567). In the confusion of the hour Douglas lost his shoes, which he had removed, which were found in the morning and known to be his. No pursuit was however, at that time, instituted against him.

On 2 June 1568, he was raised to a Lord Ordinary in the College of Justice in place of John Leslie, Bishop of Ross.

He was then sent by Regent, the Earl of Lennox to the Earl of Sussex in September 1570 to congratulate him on his victory over the Border friends of the Queen, and to negotiate support for the Regent's authority. It was thought to be shortly afterwards that he obtained the Parsonage of Glasgow, with some difficulty as the Kirk at first felt him unqualified to enjoy that benefice. In January 1572, however, the requisite sanction was obtained, and he is found to be in receipt of the Thirds of Benefices for Newlands, Glasgow thereafter.

In April 1572 he was found to be assisting the party of Mary, Queen of Scots who then held Edinburgh Castle, by conveying to The Grange four out of five thousand Crowns which had been sent to her by the Duke of Alva. He was at the same time accused of conspiring for the death of the Earl of Morton, and was warded (held under house arrest) at Stirling Castle (another source says Loch Leven Castle).

He appears to have lived, if not in prison, at least in privacy, during the Regency of Morton, but was, on 11 November 1578, restored to his former place on the bench, following a request letter from King James VI to that effect. On 31 December, however, he was denounced to the Privy Council of Scotland as guilty of Darnley's murder, and orders were given for his arrest. But having been forewarned by his kinsman George Douglas of Longniddry, he fled from his wife's tower-house at Morham to England. Queen Elizabeth first agreed to have him returned upon the guarantee of "unsuspect judges and other persons on the assise", but this guarantee could not be given so he remained for the time being in England.

On 28 November 1581, he was forfeited by Act of Parliament for the murder of Lord Darnley, which, they argued, was proved by his flight to England, and the evidence of his servant Binney or Binning, who had, in June 1581, already been executed for the same crime.

Owing to the influence of his friend, the Master of Gray, he returned on a safe-conduct to Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh on 15 April 1586. His (nominal) trial took place on 26 May, (reported at length in Pitcairn's Criminal Trials). He was acquitted. There was great uproar. To make matters worse he was then appointed by James VI his personal Ambassador to Elizabeth 1st, a post he took up in September. While in that post it is said that he assisted the Master of Gray, William Keith, and Sir Robert Melville of Murdocairny to move Elizabeth towards clemency for Mary Queen of Scots, although Dalrymple disputes this. He was at length dismissed from this post, being succeeded by Sir Robert Melville.

After this nothing much appears to be known of him. It is possible he may have died. However, a Mr.Archibald Douglas, Archdeacon of Glasgow (in that post prior to November 1596), is mentioned in the Privy Council Registers on 28 October 1598, and again on 4 December 1599, but it is not known if this is the same person.

Archibald Douglas married, about 1578, (as her third husband) Jane (d. before August 1599), daughter of Patrick Hepburn, 3rd Earl of Bothwell.


  • An Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice of Scotland, by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, Bt., re-edited and republished Edinburgh, 1849, pps: 125-128.
  • The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, edited by David Masson, LL.D., Edinburgh, 1881, volumes IV (1585–1592), and V (1592–1599).
  • The Scots Peerage, by Sir James Balfour Paul, vol.II, Edinburgh, 1905, p. 169.
  • The Seven Ages of an East Lothian Parish - Whittingehame, by Marshall B Lang, Edinburgh, 1929, p. 139.
  • The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices, edited by James Kirk, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 506. ISBN 0-19-726125-6