In 1452, William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, captured Sir Patrick Maclellan, the tutor of Bombie and Sheriff of Galloway, and held him in Threave Castle for refusing to join a conspiracy against the king. Sir Patrick’s uncle, who held high royal office, obtained letters ordering the release of Douglas’s prisoner. When Douglas was presented with the royal warrant he promptly had Sir Patrick murdered while he entertained his uncle at dinner. The following telling of the story is taken from The upper ward of Lanarkshire described and delineated, by George Vere Irving, 1864.

The Murder of Earl William Douglas of Threave.

A step was now taken by the Scotch government which was as impolitic as it was unnecessary, and which completely negatives the idea entertained by some historians that the advisers of the King were actuated by an enlightened policy of conciliation. The Earl of Douglas had retained the office of Lieutenant-General of the kingdom, which, however, after the King began to take a personal interest and share in the national affairs, had ceased to be anything more than an honorary rank. The office itself would, moreover, as a matter of course, have terminated in a few months, when James II. completed his twenty-first year. For this, however, the Court did not wait, and the Earl was deprived of the office. This proceeding, which deprived him of the rank of the first subject of the Crown, could only be regarded by that proud noble, who could scarcely brook to yield precedence to the King himself, as a mortal injury. Hastily returning from England, he attacked the Chancellor Crichton, whom he justly regarded as the instigator of the measure, in the streets of Edinburgh, but was unsuccessful in securing the person of his adversary. He also renewed the bonds of mutual defense into which he had formerly entered with the Earls of Crawford and Ross, and these obligations now assumed, if they had not previously borne, a treasonable character. He also summoned his vassals, and imposed upon them an engagement to defend his rights as their overlord, even against their common feudal superior, the sovereign. Several of the more prudent and cautious among the larger of these landholders were averse to such a proceeding, but in these cases the vengeance of the Earl was prompt and immediate. He hanged Herries of Terregles in defiance of a Royal order of liberation transmitted to him by a herald, and committed Maclellan of Bombey to ward in the castle of Douglas. The latter was a near kinsman of Sir Patrick Gray, the captain of the King's Guard, who having obtained from the King an order for Maclellan's liberation, under the great seal, hastened to Douglas. His unsuccessful interview with the Earl, which originated the well-known proverb of, "It is ill speaking between a full man and fasting," has been too often related to require recapitulation.

A civil war was now inevitable, but both parties hesitated to commence it. The patriotic Kennedy, now Archbishop of St Andrews, availed himself of the interval of indecision to endeavour to avert that evil by arranging a personal interview between Douglas and his sovereign. He succeeded in inducing King James to despatch, in February, 1451-2, Sir William Lauder of Halton, who attended Douglas on his pilgrimage to Rome, with a message to him, expressing the desire of the King for a personal conference, and promising absolute security for his person. The Earl agreed to the proposition, and, attended by a small retinue, accompanied Sir William to Stirling, where he took up his abode for the night. On the next day he was received by the King with much cordiality, and was invited to attend the Royal dinner, where the most amicable intercourse was continued, and the Earl was induced to remain for supper, which was in these times served at seven o'clock. Had the Archbishop been present, or had the discussion of business been deferred to a more fitting season of the day, the benevolent scheme of that prelate might have been successful; but, unfortunately, the King took Douglas aside immediately after supper, when probably both were heated by their convivialities, and insisted upon his dissolving his bonds with Crawford and Ross. The manner, as much as the matter of this request, appears to have offended the Earl, who, after upbraiding the King for his neglect of the many services his family had rendered to the Crown, which had never been sufficiently acknowledged, haughtily declared that, as for his confederacy with Ross or Crawford, he had it not in his power to dissolve it, and if he had, he would be sorry to break with his best friends to gratify the caprice of a boy. This sarcasm stung the King into such fury that he drew his dagger, and exclaiming, "This at least will break the bond," twice stabbed the Earl. An alarm was immediately given, and Sir Patrick Gray, the captain of the guard, rushing in, eager for revenge against the Earl, struck him down with a pole-axe, while the rest of the courtiers gratified their resentment by repeated strokes of any weapon that came to hand, so that he expired without a word, covered with twenty-six wounds. The window was then thrown open, and the mangled body cast into the open court.

Whatever remorse the King may have felt for this, as we believe, unpremeditated crime, he showed great energy in obviating its consequences. Assembling, with the least possible delay, a considerable force, he proceeded to Perth, with the view of attacking the Earl of Crawford, another of the parties to the league which he felt to be so alarming to his authority.

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