The first Earls of Angus

Angus is synonymous with the district of Forfar in Scotland, roughly equivalent to the county of Forfarshire described as "an eastern county of Scotland, bounded north by the shires of Kincardine and Aberdeen, west by Perthshire, south by the Firth of Tay and east by the North Sea".

Generally speaking the name of the first earl of Angus is given as one Dufagan, based on the evidence of the Charter of Scone dated to around the year 1115. However The Scottish Peerage is fairly adamant that his successor "Gillebride or Gilbert was the first on record to hold the title of Earl of Angus" and also refers to the doubtful authority of Martin of Clermont for the statement that this Gillebride's father was named Gilchrist, and that he was also Earl of Angus, and fought at the battle of the Standard in 1138.

Whereas there are doubts regarding the existence of this Gilchrist/Dufagan, no such doubts exist regarding Gillebride as he is clearly named as such on the list Scottish hostages provided to ensure observance with the terms of the Treaty of Falaise in 1174. Gillebride was succeeded by his eldest son Adam probably in the year 1187. Although Adam's name is omitted in some accounts, his position as earl seems fairly secure given that he was named as such in a charter granted by William the Lion about the year 1187. Sometime between the years 1187 and 1198 Adam was followed by his younger brother Gilchrist who lived until about the year 1204, and had two sons Magnus, who by some authorites became Earl of Caithness and Duncan, who succeeded him as Earl of Angus.

Malcolm also became Earl of Caithness in 1231, although he is later believed to have surrendered the title in favour of his uncle Magnus. Since Malcolm had no sons (a position that likely influenced his decision to pass the title of Caithness to his uncle) and therefore on his death sometome before the year 1242 the title of Angus passed into the hands of his eldest daughter Matilda.

Umfraville and Stewart

The family of Umfraville originated from the town of Amfreville in Normandy, and obtained lands in Northumberland, including Redesdale and Prudhoe, and in in 1243 Gilbert de Umfraville, Lord of Pradhoe and Redesdale, married Matilda daughter and heiress of Malcolm, Earl of Angus.

Whether Gilbert, who died in 1245, ever formally claimed the title is uncertain and some accounts will insist that it was his son Gilbert who was properly the first Umfraville Earl and argue that he took the title as a continuation of the original line of earls and thus should be numbered in succession to his predecessors. Although whether as the 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th Earl varies considerably. In the circumstances it seems clearer to allocate the Umfravilles to their own sequence.

The second Gilbert cannot have been much more than a year old at the time of his father's death and it is therefore likely that his mother Matilda, who survived until around the year 1260 continued to run things until he was of age. Gilbert was later called to the English Parliament as Baron Umfraville in 1295 and was a supporter of Edward I's claims to authority over Scotland and fought against William Wallace at the battle of Falkirk on the 22nd July 1298 and was later one of the many Scottish nobles who opposed Robert the Bruce. Gilbert died in 1307, and his eldest son Gilbert having predeceased him he was succeeded by his second son Robert who continued the tradition of loyalty to the English crown and fought on the English side at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when he was captured by the Scots and later ransomed.

After having defied the victor of Bannockburn, Robert was deprived of his Scottish estates and title although naturally Robert de Umfraville would not have recognised the acts of his Bruce namesake as legitimate and continued to assert his right to the earldom. Thus it was not until after Robert de umfraville's death in 1325 that Robert the Bruce finally awarded Angus to a John Stewart. Robert de Umfraville's son and heir, Gilbert de Umfraville thus became one of the Disinherited who joined with Edward Balliol in his attempt to win the Scottish crown in 133 The attempt ultimately failed and Gilbert was never able to make good his claim to Angus, and he died without issue in 1381 when his estates were divided between his niece, Eleanor and his half-brother Thomas de Umfraville and the Umfraville's gave up on the idea of recovering their lands in Angus.

John Stewart is certainly named as the Earl of Angus in a charter dated 15th June 1329 although circumstances indicate that he was likely to have been granted the dignity a year or so before that date. He was the eldest son of a John Stewart of Bonkyl who had died at the battle of Falkirk in 1298 and thus from a family of trusted Scottish loyalists.

John was succeeded by his eldest son Thomas Stewart, who died in 1361 and then by a grandson of the same. Thomas Stewart, 3rd Earl of Angus died without issue in 1377 and the Stewart line therefore ended with Margaret Stewart, Countess of Angus, and widow of Thomas, 9th Earl of Mar.

Douglas

Margaret Stewart had established what can quaintly be referred to as "an irregular connection" with William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, which is to say that Margaret and William together produced a son named George without going to the trouble of actually marrying one another. Margaret then secured from Robert II (who was of course a Stewart kinsman) a charter dated the 9th April 1389, granting her son George the estates and title of Angus. Thus George became the founder of what became known as thee Red Douglas branch of the Douglas family who were Earls of Angus, to be distinguished from the main Douglas line, the Black Douglas who were the Earls of Douglas. (Who oddly enough were not the descendants of the aforementioned William but rather his uncle James Douglas.)

This George was taken prisoner after the battle of Homildon Hill in 1402 and was likely injured in some way in this battle as he died shortly afterwards in England. He was succeeded by his eldest son William, 2nd Earl who married Margaret, daughter of a William Hay of Yester. William died in 1437 and was succeeded by his eldest son James, who died circa 1446 without issue and was therefore followed by his younger brother George. George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus took sides with king James II against his Black Douglas kin and led the army that fought against them at the battle of Arkinholm on the 1st May 1455. George's victory at that battle was rewarded when a subsequent Act of Parliament granted Angus the Lordship of Douglas together with ancestral estates in the Vale of Douglas.

The 4th Earl died in 1463 and was followed by his eldest son Archibald Douglas who was prominent amongst those who opposed the influence of Robert Cochrane, favourite of James III. The 5th Earl won himself the nickname of 'Bell-the-Cat' by personally capturing and executing Cochrane in 1482, and six years later in 1488 he led the rebellion that replaced James III with James IV. Archibald is on record as having advised James that his idea of invading England was doomed to defeat and failure. As it turned out James should have listened to Archibald, but unfortunately the massacre of the Scottish nobles at the battle of Flodden in 1513 included both of the 5th Earl's sons, which left Archibald so heart broken that he himself died in the following year.

Archibald was therefore succeeded by his grandson Archibald Douglas as the 6th Earl, who in the aftermath of Flodden became involved in the struggle for control of the young James V, which finally led to his exile in England in 1529. It wasn't until the year 1542 and the death of James V, that the 6th Earl was allowed to return to Scotland and was restored to his lands and former position. Thereafter he appears to have been equally opposed to the government of the regent James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, and his successor, Mary of Guise.

The 6th Earl had no sons and was thus succeeded by his nephew David, 7th Earl who held the title for a year before his death in 1557 when he was followed by his eldest son Archibald Douglas. An ardent Presbyterian, the 8th Earl had earlier been a supporter of his uncle James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, as Regent of Scotland and was briefly driven into exile in England between 1581 and 1582 after being declared guilty of treason. Having participated in the rebellion that removed his uncle's successor as Regent from office, the Act of Indemnity 1585 awarded him his uncle's title of Earl of Morton. He was therefore known under this title before his succession to the earldom of Angus in 1557.

Archibald died on the 4th August 1588; he had no sons and therefore the title of Angus passed to a distant cousin and great-grandson of Archibald 'Bell the Cat' the 5th Earl, whilst that of Morton became extinct and was granted to William Douglas of Lochleven. The distant cousin who became the 9th Earl of Angus in 1588 was William Douglas of Glenbervie who married an Egidia Graham, daughter of Robert Graham of Morphic, and died in 1591.

His eldest son William had became a Roman Catholic in his youth after a visit to the French court, and although disinherited and locked up by his father as a result of this unfortunate lapse, nevertheless succeeded to his father's titles and estates 10th Earl of Angus in 1591. But it was not long before he was imprisoned on a charge of treason in January 1593, escaped but was nevertheless condemned and his titles and estates declared forfeit. He joined with his fellow Catholic nobles the Earls of Bothwell, Huntly and Erroll in a rebellion which continued until 1597 when all four renounced their former faith, declared themselves to be good Presbyterians, and where thus restored to their previous estates and honours.

However William later became somehat piqued when the Earl of Huntly was promoted to a Marquess and he wasn't, recanted his previous declaration and returned to the Catholicism and was therefore excommunicated by the Scottish Church in 1608. He fled to France in the following year and died in Paris on the 3rd March 1611.

He was succeeded by his son William Douglas the 11th Earl who was created Marquess of Douglas in 1633. The title Earl of Angus was subsequently used as a courtesy title by the eldest son and heir of the Marquesses until the time of Archibald Douglas, the 3rd Marquess who was created the first and only Duke of Douglas who died without issue in 1761.

The title then passed into the hands of the Douglas Dukes of Hamilton who retain the title to this day, although technically speaking they hold the 1633 regrant of the title to the 1st Marquess of Douglas as opposed to the original 1389 Douglas creation which became extinct on the death of Archibald Douglas, Duke of Douglas.


THE EARLS OF ANGUS

ANGUS

UMFRAVILLE

STEWART

DOUGLAS

Title forfeited for treason 1593, restored 1597

(William Douglas created Marquess of Douglas in 1633)


SOURCES

  • EARL OF ANGUS from James Balfour Paul (ed.): The Scots Peerage, Volume I, (Edinburg 1904} reproduced at http://koti.phnet.fi/ossian/angus.htm
  • The Umfreville Earls of Angus at gazzalw.tripod.com/angus.html
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • The Douglas Archives at http://www.blae.net/douglas/Index.htm
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ANGUS, EARLS OF
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/

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