town and it seemed as if the blaze might spread across Scotland.
The King, it is said, came close to despair, appalled by what he had done, or at least by its consequences. He even spoke of abdicating and withdrawing to France. But this mood was temporary, and his chancellor, Bishop Kennedy, a man revered for both virtue and learning, told him plainly that he was not entitled to abandon his kingdom. Moreover, taking a sheaf of arrows, the Bishop showed him how to defeat his enemies. Banded together, the arrows could not be broken, but each snapped easily if taken by itself. In short, in order to secure victory, the King must first divide his enemies.
So he turned first on the murdered Earl’s ally Crawford in the north, and in alliance with the Gordons, a rising family in Aberdeenshire, whose head had recently been made Earl of Huntly, broke his power; Crawford’s estates were forfeited, and became available as rewards for loyalty and future bribes to secure support. At the same time, by a mixture of cajolery, promises and scarcely veiled threats, James contrived to detach the other branch of the Douglas family – the Red Douglases, whose head was the Earl of Angus – from their cousins. So, with the support of Parliament, and with the north at least quiescent, he was able to turn against his chief enemy.
He had much need to do so. The Earl and his twin brother Hugh, Earl of Ormond, had formally renounced their allegiance to James, and sent a message to Henry VI of England offering to do homage to him instead. But the suddenness of the King’s success against his allies caused the Earl to have second thoughts. For the moment he was prepared to forget his grievances, even forgive the King for his brother’s murder. James too, conscious of his own guilt – no matter what Parliament had declared – was ready to make peace. Douglas submitted, gave up his claim to the earldom of Wigtown and promised to make amends and also to do his duty as Warden of the Marches. In return James gave him back that disputed earldom and agreed to support a request that the Pope should grant the Earl a dispensation to permit him to marry his brother’s widow, Margaret of Galloway, on the grounds of non-consummation of her previous marriage. This was obtained, though it is likely that few believed that Margaret, a young woman of twenty, was still a virgin. To show his trust, James then sent Douglas to England as his commissioner to renew a truce between the two kingdoms.
His behaviour has puzzled historians, all the more so because the marriage once again reunited all the Douglas lands and gave the Earl the chance to revive, by right of his wife, the claim to the throne of Euphemia Ross’s descendants. One explanation that has been offered is that James’s lenient treatment of the man who only a few months before had exposed him to public humiliation when he dragged that dishonoured safe-conduct through the streets of Stirling was the result of some impulse of penitence for the murder of Douglas’s brother. But it may be that he had merely misread his opponent.
Once over the border, Douglas seems to have forgotten that the King had treated him generously and resumed his intrigues. The state of England was itself disturbed, for that year, 1453, saw an English army defeated in France, at the Battle of Chatillon; and that was the end of the attempt, twice near to success, of the English kings to conquer France. Only Calais now remained in English hands, and as so often, military failure provoked political discontent. The Lancastrian government was weak and discredited, the King, Henry VI, gentle and pious, unfitted to govern. His cousin Richard, Duke of York, had ambitions to supplant him. The sporadic conflict, to be known as ‘the Wars of the Roses’, was imminent; it would last thirty years. Douglas, seeing an opportunity for himself, approached York and secured the release, after so many years, of the aged Malise Graham, Earl of