The Black Douglas Coffee House, Deal, Kent
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The Black Douglas Coffee House, Deal, Kent

The Black Douglas

Sir James Douglas (also known as Good Sir James and the Black Douglas), (1286 - August 25, 1330), was a Scottish soldier and knight who fought in the Scottish Wars of Independence. He was a son of Sir William Douglas, the 'Hardy', who had been a supporter of William Wallace, and died in 1299, a prisoner in the Tower of London. His mother was Elizabeth Stewart, the daughter of Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland.

Brought up in France, he returned to Scotland to claim his ancestral lands and rallied round the newly proclaimed King, Robert the Bruce, who claimed the throne of Scotland form Edward I of England.

Douglas played a conspicuous part in the victotious Battle of Bannockburn, commanding the main battalion on the left flank of the army. On the morning of the 24 June, the day of the main battle, he received the singular honour of being created a Knight banneret by the king, Robert the Bruce, a distinction only ever conferred on the battlefield.

Bannockburn effectively ended the English presence in Scotland and left northern England open to attack; and in the years that followed many communities in the area became closely acquainted with the 'Blak Dowglas.' Along with Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Douglas was to make a new name for himself in a war of mobility, which carried Scots raiders as far south as Pontefract and the Humber. But in a real sense this 'war of the borders' belonged uniquely to Douglas, and became the basis for for his family's steady ascent to greatness in years to come. War ruined many ancient noble houses; it was the true making of the house of Douglas.

Before he died in 1329, King Robert made it his last request that Sir James, as his oldest and most esteemed companion in arms, should carry his heart to the holy land, and deposit it in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. His heart was placed in a silver and enameled casket which Douglas placed around his neck. Early in 1330, James Douglas set sail from Scotland with six other knights and twenty six squires and gentlemen.

Once on the mainland they received news of a crusade by Alfonso XI of Castile against the Muslims of the kingdom of Granada. Accordingly, they sailed to Seville, where they were received by Alfonso with great distinction.Douglas and his company, having joined themselves to Alfonso's army, came in view of the Saracens near to Teba, a castle on the frontiers of Andalucia.

While the battle was brought to a successful conclusion in one quarter of the field, Douglas, and his brave companions, who fought in the van, proved themselves equally valiant. The Moors, not long able to withstand the furious encounter of their assailants, fled. However, Douglas, unacquainted with their mode of warfare, followed them until, finding himself almost deserted by his followers, he turned his horse, with the intention of rejoining the main body. Just then, however, he observed a knight of his own company surrounded by a body of Moors who had suddenly rallied.

With the few knights who attended him, Douglas turned hastily to attempt rescue. He soon found himself hard pressed by the numbers who thronged upon him. Taking from his neck the silver casket which contained the heart of Bruce, he threw it before him among the enemy, saying, "Now pass thou onward before us, as thou wert wont, and I will follow thee or die."

Douglas, and almost all of the men who fought by his side, were here slain. His body and the casket containing the embalmed heart of Bruce were found together upon the field. They were conveyed back to Scotland by his surviving companions. The remains of Douglas were deposited in the family vault at St Bride’s chapel, and the heart of Bruce solemnly interred by Moray, the regent, under the high altar of Melrose Abbey.

In 1356 the 'bloody heart' was incorporated in the arms of Sir James' nephew, William, 1st Earl of Douglas. It subsequently appeared, sometimes with a royal crown, in every branch of the Douglas family.

  83 Beach Street,  Deal,  Kent,  CT14 6JB