James Douglas...working up to Palm Sunday

One thing an author must always decide is: where does a story start?  Current thought is start with the action, jump right in, back up to explain if necessary.  I tried multiple times to start Blue Bells of Scotland when Shawn wakes up in the wrong century.  Or perhaps when he and Amy go up into the tower and we have some sense something is going to happen.  But it seemed to me that starting it there lacked context--or any emotional investment in what happens to Shawn.  We needed to know something about him in order to care one way or another.

He swaggered into the reception room and leaned over the secretary's desk, smiling his infectious smile and complimenting her eyes. In minutes, he had a date with her. She called her fiance to cancel dinner with his parents. Postponed it indefinitely. He drew a rose from the vase on her desk, brushed it across her lips, and took it, and her longing gaze, with him.
Strutting into the warm-up area, he sized up forty-five world-class trombonists. His eyes fell on the lone woman. He trailed the rose along her cheek and flipped his card up between two fingers. "Call me," he mouthed.
Blue Bells of Scotland, Book One of the Blue Bells Chronicles

In the following pages, Shawn only shows himself to be even worse than that, getting drunk, gambling away his trombone, cheating on his girlfriend and for a grand finale, conning her out of her grandmother's heirloom ring the next morning in order to get the trombone back.  How can you not hope this guy wakes up in the wrong century and, as an added bonus, maybe gets run through by a knight as soon as he gets there?  No, actually, even that is a little too good for him.

[Well, as a side note, there are those who say they were busy taking notes on his technique and admiring him.  But that's a different story.  And so many interesting places I could start that one.  And end it.  But that is yet another story.]

[As a second side note (hey, I'm a musician, notes are my thing!) my daughter refuses to read beyond the first chapter, she hates Shawn so much.   But that's just it--the whole series is the story of Shawn's steady changes as he faces a very different existence in medieval Scotland.  But without that glimpse of him, why would anyone care what happens in that tower?]

BUT...we're here to talk about James Douglas, the Good Sir James (or the Black Douglas if you happen to be English.

And so...similarly, with James Douglas.  Where do we start the story of Palm Sunday 1307?   Do we start it that morning?  No, let's back up and give some background of who James Douglas is.  For starters, he's a man little known outside medieval and Scottish circles, yet still has a fan club full of fan girls, 700 years later.  I'm not even kidding.  There's something about Mary...and even more of something about James Douglas.  For one thing, he was real.  That's always an added bonus.

I digress.  Let's get serious here.  James Douglas was the son of Sir William Douglas, 'le Hardi,' i.e., the Bold.  Considering he acquired his second wife by abducting her to his castle when she came to collect rents, I think this might be a fair assessment.  And apparently she rather liked that boldness as she did in fact go on to marry him, have two sons with him and do some dramatic things to hold his castle for him.  That's not a euphemism.

But wait!  I'm straying into le Hardi's story.  James's story and his actions on Palm Sunday, which strike the modern reader as brutal (did I create tension there by alluding to their brutal nature but not telling you what happened?  Stay tuned!) are of course greatly impacted by his youth, in which his bold father was fighting against the English at the siege of Berwick [spoiler, the English won], taken prisoner there, lost his lands; in which James's younger brother Hugh was taken captive by the Sheriff of Essex; in which his father le Hardi was an early supporter of William Wallace against Edward I; in which Robert the Bruce, then the 22-year-old Earl of Carrick, was ordered by Edward to take Douglas Castle but instead turned on Edward and joined the men of Douglas--and the Lady Douglas (who was as I said holding the castle); in which his father le Hardi died of mistreatment while in prison in 1298.

At the age of no more than 10, James was an orphan.  His own mother had died in 1287 or 1288, perhaps in childbirth, perhaps when he was quite young.  His father was now dead and his entire life was in upheaval, largely as a result of Edward I, the English king.

He spent much of his youth in France for his own safety, and on returning home was brought before Edward to petition for the return of his lands.  Edward apparently retained quite some anger at le Hardi and sent James away, landless and penniless.  Or lacking in any currency of the day, for that matter.

James returned to Scotland.  Perhaps mid-March of 1306, he met up with Bruce, who at the time had very recently killed John Comyn before the altar at Grayfriars and was fleeing to Scone as fast as he could--before the Pope could learn of murder on holy ground and ex-communicate him (because an ex-communicated man cannot be crowned king.)

Spoiler: Bruce made it to Scone before the Pope could do anything, and was crowned king on March 25, 1306 and immediately crowned again the next day by Isobel MacDuff.  The crowning of Scotland's greatest king is a story I will still need to tell in this blog.

In this world of violence, upheaval, death and loss--virtually all of it at the hands of the English--James joined the Bruce and became his closest friend and right-hand man, as well as his most trusted commander.

Before we tell the story of Palm Sunday, it's important to stop and think here:  How would any of us feel, completely landless, penniless, our home taken by a foreign king?  What would we do?  If we were writing the story ourselves, how many places might it end up?

The English seemed particularly fond of occupying James Douglas's castle, which has come down to us in history as the Castle Dangerous of Sir Walter Scott's novel.  I will end today's post with that thought and soon get to the second part of this story: What Happened on Palm Sunday.

No fair looking ahead!

If you're an author or a blogger with articles on James Douglas, please feel free to post a link in the comments.


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