24 November 1440 - The Black Dinner

In 1437, King James I of Scotland was murdered, making his 6-year-old son, James II, King of Scotland. Being so young, his mother relocated him to Edinburgh Castle for safety. Until James II was old enough to rule, the kingdom was governed by regency councils comprised of noblemen always posturing for power.

The Clan Douglas represented a strong presence on the council led by the 5th Earl of Douglas, Archibald Douglas, who served as regent to the young King James II. On the 26th of June 1439, Archibald Douglas died of a fever, thus passing the title of Earl of Douglas to his 16-year-old son William.

Despite their young ages, Sir William Crichton and his ally Sir Alexander Livingston, who managed Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, respectively, viewed the youngster as a threat to the crown and their influence over it.

As a result, they invited rivals from the Clan Douglas, namely 16-year-old William serving as 6th Earl of Douglas, and his younger brother David to Edinburgh Castle for a feast with the now 10-year-old King James II.

The Black Dinner

On the 24th of November 1440, a dinner was held with all enjoying the festivities. A servant brought a mysterious dish and placed it on the table during the meal. It was the severed head of a black bull, which served as a signal regarding the imminent demise of the Douglas boys. Despite pleas from the king to stop, the Douglas boys were taken outside to the castle yard, subjected to a mock trial, found guilty of treason, and beheaded. The events of this night would forever become known as the Black Dinner.

Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott would write centuries later:

Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e’en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein.

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