Book Launch: Law, Lordship and Tenure: The Fall of the Black Douglases

The Centre for Legal History invites you to the launch of Law, Lordship and Tenure: The Fall of the Black Douglases on 6th October, 2022. This will take lace in Teaching Room 1 in Old College, University of Edinburgh, at 17.30 to be followed by a reception in the Moot Court Room.

The book is authored by two very distinguished scholars, Professor Emeritus Hector Macqueen of Edinburgh and Dr Alan Borthwick of the National Records of Scotland. Over a number of years they have revolutionized our understanding of lordship, tenure and law in later mediaeval Scotland, both separately and in collaboration.

This book is a new interpretation of the fall of later medieval Scotland’s greatest noble family, the Black Douglases, in 1455. The discussion reaches back in time to over a century before, as the family began its rise to the pinnacle of Scottish society. The killing of William eighth earl of Douglas by King James II in 1452 receives particular attention, as also the way in which he, his brother James (his successor as earl), and their predecessors exercised their power and authority as earls and lords, and it is suggested that their identifiable failings in this provide the key to understanding the catastrophe that befell the family in 1455. The principal analytical tool is the law relevant to these events and the specific meaning and significance of the documents (which is often a legal question) that evidence them. It is argued that this form of analysis is at least as relevant as any more political approach and that ‘legal consciousness’ was a vital feature of Scottish noble society.

It is possible to participate by Zoom as well as in person. To participate by Zoom, see

About the authors
Alan Borthwick has been one of the archivist staff of the now National Records of Scotland for over 30 years, and in that time has worked in a variety of posts. He has been Head of the Private Records section since 2007. Alan was the lead curator for the NRS exhibition in 2005 at the Scottish Parliament when the Declaration of Arbroath was last publicly displayed. He was also lead curator for the two exhibitions of the “Wallace document” of 1300, at the Scottish Parliament (2012) and at Stirling Castle (2014). His PhD thesis, on the reign of King James II (1437-1460), was completed in 1989. He also contributed a number of articles to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). Other contributions include “Montrose v Dundee and the Jurisdiction of Parliament and Council over Fee and Heritage in the Mid-Fifteenth Century”, Parliamentary History xv (1) (1996) 33-53 and “An Addition to Scotia Pontifica”, Innes Review xxxix (1) 61-64.

Hector MacQueen is Emeritus Professor of Private Law at the University of Edinburgh Law School, having previously been a member of staff from 1979 to 2021. He has worked on various aspects of Scottish legal history, especially in the medieval period, where his best-known work is Common Law and Feudal Society in Medieval Scotland (1993; reissued 2016). He also writes about ‘legal nationalism’ in Scotland and on the history of copyright. Hector is currently Vice-President of the Stair Society, having previously been its Literary Director 1999-2017. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, having been Vice-President (Humanities) of the latter 2008-2011. He is a Vice-President of the Scottish Text Society. He was awarded a CBE in the 2019 Birthday Honours list. Alan and Hector have previously co-authored a number of published articles, focussed mainly on mid-fifteenth century litigation.