A study of the career of Sir James Douglas : the historical record versus Barbour's Bruce
The thesis starts from the premise that John Barbour's 14th century epic poem The Bruce should be viewed primarily as literature and therefore as potentially misleading where historical fact is concerned. Despite the recognition that ignoring Barbour's Bruce creates new gaps in accounts of the period in question, an attempt is made here to reconstruct the biography of Sir James Douglas, 'the Good Sir James', without recourse to Barbour's doubtful information. This biography forms the first part of the thesis. Douglas's rise from obscurity to fame is reflected in lack of documentation for his early years and more plentiful later records especially for the period after Bannockburn. Conflicting statements in Barbour's Bruce are discussed in footnotes where appropriate. The second part of the thesis examines the portrait of James Douglas presented in Barbour's Bruce. The analysis moves from implicit to explicit characterisation. First, I provide a brief survey of Douglas's career in The Bruce for easy comparison with the summarised biography supplied at the end of Part One. Next, individual episodes starring Douglas are analysed with regard to the characteristics they are designed to emphasise. Douglas's speaking parts are briefly given attention and his way of expressing himself compared to that of others in The Bruce. Next Douglas's relationship with other characters and their opinion of him are examined. Consideration of the statements made by detached observers finally leads to a study of direct statements made by the author, and the attributes he employs to describe his hero. A synopsis then aims to sum up the character of Douglas as presented by Barbour. The Conclusion draws together the results of the historical and the literary parts. It compares the differences and similarities between historical fact and Barbour's account, appraising Barbour's treatment of his historical subject matter. The poet is demonstrably prepared to tamper with historical details, but his account remains accurate in general terms, amplifying rather than radically reinterpreting the historical Douglas's personality traits.