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Saturday, 25 January 2014


GENEALOGY ALERT! My use of the word "cousin" in this article is not geneologically accurate, and intended more to reflect general kinship. Richard Angus's father remains unidentified, unfortunately; but the events and people described here are all real. Enjoy the story. For a really thorough Angus genealogy, you can do no better than look here.

My 3x great uncle Joseph Angus came from a noble line, the Earls of Angus who lived in Tantallon Castle near Edinburgh. One ancestor, a contemporary of his 7x great grandfather, was Archibald Doulgas, the 8th Earl (1555-1588).

Tantallon Castle, East Lothian, built c1350 by William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas and father of the 1st Earl of Angus

These were turbulent times in Scotland in the late sixteenth century. The Scottish Reformation of 1560 saw the previously Catholic Church of Scotland break with the papacy of Rome. Instead, it adopted the Protestant ideas proposed by John Knox and based on the principles of John Calvin; but the king, James VI, had different ideas and under pressure from some of his nobles his “Black Acts” of 1584 reintroduced the Bishops which Calvinism rejected.

James VI of Scotland aged 20, in 1586; he was crowned king at the age of 13 months, and in his minority his regents included the Earls of Mar, Lennox and Morton

Archibald Angus was profoundly Protestant in his religious thinking, something which brought him into frequent conflict with his king. He even tried to arrange an English invasion of Scotland to rescue his uncle the Earl of Morton. Morton had been imprisoned for his part in the murder of James VI’s father, Mary Queen of Scots’ unpopular second husband Lord Darnley. Morton was beheaded and Angus felt it wise to live in exile in London for a year.

Somehow Archibald survived the association with his disgraced uncle and was allowed to return to Tantallon. But when in 1584 he joined a new rebellion against King James led by the Earls of Mar and Gowrie, which was defeated by the Earl of Arran, he had to leave the country once again.

Archibald fled to Northumberland, along with his cousin Richard (Joseph Angus’s 7x great grandfather) and Richard’s wife Alice. When Archibald continued south to London, Richard and Alice remained in the northeast of England. Perhaps Richard did not share his cousin Archibald’s Protestant position; rather surprisingly he and Alice settled in Dilston in County Durham, which was the stronghold of a staunchly Catholic family, the Radcliffes.

Dilston Castle, built c1417, home since c1480 of the Radcliffes of Derwentwater

Archibald Angus managed to patch things up with James VI, and he, Mar and Gowrie returned to Scotland in 1586 at the head of an army which helped rid James of the Earl of Arran, who had by now fallen from favour. Angus served out his days as lieutenant-general of the lawless country of the Scotland-England border, and died in 1588, allegedly as a result of withcraft.

Archibald was succeeded as Earl by another cousin, William Douglas. Perhaps things were just too hot for comfort in Scotland for less lofty members of the rebellious Angus family: Richard and Alice, who had fled with Archibald, remained in Dilston for the rest of their lives, as tenant farmers of Sir Francis Radcliffe.

They seem to have survived by keeping their heads down. Although removed from Scottish intrigue they found themselves at the heart of another Protestant-Catholic clash when Sir Francis Radcliffe (described, at the time, as ‘an obstinate, dangerous and not unlearned recusant’) was imprisoned for his Catholic faith during the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I. His lands were confiscated.

Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, Dilston, built by Sir Francis Radcliffe in 1616, reputedly with funds originally raised to support the Gunpowder Plot (in which Sir Francis was accused of complicity)

Richard and Alice outlived both Archibald and his successor, and saw Sir Francis released in 1603 (his estates were restored to him a few years later), under a general pardon when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

After Richard died in 1604, his widow Alice was awarded a license to brew ale and run a lodging house in Dilston - what today would be called a pub with rooms. It was a far cry from Tantallon Castle (where Richard had been born in 1523), but from Richard’s farm and Alice’s inn the family rebuilt its fortunes and became by the mid-nineteenth century pillars of the Northumbrian community. Sadly there’s no trace of the Dilston inn today.


  1. This is a really interesting read, thanks. I've just found Richard Angus in my tree and it's always good to know more about ancestors than just their names.

  2. Thanks, Anon! You can contact me directly via my website (see above) if you want to correspond about the long history of the Angus family. I wonder where you fit in?!


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