More from World Wide Words. A romantic story and an example of the
mutability of names in the middle ages>>
KATIE, BAR THE DOOR! A quick education in Scots history followed
my fumbling attempts last week to explain this saying. Many e-mails
arrived pointing out the story of Catherine Douglas. King James I
of Scotland, a cultured and firm ruler, was seen by some of his
countrymen as a tyrant. Under attack by his enemies while staying
at the Dominican chapter house in Perth on 20 February 1437, he was
holed up in a room whose door had the usual metal staples for a
wooden bar, but whose bar had been taken away. The legend is that
Catherine Douglas, one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, tried
heroically to save James I by barring the door with her naked arm.
Her attempt failed, her arm being broken in the process, and the
King was murdered, but she was thereafter known as Catherine
Barlass. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote a poem about her in 1881,
entitled "The Kings Tragedy", of which one stanza is:
Like iron felt my arm, as through
The staple I made it pass:
Alack! it was flesh and bone no more!
Twas Catherine Douglas sprang to the door,
But I fell back Kate Barlass.