The daring exploits and vicious doggedness of the good Sir James turned him into the “bogeyman” of the English. English mothers would frighten unruly children by telling them that the Black Douglas would come and get them if they did not behave! Douglas was an early practitioner of psychological warfare, as well as guerrilla warfare, realising that fear alone could do much of the work of a successful commander. The poet and chronicler John Barbour described him in verse, one of the first descriptions in this form in Scottish history;
But he was not so fair that we
Should praise his looks in high degree.
In visage he was rather grey;
His hair was black, so I heard say,
His limbs were finely made and long,
His bones were large, his shoulders strong,
His body was well-knit and slim
And those say that set eyes on him,
When happy, loveable was he,
And meek and sweet in company,
But those with him in battle saw
Another countenance he wore!