BADGE: Eidhean na craige (hedera helix) rock ivy
SLOGAN: A Gordon! a Gordon !
PIBROCH: Failte, and Spaidsearachd nan Gordonich
Though the origin of the name and family of Gordon has often been debated, the weight of evidence favours the assumption that the ancestor of the house came from the manor of Gourdon in Normandy about the time of the Norman Conquest, and that he or a descendant was one of the feudal settlers encouraged to come to Scotland in the days of Malcolm Canmore and his sons. Early in the twelfth century, at any rate, according to Chalmers' Caledonia, the ancestor of the race is found settled on the lands of Gordon in Berwickshire. A tradition runs that the first of the name to cross the weed was a valiant knight, a favourite of Malcolm Canmore, who, having killed a wild boar which seriously distressed that district of the Border, obtained from the King a grant of these lands, to which he gave his own surname, and, settling there, assumed the boar's head for his armorial bearing in commemoration of his exploit. For three centuries at least the heads of the house were most closely associated with Border history, and when at last they removed their chief seat to the North of Scotland they left scions of the race, like the Gordons of Lochinvar, afterwards Viscounts Kenmure, and Gordon of Earlston, to carryon the traditions of the name in the south. In the Berwickshire parish, a little north of the village of West Gordon, a rising ground now covered with plantation, but still called "the Castles", and showing the remains of fortification, is pointed out as the early seat of the family. The original Huntly was a village now vanished in the western border of Gordon parish, where two farms are still known respectively as Huntly and Huntly-wood.
In 1270 Adam de Gordon took part in the Crusade organised by Louis XI of France. From this fact the Adam family are said to derive their crest and motto.
In 1309 Sir Adam de Gordon, in return for giving up certain temporal claims, obtained from the monks of Kelso leave to possess a private chapel with its oblations here. It was this Sir Adam de Gordon who along with Sir Edward Mabuisson was sent to Rome by King Robert the Bruce in 1320 as the bearer of the famous letter to the Pope drawn up at Arbroath by the Scottish barons, to declare the real temper and rights of the Scottish people as against the claims of the English Edwards. And it was this same Sir Adam who, in recognition of his services, appears to have received from Bruce a grant of the lands of Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire, which had previously belonged to that king's enemies. Strathbogie was one of the five ancient lordships or thanages which comprised Aberdeenshire, and covered an area of a hundred and 'twenty square miles. Sir Adam fell at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. In 1357 Sir Adam's grandson, Sir John de Gordon, obtained a confirmation from David II of King Robert's grant of these lands, and he or his successor obtained another confirmation from Robert II in 1376.
The chief interests of the family, however, were still on the Border, and in the following year the Earl of March, with whom was Sir John de Gordon, having burned the town of Roxburgh, and the English Borderers having retaliated on Sir John de Gordon's lands, the latter crossed the Border, carried off a great booty, and, when intercepted by a force twice the strength of his own, in a desperate affray overthrew Sir John de Lilburn at Carharm. In the following year, after another fierce conflict, Sir John had a chief hand in defeating and taking captive Sir Thomas de Musgrave, the English Governor of Berwick. Finally, he was one of the knights who took part with the young Earl of Douglas in the famous encounter with the forces of the Earl of Northumberland on the moonlit field of Otterbournc in 1388, and there he fell.
In that famous encounter, as the well-known ballad puts it,
The Gordons good, in English blood
They steeped their hose and shoon.
Fourteen years later, in the days of King Robert III, took place the great battle of Homildon Hill, in which again the leaders on the two sides were an Earl of Douglas and Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland. On this occasion occurred a chivalric episode. Sir John Swinton, seeing the carnage made in the close Scottish ranks by the English bowmen, couched his lance and was about to charge. At that moment Sir Adam de Gordon, who had long been at deadly feud with him, knelt at his feet, begged his forgiveness, and asked the honour of being knighted by so brave a leader. Swinton gave him the accolade and tenderly embraced him, then the two, at the head of their followers dashed upon the English. Alas ! their bravery was not followed up; they both fell, and the battle was lost.
Sir Adam who was the son of Sir John de Gordon mentioned above was the last male of his line. By his wife, daughter of Sir William de Keith, Marischal of Scotland he had an only daughter, Elizabeth. This lady married Alexander, second son of William Seton of Seton, and from that day to this the heads of the great house of Gordon have been Setons in the male line, these Setons being like the Gordons themselves, descended from one of the Norman settlers planted in Scotland by King David I.
In right of his wife, Alexander Seton was known as Lord of Gordon and Huntly, and his son, another Alexander, assuming the name and arms of Gordon, and marrying a daughter of Lord Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, was created Earl of Huntly by James II in 1449 with limitation to his heirs male by Lord Crichton's daughter. The Earl had been twice previously married, first to a granddaughter of the first Earl Marischal, by whom he acquired a great estate, but had no children, and secondly to the heiress of Sir John Hay of Tullibody, by whom he had a son, Sir Alexander Seton, who inherited his mother's estates and was ancestor of the Setons of Touch.
The Earl had in 1424 been one of the hostages sent to England as security for the ransom of James I, and his son George, the second Earl, married the Princess Joanna, daughter of that King, from whom all the later heads of the house have the royal Stewart blood in their veins. Earl George's second son, Adam, Lord of Aboyne, marrying Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, became Earl of Sutherland in her right, and ancestor of the great Sutherland family, while the third son, Sir William Gordon, became ancestor of the Gordons of Gight, and so of George Gordon, Lord Byron, to the nineteenth century. The eldest son, Alexander, the third Earl of Huntly, was he who before the battle of Sauchieburn, counselled James III to come to terms with his rebellious nobles, but, his advice, being overruled, retired like the Earl Marischal and other nobles to his estate. Huntly nevertheless took part at Sauchieburn. Two years later Huntly was appointed Lieutenant of James IV north of the Water of Esk and from this time the Gordon family figures as perhaps the most powerful in the north of Scotland.
Shortly afterwards occurred the curious episode of Perkin Warbeck's visit to Scotland. This "Prince of England", as he was called, was received with royal honours by James IV as one of the sons of Edward IV, slain by Richard III in the Tower. The Scottish King addressed him as cousin, gave tournaments and other courtly entertainments in his honour, and bestowed upon him the hand of the Earl of Huntly's daughter, the beautiful Catherine Gordon, who was through her mother daughter of James I of the blood royal of Scotland. It is of interest in this connection to note that when Perkin Warbeck was finally sent out of the kingdom, setting sail from Ayr in the ship of Robert Barton, he was accompanied by his beautiful wife, who remained faithfully by his side throughout all his future reverses of fortune. After his execution in 1498 she was kindly treated by Henry VII, who placed her in charge of his queen, and gave her a pension. She was known by the English populace as the White Rose of Scotland and afterwards married Sir Matthew Craddock; ancestor of the Earls of Pembroke. Her tomb is still to be seen in the old church at Swansea.
When insurrection broke out in the Western Isles in 1505, the Earl of Huntly was sent to quell the northern area, and he stormed and took Torquil MacLeod's stronghold of Stornoway. Lastly, on Flodden's fatal field, Huntly, along with the Earl of Home, led the Scottish vanguard, and opened the battle with the furious charge which routed the English van, the only part of the action in which the Scots were successful. Sir William, the Earl's younger brother, fell in the battle, but Lord Huntly himself survived till 1528. His eldest son John, Lord Gordon, who died in 1517, married Margaret, natural daughter of James IV, and it was his elder son, George, who succeeded as fourth Earl.
This nobleman took an active part in the affairs of Scotland in the times of King James V, Mary of Lorraine, and Mary Queen of Scots. He was made Chancellor of the kingdom in 1546. He also, two years later, obtained a grant of the earldom of Moray, but the acquisition led to an act which has left a stain upon his name, and it ultimately for a time brought about the complete eclipse of his house. Among other things, the new earldom made him feudal superior of the Clan Mackintosh lands In Nairnshire, in addition to those he already controlled in Badenoch. Huntly appears to have endeavoured to secure complete control of his feudal vassal by getting him to sign a bond of manrent, but the chief, Wilham Mackintosh refused to bind himself. The Earl then proceeded to deprive Mackintosh of his office of Deputy Lieutenant. Presently a certain Lachlan Malcolmson, who owed Mackintosh a grudge, saw in the difference between him and the Earl a means of possible profit and revenge. He accordingly brought a charge against the chief of conspiring to take Huntly's life. Mackintosh was accordingly seized, and thrown into a dungeon at Bog of Gight. Thence Huntly carried him to Aberdeen, tried him there in a court packed with his own followers, and had him condemned to forfeiture and execution. The provost it is said, convened the town in arms to prevent the execution, and accordingly Huntly carried his victim to his own castle of Strathbogie. There, it is said, he left him to his lady to deal with, and that lady - Elizabeth, daughter of Robert, Lord Keith - promptly had him beheaded. This was in 1550. Sir Walter Scott and Skene in his Highlanders of Scotland give a highly picturesque account of this incident, but the fact as above stated appears to be authentic. Nemesis came to Huntly later. He was looked upon as the main champion of the Catholic faith. In this character his interests were opposed to those of the Queen's brother, James, and when Mary conferred upon the latter the northern earldoms, first of Mar and then of Moray, Huntly felt compelled to support his own interest by force of arms. His grandfather had been made hereditary keeper of the castle of Inverness in 1495, and when Queen Mary went thither in the course of the royal progress which she undertook to establish her brother in his earldom, she found the gates of the castle closed in her face by Huntly's castelan. In the upshot the castle was taken and the castelan hanged, and Mary, marching eastward through Huntly's country, encountered him with her army on the slopes of Corrichie on Deeside, The struggle ended disastrously for the Gordons. The Earl, a stout and full-blooded man, having been taken prisoner, was set upon a horse before his captor when he was suddenly seized with apoplexy and fell to the ground dead. His body, produced in Parliament in a mean sackcloth dress was condemned to forfeiture of titles and estates. His son Sir John Gordon, was butchered by a bungling executioner at the Cross of Aberdeen, while Mary was compelled by her brother to look on at the horrid end of the man whom, it is said, she had once dearly loved. At the same time George, the eldest surviving son, sentenced in the barbarous fashion of the time to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, only escaped by the special clemency of the Queen, who, however, appointed him Chancellor in 1565, and reversed the sentence of forfeiture against his house.
This fifth Earl married-Ann Hamilton, daughter of the Regent Earl of Arran, herself a descendant of King James II, and so established still another connection with the royal house of Stewart.
Amid the feuds between the houses of the north at that time a striking incident stands out, and forms the subject of a well-known ballad, "Edom o' Gordon". Details of this incident and its sequel will be found in the account of Clan Forbes on a previous page.
The rivalry, however, between the houses of Huntly and Moray was not over, and at the hands of George Gordon, the sixth Earl, it culminated in a deed which has left a vivid record in ballad and tradition. The Regent Moray's only daughter had married James Stewart, a descendant of that Murdoch, Duke of Albany, executed by James I on Stirling heading hill, and in right of his wife Stewart had assumed the title of Earl of Moray, From his handsome appearance he is remembered as the Bonnie Earl o' Moray. Popular tradition, enshrined in the ballad, asserts that James VI was jealous of his Queen's admiration for the Bonnie Earl, and that Huntly was afforded facilities for accomplishing his family revenge. The subject was dealt with by the late Andrew Lang in an interesting paper. The upshot was that while Moray was staying at his house of Donibristle near Culross on the Forth, it was suddenly assailed by Huntly. Moray escaped, but as he fled along the shore his long yellow hair caught the light of the burning mansion, and betrayed him. After he was struck down Huntly reached the spot, and being called upon by his followers to take an active part in the slaughter, slashed Moray across the face; whereupon the latter is said to have exclaimed bitterly, "You have spoilt a better face than your own". Colour is lent to the popular tradition of the King's concern in the act by the circumstance that, eight years later, in 1599, Huntly was created Marquess, as well as Earl of Enzie, Viscount Inverness, and baron of seven other lordships.
In 1594 Huntly had been accused, along with the Earls of Angus and Errol, of conspiring with the King of Spain for the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion in Scotland. The young Earl of Argyll was sent against him with four or five thousand men, but on his way towards Strathbogie, on the confines of Glenlivet, he was confronted by Huntly and Errol at the head of a force of fifteen hundred. Argyll took up a good position on the side of Benrinnes, but he proved an indifferent leader and in the end himself carried the tidings of his defeat' to the king at Dundee. As a result the King himself was forced by the Protestant nobles to lead an army into the north, where he demolished Errol's castle of Slaines and Huntly's stronghold of Strathbogie, said to have been the finest house of the time in Scotland. It was not long, however, as we have seen, till Huntly received the ample amends of the King. Perhaps one of the reasons for the favour shown him was the fact that he married Lady Henrietta Stewart, eldest daughter of the King's favourite, Esme, Duke of Lennox.
His son George, second Marquess, was a staunch adherent of Charles I. In early life he commanded a company of gens d'armes in France, and in 1632, during his father's lifetime, was created Viscount Aboyne. He refused to subscribe the National Covenant in 1638, and in consequence was driven from Strathbogie by the Marquess of Montrose, then a general on the Covenant side. For two days at that time the Marquess's second son, James, held the Bridge of Dee at Aberdeen against Montrose, but in the end the latter succeeded by stratagem. He sent his cavalry up the river hank, as if to cross at a higher point, and the Gordons on their side rode up to oppose the crossing. While doing so they were cut to pieces by the cannon of Montrose, and as a result the bridge was lost and. Aberdeen captured by the Covenanters. A Covenanting ballad, "Bonnie John Seton", which celebrates the occasion, refers curiously to the effect of the unaccustomed cannon fire upon the Highlanders of that time.
The Highland men are clever men
At handling sword and gun"
But yet are they too naked men
To bear the cannon's rung.
For the cannon's roar in a summer night
Is like thunder in the air;
There's not a man in Highland dress
Can face the cannon's rair.
Huntly was captured and carried to Edinburgh and afterwards outlawed and excommunicated but along with Montrose, who by this time had taken the King's side, he stormed Aberdeen in 1645. After the defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh in that year he raised forces for Charles I in the north, but was captured by Colonel Menzies at Delnabo, and though his wife was a sister of the Marquess of Argyll, then head of the Scottish Government, he was beheaded at Edinburgh by the Covenanters in 1649.
The Marquess's eldest son, George, Lord Gordon, had joined Montrose and fallen at the battle of Alford in 1645, and his second son, James, who had inherited his father's Viscounty of Aboyne, and had also joined Montrose in the interest of Charles I had fled to France and died of grief after the execution of the king in 1649. It was therefore the third son, Lewis, who was restored to the family honours and estate, as third Marquess, by Charles II, during that young monarch's short reign in Scotland in 1651.
It was his only son George who succeeded as fourth Marquess in 1653, when he was no more than ten years old. After seeing military service with the French under Turenne at the battle of Strasbourg and afterwards under the Prince of Orange, he was, at the recommendation of Claverhouse, created Duke of Gordon in 1684. James VII appointed him a Privy Councillor and captain of Edinburgh Castle, but at the Revolution in 1689 he surrendered the stronghold to the Convention of Estates. His wife, a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, retired to a convent in Flanders, whereupon the Duke brought an action against her for restitution of conjugal rights. It was she who in 1711 sent the Faculty of Advocates a medal bearing the head of the Chevalier, with the motto "Reddite".
Naturally her son, Alexander, the second Duke, was an ardent Jacobite. During the Rising of 1715, while Marquess of Huntly, he joined the forces of the Earl of Mar at Perth with two thousand three hundred men, and he was present at the battle of Sheriffmuir; but he received pardon and succeeded to the Dukedom in 1716. He was on intimate terms with the King of Prussia and with Cosmo di Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, after whom he named his eldest son, and he received presents from Pope Clement XII.
It was his eldest son, Cosmo George, who was head of the house during the critical period of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. While the Duke himself did not join the rising under Prince Charles Edward, his brother, Lord Lewis Gordon, did, and led a strong contingent of the clansmen in the campaign which ended at Culloden.
The importance in popular estimation of the part he played is commemorated in the well-known ballad, "Lord send Lewie Gordon Hame". Another of the Duke's brothers, Lord Adam Gordon, was afterwards Member of Parliament for Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire and Commander of the Forces in Scotland. The Duke himself died in France in 1752.
His eldest son Alexander, the fourth Duke, was described by Kaimes as the greatest subject in Britain. He was made a peer of the United Kingdom in 1784 and was a Knight of the Thistle and Lord Keeper of Scotland. But he probably remains most famous as the author of the well-known song, "Cauld Kail in Aberdeen", and by reason of his wife, the "Gay Duchess of Gordon", who was the chief figure in Edinburgh society at the close of the 18th century. A daughter of Maxwell of Monteith, she is said to have shown her high spirit as a girl by riding with her sister down the High Street of Edinburgh on a sow's back. When the Duke was raising his regiments of Gordon Highlanders to take part in the American war, she is said to have recruited a battalion in a single day by standing at the cross of Aberdeen with the King's shilling between her lips as a prize for every lad bold enough to come and take it. And it was she who, when Robert Burns paid his last momentous visit to Edinburgh in 1786, set the seal upon his fame by her countenance and hospitality.
A strange contrast to Duke Alexander was his third brother, that Lord George Gordon who, beginning life in the Navy and afterwards entering Parliament, acquired notoriety as an agitator and leader of the No-Popery Riots of 1780, afterwards becoming a Jew, and dying at last in Newgate Gaol.
The fifth Duke, George, a general officer, Governor of Edinburgh Castle, and G.C.B., was the last of his line. His statue as "The Last Duke of Gordon", erected by his Duchess, stands at the cross at Aberdeen. [Note - now moved to Golden Square, as is the way with statues in Aberdeen]. As Marquess of Huntly he had a distinguished military career, commanding the regiment now known as the Gordon Highlanders in Spain, Corsica, Ireland, and Holland, where he was severely wounded, and commanding a division in the Walcheren expedition of 1809. At his death in 1836, the dukedom became extinct. Most of the estates, including Gordon Castle near Fochabers, passed to his eldest sister, Charlotte, wife of the fourth Duke of Richmond, whose son, a distinguished statesman, was in 1876 created Duke of Gordon.
In 1836 the Marquessate passed to the late Duke of Gordon's kinsman, George, fifth Earl of Aboyne. This nobleman was descended from Lord Charles Gordon, fourth son of the second Marquess, who, in consideration of his loyalty and service, was created Earl of Aboyne by Charles II at the Restoration in 1660. Aboyne Castle on Deeside, from which he took his title, had belonged in early times to the Bissets, the Knights-Templar, and the Earl of Mar, but had been in the possession of the Gordons since 1388. A popular ballad, "The Earl of Aboyne", appears to refer to some incident of the first Earl's time at the Court of the Merry Monarch. It describes the Earl's return from London, and the great preparations made by his wife to receive him; but alas ! he let slip a word of his too gay goings on with some fair damsel in the south. The result is a quarrel, the Earl rides away, and the lady 's pleadings are sent after him in vain. It is only when these are followed by news of her death that he turns northward again.
My nobles a', ye'll turn your steeds
That that comely face I may see then:
Frae the horse to the hat a' maun be black,
And mourn for bonnie Peggy Irvine !
It was the first Earl who built the present castle of Aboyne.
The Earl of Aboyne, who succeeded as ninth Marquess of Huntly, was K.T. and Colonel of the Aberdeen Militia. The present peer, who succeeded in 1863, and who is his grandson, is the premier Marquess of Scotland. He was a Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria from 1870 to 1873, was appointed captain of the Hon. Corps of Gentlemen at Arms in 1881, and was thrice chosen Lord Rector of Aberdeen University. He is a Privy Councillor and LL.D., and personally one of the best-liked personages of the north.
There are of course many branches of the great house of Gordon throughout Scotland. Of these the chief is that of the Gordons of Haddo, which has for its head the Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair. This branch claims to represent the original house of Gordon in the male line, by descent from Gordon of Coldingknowes, celebrated in song. Its remote ancestor was Patrick Gordon of Methlic, slain at the battle of Arbroath in 1445. His great-grandson, James Gordon of Methlic and Haddo, was a warm supporter of his chief, the fifth Earl of Huntly, in Queen Mary's interest. His grandson again, Sir John Gordon of Haddo, was made a baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I, in whose service he distinguished himself at the battle of Turriff. Captured at last by the Covenanters, he was confined in a church in Edinburgh, known from this fact as "Haddo's Hole", and was executed at the Cross of Edinburgh in 1644. His second son, Sir George Gordon of Haddo, was President of the Court of Session and Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and was made Earl of Aberdeen in 1682. George, the fourth Earl, was the distinguished statesman who was Queen Victoria's Prime Minister at the time of the Crimean War; and the present head of the house, who is his grandson, has also held many high offices, including those of Governor-General of Canada and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. At the end of his second tenure of this last high post he had the honour of the Marquessate conferred upon him. His Lordship was High Commissioner to the General Assembly from 1881 to 1885, and has been Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire since 1880. For a considerable time his Lordship's succession to the Earldom was regarded as uncertain, till it was declared proved that his elder brother, George, the sixth Earl, had been drowned while voyaging as an ordinary seaman from Boston to Melbourne in 1870
Of all the bearers of the name of Gordon, however, perhaps the most romantic and tragic figure is that of Charles George Gordon - "Chinese Gordon" - who after the most amazing and beneficent career of his time in many parts of the world, was overwhelmed and slain on the steps of the Government House at Khartoum, which he had defended alone against a siege by the Dervish hordes for three hundred and seventeen days, just as the British Expedition sent out too late for his relief came in sight fighting its way up the Nile.
SEPTS OF CLAN GORDON