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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter III - Earldom and Earls of Huntly
Section VI


GEORGE, FOURTH EARL OF HUNTLY—A PRISONER IN ENGLAND— His ESCAPE—INVITES QUEEN MARY TO LAND AT ABERDEEN.

THE Earl of Huntly was a prisoner in England and strictly guarded. The Duke of Somerset, Governor of England, was well aware of the power and influence of the Scottish personage who had unfortunately fallen into his hands. Accordingly, it appears that Somerset made the utmost efforts to bring Huntly over to the side of the English party. The Earl was very anxious to obtain his liberty and return to Scotland, therefore he was constantly tempted with promises of release, if he would only undertake to support the English interest. This will appear from the following :—On the 5th December, 1548, it was agreed between the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Huntly that the Earl was to have a licence to go to Scotland and stay there for two months and a half after his departure from the burgh of Berwick; and, in the meantime, he was to deliver the Countess. of Huntly, his wife; Alexander, Lord Gordon, his eldest son; George Gordon, his second son; William Gordon, his third son; and Alexander Gordon, his brother, as hostages for his return at the appointed time. Also that he should pay the ransoms of certain prisoners for which he was responsible.

The following day another contract was drawn, which declared that the first one was of no effect, nor "binding on any of us—but was devised by me, the said Earl, to be carried with me into Scotland at my going thither, to be shown to the Governor and others in Scotland, for a covert of our proceedings, and to the intent that, by pretence thereof, I might better promote the King’s affairs, and advance such purposes as I have promised to the Duke, to do my best to bring to pass." By the second contract the Earl agreed to return to England within ten weeks, and to leave as hostages the persons named in the first contract. Yet there seems to have been some suspicion in Somerset’s mind of Huntly’s sincerity. Though the Earl was permitted to proceed under a guard to Berwick, instructions were sent to detain him at Newcastle. Huntly, on the other hand, distrusted the good faith of Somerset, and therefore resolved to make an effort to escape.

Huntly reached Morpeth on the 22nd of December, where he was to await the arrival of his Countess and the other hostages. The Earl, however, aided by George Kerr of Heton, who provided relays of horses, escaped from Morpeth and arrived at Edinburgh in the beginning of February, 1549. On his arrival he was warmly welcomed. For his faithful services he received the Earldom of Moray and the Sheriffdom of Elgin and Forres.

In 1550 a quarrel arose between the Earl of Huntly and William Mackintosh, chief of the Clan Chattan. There is no clear evidence of the cause of this quarrel. He held the office of deputy-lieutenant under the Earl of Huntly, and he was deprived of this office, apprehended, and imprisoned. On the 2nd of August, 1550, he was tried by a jury at Aberdeen. He was accused of conspiring against the Earl of Huntly, Her Majesty’s Lieutenant of the North, convicted, and sentenced to death. His execution was delayed for some time, and he was conveyed to Strathbogie Castle, where he was executed. On the 14th of December, 1557, by an Act of Parliament, the sentence against Mackintosh was reversed as illegal.

In 1552 the Queen-mother, accompanied by the Regent Arran, made a judicial progress through the kingdom as far as Inverness. Huntly entertained the party at the Castle of Strathbogie in such a grand style that the Frenchmen of the Court suggested to the Queen that such a great noble should not be tolerated in so small a kingdom as Scotland, and that "his wings should be clipped."

Huntly was ordered to curb the lawless actions of the Camerons and John of Moidart, who was elected by the Clan Ranald as their chief, excluding the rightful heir. In September, 1553, Huntly met John of Moidart at Ruthven Castle, in Badenoch; and the Earl then received the said John, captain of the Clan Ranald, and his son Allan, "their kin, friends, and allies, remitting them and heartily forgiving all offences, wrongs, and disobedience in times past to the said Earl, or any of his, and especially the last offence and brake made by them, their friends, and allies, upon his good friend, Lord Lovat." Moidart, his son, and their allies, promised to keep good rule within their bounds, to obey authority, and to continue to be true servants to the Earl of Huntly. They also promised to endeavour to bring Donald Gormson and all the captains and chiefs of the North Isles to pass to the Queen and council as becoming true subjects.

But disturbance again broke out; and in 1554 the Queen Regent commissioned Huntly to bring John of Moidart to justice. The Earl mustered an army, chiefly composed of the Clan Chattan and his own vassals, and advanced into the territory of Clan Ranald. Moidart and his followers retreated without coming to an engagement ; and the Mackintoshes declined to follow them into their fastnesses. They then raised such a tumult in the camp that the Earl was forced to retire, and returned home.

Huntly’s opponents at once seized the opportunity to magnify his failure; and the Queen Regent caused him to be imprisoned at Edinburgh. The Earl was deprived of the Chancellorship, and compelled to resign his tacks of the Earldoms of Ross, Mar, and Moray. He was confined for some time, and had to pay heavy fines to the Government before he obtained his liberty. After his imprisonment he usually resided upon his own estates.

In 1557 Huntly was again restored to favour. On the 5th of August he was appointed Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. At this time the Earl of Huntly was recognised as the head of the Roman Catholic party in Scotland. He gave a general support to the Queen Regent in the struggle between her and the Reformers, and occasionally interposed between her and the Lords of the Congregation to prevent hostilities. Huntly disapproved of the presence of the French troops in Scotland, and regarded them as a disturbing element in the kingdom. He had a great stake in the country, and accordingly acted with caution amid the revolutionary movement.

Naturally Huntly became suspicious of the good faith of the Lords of the Congregation, and asked them to promise that they would maintain him and his friends in their lives and possessions. To this they replied that they were obliged to defend each other in the event of attack, and that they would defend him if he joined them. Upon this assurance, on the 25th of April, 1560, Huntly rode into the camp. The Queen Regent and the Lords made efforts to come to terms, but could not agree.

Huntly was not present at the Parliament which was held at Edinburgh in 1560, and which abolished the Roman Catholic religion in Scotland. It also appears that the proceedings of Lord James Stewart, and the Earls of Argyle and Athole, raised a suspicion in his mind that they had formed some plot against him; and, indeed, these Earls entered into a bond "to bridle the Earl of Huntly if he intended any mischief."

When it became known that Queen Mary of Scots, after the death of her husband, the King of France, had resolved to return to the home of her ancestors, there were many indications of the approaching struggle for office and power. Lord James Stewart, Prior of St. Andrews, was appointed by Parliament to proceed to France on a mission to Queen Mary; while at a secret convention of the Catholic nobles, headed by the Earl of Huntly, John Lesly, the parson of Oyne, and afterwards Bishop of Ross, was deputed, in April, 1561, to proceed to France, and represent the views of the Catholic party to Queen Mary. They earnestly entreated her to land at Aberdeen, where she would find an army of 20,000 men ready to protect her and convey her in triumph to Edinburgh. But before embarking, the Queen intimated to the leading men in Scotland that she expected them to exercise the virtue of mutual forbearance, and not fly at each other’s throats.

Mary landed at Leith on the 19th of August,1561 and the Earl of Huntly came post with sixteen horses to welcome her. As Lord Chancellor, he was present at the meetings of the Privy Council. On the 22nd of December he was present at the Convention in which the questions affecting the ecclesiastical revenues were discussed. Lord James, the Queen’s half-brother, was placed at the head of the Government, and Maitland of Lethington was appointed Secretary of State.

The quarrel between the Gordons and the Ogilvies of Findlater reached a crisis in July, 1562. Alexander Ogilvie of Ogilvie and Findlater married Elizabeth Gordon, a daughter of Adam Gordon, Dean of Caithness, third son of Alexander, first Earl of Huntly. Alexander Ogilvie, owing to the conduct of his son, James of Cardell, thought fit to disinherit him. Accordingly, he granted to Sir John Gordon, third son of George, Earl of Huntly, the Barony of Ogilvie and Findlater, reserving his own and wife’s life rent Sir John Gordon was to assume the name and arms of Ogilvie, and, failing his male issue, the succession was to devolve to his brothers, William, James, and Adam, with remainder to Sir Walter Ogilvie of Boyne, Sir Walter Ogilvie of Dunlugas, and James, Lord Ogilvie.

After the death of Alexander Ogilvie, Sir John Gordon married his widow, Elizabeth Gordon. This marriage appears to have been an unhappy one. James Ogilvie thought that he was unjustly disinherited. In July, 1562, the case was to come before the Court in Edinburgh, and Sir John Gordon was there, and met James Ogilvie in the street. A fight ensued, in which Ogilvie was wounded. Gordon was imprisoned; but on the 25th of July he escaped from prison. This affair became associated with the series of incidents and events which issued in the eclipse and overthrow of the Huntly family for a time.

Huntly had not changed his religion, and various incidents and circumstances indicated that Lord James Stewart, the Queen’s half-brother, had resolved to crush him. It became known that the Earldom of Moray was to be detached from Huntly’s possessions and conferred on Lord James. The Queen was in the hands of Lord James and the Protestant Lords. Huntly was coldly treated by the Queen; and in the winter of 1562 he retired from the Court to the north.

In the beginning of the year 1562 the Queen intimated her intention to visit the north; and in January the Town Council and Magistrates of Aberdeen discussed the question of raising money for the decoration of the city.


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