Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of Aberdeen and Banff
Chapter VII

The Reformation—Contrast between its course in Aberdeenshire and in Scotland south of the Grampians—Church revenues absorbed by outside superiors—Church-wrecking in the south—Division of opinion in Aberdeen—Destruction of the monasteries—Attack on the cathedral—Pronouncement of the citizens—Adam Heriot, first Protestant minister of Aberdeen—Visitation by Knox—Attitude of the university and the ejection of the Catholic teachers—Principal Arbuthnot — Ordinances of the kirk-session — Ministry of John Craig and establishment of Episcopacy—Rivalry between Huntly and Lord James Stewart — The Queen's return from France : Mission of John Leslie—Her northern tour—The battle of Corrichie—Death of Huntly—Execution of Sir John Gordon —Forfeiture and restoration—The Forbes and Gordon fights at Tillyangus and Crabstane—The Towie tragedy—Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindoun—Exactions of the Regent Morton—Vacillation of the sixth Earl of Huntly—Proceedings of the "Popish Lords"— Their ultimatum to Aberdeen—The battle of Glenlivet—Termination of the struggle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The overthrow of the Church of Rome was effected in the north-east of Scotland in a quiet and matter-of-fact fashion that presents a marked contrast to the tumults that attended the progress of the Reformers in other parts of the country. It was not until the Reformation had become an accomplished fact to the south of the Grampians that Aberdeen and Banff were called upon to choose with which side they were to cast in their lot, and their acceptance of the principles of Protestantism, when these were suddenly brought before them in 1559-60, was in a singularly practical and unimpassioned spirit. The populace had not come under the influence of Knox or any of the other fiery evangelists of the new creed, but the readiness w;th which the Reformation was at last effected in the two north-eastern counues shows that here, as elsewhere, the time was ripe for the change. It cannot be shown that either in town or country the Roman Church was regarded with hostility and many benefits must in fairness be set down to its credit. No Scottish diocese could point to such an unblemished succession of prelates, or to grander monuments of episcopal munificence. When we remember, too, that within the memory of the generation that accepted the tenets of Knox the Roman Church had been illustrated by the saintly life and noble work of Bishop Elphinstone, the facility with which the people surrendered their old religious ideals must be considered all the more remarkable.

One of the Roman Church's chief sources of weakness in the two counties is found in the large possessions and patronages which had been gifted to outside religious foundations, so that the two counties were annually drained of large revenues, which probably were not collected without considerable pressure. When the Reformation began to gain ground in the south, the Church vassals in Aberdeenshire, most of whom were of the rank of barons, could not have been indifferent to the prospect of getting rid of their ecclesiastical superiors, while the agricultural tenant, whatever his misgivings may have been in turning his back upon priest and altar, saw some profit in getting rid of the irritating parochial dues which beset him at every incident in his domestic life. It must have been such material advantages that swayed the minds of the masses in Aberdeenskre, for they apparently had little opportunity of grasping the doctrinal issues at stake until the Reformation was brought upon them as an accomplished fact.

Counsels of internal reformation were now too late. Angus and the Mearns had already embraced the doctrines of the Reformation, and the Reformers south of the Dee were eagerly watching for their opportunity to repeat in Aberdeen such scenes of sacrilege, robbery, and demolition as had already been witnessed in Perth and St Andrews, and were being repeated in other places in central and southern Scotland. The first sign of serious alarm in Aberdeen occurs on June 16, 1559, six weeks after the landing of John Knox at Leith, and five weeks after the rioters of Perth had begun to sack and destroy the religious houses. On that date the chaplains of St Nicholas appeared before the magistrates and requested them, in view of the wrecking and looting of churches, to provide for the safety of the silver work and ornaments of St Nicholas, which were to this end handed over to the custody of the magistrates on the understanding that they would be restored when the danger had passed away. The portended storm did not yet break, however, and six months afterwards an order was given by the council for the execution of certain ordinary repairs in the fabric of the church. But the respite was of brief duration. On the 29th of December Provost Menzies invited the council to take measures for resisting a body of Mearns and Angus men who were coming to the town " to destroy and cast down the kirks and religious places thereof, under colour and pretence of godly reformation." The council was divided in sentiment. By a majority it refused to take the action recommended by the provost, who thereupon recorded his protest, to which nine of his colleagues signified their adherence. The expected visit of the Reformers took place immediately afterwards. To a town's meeting on January 4, 1559-60, convoked by the magistrates, but from which the provost and most of his party were absent, it was reported that " certain strangers and some neighbours and indwellers of the town" had attacked the monasteries of the Dominicans, Trinity Friars, and Franciscans, and had wrecked the several buildings, leaving only the bare walls. The Trinity Monastery was set on fire, and a wounded monk, Friar Francis, perished in the flames. The rioters proceeded next to the cathedral in Old Aberdeen. The plate, jewels, and ornaments had been previously committed for safety to the care of the Earl of Huntly. The chancel, however, was wrecked by the mob, who stripped the roof of its lead, and carried away the bells and all the spoil they could secure, putting it on board ship for disposal in Holland; but, says Father Hay in his narrative, "all this ill-gotten wealth sank by the just judgment of God not far from the Girdleness." In the end Huntly arrived upon the scene with Leslie of Balquhain, sheriff of the county, and their authority, aided by the eloquence of John Leslie, preserved the building from destruction. The university seems to have escaped serious attack, although there likewise the Principal had taken the precaution of removing books and valuables to a place of safety. Nor does it appear that any attack was made by the mob upon the church of St Nicholas.

The dominant party in the town seem to have had no objection to the looting of the interiors of the monasteries, but on the "rascal multitude" proceeding to unroof the houses, and to take away the slates, timber, and stones, an interposition of the head-court to stay the work of destruction took place. Now for the first time was utterance publicly given to sentiments in favour of the new doctrines. All but unanimously the proposal was carried that the materials of the monasteries and the crofts of the Friars should be taken over by the town. The silver and ornaments of St Nicholas Church had been committed to the custody of four members of the Roman Catholic party, who were now called upon to resign their charge in favour of the committee intrusted with the care and disposal of the Friars' properties. The chalices, silver work, and ornaments were sold by public roup a year afterwards, by which time the Protestant religion had been established by law, the proceeds of the sale being applied to the improvement of the harbour and the upkeep of the bridge of Don and the town's artillery and defences. Some years afterwards the altars with their " backs" were removed, the ornamental choir-stalls sawn away, and the pipes of the organs packed into cases.

Two months after the attack on the religious houses the citizens formally resolved to support the Congregation, and the council voted ^400 to defray the expenses of forty armed men who were to be sent to its assistance, subject to the condition that nothing was to be done in opposition to the queen's authority. The secularisation of Church property was opposed by Provost Menzies and his party, though they had remained quiescent during the riot, and the provost put on record another protest against the action of the majority, but nothing followed on it, and he remained for other fifteen years at the head of the municipality. On the other hand, we find churchmen bending before the inevitable. Thus on the eve of the inroad of Reforming zealots from the south, John Roger, the superior of the Grey Friars, with consent and assent of his convent, resigned to the community the hospital, buildings, and yards of the monastery, subject to restitution in the event of a general restoration of monastic property to its former owners.

The part of Aberdeenshire in the Reformation was meagre indeed as compared with that of Perth, Fife, and Ayr. None of the leaders of the movement sprang from the region between the Dee and the Spey, which, on the other hand, was prolific in champions of the Catholic faith, and the change did not wholly take place upon the destruction of the religious houses and the resolution of the community to support the Congregation. Though the Friars were dispersed the Roman ritual was not superseded, and the cathedral still remained in the hands of the dean and chapter. The influence and attitude of Huntly towards the Reformation made its prospect in the town and counties very uncertain during the first years of its legal existence. He found himself unable or unwilling to take a decided part in the issue between the two creeds. Through his support, however, and the quiescent spirit generally prevailing in the city, the Bishop of Aberdeen was able to remain in his diocese when the other members of the Scottish episcopate had to flee for their lives.

Immediately after the legal establishment of Protestantism the Lords of the Congregation provided Aberdeen with a zealous minister in the person of Adam Heriot, who had been, an Augustinian monk of St Andrews, and after some wavering had finally broken with Rome in the preceding year. It was recognised, according to Spottiswoode, that the Roman profession still prevailed in Aberdeen, and that Heriot, by his familiarity with scholastic divinity and his moderation, as well as by his diligence in teaching both in schools and in the Church, was specially suited to gain the Aberdonians to the Protestant side. This judgment seems to have been fully borne out by his career in Aberdeen, and we find the citizens presenting him with a suit of clerical attire " in respect of his great and continual labour in the ministry," and agreeing to pay him ^200 Scots until other provision were made for his support, this being the amount which the Corporation of Edinburgh paid to John Knox. We are told by Spottiswoode that he was greatly beloved of the citizens for his humane and courteous conversation, and at his decease much lamented by the poor, to whom he had been a benefactor. During Heriot's ministry Knox, at the request of the Assembly, visited Aberdeen and the neighbouring churches (1564), but unfortunately no record in detail of his ministrations in these parts has come down to us. The visit of the Reformer no doubt had to do with the work of "purging" and reorganisation. In the parts of Scotland more strongly in sympathy with the Reformation than Aberdeenshire and Banffshire can be said to have been there was for a time a great scarcity of ministers, and generations were to pass before each parish was provided for. Three years after Knox's visit nearly every parish in the two counties had its "reader," but there were only some two dozen ministers and exhorters to the entire diocese of Aberdeen. The university had already for a time lost its pristine glory, though one or two men of mark were still connected with it and formed a centre of sentiment and influence opposed to the views of the extreme Reformers. Randolph, who was with the Court at Old Aberdeen in 1562, reports that there were at that time only fifteen or sixteen students at the college. Alexander Anderson, now Principal, and John Leslie, who was Professor of Canon Law, as well as Official of the diocese, with Patrick Myrton, the diocesan treasurer, and James Strachan, one of the canons, all signatories of the memorial to the bishop, were summoned in January 1561 to appear before the General Assembly in Edinburgh. By Knox and others they were severely cross-examined as to their faith, and especially in regard to the mass. The result was that each side claimed a dialectical victory, and that the Assembly ordered " these clerks of Aberdeen to ward in Edinburgh a long space thereafter," and deposed them from the office of preaching.

A commission headed by John Erskine of Dun, " Superintendent" of Angus and Mearns, "visited" the sheriffdom in 1569, and was joined in Aberdeen by the Regent Murray, who was returning from the north. Principal Anderson and his colleagues were ordered by the regent and commissioners to sign the Confession of Faith, and, failing to give satisfaction, were summarily deprived of their functions.

A liberal infusion of Protestant blood from the south was now introduced. Alexander Arbuthnot, a gifted and scholarly member of the Kincardineshire family afterwards ennobled, was appointed to the principalship. He had been a student of Aberdeen, it is said, had graduated at St Andrews, had been named by the first General Assembly in 1560 as one of the young men of promising talents for the ministry, and had studied for five years at Bourges under Cujacius. Murray, who had appointed Buchanan to the principalship of St Leonard's College, selected Arbuthnot at the early age of thirty-one for the corresponding office at Aberdeen. Prior to this he had been for a year parson of the Aberdeenshire parishes of Logie-Buchan and Forvie. Two of his colleagues were James Lawson, his friend and fellow-student, afterwards the successor of Knox in Edinburgh, who was appointed Sub-Principal, and Hercules Rollock, elder brother of the more celebrated regent and principal of Edinburgh University. The Protestant historians testify that Arbuthnot's diligent and good government revived learning in Aberdeen and gained many over from superstition ; and Bishop Spottiswoode states that he was beloved by all, and that his advice was sought by the chief men in the north. Through his instrumentality considerable endowments from the ecclesiastical revenues were obtained for the university, but its continued weakness is soon reflected in schemes of reform. Closely associated with Andrew Melville since their schooldays at Montrose, Arbuthnot acted with him in ecclesiastical and academic affairs, and when Episcopalianism asserted itself under the patronage of King James they lost the royal favour together by their strenuous upholding of the Presbyterian order. The General Assembly wished to remove Arbuthnot to St Andrews, but the king and Council charged him to remain in Aberdeen "under pain of horning," an interposition of the civil power that was made a subject of formal complaint by the Assembly but defended by the Government as having " good grounds and reason in the general state of the north country." Arbuthnot's sensitive nature chafed under this check, to which his early death has been partly attributed. But for the wasting of his powers on contentions for which men of stronger nerve were better fitted he might have attained to one of the highest places in Scottish literature. His ' Miseries of a Poor Scholar,' and other pieces, show him to be possessed of the spirit of true poetry as well as of the faculty of elegant versification.

Early in Heriot's incumbency the newly - formed kirk-session passed a series of ordinances for reformation of manners, which exhibit in a clear light several features in the state of society at this period of rapid change. One of these rules prohibits "disputation of the Scriptures" at dinner, supper, or open table, "through which arises much contention and debate." The Aberdonians, as we have seen, acquiesced in the Reformation, rather than warmly embraced it, and at a time when ecclesiastical and theological systems were in the melting-pot these casual disputations would tend to exasperate feeling and hinder the Protestant reconstruction. Punishment, " according to the order of other reformed towns," was to be meted out to Roman Catholics slandering members of the Congregation, and to persons scoffing at the preaching or office-bearers of the reformed Church, or persuading " the simple and ignorant" to absent themselves from preaching or prayers. The records of the kirk-session show that these regulations were not permitted to remain inoperative. Transgressors against " the religion" by not attending church were to be first dealt with gently, and then, if necessary, proceeded against for contumacy; but presently one of the city magistrates and two elders of the church were appointed to go through the town and take note of absentees from sermon. Priests or friars who remained in the town were required to conform, and occasionally pressure was brought to bear on persons of importance, as Gilbert Menzies, the younger, who was ordered by the session to attend communion. But it does not appear that the laws were administered with severity.

Before the Reformation there had been a revulsion of sentiment against the plays and revels for a time so much in vogue, and the general statutes against them were to a certain extent enforced by the magistrates. The old use of the burgh was pleaded in vain as an excuse in 1562 by some of the citizens called to account for passing to the wood to bring in summer on the first Sunday of May, contrary to the Acts and statutes of the queen and Council, and the transgressors were called upon to do penance in church on the following Sunday. Some years afterwards five of the citizens—one of them being Matthew Gu'ld, armourer, father of Dr William Guild who was to play a prominent part in the history of the city and university in the following century — were imprisoned and deprived of their freedom to exercise their crafts for passing along the Gallowgate on Sunday with a minstrel band playing before them. Playing and singing or even abstention from ordinary work on Christmas Day were repressed, but it is evident that many of the public were reluctant to give up their old Yule-tide customs.

These various regulations and proceedings on the part of the local authorities are in general accordance with the act.on taken by other Scottish communities. So it is also with respect to repression of Sunday marketing, Sunday fishing, and playing on the Links on the first day of the week. There were general statutes on the subject, yet we find the Convention of Burghs in 1578 representing that the burghs suffer injury through " the holding of open markets at landward kirks upon the Sunday" in defiance of the law, and imposing a money penalty on any burgh permitting Sunday markets. Aberdeen was to collect and account for penalties incurred north of the Dee—Dundee, Cupar-Fife, and Edinburgh being similarly charged to look after breaches of this law elsewhere in Scotland.

Immediately after the Reformation there were in Aberdeen, according to the kirk-session records, a number of suspected persons, of evil report, from other towns and places, having no occupation, craft, or handling of merchandise as a source of income, yet spending a great deal of money and going about at night playing cards and dice. These persons were to be banished from the town, and branded on the cheek should they return. At the same period many persons in Aberdeen, in the words of the record, were " handfast as they call it," which is explained to mean that they had been living together under promise of marriage, it might be for six or seven years, or even longer. These irregular relations had received a certain sanction of usage and even of the Church; but they were to be no longer countenanced, and all handfasted persons were to incur Church censure and discipline if the marriage were not completed forthwith.

The Church appointed some of its best men to the incumbency of Aberdeen, and on the retirement of Heriot by reason of ill-health in 1573 it sent John Craig to take his place. Craig, who was educated at St Andrews, may have been descended of the family of Craigfintry or Craigston in Aberdeenshire, and so have been a partial exception to the rule that these counties contributed no eminent men to the ranks of the Reformers. He had been a Dominican monk, had become acquainted with Calvin's writings at a monastery in Bologna, and had narrowly escaped being committed to the flames for heresy. Returning to Scotland in 1560, he became one of the first ministers of the Protestant Church. Though a zealous Reformer, who had a chief hand in drawing up the National Covenant, Craig was a man of prudence, and would not go to extremes. During his six years' ministry in Aberdeen he was commissioned to " visit" the churches of Lower and Middle Deeside, Garioch, and Banff, and was for a second time Moderator of the General Assembly. On the establishment of Episcopacy, he was with Andrew Strachan, minister of Dun, collator of David Cunningham to the see of Aberdeen. Craig left Aberdeen to be chaplain to the king, between whom and the extreme Presbyterians he interposed from time to time as mediator.

During the initial stages of the popular revolt, Huntly had been quietly watching the current of events as if uncertain what his course might be. More than once he had interposed in the interests of peace between the queen-regent and the Lords of the Congregation, but he disliked her policy, and resented the presence in Scotland of the French troops by which it was supported. On the plea of illness he was absent from the Parliament which established Protestantism, but when after the death of the queen-regent the party which had been exercising authority at Edinburgh deputed Lord James Stewart (afterwards Regent Murray) to visit the young queen, his half-sister, on the eve of her return from France, Huntly and the party of the old Church sent John Leslie to invite her to land at Aberdeen, with the assurance that an army of 20,000 of her faithful subjects would meet her there and conduct her to Edinburgh in independence of the Congregation. Leslie was the first to obtain an audience, but the queen judged it the more prudent course to go direct to Edinburgh. This mission of Leslie marks the development of the breach between Huntly and the southern Lords which had manifested itself at the overthrow of Roman- Catholicism by the Parliament, when Lord James Stewart, Argyll, and Athole entered into a secret league to " bridle him if he intend any mischief." Huntly paid his respects to the queen as soon as possible after her unexpected arrival at Leith, and during the performance of a mystery-play before the queen and Court in Edinburgh he peremptorily suppressed a ribald burlesque of the mass. The mass had been declared illegal, but Huntly assured the Queen that if she sanctioned the step he would restore its celebration in the north-eastern counties.

The course of affairs was governed in a great degree by personal causes. Lord James Stewart became a rival of Huntly in Huntly's own country. Early in 1562, when he married Marischal's daughter, the queen raised him to the earldom of Mar, having previously granted him the lands of Strathdee, Braemar, and Cromar. The earldom of Moray was shortly afterwards conferred on him, with gift of the tack and assedation of the Moray possessions forfeited by Huntly. The queen—so at least it appeared to Huntly—was entirely in the hands of Murray, as he must now be called, who had thus practically served himself heir to some of the most important of the Huntly honours and possessions. Such a combination of interests in the north was ominous as well as provocative to the great earl whose rule only a few jears before had been unquestioned from sea to sea. Murray for his part knew well that a trial of strength was before him, and resolved that the power of Huntly should be broken.

A visit of the queen to the northern parts of her dominions had been arranged by Murray to take place at the time of his marriage, but was temporarily postponed, and when it took place Huntly, who regarded it as a move inimical to himself, retired to Strathbogie on a plea of ill-health. Meanwhile a new complication arose. Ogilvie of Findlater disinherited his son in favour of his relative, Sir John Cordon, a son of 'Huntly, and young Ogilvie and Gordon having met in Edinburgh they quarrelled and fought, Ogilvie being wounded. Gordon was committed to prison by order of Murray, but soon escaped to the north. The queen's journey followed almost immediately. She reached Aberdeen towards the end of August, attended by Murray, Morton, Maitland, and other prominent men, with an escort or guard of honour; and a loyal welcome was accorded her by the citizens, on whose behalf Provost Menzies handed her a gift of 2000 merks. Among those who paid their respects to her at Old Aberdeen, where she was the guest of the Bishop, was the Countess of Huntly. Randolph, who accompanied the royal party, reported to the English Government that Huntly was not in the queen's favour, and that she would not say that she would visit his house though she was to be pass ing within three miles, and it "the fairest in the country."

A dutiful invitation was courteously pressed by the Countess, but Mary, always governed as would seem by Murray, made the fact of a member of the family being a fugitive from justice a reason for refusing, and demanded that Sir John Gordon should go back to prison. The idea of his doing so was at first entertained, but when he found that Lord Erskine, the uncle of Murray, was to be his keeper, he refused to surrender.

From Old Aberdeen the queen and her train passed on to Balquhain Castle, the residence of Sir William Leslie, Sheriff of Aberdeenshire, who had taken part in saving the cathedral in 1560, and was soon to receive from Bishop Gordon the reward of his steadfastness in a feu-charter of the barony of Fetternear with the bishop's palace and lands. Here the queen attended mass — an indication that the change of religion had not yet taken place in Aberdeenshire. From Balquhain the royal party passed on to Rothiemay and Darnaway, where Murray was formally invested with his earldom, and a council was held from which an order was issued commanding Sir John Gordon to surrender the castles of Findlater and Auchindoun, which he had acquired through the Ogilvie connection. On the return journey, by way of Cullen and Banff, admittance was refused at the Castle of Findlater and again at Auchindoun, and a company of soldiers sent against Findlater was disarmed by Sir John. Huntly, who meanwhile had caused the keys of both castles to be sent to the queen, was summoned to attend with his son before the Privy Council at Aberdeen within six days, and on the summons being disregarded they were denounced as rebels. An armed force was sent to attack Strathbogie Castle, but Huntly had left before it arrived, and was on his way towards Aberdeen at the head of a body of his followers.

Murray summoned military assistance from the south, and in the name of the queen called upon the Aberdeenshire landed gentry to come to her aid. A Privy Council, held in Aberdeen on October 26, was attended by five earls of the Protestant party—Murray, Morton, Marischal, Erroll, and Athole —and by Lord Erskine; and it issued orders to a number of the Gordon lairds commanding them to remain at Edinburgh, Haddington, and St Andrews. Obedience to these orders deprived Huntly of support essential to him in the struggle which he now had to face. After advancing by way of the Garioch towards the city of which he had once been Provost, he diverged towards the west, where we find him encamped at the Loch of Skene. On the royal forces going out from Aberdeen to give him battle Huntly retired to a vantage-ground at Corrichie, on the eastern slope of the Hill of Fare, whither Murray at once followed him. In respect of numbers the two sides were unequally matched. It is probably a liberal computation that credits Murray with having two thousand warriors; Huntly's followers were not half that number. At first the onslaught of the Gordons drove back the vanguard of their assailants, but the Lothian spearmen standing firm the weight of numbers soon prevailed. The earl himself, with his two sons, Sir John Gordon, the ostensible cause of the conflict, and Adam Gordon, who was to play a great part in north - eastern affairs in future years, were taken prisoners. It has been alleged that Huntly was crushed to death, that he was strangled by Murray's orders, and that he was slain by a Kincardineshire laird, but there is little reason to doubt that he died of apoplexy in the excitement attending his overthrow and capture. Randolph states that he "suddenly fell from his horse stark dead," and another contemporary authority, the ' Diurnal of Occurrents,' gives in rather more detail a similar account of his death.

The prisoners were taken to Aberdeen, where five of the Gordons were hanged two days afterwards. Sir John Gordon was sentenced to be beheaded. Queen Mary, who had been a spectator of the fight at Corrichie, beheld his execution from a window of the Earl Marischal's house on the south side of the Castlegate. Romance, rather than history, has invested the scene with additional elements of pathos turning on alleged-love passages between Gordon and Mary, and on the bad performance of his task by the executioner. The queen, who was virtually a captive in the hands of Murray, may be supposed to have been an involuntary witness of the spectacle. Strathbogie Castle was forthwith rifled of its valuable contents, among which were the treasures of the Cathedral of Aberdeen, vainly imagined to have been deposited in the place of greatest safety in all the north. Plate and jewellery and the richest and most gorgeous of the textile fabrics and apparel were removed to the Palace of Holyrood, part of them soon to decorate the hall of Kirk-o'-Field wrhere Darnley met his doom. The remains of the earl himself were removed to Edinburgh, and six months after his decease the sentence of forfeiture was pronounced over them with every token of contumely. Lord Gordon, the heir to the earldom, wrho had been convicted of treason, was sent in " free ward " to the Castle of Dunbar, and kept a prisoner till the queen's marriage to Darnley led to his release in August 1565, and to his restoration to the lands and titles of his father in the following October; and on Murray, who opposed the marriage, being proclaimed a rebel, the fifth Earl of Huntly at once became a foremost power in the State. His restoration to freedom was joyfully welcomed in the north, and when shortly afterwards he summoned his vassals and hereditary allies to his own and the royal standard 6000 fighting men responded to the call.

Huntly commanded the rearguard of the army that drove Murray and the confederate lords across the English frontier, and on the flight of Morton, after the death of Rjzz: j, he was appointed to the office of Chancellor. The part which he played in the political struggles belongs only to a minor extent to the history of these counties, though he held the office of Lieutenant of the North so long exercised by his predecessors. For a time the government of the realm was virtually in his hands and those of the Earl of Bothwell, namely during part of the brief period of fourteen months that elapsed between the marriage of his sister, Lady Jean Gordon, to Bothwell, and its dissolution in order that Both-well might marry the queen. When Mary was mprisoned at Lochleven Huntly identified himself with her cause; he was one of the nobles who entered into a bond to seek her release, and after her escape he acted with her party in military and political enterprises.

The renewed predominance of Murray after the battle of Langside brought many disturbing influences into play. His territories on the Spey and beyond it offered peculiar temptations to the turbulent Highlanders of the Gordon connection, for whom Huntly was held responsible. According to an annalist of the time, Huntly "with his accomplices daily and hourly wasted the goods and gear of all them that assisted the king's authority, and took their houses and places in the queen's name as her lieutenant " ; and an agent of the English Government reports that " the Earl of Huntly in the north parts plays the king, holding justice courts, beheading and hanging all who will not obey him as lieutenant under the queen's authority." The earl himself being a frequent absentee, his more forceful brother, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, acted as chief of the Gordons, and it can be believed that bad reports of Auchindoun would go south from the Forbeses and others of the Protestant party. Murray was preparing an expedition to the regions north of the Dee when Huntly had a conference with him at St Andrews, which resulted in an agreement whereby Huntly undertook to support the authority of Murray as regent during the king's minority, to repress any further resistance on the part of his followers and bring them to justice, to deliver up the cannon in the north, and to give hostages for the fulfilment of these terms. On the other hand, the regent granted remission to Huntly and his vassals for all past offences, subject to fines as arranged, or " reasonable compositions " upon each man's individual suit. Immediately after the conclusion of this agreement the regent proceeded to Aberdeen at the head of a military force, and held a court in the tolbooth, to which all persons who had taken part with the Earl of Huntly were summoned to answer for such offences as they had committed ; " and because they could not underlie the law they compounded with his grace for great sums of money." The imposition of fines as a substitute for sterner modes of punishment was a novelty in northern jurisprudence, marking an advance of civilisation and wealth ; but the obligations were more easily undertaken than met, for we learn that "never in this realm" had "such mean gentlemen paid such great sums of money."

The north-east was affected by the assassination of the regent in common with the rest of Scotland. In the struggle which ensued Huntly took up arms in the queen's interest, and on receiving her commission as Lieutenant-Governor of the kingdom he proceeded to raise an army in the north, issuing at Aberdeen (June 13, 1570) a call to arms against the rebellious faction which with English aid had nvested the Earl of Lennox with the regency. His levies were (dispersed at Brechin by the Earl of Morton, who had been sent north by the regent. Huntly himself met in Aberdeen the emissaries of the Duke of Alva, the representative in the Netherlands of the Spanish power, the most formidable influence of the time opposed to the Reformation. As a result of the conference between Huntly and these emissaries, Lord Seton was sent to Alva with a letter from Huntly and Argyll informing him of the state of affairs, and desiring his assistance against the English, who held the queen in captivity and were invading the country. From Dunkeld, where a meeting of the queen's party was held, Huntly swept through Angus at the head of 800 men and then agreed to a truce of two months on the pretence of Elizabeth that the treaty between her and the Queen of Scots was being negotiated.

The struggle in the south now engaged Huntly's attention, one of its incidents being the surprise and death of Lennox at Stirling, followed by the appointment to the regency of the Earl of Mar — John, Lord Erskine, to whom the earldom, temporarily held by his relative Murray, had been restored in 1565, and with it the lands of Strathdon and Braemar, and the lordship and lands of the Garioch. In the north the feud between the Forbeses and Gordons was complicated and intensified by new issues. Some prospect of its termination existed for a time on the marriage of the Master of Forbes to a sister of Huntly, but the marriage proved an unhappy one, and the repudiation of his wife by the Master was resented as an affront by all the Gordon connection. A convention of the Forbeses was summoned by " Black Arthur," brother of Lord Forbes and uncle of the Master, for the purpose of composing differences and concerting common action. Hearing of the intended meeting, Sir Adam Gordon assembled a body of his followers, with whom he swooped down on the Forbes community. A sharp encounter took place at Tillyangus, on the slope of the Coreen hills (October 9, 1571), with the result that the Forbeses were put to flight, leaving " Black Arthur" and several of their principal men dead, their losses altogether numbering 120.

A dark episode of this warfare is the theme of one of the most pathetic of Scottish ballads. After the fight at Tillyangus the Gordons presented themselves at the house or castle of Towie, belonging to one of the Forbeses, and demanded its surrender. Forbes was from home, and his wife refusing to open the door to his enemies, they set the house on fire, and all the inmates perished in the flames. The annalists differ regarding the scene of the tragedy and its position in the order of events. Matthew Lumsden, the very inaccurate genealogist of the Forbeses, writing a few years after the occurrence, makes it take place at the Castle of Corgarff; but all testimony is at one in identifying the heroine as the wife of Forbes of Towie. The besieging party was led by Captain Thomas Ker or Keir, son of a Borderer who had aided the fourth earl in his escape from England. A soldier by profession, Thomas Ker was a trusty servitor of the fourth and fifth earls, and was frequently employed in the dangerous office of passing between Scotland and England with confidential letters. But if Ker was leader of the party that burned the house of Towie, it is the knight of Auchindoun, as commander-in-chief, that is held up to obloquy for this dark act of an age of violence.

The local conflict was recognised by all parties as involving national issues. After the defeat of Tillyangus the Master of Forbes rode to Stirling to enlist the co-operation of the Regent Mar, who responded by sending north five companies of foot and some horse, and by a proclamation setting forth that Huntly had been oppressing the lieges, and had stirred up his brother to rebellion. The men of the Mearns were summoned to meet the Master of Forbes at the Kirk of Fordoun and advance against Sir Adam Gordon, who, reinforced by forty skilled warriors sent north by Huntly, occupied Aberdeen with a body of the Huntly retainers and allies, including some bowmen furnished by the Earl of Sutherland. The southrons crossed the Dee by the bridge (November 20, 1571), and were making their way towards the city when they found their passage blocked by the Gordons at the Crabstane. Ker, who had been lying in wait with a company of musketeers at Union Glen, opened fire upon the rear of the Forbeses and their southern contingent, while the Sutherland bowmen poured upon them a deadly shower of arrows. " Cruelly fochten for the space of an hour " the battle is said to have been ; and threescore of the Forbeses fell in it, misread into 300 by some of the Aberdeen historians. When victory was declaring itself in his favour Sir Adam Gordon humanely ordered his men to capture and not to kill their antagonists. The Master of Forbes and a number of his followers were taken prisoners, but met with humane treatment. Aberdeen now became the base of operations against the opponents of Mary south of the Grampians, where Gordon occupied Brechin and Montrose and menaced Dundee. At Brechin, after thanksgiving in the church, he called before him nearly 200 Lindsays and Ogilvies, whom he had vanquished and captured, and discharged them on their parole to be faithful subjects of the queen. It may be that the incident at Towie led him to impose a stringent rule of moderation ; at all events, the Angus men showed their appreciation of his chivalrous conduct by refusing to proceed against him, " by reason of their bond and the great gentleness of the said Adam."

But a great change was at hand. The isolation of the queen at Fotheringay gradually discouraged her party, and one after another fell away. Huntly wavered. He had applied in vain to the King of France for assistance, and with renewed forfeiture staring him in the face he took occasion soon after Morton became regent to make his peace with the Government (February 1573). The Master of Forbes was liberated from his confinement at Spynie, and was soon in Aberdeen, with Forbeses, Frasers, and Mackintoshes, concerting warlike measures. Sir Adam Gordon, indignant at his brother's surrender, was at once in evidence, but as the earl was coming north he retired to France, where he narrowly escaped assassination by a party of Forbeses. Huntly died suddenly while playing football at Strathbogie in the autumn of 1576.

Aberdeen had difficulty in adjusting itself to the vicissitudes of the times. In March 1572 the town council resolved to send the town's title-deeds for safety to the stronghold of the Earl Marischal at Dunnottar — an indication that the Protestant party was in power, and that the head of the Keiths had succeeded to the position in relation to Aberdeen formerly held by the chief of the Gordons. Later in the year the sum of 600 merks was granted to Huntly " specially to remove his soldiers and men of war out of this burgh and the bounds thereof." It had been represented by the Forbes partisans that the citizens took part with the Gordons at the Crabstane, and Morton, following the example set by Murray, made this a pretext for exacting a heavy fine from the city. The regent and Privy Council were in Aberdeen at the justice-air of 1574, and the magistrates represented to them that it had been through "sinister and wrong informal on" that the proceedings against the town had been raised. The regent, however, exacted 4000 merks as the price of ts discharge, and to this the community agreed lest worse evil should befall them. By an obligation entered into at this time, and approved by an Act of the Privy Council, the community became bound, under a heavy penalty, to elect none as office-bearers or town councillors but "such persons as are known zealous professors of the true and Christian religion now publicly preached and by law established within the realm." With Morton's favour for Protestantism was united a spirit of rapacity which he exercised on other revenues besides those of the Church. In a charter of the lands of Balgownie and Murcar to his. relative George Auchinleck of Balmanno, an eminent lawyer and judge, he granted the salmon - fishings of the Lower Don, which the town had received from King Robert Bruce, and had enjoyed without challenge for two centuries and a half. The rights of the town were absolutely clear, and the fishings were restored to it by the Privy Council soon after the termination of Morton's regency.

Tranquillity continued to prevail in the two counties during the first three years of the sixth Earl of Huntly, who, being a minor, was sent to France for education, his able and experienced uncle, Sir Adam Gordon, administering the affairs of the earldom. In 1579, however, the Forbes-Gordon feud was resumed, partly in consequence of a quarrel between George Gordon of Gight and Alexander Forbes younger of Towie, resulting in bloodshed and Gordon's death, and partly of a dispute about the lands of Keig and Monymusk which Cardinal Beaton had granted to the fourth earl. The church of St Andrews had held the superiority of these lands since the days of Malcolm Canmore, but Huntly, who had stood by the cardinal when Arran imprisoned him, received as his reward these outlying possessions of the metropolitan see. Several members of the Forbes family had become tenants of the lands, and Church tenants in these Reformation days had a practical grievance when the Church's rights were made over to a landlord strong enough to enforce them. The dispute was referred by Parliament to four commissioners, presided over by the king, and in 1582 they awarded ^4000 Scots as compensation to the wife and family of Gordon of Gight, securing the Forbeses in their rights to parts of the lands of Keig and Monymusk, and allowing Huntly and his kindred to enter on the remainder without restriction.

The head of the house of Gordon was never able for long to hold himself aloof from national affairs, and the sixth earl, who afterwards became first marquis, and whose active participation in public business extended over a period of more than half a century, is found almost immediately on his accession to power in 1583 acting with the nobles opposed to the Ruthvens. For a time he wavered between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Presbyterian ministers so pressed and importuned him that he told the king that he could endure them no longer; yet on the king's advice he made his submission to the Kirk, publicly confessed his "errors," and promised to defend the Protestant religion. This was in November 1588—twenty-one months after the death of Queen Mary, and less than four months after the further blow which Catholic hopes received in the destruction of the Spanish Armada. At the instance of Queen Elizabeth a charge was brought against him of corresponding with Parma, the Spanish proconsul in the Netherlands, when the Armada was being organised ; and though he gave himself into ward and demanded trial, the flight of Erroll strengthened suspicion against him. In a short time he was set at liberty, and hearing of a plot, in which Morton and Athole were concerned, to entrap him at Perth as he went north, for which purpose a force was being assembled by the Master of Glamis, he suddenly left Edinburgh, took the plotters by surprise, and seizing Glamis carried him captive to Strathbogie. Thereupon the Protestant Lords persuaded James to summon an armed muster to proceed to Aberdeen, where Huntly and Erroll, afterwards joined by Angus, assembled a large force to contest the passage of the Bridge of Dee. On the approach of James with the southern army, however, the three earls disbanded their men—Huntly protesting that he had a commission to gather the lieges, but that nothing was further from his thoughts than to fight against the king. In Aberdeen James received formal declaration of allegiance from crowds of the northern lairds. Huntly sent the Master of Glamis to the city in charge of Captain Thomas Ker; but as the earl did not come himself, James resolved to proceed to Strathbogie—Erroll's castle of Slains having already been captured in the king's name. The journey was made in bleak April weather, and as the distance was too great to be covered in a single day the party had to camp out at night, and " the whole countryside being void both of victual and other goods—all carried into the hills"—the entertainment for royalty was of the poorest. On the night of James's arrival at Strathbogie, the earl, while repairing thither to submit, was captured by his late prisoner the Master of Glamis and lodged in the tower of Tirriesoul, whence he was sent off next day to Aberdeen in charge of a strong guard of horsemen. The king visited the northern Highlands, and on his return to Aberdeen received the submission of the Earl of Erroll, Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun, Gordon of Cluny, and others. When he reached Edinburgh he set free the Earl of Huntly, who had been warded at Borthwick Castle.

From imprisonment to the highest positions in the State was found by successive heads of the house of Gordon to be but a short journey. The sixth earl had not long recovered his freedom when he received a commission of " fire and sword " against the Earls of Bothwell and Moray, who had incurred the displeasure of the Government, and in pursuance of this commission he presented himself at Donibristle, the residence of Moray on the Fifeshire shore of the Firth of Forth, and destroyed it by fire. Moray himself and Patrick Dunbar, Sheriff of Elgin, in attempting to escape by a subterranean passage, were slain by some of Huntly's followers, and the occurrence, resembling in a more conspicuous sphere that which had taken place in Upper Donside not many years before, is similarly commemorated in Scottish ballad literature. Much resentment was awakened by it among the Presbyterian party writh which Moray was associated, and the king was suspected of complicity in the affair, and was alleged to have hated Moray "for the good regent's sake" and as a favourer of Bothwell. Demands were raised that measures should be taken against Huntly, who wrent into voluntary ward, but was soon liberated again by James's order. Then came the incident of the " Spanish blanks "—the arrest of a member of the Ker family, as he was starting on a foreign journey, having in his possession eight sheets of paper left blank except that they bore the closing formula of a letter to royalty and were subscribed with the signatures of Huntly, Erroll, Angus, and Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun. Ker was cross-examined under torture of " the boot," and on the testimony thus wrung from him, and afterwards repudiated, it was concluded that the blanks were to be filled up by two Jesuit " traffickers" connected with Aberdeenshire, Fathers James Crichton and James Tyrie, and that they had reference to a plot for landmg Spanish troops on the Solway or Clyde to co-operate in re-establishing Roman Catholicism in Scotland and invading the territory of the Protestant Queen of England. Other intercepted letters, spurious or real, suggested the existence of active plotting in the north and much intercourse with the Duke of Parma. A Catholic reaction was manifesting itself. The Earls of Erroll and Crawford had lately been recovered to the Roman fold, and it was not doubted that Huntly's sympathies were on the same side, while his uncle, James Gordon, was one of the busiest of the many Jesuit agents in the north. The lords whose names were on the blanks were outlawed, and James, though he had little favour for the extreme Protestant party, revisited Aberdeen with a force, imposed afresh upon the magistrates and community an obligation to uphold the doctrines now established, and placed a garrison in Huntly Castle—the earl having retired to the far north. In the meantime the Mackintoshes were stirred up to clear off old scores against the Gordons, and as vassals of the Earl of Moray to avenge the affair of Donibristle. This they did by taking possession of Huntly's castle-lands of Inverness, and by a Clanchattan raid upon the Gordon possessions in Strathdee and Glenmuick. Huntly, released from his outlawry, made an expedition of vengeance against the Mackintoshes in the Inverness district. In his absence the Badenoch and Moray men of the same connection made a spoliatory incursion into Strathbogie, but Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun, who started in pursuit, at the head of three dozen horsemen, recovered much of the booty. The earl himself led a second expedition against the Mackintoshes and Grants, and in the enthusiastic words of the family historian " wasted, burnt, and spoiled all the rebels' lands, killed divers of them, and then returned home with great booty, having fully subdued his enemies."

The renewed activity of the powerful northern earl stimulated the Protestant party to take fresh measures against him, and at a Parliament specially summoned for the purpose at Edinburgh at the end of May 1594, the "Popish earls"— Huntly, Erroll, and Angus—were attainted. No active proceedings to give effect to this decree had been taken when James Gordon, Huntly's Jesuit uncle, and three strangers " suspect to be Papists and traffickers," who had landed from a French ship, were arrested and imprisoned by the magistrates of Aberdeen. Intimation was to be sent to the Government, but first there came a demand from Angus and Erroll for the release of the prisoners, and after the lapse of three days an ultimatum from Huntly, subscribed also by these earls and by Sir Patrick Gordon, declaring that unless the strangers were forthwith set at liberty the signatories of the ultimatum would instantly attack the town with fire and sword. This missive had the desired effect of procuring the release of the strangers.

Disliking the pressure put upon him by the more extreme men of the party in power in the south, the king was in no haste to give effect to the sentence against the earls, but at last he so far yielded as to issue a commission to the Earl of Argyll, Lord Forbes, and other Protestant chiefs to invade their territories and overthrow their power. Argyll, though young and inexperienced, was reluctant to accept the commission, but the prospect of acquiring the Gordon estates induced him to enter on what was manifestly a perilous enterprise. His own undisciplined warriors, as he proceeded into Inverness - shire and down Strathspey, were reinforced by Mackintoshes and Grants and by a motley crowd of caterans armed with claymores and carrying sacks to hold the spoils of Strathbogie. Huntly's new castle of Ruthven in Badenoch was held by the MacPhersons, and the armed horde, said to have numbered seven or even ten thousand, finding that it offered resistance not likely to be soon overcome, hastened on towards richer lands. After quitting the Spey to ascend Glenlivet on the way to Aberdeenshire, the Highlanders were met (October 4, 1594) on the Allt-a-Coileac'nan burn by Huntly and Erroll at the head of 2000 men, many of them on horseback. The Forbeses, Frasers, Irvines, Leslies, Dunbars, and Ogilvies were preparing to unite their forces with those of Argyll, but Huntly, resolved if possible to prevent the junction of the Highlanders with his Lowland enemies, hastened westward to the Braes of Glenlivet. The Gordons had the advantages of discipline and superior arms, including six field - pieces which were nearly as paralysing if not as deadly to the Highlanders as the modern Maxim gun is to a militant African tribe. The composition of the force under Huntly and Erroll was similar to that of the army which the Earl of Mar commanded at Harlaw nearly two centuries before; the Highland host under Argyll was to a large extent of the same character as the Celtic multitude that accompanied Donald of the Isles; and the parallel is completed by the nature and results of the two battles. Argyll charged the Lowland force in repeated onsets, but was unable to break its compact array. From eleven till two o'clock the battle went on intermittently, and after an hour's interval it was renewed till nightfall, when, under cover of the darkness, the Highlanders took their departure, as their predecessors had done at Harlaw. In point of number Huntly's losses were insignificant, and the only notable man who fell on his side was Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun. Argyll lost MacLean of Mull, MacNeill of Barra, two of his Campbell cousins, and 500 rank and file.

Complete as was the victory of the " Popish earls" at Glenlivet, they were unable to follow it up, and when the king returned to the north they offered no resistance. Apart from pressure exercised through their immediate vassals they had little or no popular support. Huntly, who had owed not a little to the favour of the king, now lost credit by an incautious remark reported to his majesty, to the effect that the royal expedition against him was only a "gowk's storm," which would soon blow over, in which expectation he retired again to Caithness. The Duke of Lennox, who was Huntly's brother-in-law, was put in charge of the government of the north, and the result of a meeting which Huntly and Erroll had with him was that they agreed to leave the country for a time. Shortly afterwards Lennox handed over the management of the Huntly estates to his sister the countess. In the meantime the king had gone at the head of an armed force to Strathbogie, and had consented to the looting of the castle and then to the destruction of the great building itself. Other strongholds of the Roman Catholic notables were destroyed at the same time, including the houses of Slains, Abergeldie, and Newton.

So ended the last struggle in the north between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The two earls who identified themselves with the ancient Church had gained a signal yet barren victory. The people of the two counties were no longer attached to the old faith : they had, in the main, joined the Protestants, or were indifferent. There were few among the greater lairds who had not participated in the spoils of the Church or had not followed the fashion by taking the side of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church, indeed, had completely lost its hold upon all except a comparatively small minority.

On their return to Scotland in 1596 the two earls tried to make their peace with the Kirk, but their proposals met with the bitter opposition of the Melville party, and were at first rejected. By this time, however, James was bent on curbing the extreme Presbyterians: the pretensions of the Presbytery of Edinburgh were declared unlawful by the king and Council, and in May 1597 the General Assembly of Dundee, in which the extreme party were in a m nority, decided on the removal of the sentence of excommunication. The reception of Huntly and Erroll into the Protestant Church took place in St Nicholas' Church, Aberdeen, in the following month, and was attended with a degree of ceremony befitting the acquisition of adherents so iMHant. After a sermon by the bishop—for the episcopal system was in partial operation—the two earls made open confession of their defection and apostasy, affirmed the religion established in Scotland to be the only true religion, and "for ever renounced all Papistry." Huntly, moreover, confessed his offence to God, the king, the Kirk, and the country in the slaughter of the Earl of Moray, whereupon he was absolved from the sentence of excommunication. Thus the two earls became Protestants; they were received by the whole ministry present, as also by the commissioner for the king, and the proceedings of the day closed with a convivial gathering.

In 1599 the Earl of Huntly was promoted by the king to the higher rank of marquis, and on James succeeding to the English throne he honoured the marquis with the duty of conveying the queen to London in his "comeHest manner."

The marquis and marchioness still hankering after the Church of Rome, Mr George Gladstanes, minister of St Andrews, was deputed to live with them so that they "might be informed in the word of truth." But the Reformation struggle was over, and the ecclesiastical conflicts were henceforth to be between different orders of Protestants.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus