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


TRADITION carries the origin and surname of Gordon far back into bygone ages. It is said that there was a tribe in Gaul called Gordon before the Christian era: and that there was a Roman Emperor of the name of Gordonius.

There appear, however, to have been families of the name of Gordon in France at an early period. The Gordons settled in Scotland in the early part of the twelfth century. It seems that they first obtained lands in Berwickshire, to which they gave the name of the barony of Gordon. In this district, another of their possessions was called Huntly, which the family at a subsequent period assumed as the title and name of their Earldom in the North, and adopted the name in Strathbogie.

About the year 1160 Richard de Gordon granted to the monks of the Abbey of Kelso a right of pasture, an acre of land at Todlaw, and an acre of meadow in Huntly-Strother, in the barony of Gordon. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Thomas de Gordon. In 1170 Sir Thomas confirmed his father’s grant of lands to the monks of Kelso. He was an ardent supporter of the policy of William the Lion; and ably assisted him in his conflicts with the people of Galloway, Ross, and other quarters of the kingdom.

Sir Thomas died in 1215, and was succeeded by his son, Thomas, who was knighted by Alexander II. He confirmed the grants of his father and grandfather to the Abbey of Kelso; and made some additional grants of lands, with a portion of his peatry of Brunmoss, and with the liberty of taking timber from his woods and pulling heather on his estates, for which privileges Gordon obtained the right of burial in the cemetery of the Abbey of Kelso. He died in 1258, leaving an only child, a daughter, called Alice de Gordon. She married Sir Adam Gordon, a descendant of a younger branch of the family; and thus united the estates of Gordon and Huntly, in the Merse. Sir Adam was a man of great energy. He was one of the company who left Scotland to assist Lewis IX. of France in an expedition to the Holy Land. But disaster overtook this expedition, and Sir Adam and many others perished before reaching the Holy Land. His widow survived him for several years. She died in 1280, and was succeeded by her son, Sir Adam Gordon.

In the spring of 1296, Sir Adam Gordon, with his tenants, joined the army led by John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, which invaded and wasted the North of England. Gordon’s lands were plundered by Edward I. on his march through Berwickshire, and forfeited to the English Crown. Sir Adam was present at the battle of Dunbar on the 26th of April, 1296, and fell in that disastrous action. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Adam de Gordon. After the defeat of the Scots at Dunbar, Sir Adam, with a few other Scotsmen, retreated northward, until he was forced to surrender to Edward I. at Elgin, on the 28th of July, 1296.

In the spring of 1297, Sir William Wallace raised the standard against Edward I., and Sir William Douglas and Sir Adam Gordon were amongst the first who joined him. Sir Adam fought bravely at the battle of Stirling Bridge; and also, against fearful odds, at the battle of Falkirk, where the Scots were overwhelmed and defeated by the weight of superior numbers.

This was a period of rapid changes in Scotland.. After the capture of Wallace in the summer of 1305, Sir Adam Gordon surrendered to Edward I. Shortly after, he was appointed one of the Justiciaries of Lothian, with an annual fee of forty merks. He continued on the English side; and in 1309, Edward II. granted to him the lands of Stichel. He adhered till 1313, to the English cause, which had then become well-nigh hopeless. Accordingly Sir Adam offered his allegiance and service to Bruce, which was gladly accepted; and he immediately joined Randolph, Earl of Moray. At the battle of Bannockburn, Randolph led the centre division of the Scottish army, and Sir Adam fought heroically under him on that memorable field.

On the 20th of April, 1320, Parliament met in the Abbey of Arbroath, and drew up a spirited and remarkably constitutional address to the Pope, which represented to His Holiness the real state of the Scottish nation. Parliament selected Sir Adam Gordon and Sir Edward Mabuisson to carry this address to Rome, and plead its prayer before the Pope. When they arrived at Rome, they were rather coldly received. But, aided by two of Sir Adam’s sons, John and Thomas, who were in holy orders, they at last obtained an interview with the Pope, and presented the address from the Scottish Parliament. They succeeded so far, as the severe papal edicts against Scotland were suspended.

When Sir Adam returned home, he advised Robert I. to send Randolph, Earl of Moray, as ambassador to the Pope. Accordingly, Randolph proceeded to Rome in 1323, and he succeeded in persuading the Pope to give Bruce the title of King of Scotland, and remove all cause of quarrel.

Robert I. granted a charter of the barony of Strathbogie to Sir Adam Gordon, which had been forfeited from David Strathbogie, Earl of Athole, by an act of Parliament in 1319. He was the first of the Gordons who obtained territory in Aberdeenshire and the north. He died about 1325 and was succeeded by his son, Sir Adam Gordon. But the Gordons were not secure in their possession of Strathbogie till after the death of the Earl of Athole.

As stated in a preceding chapter, after the death of Randolph, the Regent, Edward Baliol, at the head of an English party, invaded the kingdom, and claimed earldoms and lands in Scotland. David Strathbogie, Earl of Athole, who had married one of the heiresses of the disinherited Comyns, seized possession of Strathbogie, which had been granted by charter to Sir Adam Gordon’s father. At last the Earl of Athole besieged the Castle of Kildrummy, which had been held for some years by Sir Andrew Moray’s wife, Christian Bruce, the heroic sister of Robert I., on behalf of her nephew, David II. When Sir Andrew Moray, the Regent, received tidings of Athole’s attack on Kildrummy, he immediately marched northward to raise the seige. He was accompanied by William Douglas, Sir Adam Gordon of Strathbogie, the Earl of Dunbar, Ramsay of Preston, and other men of note; his army numbered about eight hundred fighting men. Athole’s followers were probably more numerous, as his territorial power was very extensive. He prepared to face the Regent; and, leaving Kildrummy, he marched his army to a position on the wooded slope of Culblean, in the valley of the Dee. The battle was fought on the 30th of November, 1335. William Douglas led the vanguard, with a company of stalwart men, and advanced with consummate tact, watching his opportunity, and at the proper moment ordered his men to couch their spears and charge the centre of the enemy’s line. A furious hand to hand combat ensued. Sir Andrew Moray then rapidly advanced with the main body of his men, and assailed the enemy in flank with irresistible fury. The contest raged hotly for a short time. Athole fell on the field, and his followers were completely defeated, and fled in confusion.

This battle was an exceedingly important national event. It formed a turning-point as the national party at the time were reduced to dire extremity; while Athole was the most powerful baron in Scotland, owing to his wide territorial possessions and his connection with the disinherited Comyns. Thus his continued opposition would have proved ruinous to the national cause. The battle also restored Sir Adam Gordon to his estates in Strathbogie; and secured the lands of a considerable number of other families, who would have lost their possessions if Athole and the English party had prevailed.

John Gordon, son of Sir Adam, was taken a prisoner at the battle of Durham in 1346. Sir Adam died in 1351, and was succeeded by his son, John, who was confined, with David II. and a number of other Scots prisoners, in the Tower of London by Edward III. for a period of eleven years. In 1357 the enormous ransom extorted by Edward III. for the Scottish king was adjusted, and he was released, and returned to Scotland. At the same time Sir John Gordon was liberated, and he, too, with many other prisoners, had to pay ransoms for their liberty.

In 1358 the King granted a charter confirming to John Gordon the grant which Robert I. gave to his grandfather, Sir Adam, of the lands of Strathbogie. During the rest of his life he usually resided at Strathbogie, putting his estates in order, which had been much impaired by hostile raids. He died about the year 1374, and was succeeded by his son, Sir John.

Robert II., in 1376, granted to Sir John Gordon, a charter confirming the grant made by Robert I. to his great-grandfather of the lands of Strathbogie. Sir John was a man of great activity. In 1388 he was present and fought in the battle of Otterburn, in which he distinguished himself. In 1391 he was appointed Justiciary for settling disputed marches.

Sir John died in 1394, unmarried, but left two natural sons, by Elizabeth, a daughter of Cruickshank of Aswanley, in the parish of Glass. His two sons, John and Thomas, were usually called, in the traditions of Strathbogie and the Valley of the Deveron, "Jock and Tam," The lands of Aswanley lay on the south side of the beautiful valley of Deveron; and the old house stood on the south bank, a few paces from the river, in a well sheltered and fertile spot, with a small brook on the east side rippling to the Deveron. It is about half a mile east from the Church of Glass.

It appears that Sir John Gordon made ample provision for his two sons. John Gordon was Laird of Essie, in the parish of Rhynie, and from him were descended the Gordons of Lesmore and other branches of the Gordons. Thomas Gordon was Laird of Daach and Ruthven, in the parish of Cairnie, and from him were descended the Gordons of Hall-head, in Cushnie, and Esslemont, in Ellon, and other branches of the old line of the Gordons of the north.

Sir John Gordon was succeeded by his brother, Sir Adam. He married Elizabeth Keith, fourth daughter of Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, by whom he had issue. He was for a short time Warden of the East Marches. He was at the battle of Homildon, and fell while leading a charge against the English, on the 14th of September, 1402.

He was succeeded by his son, John Gordon of Huntly and Strathbogie. He married Lady Agnes Douglas, a daughter of Lord Dalkeith. By her, it appears, he had no issue. He died in 1408, and was the last of the male line of the Gordons of Strathbogie. The succession then fell to his sister, Elizabeth, who became the heiress of her father, Sir Adam Gordon.

In 1408 Elizabeth Gordon married Alexander Seton, the second son of Sir William Seton of Seton. The same year Elizabeth Gordon resigned her lands in Parliament at Perth, and on the 20th of July, she and her husband received a charter from the Regent Albany of "all the lands and baronies of Gordon and Huntly within the sheriffdom of Berwick, the lands of Fogo and Fauns, and the lands of Strathbogie and Beldygordon, in Aberdeen-shire," to be held by them and their heirs. Thus Alexander Seton obtained the Gordon territories.

He was one of the commissioners appointed to treat for the liberation of James I. in 1423. The following year, on the 28th of May, he became surety for 400 merks of the King’s ransom. In 1436 he was created a Lord of Parliament under the title of Lord Gordon.

In 1437 Lord Gordon drew the rents of Aboyne and Cluny. These territories appear to have come through Elizabeth Keith, the wife of Sir Adam Gordon, and from her to Lord Gordon’s wife.

Alexander Seton, first Lord Gordon, had three sons and one daughter by Elizabeth Gordon, his wife—Alexander, Master of Gordon, and subsequently created Earl of Huntly; William, ancestor of the Setons of Meldrum; and Henry. His daughter Elizabeth married Alexander, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles. Lady Seton Gordon died at Strathbogie on the 16th of March, 1436, and was interred at St. Nicholas Church in Aberdeen. Lord Gordon died in 1440, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander.

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