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


ON the 21st of July, 1588, Huntly’s marriage with Lady Henrietta Stewart, a sister of Ludovic, Duke of Lennox, was celebrated at Holyrood with great mirth and rejoicing. The King himself took a keen interest in the marriage; and the ceremony was performed by Archbishop Adamson of St Andrews.

The Earl was often solicited by the ministers to join the Reformed Church, and this greatly annoyed him. Yet, on the 30th of November, 1588, "Huntly submitted to the Church, publicly confessed his errors, and solemnly protested his desire to become a faithful and obedient subject, promising hereafter by word and deed to defend the professed religion to the utmost of his power—not from any fear of loss, hope of honour or favour, but of mere conscience and zeal to the truth, detesting all superstition and Papistry."

In December Huntly proceeded with the King on a visit to Kinneil, and subsequently resided with him at Holyrood. But Queen Elizabeth sent a letter to the King accusing the Earl of Huntly of a conspiracy, which came before the Privy Council on the 27th of February, 1589. It was alleged that he had been corresponding with the Duke of Parma and the King of Spain, and transcripts of letters said to have been intercepted were produced. Huntly denied that he had entered into any conspiracy, and protested that the letters were forgeries, concocted by his enemies. The meeting of Council closed amid a scene of intense excitement; and Huntly was conveyed up the High Street and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Touching these letters, such evidence as exists points to the conclusion that they were forgeries. Huntly was liberated on the 6th of March.

Huntly was in high favour with the King and often in his company. But, on the 9th of March, Patrick Gordon of Achindoun and others warned Huntly that the Lord Chancellor, Maitland, had formed a plot to slay him; and he immediately proceeded to the north, accompanied by the Earls of Erroll and Crawford. On their way north they encountered the Master of Glamis at the head of a company of armed men, but they took him prisoner and carried him with them. At this time there was a strong movement to put down Jesuits and seminary priests, who were protected by the Earl of Huntly and other nobles; and in January a meeting of the leading Reformed ministers was held at Edinburgh, to devise and recommend measures to the Government. This meeting petitioned the Government to purge the kingdom of all Jesuits and priests.

On the 7th of April, 1589, the King issued orders for an armed muster of the Crown vassals. The King in person, at the head of an army, commenced to march northward. Huntly, Erroll, and Angus, also assembled their vassals and friends, and advanced to the Bridge of Dee. They were summoned to appear at Edinburgh, but they treated the Royal herald with scorn, and tore the proclamation in pieces. The King continued to advance northward, and Huntly and his allies retired and disbanded their men. The King reached Aberdeen on the 20th of April, and stayed a day or two in the city, and slept in Charles Mowat’s house. But the King was offended because Huntly did not come personally and submit to him. Accordingly, he resolved to proceed to the Castle of Strathbogie.

The King arrived at Strathbogie on the 26th of the month; and on the night of his arrival the Master of Glamis captured the Earl of Huntly, but instead of bringing him before the King, he was conveyed to the tower of Torriesoul under a strong guard. The following morning he was sent away to Aberdeen, under a numerous guard of horsemen. There is evidence, however, that the King had no intention of subjecting Huntly to any severe punishment.

Huntly petitioned that his trial might take place, or that he might be allowed to go into voluntary banishment, and offered caution that he would not return without the permission of the King. To the latter proposal his opponents would not listen; they insisted that he should be tried for treason. The English agents proposed that the Council should be bribed to execute him; but the Council declined to entertain this proposal. Huntly was conveyed to Edinburgh, and confined. He was tried for treason, but judgment was stayed. He was ordered to remain at Borthwick Castle and within six miles thereof, until the King returned from the north. Accordingly, on the return of the King to Edinburgh, in August, Huntly was liberated.

On the 17th of September, 1589, at Aberdeen, the Earls of Huntly and Erroll entered into a bond, because of the "changes and controversies daily falling out amongst the whole estates of this poor realm;" considering these and their own peril, they resolved to bind their friendship as two brothers, and swore a great oath to maintain each other against all living men, save the King.

Huntly had many quarrels on his hands. He was at feud with the Earls of Moray and Athole, Lord Lovat, and their allies the Grants, Campbell of Cawdor, Stewart of Grantully, Sutherland of Duffus, the Dunbars of Moray, and the laird of Mackintosh. They met at Forres in the autumn of 1590, to devise measures against Huntly. The Gordons advanced to attack them, but they escaped to Darnaway Castle. Huntly sent John Gordon and others with a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the offenders, but they disregarded this, and a number of men issued from the castle and slew John Gordon, and wounded some of his company. Huntly complained to the Privy Council, but the quarrel continued. On the 5th of March, 1591, Huntly entered into a bond with Cameron of Lochiel, who engaged to support him against the Grants and Mackintoshes. There were fierce forays and bloodshed, and the Council issued an order commanding Huntly not to pass west of the Spey, the Earl of Moray not to cross east of the water of Findhorn, and the Earl of Athole to stay south of Skorkeith. These proceedings merely led to a temporary lull in the strife.

Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell and High Admiral of Scotland, was a cousin of James VI. He was for some time a powerful personage, and by his daring exploits often threw the King into a state of extreme alarm and terror. It was alleged that his cousin the Earl of Moray was one of his confederates. In January, 1592, the Earl of Huntly and the Duke of Lennox were commanded to apprehend the Earl of Bothwell; but he escaped to the island of Bute. The Earl of Moray was staying at Donibristle Castle, on the north bank of the Forth—a seat belonging to his mother. Huntly, having received a commission to apprehend him, proceeded with the Sheriff of Moray and a number of his own retainers, surrounded the Castle, and commanded the Earl of Moray to surrender. Naturally Moray declined to place himself in the hands of an enemy, and attempted a defence The castle, however, was set on fire, and the inmates were forced to come out. Moray himself remained behind till nightfall, then, rushing through his enemies, he outran them all, and reached a rocky spot, where he thought that he would be safe. The pursuers, however, discovered his place of retreat, and cruelly murdered him. The untimely death of the "bonnie Earl of Moray" on the 7th of February was much lamented.

The King himself, on receiving tidings of the tragedy, showed little concern, and went out to hunt near Inverleith. On his return to the capital, the feeling and excitement of the citizens soon terrified him, and he removed to Glasgow with the Privy Council for a time Huntly’s commissions of Lieutenancy and Justiciary were withdrawn, and he escaped and retired to the north. But Captain Gordon, a brother of the Laird of Gight, was beheaded for his complicity in the tragedy of Donibristle. On the 10th of March, Huntly surrendered, and was confined for two weeks in Blackness Castle; and soon after he returned to the north.

The Earl of Athole and the Mackintoshes invaded Huntly’s territories and wasted them. The Gordons retaliated, and attacked the Grants in Strathspey and the Mackintoshes in Badenoch. The war spread, and there was much bloodshed and destruction of property; almost the whole country north of the Tay was in a state of actual war. So, on the 9th of November, 1592, the Earl of Angus received a Royal Commission of Lieutenancy and Justiciary to restore order in this region; and if necessary to charge the people "in the counties of Inverness, Cromarty, Nairn, Forres, Elgin, Banff, Aberdeen, Kincardine, Forfar, and that part of Perth lying north of the Tay, to muster in arms under the penalty of confiscation and death, and follow the Royal Lieutenant on such days and to such places, and for such space of time as he shall order by his proclamations; and if necessary he shall display His Majesty’s banner, and summon all persons whom he shall think necessary to appear before him for finding of caution for their obedience, within such time as shall be fixed by him, under the penalty of rebellion and putting of them to the horn, and if they fail, to denounce them accordingly: with power to him also to charge the castles of disobedient persons to be surrendered under the penalty of treason, and in case of resistance to besiege them, raise fire and use all other warlike force for capturing them." There was the usual indemnity to the Lieutenant and his men for deaths or injuries inflicted in the execution of his commission, with all other powers usual in similar cases. On the 14th of December, Angus had succeeded in obtaining from the Earl of Athole, Grant and Mackintosh an assurance of peace, which included Huntly’s allies.

On the 27th of December, Andrew Knox, minister of Paisley, having learned that George Kerr was ready to proceed to Spain, traced him to Glasgow, thence to the island of Cumbrae, and apprehended him on the ship in which he was about to sail. Kerr’s baggage was searched, and some packets of letters being found, he was conveyed a prisoner to Edinburgh Among the letters, several signatures of the Earls of Huntly, Erroll, and Angus were found at the bottom of blank slips of paper. Kerr was tortured, and on the first stroke of the boots confessed the conspiracy. Though this mode of extracting evidence destroys any degree of credit which might otherwise attach to the statements of the accused individual, yet it was enough, in the heated temper of the ministers and the people, to arouse their passions and feelings to a pitch of great excitement. The Lords of the Privy Council, after examining the letters, had no doubt of their authenticity. Huntly and his associates protested that they were innocent, and asserted that they had entered into no conspiracy. But they declined to obey the order to ward in St Andrews, or to subscribe a bond touching religion; and they were then proclaimed rebels. The King mustered an army in February, 1593, and marched northward.

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