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


THE King arrived in Aberdeen on the 20th of February, 1593, and stayed several weeks in the city. On the approach of His Majesty, Huntly and his chief allies went aboard a vessel at Rathbyhaven and sailed for Caithness. The Castle of Strathbogie was garrisoned by a body of men under the command of Archibald Carmichael. The Earl of Athole was appointed Lieutenant-General beyond the Spey, associated with Earl Marischal. Yet the King seems to have had no intention of proceeding to extremities against Huntly and the Catholic Earls. There were obvious reasons for this policy, as about one-third of the Scottish barons were still more or less firmly attached to the Roman Catholic religion. Thus the Countess of Huntly was courteously received at the Court, and interceded for her husband.

But many incidents and circumstances indicated that the King was much inclined to treat the Earl of Huntly and his associates with the utmost possible leniency. On the 16th of March Huntly was relieved from the horning proclaimed against him.

In September, Huntly proceeded to punish the Mackintoshes, who had ventured to invade Strathbogie during his absence. On his return, he pursued them, overtook and completely defeated them in the Cabrach, where sixty of them were slain. Yet the Earl was not satisfied. The following year, on the 30th of April, "Huntly made a raid against the Mackintoshes; burned their houses, slaughtered many people, and captured an immense booty."

In October, 1593, Huntly, Erroll, and Angus suddenly appeared at Fala, threw themselves upon their knees before the King, and entreated him not to condemn them unheard, and offered to enter ward whenever His Majesty should be pleased to command them. Those of the Council present were favourable to the Earls, and they were ordered to repair to Perth and stay there till arrangements could be made.

The Protestant clergy insisted on extreme measures against the Catholic Earls, and matters were running to a crisis. Both parties were mustering their forces throughout the kingdom. A committee of the Three Estates met at Holyrood, along with six of the leading ministers, to deliberate on the state of affairs. After some very animated debates, the King, on the 26th of November, 1593, pronounced what was called the "Act of Abolition" touching Huntly and his associates. This Act announced that the true religion established in the first year of His Majesty’s reign should be the only one professed in Scotland; and that those who had never embraced it, and those who had declined from it, should either conform to it before the 11th of February, 1594, or depart from the country to such places as the King should direct, and there remain till they professed the truth and satisfied the Church. During their banishment, they were to retain the full possession of their estates. All accusations against Huntly and his friends were annulled. They were ordered to inform the King and the Church, before the iith of January, which of the alternatives they meant to accept.

This Act pleased neither party. The Catholic Earls were not disposed to renounce their religion, nor to retain it only at the cost of exile; while the clergy were extremely annoyed at this temporising line of action, and immediately proclaimed their disapproval of it from their pulpits. The Earl of Huntly and his adherents were excommunicated in May.

In the beginning of June, Parliament met, and on the 4th an Act of Forfeiture was passed against Huntly and his associates, and they were proclaimed rebels. They still remained in the north; and the King issued a commission to the Earls of Argyle and Athole and Lord Forbes to muster their vassals and wage war against Huntly.

The young Earl of Argyle mustered his vassals and took the field, and advanced through the mountain passes in the direction of Strathbogie. He was joined on the march by the Macleans, Grants, Macgregors, and some of the Mackintoshes. Huntly and Erroll mustered their followers at Strathbogie, and marched through the parish of Glass; and on the way Gordon of Cairnborrow and his eight sons joined them. They advanced up the valley of the Deveron to the Cabrach, thence by the castle of Auchindoun to the Braes of Glenlivet. Argyle continued to advance toward Glenlivet, and pitched his camp in this district, near the Glenrinnes border. On perceiving the approach of Huntly’s men, Argyle left his camp and drew up his men, numbering about 5000, in three divisions. Sir John Maclean commanded the right wing, which was posted on the shoulder of a mountain, terminating in an inclined plane; the left wing was partly protected by marshy ground, and Argyle himself commanded the reserve, which occupied the heights. Huntly’s force consisted of about 900 well-armed men, and a few pieces of artillery, which opened fire on Maclean’s line, and under cover of which the Earl of Erroll led the attack on the right wing and attempted a flanking movement; but his company was surrounded and placed in extreme peril. When Huntly observed this, he rapidly advanced with the main body of his men and horse, and assailed the right wing and centre of the enemy’s line. After two hours’ hard fighting, the centre of Argyle’s line was thrown into confusion and driven back upon the reserve, which also became confused, and, in spite of his utmost efforts, fled from the field. But the right wing under Maclean fought with remarkable courage, and at last retired in good order. The battle was fought on the 13th of October, 1594. On Argyle’s side, about 500 men were slain; on Huntly’s side 20 men were slain, and many wounded. Among those slain was Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun, a son of the fourth Earl of Huntly.

The King had advanced to Dundee when tidings of the defeat of Argyle reached him, and he immediately pushed forward. On the march he was joined by the Keiths, Forbesses, Irvines, and others, and arrived at Aberdeen.

The King, with his army, proceeded to Strathbogie, and the castle was dismantled and defaced. The Castle of Slains, the seat of the Earl of Erroll, and other mansions of the Gordons, were also dismantled. On returning to Aberdeen, the King caused a number of the Earl of Huntly’s adherents to be executed, and then proclaimed a general pardon to those who had been with him at the Battle of Glenlivet, provided they paid the fines imposed by the council. After making some arrangements for preserving peace, and appointing the Duke of Lennox—Huntly’s brother-in-law—Governor of the North, the King disbanded the army, and in November proceeded to the south.

Huntly fled to Caithness. The sentence of forfeiture passed against him had never been acted upon; and the Duke of Lennox gave over the management of Huntly’s estates to the Countess. In March, 1595, the Earl left Scotland, and made a tour through France and Germany. The Countess of Huntly made the utmost efforts to obtain her husband’s pardon. In August, 1596, the Earl returned to Scotland, and there were indications that the Government would restore him. The Earl had forwarded overtures to the King, offering submission, and petitioning to be absolved from the sentence of excommunication. At a meeting of the barons and some of the clergy, it was agreed that, under certain conditions, to be drawn up by the King and the Privy Council, Huntly might be received, but the majority of the clergy were opposed to this proposal, and they engaged in a bitter struggle with the King.

At a General Assembly which met at Dundee on the 10th of May, 1597, the conditions prescribed for the absolution and admission of the Earls of Huntly, Erroll, Angus, and the Laird of Gight, were discussed, and a commission was appointed to receive them into the Church. The ceremony of their reconciliation to the church took place at Aberdeen in the Old Church. The church was crowded, many of the noblemen and gentlemen of the county were present Immediately before the sermon, the Earls publicly subscribed the Confession of Faith. After the sermon, they rose and in a loud voice confessed their defection and apostasy, and professed their present conviction of the truth of the Protestant faith and their resolution to adhere to it. The Earl of Huntly then declared, before God, the King, and the Church, his penitence for the slaughter of the Earl of Moray. The three Earls were then absolved from the sentence of excommunication. They next communicated in the Prostestant form, and solemnly swore to keep order in all respects and to execute justice within their territories. The Laird of Gight appeared in the garb of a penitent, and threw himself upon his knees before the pulpit, and implored pardon for supporting the Earl of Bothwell, and prayed to be released from the sentence of excommunication; this was granted, and he was reconciled. The following day, the reconciliation of the Earls was proclaimed at the Cross on the Castlegate, amid a great assemblage of the people, who shouted joyfully, drank the health of the Earls, and tossed their glasses in the air.

The estates and titles of Huntly and the other Catholic Earls were restored to them by Parliament in December, 1597. On the 17th of April, 1599, he was created Marquis of Huntly, Earl of Enzie, Viscount of Inverness, &c. In 1601 he received a Royal Commission of Justiciary and Lieutenancy for the reduction of the Isles to order and obedience. About this time several projects touching the Western Isles were on foot.

A contract was entered into between the King on the one hand, and on the other James Learmonth of Balcomie, Sir James Anstruther, Captain William Murray, the Duke of Lennox, and others. They undertook to colonise the Island of Lewis, and develop its rich resources. The contract is dated 29th of June, 1598. On the 7th of July an Act of Council in favour of the new colonists was passed, to this effect :—"That a summons be raised to seek a declaration upon the late Act of Parliament against Highlandmen and Islesmen for non-production of their titles and rights, that they should be charged to appear before His Majesty and the Privy Council to find caution according to the acts and penalties contained therein, and being denounced rebels . . . That there shall be a process of forfeiture regularly deduced against these Highlandmen, and their goods given to the new colonising gentlemen. . . . That their lands shall by a new right and disposition be conveyed to the new colonisers, and to no others." The new colonisers or "gentlemen adventurers," as they are called in the record, took possession of the Island of Lewis, and in November, 1600, Parliament ratified their "infeftment of the island.

They did not long retain possession of Lewis. The tragic narrative is presented in the Register of the Privy Council thus:—"His Majesty, after good advice and deliberation, resolved to reduce that isle to obedience, and plant a number of good and dutiful subjects in it. For this purpose His Majesty disposed the right of that isle to certain barons and gentlemen, who enterprised the conquest of the isle, establishing religion and policy in it, and rooting out the barbarity and wickedness which were so common in it. Likewise, they having by force made a perfect conquest of that isle, and reduced it to as great obedience as any part of the mainland, so that all kind of traffic by sea was very frequent there, yet it is a truth that certain of the chiefs of the isle, confederated with the chiefs of the adjacent isles, under the pretence of friendship, conspired and devised the extermination and ruin of the gentlemen adventurers and their whole company. At last, in the winter of 1602, finding the proper time when these gentlemen expected no such hid treason, they then attacked them and slew them; and they have taken possession of the isle, intending by force to hold it against His Majesty’s authority." Those of the adventurers not slain made terms with the islesmen, and departed from the island. The King was enraged, and ordered a muster of his subjects in the northern counties from the river Dee to the Orkney Islands—to reconquer the Island of Lewis. But the King had at the time too many irons in the fire, and the Isle of Lewis was not reconquered for a long time.

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