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


IN 1603 the Marquis of Huntly became reconciled to the Earl of Moray—the Earl of Moray in that year having married Lady Ann Gordon, the Marquis’s eldest daughter. About the same time the Marquis was reconciled with the Earl of Argyle; and in 1607 the Earl of Enzie and Lord Gordon, the Marquis’s eldest Son, married Lady Anne Campbell, a daughter of Archibald, seventh Earl of Argyle. On the 25th of October, 1608, they were infefted in the Lordship of Badenoch, and other lands in Lochaber.

It appears that the Marquis and Marchioness were still much attached to the Roman Catholic faith. In 1606, the Marquis and his family were ordered to reside in Aberdeen for the benefit of advice and instruction from the ministers there. In the following year, he was ordered to live within eighteen miles of the city of Elgin, and to reside there ten days of every month, including two Sundays, and attend church every Sunday. In July, 1608, he was excommunicated by the General Assembly, and imprisoned in Stirling Castle. But he yielded in 1609, and the following year he was released on promising to subscribe the Confession of Faith.

On the 27th of February, 1617, the Marquis of Huntly appeared personally at a meeting of the Privy Council in Edinburgh, and presented His Majesty’s letter, and, having taken the oath of allegiance and of Privy Councillor, was admitted to the Council. The King’s letter was to this effect :—" Right trusty and well-beloved cousin, we greet you well. Whereas the Marquis of Huntly has now given full satisfaction in all matters concerning religion, we are well pleased to restore him to all dignities which at any time heretofore he enjoyed, or from which by reason of his recusancy he has hitherto been debarred, and especially to a place of our Privy Council in that our kingdom. Therefore it is our pleasure that you cause minister unto him the oaths usual in such cases and admit him to our Privy Council to enjoy all honours, dignities, privileges and immunities which any other of our ordinary Privy Councillors enjoys by reason of his place in our Council. Given at Newmarket, the 12th of December, 1616."

The Marquis seldom attended the meetings of the Privy Council. He chiefly directed his attention to the improvement of his estates. He rebuilt the Castle of Strathbogie, and repaired the Castles of Aboyne and Bog of Gight; he planted a considerable extent of ground, made roads and erected bridges.

But he was present in the Convention of Estates which met at Edinburgh on the 5th of March, 1617. At. this meeting a vote of £200,000 was passed for His Majesty’s expenses in his approaching visit to Scotland.

The Marquis attended the Parliament which met at Edinburgh on the 17th of June, 1617, and he was elected one of the Lords of the Articles. At the opening of this Parliament, the King, from the throne on which he was seated, delivered a long speech, explaining his own good intentions, his desire to see the Church settled, the whole nation in order, and necessary reforms passed for the good of his people.

The extraordinary and unprecedented preparations that were made for this visit of James VI. may be seen in the eleventh volume of the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. The Marquis of Huntly when in Edinburgh had promised to the Council to send John Anderson, a painter, who attended to his works at Strathbogie, to attend on the works in progress at Falkland Palace, preparatory for the King’s visit. "Yet John Anderson is not come here, so that His Majesty’s works which were to be committed to his charge are like to be frustrated, highly to His Majesty’s displeasure. Therefore the Lords of the Privy Council order letters to be directed charging George, Marquis of Huntly, to demit John Anderson from his work and service, and to set him forward on his journey hither within twenty-four hours, and also charging the said John Anderson to address himself, with his worklooms and other necessaries, to His Majesty’s master of works at Falkland Palace, so that he may be employed by him in His Majesty’s service, within six days, under the penalty of rebellion."

In 1629 the Marquis was deprived of the office of Sheriff of Inverness and Aberdeen for a composition of £5000, which was never paid. The following year he was much affected by the unfortunate and sad tragedy at Frendraught.

The old tower of Frendraught stands on a haugh on the north side of a streamlet, about a quarter of mile above the distillery of Glendronach, in the parish of Forgue. A fragment of the old tower still remains. Frendraught was a lordship and regality, and embraced a large part of the lands at Forgue, Inverkeithney, and Marnoch. At an early period it belonged to Dunbar, a branch of the Moray family of that name. But in the reign of James II. it came into possession of a son of Sir William Crichton, Lord High Chancellor of Scotland. About 1626, John Gordon of Cairnburrow, purchased the lands of Rothiemay from James Stewart, Lord of Ochiltree, and his son, William Gordon, became Laird of Rothiemay.

A dispute arose between Gordon of Rothiemay and James Crichton of Frendraught touching fishings in the river Deveron; Crichton carried the case before the Lords of the Privy Council, who decided in his favour. This appears to have greatly offended Gordon of Rothiemay; and he mustered a company of men, and attempted to waste the lands of Frendraught. But Crichton received a commission to apprehend him and his associates. Accordingly Crichton, accompanied by James Leslie, a son of the Laird of Pitcaple, John Meldrum of Reidshill, and others, proceeded toward Rothiemay on the 1st of January, 1630.

Gordon advanced and faced them, a conflict ensued, in which Gordon was seriously wounded, and died in a few days. The Marquis of Huntly intervened, and on Crichton paying 50,000 marks to the young Laird of Rothiemay, peace seemed to be restored. Yet John Meldrum apparently imagined that Crichton had not fully rewarded him for his service, for he carried off two of Crichton’s horses. Crichton then took steps to apprehend Meldrum as a robber; on hearing this he took refuge with his brother-in-law at Pitcaple. When Crichton came in search of him, James Leslie, a son of the laird, came out and remonstrated with Crichton touching Meldrum. From words they soon came to blows, and Robert Crichton, a relative of Frendraught, shot Leslie through the arm.

Crichton of Frendraught immediately proceeded to Bog of Gight, and requested the Marquis of Huntly to terminate the feud. Leslie of Pitcaple also went and placed his case before the Marquis, but insisted that he could not agree to any terms with Crichton until he saw whether his wounded son would live or die. Fearing bloodshed between the two men, Huntly requested his son, Viscount Aboyne, and the Laird of Rothiemay, to escort Crichton home, which they did. On their arrival at Frendraught on the evening of the 18th of October, 1630, Crichton and his wife, to show their friendly feeling, desired them to stay overnight and enjoy themselves after their long ride. After supper they went to bed in one of the high chambers of the tower. About midnight the tower took fire, and Viscount Aboyne, the young laird of Rothiemay, and six attendants were burned to death. The scene is well described in a ballad, which appears to have been written shortly after the tragic event, of which a few verses may be quoted:-

When mass was sung, and bells were rung,
And a’ men boun’ for bed,
Then good Lord John and Rothiemay,
In ae chamber baith were laid,

They hadna lang keist their claies,
And were but new asleep,
When the weary smoke beguid to rise,
Likewise the scorching heat.

"Oh! wauken, wauken, Rothiemay,
Oh! wauken, brither dear,
And turn ye to oor Saviour—
There is strong treason here."

When they were dressed in a’ their claes,
And ready for to boun’,
A’ doors and windows were secured,
The roof-tree burnin’ doon.

When he stood at the wire window,
Maist dolefu’ to be seen,
He did espy her Lady Frendraught,
Wha stood upon the green.

Cried, "Mercy, mercy, Lady Frendraught,
Will ye not sink wi’ sin?
For first your man my father killed,
And noo ye burn his son."

The Gordons believed that the fire was wilful, and the Marquis of Huntly proceeded to prosecute Crichton. In 1631 he went to Edinburgh, accompanied by a number of his friends, and presented a petiton to the Privy Council. The council commissioned the Bishops of Aberdeen and Moray, Lord Carnegy, and Colonel Bruce to make inquiry into the matter. They met at the burnt Tower of Frendraught on the 13th of April, 1631. The Earl of Enzie, the Marquis’s eldest son, Lord Ogilvie, Lord Deskford, and others were also present. They searched and investigated the burnt tower internally, and the vault below it; and came to the conclusion that the fire had been kindled inside the building, but by whom they could not discover. Huntly stayed in Edinburgh till the Commissioners presented their report to the Council, and then returned to the north.

The Gordons, however, were far from satisfied. They commenced a series of forays upon the lands of Frendraught and the Crichtons and their friends, and bloodshed and slaughter became almost a daily occurrence. At last the Government interfered, and summoned the Marquis of Huntly to appear before the Council and answer for not restraining his kinsmen and vassals. Having failed to appear, he was outlawed. Afterwards, the Marquis proceeded to Edinburgh, and was accused as the chief mover of the raids and depredations on the Crichtons. He pleaded innocence, and asserted that the rebels were neither his tenants nor servants, and, seeing that he was not then Sheriff, he had no right to interfere. The outlawry against him was withdrawn, on his giving assurance that he and his allies should keep the peace.

When he returned to the north, the disturbers of the peace dispersed for a time. In the winter of 1635, the Marquis was again summoned to appear at Edinburgh. Though no definite charge was brought against him he was imprisoned in the Castle of Edinburgh. Subsequently he received permission to live in his own lodgings, and to walk in the gardens of Holyrood. The Marquis felt himself to be approaching the end of his eventful career. In the beginning of June, 1636, he left Edinburgh to return to Strathbogie, and having reached Dundee, he died there on the 13th of June. He was interred at Elgin.

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