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


ACCORDING to some of the genealogies, Alexander, Lord Gordon, first married Jean Keith, a daughter of Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland, and she is said to have died without issue. There seems, however, to be some doubt as to this marriage. In 1425 Lord Gordon married Egidia Hay, a daughter and heiress of John Hay of Tullibody. The following year, on the 8th of January, the King, upon the resignation of Egidia, granted to them and their heirs the lands of the barony of Tullibody; also the forests of Boyne and Enzie, and barony of Kilsaurle; and the lands of Kinmundy in the barony of King-Edward. By this lady he had a son, Alexander, who succeeded to the lands of Tullibody, his mother’s heritage, and he became the ancestor of the Setons of Abercorn. Lord Gordon divorced Egidia Hay, a proceeding which seems to have been effected without any bad feeling on either side.

Lord Gordon next married Elizabeth, a daughter of Sir William Crichton, Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, and by her he had three sons and three daughters—George, his successor; Alexander of Midmar, and Adam Dean, of Caithness; his eldest daughter, Janet, married James Dunbar, Earl of Moray; Elizabeth married, first, Nicol Hay, second, Earl of Erroll; and she married, secondly, John, Lord Kennedy; Christian married William, Lord Forbes.

Alexander, Lord Gordon, resigned his lands into the King’s hands for new infeftment on the 3rd of April, 1441, and on the same day he and Elizabeth his wife received a charter of the lordships of Gordon and Strathbogie; the lands of Aboyne, Glentanner, Glenmuick, and others.

So large a portion of the Keith lands having come into the possession of Lord Gordon, a dispute arose between him and Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. A meeting to settle matters was held at Cluny on the 1st of August, 1442 at which Lord Gordon and Sir William Keith, Walter Ogilvie of Beaufort, Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum, Sir Andrew Ogilvie, of Inchmartin, and others were present. After careful deliberation, Lord Gordon granted a deed stating that—"From natural affection, nearness of kin, and for services done to him, he and his heirs renounced, and discharged all rights and claims that he or they had, or may have in time to come, in favour of Sir William Keith, Marischal of Scotland, of all lands, offices, or any part of them, in possession of Sir William Keith. Lord Gordon also promised to make Sir William and his son, Sir Robert, sure of the said lands and offices. He further bound himself and his heirs to pay the penalties named in an agreement between his deceased father and mother and himself on the one part, and the said Sir William Keith and his wife on the other part, if he or his heirs broke the conditions of this contract; and has sworn the bodily oath and touched the Holy Book, that he and his heirs shall keep and fulfil these conditions. Amen."

On the 5th of October, 1443 Alexander, Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles, and Justiciary beyond the Forth, granted the barony of King Edward and the patronage of all the benefices within it to Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon, for his life-time; and commanded all the tenants to obey him.

The exact date of the creation of the Earldom of Huntly has not been ascertained. The date usually given is the year 1449, but there is some evidence that the Earldom was conferred on Lord Gordon in 1445. Anywise, the new Earl rapidly rose to a commanding position in the government of the kingdom. The great political question of the time was the fierce and determined struggle which raged between the Crown and the House of Douglas. In this contest the first Earl of Huntly acted a very important and decisive part on the side of the Stuart line. For nearly ten years the nation from day to day knew not whether Stuart or Douglas would triumph.

In 1449 the Earl of Huntly was the King’s tenant in the lands of Buchrom, Kinnimond, and Abergeldie. On the 28th of April, 1451, he received for his services to the Crown, a charter from James II. of the Lordship of Badenoch and the Castle of Ruthven.

The tragic death of the Earl of Douglas by the hands of the King in Stirling Castle in February, 1452, was the signal for civil war, which raged from the Borders to Inverness. The vassals of the Douglases and their allies—the Earls of Crawford and Ross—were very numerous and daring, and the King was in great difficulty and imminent peril. He immediately appointed the Earl of Huntly, Lieutenant-General of the kingdom. But Huntly himself was in an extremely difficult position. On the north side of him were the Earl of Ross, and the two Douglas, Earls of Moray and Ormond, while on the other was the powerful and fierce Earl of Crawford. Huntly soon mustered a strong force from the valley of the Deveron, Strathbogie, the valley of the Dee, and other quarters of the north.

The King had resolved to join Huntly, and marched to Perth. But the Earl of Crawford, who was at the head of an army, determined to prevent Huntly from joining the King; and he took up a strong position about two miles north-east from Brechin. Huntly marched southward, and on the 18th of May, 1452, the two armies came in sight of each other. A fierce and severe battle ensued. The Lindsays fought bravely, and for a time the issue seemed doubtful. Both sides displayed great bravery, Crawford himself made many desperate efforts to win the day. At last he was completely defeated, and fled to his Castle of Finhaven, hotly pursued by Calder of Aswanley. The loss was severe on both sides. Two of Huntly’s brothers— William and Henry—were slain, and a considerable number of his vassals. One of Crawford’s brothers and many of his followers fell upon the field.

The highest point of the rising ground on the north side of the battlefield is called "Huntly’s Hill," and upon it there is a large stone, known as "Huntly’s and Bardie’s Stone." Huntly had to return north to chastise the Earl of Moray and his men, who had invaded and wasted Strathbogie during his absence at Brechin. He crossed the Spey, and advanced into Morayshire and inflicted severe punishment upon the followers of Douglas, Earl of Moray. The final struggle between the King and the Douglases took place in the south of the kingdom.

When at Aberdeen on the 7th of September, 1456, James II. granted a remission to the Earl of Huntly and his son, Sir George Seton, Master of Gordon, for their depredations on the Earldom of Mar. The Earldom was then in dispute between the King and Lord Erskine; and Huntly had occupied the lands of Kildrummy and Migvie in 1452-53.

In 1464 the Earl received from the King a charter erecting the town of Kingussie, in the Lordship of Badenoch, into a free burgh of barony. In 1467 the King granted Huntly a charter of certain lands in Elgin.

The Earl of Huntly, during the latter part of his life, endeavoured to strengthen his position by entering into bonds of manrent. On the 8th of July, 1468, William, Lord Forbes, "becomes man of special fealty, retinue, and service to an high and mighty Lord, Alexander, Earl of Huntly, and Lord of Badenoch, to serve him leal and truly for all the days of my life, both in peace and war, before and against all them that live or die, my allegiance to my sovereign only excepted." This bond, at the same date and in similar terms, was repeated in favour of George, Lord Gordon, son and heir-apparent to the Earl of Huntly; and thereupon the Earl of Huntly granted to Lord Forbes and his heirs the lands of Abergarden, in the barony of Aboyne, the lands of Tulyfour, in the Lordship of Tough and the barony of Cluny, and other lands, all within the Sheriffdom of Aberdeen. "And if I (Lord Forbes) shall happen to die, as God forbid, without issue by Christian Gordon, my wife, daughter of the Earl of Huntly, and sister of Lord Gordon, through which the succession to my heritage fall into the hands of any other of my kin, male or female, whatsoever they be that shall succeed me in my heritage of the lands of the Lordship of Forbes, the heirs succeeding to me shall likewise be men of special service, manrent, and retinue, as I am to my foresaid Lords."

In this way the succeeding Earls of Huntly, following the common practice of the times, made many efforts to secure and extend their power.

Alexander, first Earl of Huntly, died at Strathbogie on the 15th of July, 1470, and was interred at Elgin. His kinsman, Richard Forbes, Dean of Aberdeen, mortified certain lands to the altar of St. Mary for the repose of his soul and that of his Countess, Elizabeth Crichton. Buchanan’s lines on the Earl may be quoted :—

Enclosed within this tomb lies
Who has added new lustre to an ancient name.
Comely, strong, and in his course of life
by ill unsubdued;
Rich, shunning extravagance, hospitable to all;
Loving peace, ready for war.
Having gone the round
of all the blessings
of a happy life;
He rendered up his soul to heaven, his dust to earth.

He was succeeded by his son George, second Earl of Huntly. While Lord Gordon, under a strictly fenced and guarded matrimonial contract, dated the 20th of May, 1455, he married Elizabeth Dunbar, Countess of Moray, and widow of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, who was slain at the battle of Arkinholm on the 1st of May the same year. This marriage did not continue long. As the parties were within the forbidden degree of relationship, a divorce was obtained. There was no issue of the marriage.

Huntly next married the Princess Annabella, a daughter of James I., in 1458, by whom he had issue, four sons and four daughters. But in July, 1471, he was divorced from her on account of his marriage with the Countess of Moray, his first wife, as both ladies were within the third and fourth degrees of relationship. Their descendants, however, were legitimated.

The Earl married, thirdly, Elizabeth Hay, a daughter of William, first Earl of Erroll, and by her he had issue, three daughters.

Although a truce with England was concluded in October, 1474, to continue for seventeen years, yet Edward IV. was not friendly to Scotland. He harboured the forfeited Earl of Douglas, and entered into negotiations with John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, with whom he concluded a treaty. When the terms of the treaty became known to the Government, the Earl of Ross was summoned to appear before Parliament in Edinburgh and answer to several charges of treason; but he failed to appear, and sentence of forfeiture was passed against him. Preparations were then made to invade his territories and reduce him to subjection.

The Earls of Crawford and Athole led an expedition against the Earl of Ross. The Earl of Huntly also mustered his vassals, and captured the Castle of Dingwall. He then led his force into Lochaber, and induced the Earl of Ross to tender his submission and petition for pardon. The Earl followed Huntly’s advice, and though the Earldom of Ross was annexed to the Crown, and the districts of Cantyre and Knapdale and the Castles of Inverness and Nairn were taken from him, at the intercession of the Queen, the rest of his lands were restored by royal charter. He was also created a Lord of Parliament under the title of Lord of the Isles.

On the 27th of March, 1476, the King sent a letter to the Earl of Huntly, warmly thanking him for the part he had taken in the subjection of the Earl of Ross. Shortly after, the King promised to secure by charter and seizin to the Earl and his heirs 100 merks worth of land in convenient places in the north parts of the kingdom.

In 1472 Sir Alexander Dunbar of Westfield gave his letters of faith to "become man to a noble and mighty lord, my Lord George, Earl of Huntly, Lord of Gordon and Badenoch, in leal and true manrent and service, in peace and in war, against all deadly in all the points contained in the oath of manrent, my allegiance to our Sovereign Lord the King alone excepted. This my manrent and service to endure for all the days of my life, all fraud and guile excluded and put away. "At Huntly, the 30th day of June, before these witnesses—Ranald of Wenton, George Leslie of Quhitecorse; Hugh the Ross, son and heir-apparent to Hugh the Ross of Kylrawak; William of Seteoun, and many others.

The Earl of Huntly was Keeper of the castles of Inverness and Redcastle. In 1479 he was appointed Justiciary north of the Forth. Thus it came within his functions to use his authority for the suppression of feuds between families. Duncan, the chief of the Mackintoshes, was accused for breach of contract touching the lands of Glenmoriston; and at Perth, on the 25th of July, 1481, he became bound to obey the judgment of his Lord Superior, "and make amends if any breach was proved."

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