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


EARL ALEXANDER was succeeded by his grandson George, a boy of ten years, the eldest son of John, Lord Gordon. His lot was cast in a stirring and important period of the nation’s history. He succeeded to a high position, with its many responsibilities and great opportunities, amid difficult circumstances.

During his minority the young Earl frequently resided at Court, where he had many opportunities of observing the proceedings of personages in high circles and at the centre of authority. For some time after the departure of the Regent Albany there was an intense struggle of factions and divided counsels at the head of affairs. The Earl of Angus at last seized the young King James V., and shortly concentrated all the power of the Crown in his own hands. Angus kept the King in close constraint, and, revelling in his usurped power, he exercised a severe tyranny on all who dared to oppose him. Two attempts were made to rescue the King from the grasp of the bold and daring noble, in one of which the Earl of Lennox lost his life; while the chains of the captive were more firmly riveted than before. The Douglases were complete masters of the position—Angus himself was Lord High Chancellor, his uncle was Treasurer, and they compelled the King to sign all deeds which they presented to him. At last, with the assistance of Archbishop Beaton and others, the King escaped from Angus in May, 1528, and from that time to the end of his reign he pursued the Earl and his associates with relentless severity.

It appears that the young Earl of Huntly was seduced from his allegiance by the Earl of Angus, and that he accompanied Angus in his flight into England. Afterwards Huntly offered his fealty and homage to the King, who warmly received him, as they had been often together as playmates. In 1529 the Earl of Huntly received a charter from the King of the lands of the Lordship of Strathdee and Cromar, excepting Migvie, for a rent of £180, twenty marts (cattle), and six bolls of oats.

In 1530 the Earl of Huntly contracted to marry Elizabeth Keith, a sister of William, fourth Earl Marischal. This contract is remarkably minute in details; and contains careful provisions against the contingency of divorce. The Marischal promised to give Elizabeth five thousand merks as a tocher; on the other hand, the Earl of Huntly undertook to infeft Earl Marischal in forty pounds worth of land in the barony of Huntly, under a letter of reversion. The marriage was consummated, and the Earl by Elizabeth had nine sons and three daughters.

On the 26th of June, 1532, the Earl of Huntly received a bond of manrent from Hector Mackintosh, captain of Clan Chattan, which was dated at Pitlurg, and witnessed by George Gordon of Gight, John Gordon of Longar, Robert Innes, brother of the laird of Innes, and others. The captain and his men had wasted the lands of the Earl of Moray—James Stewart, a natural son of James IV.— and taken possession of the castles of Darnaway and Halhill. In 1534, Huntly, as Lieutenant-General of the North, had to execute a commission of fire and sword against Hector Mackintosh and his men, in which Huntly was assisted by Grant, the laird of Freuchie.

In 1533 friendly relations between the Gordons and the Forbeses were broken. It appears that during the absence of Lord Forbes, his tenants had made depredations on Huntly’s forest of Corennie. The Earl demanded reparation, and summoned the offenders. The unfortunate feud between the Forbeses and the Gordons frequently led to distressing conflicts.

In 1536 Huntly received a number of bonds of manrent. James Garioch of Kinstair and his son John gave their bond of manrent to the Earl; and Robert Duguid of Auchinhove. in Lumphanan. They bound themselves to serve their lord within the kingdom of Scotland in all his actions and quarrels. In December Hector Maclean of Duart, and M’Kinnon of Strathardale, visited Strathbogie to arrange about a wadset, which Earl Alexander had from Maclean’s father, of lands in Lochaber. Having amicably settled this matter, they gave Huntly a bond of manrent.

On the 25th of June, 1537, at Lenturk, Duncan Davidson of Auchinhamper gave his bond of manrent to the Earl of Huntly. The following year, George, Lord Hume, became bound by the truth and faith in his body "to a noble and mighty Lord, George, Earl of Huntly, Lord Gordon and Badenoch, Chancellor of Scotland, and Knight of the most noble order of St Michael. . . . That we, our kinsmen and friends, shall serve and take a full part, and be for the said Earl, his kin and men, in all his and their good causes, quarrels, and just opinions and actions, honest and lawful, as faithfully as any lord or servant serves his lord and master within this realm, against all others dedly." In 1541, John Leslie of Syde, son and heir-apparent to William Leslie of Balquhain, became bound to the Earl of Huntly— "For as much as my said Lord has given me the sum of four hundred merks, usual money of Scotland, therefore I am become a true man and servant to my said Lord, and shall, with my kin, friends, servants, allies, and tenants, serve, go, and ride with him against all persons, excepting the King and George, Earl of Rothes." This bond is dated at Aberdeen on the last day of July, and witnessed by Alexander Irvine of Drum, William Wood of Bonetown, Alexander Irvine of Coull, Robert Carnegie of Kynnard and others.

The Earl of Huntly was Hereditary Sheriff of Inverness and Governor of the Castle of Inverness, as stated in a preceding section; and on the 3rd of March, 1540, Earl George was by charter created Sheriff of Aberdeen upon the resignation of David Lindsay, Earl of Crawford; and he was also Heritable Baillie of the lands belonging to the Bishop of Aberdeen.

In the summer of 1542 Huntly was sent by the King to the Borders with a force to prevent the English from pillaging the country. The Earl made efforts to secure peace; but the demands of Henry VIII. soon became insufferable. The King mustered an army, and advanced towards the Borders, with the intention of invading England. But the Earl of Huntly and other nobles declined to cross the Border, and the King was forced to disband the army; and shortly after he died.

After the death of James V., Cardinal Beaton made an effort to obtain the chief place in the Government. But the Earl of Arran, as next heir to the Crown, was named Regent, and the Earls of Huntly, Moray, and Argyle were nominated as the Council of the infant Princess, Mary. The Earl of Huntly was strongly opposed to the domineering policy of Henry VIII., and for a time declined to follow the steps of the weak-kneed Regent of Scotland.

On the 31st of March, 1543, Huntly received a commission of Lieutenancy of the North. By this commission his right extended from the Mearns to the Western Sea, embracing the whole of the northern districts of Scotland, all the islands within Inverness-shire, and those of Orkney and Shetland. The authority given to him was very comprehensive. He had the power of governing and defending the people within these limits, and, if necessary, of raising armies and commanding the people to join them. He was empowered to raise the Royal banner, and to make such statutes for the preservation of order as he deemed necessary. He might invade those who rebelled against his authority with fire and sword; imprison, punish, and execute them; and, if necessary, he was empowered to treat with the rebels and bring them again to obedience and order. He held the King’s castles of Inverness and Inverlochy, and in his own territories he had the castles of Strathbogie, Bog of Gight, Aboyne, Ruthven in Badenoch, and Drummin in Glenlivat; and also a number of castles in the possession of members of his own family, or parties on whom he could place reliance.

In January, 1543, at Edinburgh, Huntly entered into a bond with David, Earl of Crawford, for their mutual support of each other; and in March he received a bond of man-rent from Lord Saltoun. The same year, in May, he had a bond from Hugh Fraser, Lord Lovat, who bound himself with his men, kin, friends, servants, allies, and adherents to take part in all the Earl’s actions and quarrels, in peace and in war, &c. He also received bonds from Ewin Allanson, captain of the Clan Cameron; and William Mackintosh, captain of the Clan Chattan.

The Earl of Huntly supported the policy of Cardinal Beaton against the English and the aggression of Henry VIII. In the beginning of September, 1543, the Cardinal and Huntly met at Stirling. Shortly after, a conference between Beaton and the Regent Arran was held, and they became reconciled. Arran then agreed to act with the Cardinal, and to oppose the party of the nobles who supported the claims of Henry VIII.

Serious disturbance had arisen in the Highlands. Donald Dubh, after a long period of imprisonment, had escaped, and immediately assumed the character of Lord of the Isles, and soon gathered a large number of followers. In October, 1544 he invaded and wasted the lands of Urquhart, Glenmoriston, and Lochaber. On the 8th of December, 1544, Huntly met the barons and chiefs of the north at Elgin, and they entered into a bond to assist him in the execution of his office of lieutenant. Among the names of those who subscribed the bond were the following :—John, Earl of Sutherland; John, Earl of Athole; Alexander Fraser, Lord Lovat; William Mackintosh of Dunnochton; James Grant of Freuchie; John Mackenzie of Kintail; Hugh Ross of Kilravock; John Grant of Balinadalloch; and a number of others. Huntly led his army against the Islesmen, and wasted the lands of the Camerons of Lochiel; and in March, 1545, Donald Dubh came to terms, and promised to visit the Queen at Stirling. But, instead of appearing at Stirling, he entered into a correspondence with Henry VIII.

While Huntly was lying with his army at Inverness, Donald Dubh again wasted the lands of Urquhart and Glenmoriston and carried off a great booty. On the 11th of June the Lords of Council issued a proclamation against Donald and his men, which threatened to utterly destroy them. But Donald and his followers treated those threats with scorn, and continued negotiations with England. He assumed the title of Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, and mustered a force of eight hundred men to assist Henry VIII., who granted him a pension of two thousand crowns. He died soon after, and was succeeded by James Macdonald of Islay and Dunivaig, as Lord of the Isles. The new lord gave Huntly much trouble.

Huntly was appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland on the 2nd of June, 1546. On returning north, he mustered the whole force of the counties of Nairn, Cromarty, and Inverness, and marched into Lochaber at the head of a strong army. Assisted by his kinsman the Earl of Sutherland and William Mackintosh, captain of the Clan Chattan, he apprehended Ewin of Locheil, captain of the Clan Cameron, and Ranald Macdonald Glass of Keppoch, two of the leaders in the late conflicts. They were imprisoned in the Castle of Ruthven, in Badenoch, and afterwards conveyed to Elgin and tried for treason, convicted, and beheaded; and a number of their followers were hanged.

The Earl of Huntly fought on foot at the battle of Pinkie, and was taken a prisoner and conveyed to England.

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