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


IN August, 1562, the Queen, accompanied by Lord James and a number of the nobles, started on her progress to the north. The Queen reached Old Aberdeen on the 27th of August, where she was met by the Countess of Huntly. She had come to intercede for her son, Sir John Gordon, and was informed by the Queen that nothing could be done for him unless he surrendered and entered into ward at Stirling Castle. The Countess promised that he would do this; and, accordingly, Sir John submitted; but, finding that his keeper was to be Lord Erskine, the uncle of Lord James Stewart, the enemy of his family, he declined to entrust himself in the custody of Erskine, and retired to one of his own castles. This conduct seems to have greatly offended the Queen and caused her to treat Sir John severely.

The Earl and Countess of Huntly invited Queen Mary to visit them at Strathbogie Castle, and made great preparations for her reception; but she declined. She permitted the Earl of Argyle and the English Ambassador, Randolph, to visit Strathbogie, and the latter wrote—"Huntly’s house is the best furnished of any house I have seen in this country; his cheer is marvellously great; and his mind then such, as it appeared to us, as ought to be in any subject to his Sovereign."

On leaving Old Aberdeen, the Queen proceeded northward, passing through the parishes of Drumblade and Forgue, and over the west shoulder of the Foreman Hill to Rothiemay House. At Rothiemay the Queen was again requested by Huntly to visit Strathbogie, but she refused unless Sir John Gordon returned to his obedience. The Queen proceeded northward through Moray, and on arriving at Darnaway Castle she held a council, and summoned Sir John Gordon to surrender his castles of Findlater and Auchindoun. She then invested her half-brother, Lord James, in the Earldom of Moray. On the following day she proceeded to Inverness, but found the gates of the castle closed against her. Next morning the gates of the castle were opened, but Alexander Gordon, captain of the castle, and other five of the garrison were executed. Alarming reports were spread, and the local Crown vassals were ordered to muster to assist the Queen. When returning to Aberdeen, the Queen was refused admittance to Findlater Castle, which intensified her distrust of the Gordons.

When the Queen returned, and made her entry into Aberdeen, she received a warm and hearty welcome from the citizens. She resolved to stay forty days in the city, or till peace and order were restored in the surrounding district.

Captain Hay, the royal messenger, appeared at the Castle of Strathbogie, and he was treated with the utmost respect. There was a cannon which always stood in the centre of the court of the Castle of Strathbogie, and the Queen demanded the surrender of this cannon. The Earl replied, that "not only the cannon, which was her own, but also his body and goods were at her disposal. He considered it strange that he should be so hardly treated, because he was not a party to the offence of his son, and offered to hazard his life in the capture of the Castles of Findlater and Auchindoun if she only commanded him to this effect. He desired these things to be reported to his Sovereign from her most humble and obedient subject as none more, nor never would be than he." The Countess also desired the Royal messenger to inform the Queen that Huntly was ever her obedient subject. These declarations were treated with scorn; and when Huntly sent the keys of the castles of Findlater and Auchindoun they were not received, and the bearer was imprisoned.

The Earl and his son, Sir John, were commanded to appear before the Queen and Council at Aberdeen. Naturally, Huntly declined to place himself in the power of his enemies, yet he offered to surrender for trial by his peers in Parliament. He again sent his Countess to intercede with the Queen; but she was not permitted to see the Sovereign.

Troops were sent to attack Huntly in his stronghold of Strathbogie; but the Earl eluded them and escaped. On the 21st of October, Sir John Gordon attacked and defeated a company of troops under Captain Stewart, who was attempting to take possession of Findlater Castle. Two days later the Gordons were proclaimed rebels, and immediate surrender of the Castle of Strathbogie was demanded, but refused.

For his own protection and defence, Huntly mustered an army and advanced towards Aberdeen, marching well up along the higher ground to the Hill of Fare in Midmar; and on the 28th of October, 1562, he was met by the Earls of Moray and Athole at the head of about two thousand men. An engagement ensued, in which the Gordons were defeated, and the Earl’s sons, Sir John and Adam, surrendered. The Earl himself fell from his horse and died of apoplexy immediately after his capture. Two days after the battle, five gentlemen of the Gordon clan were executed on the Castlegate of Aberdeen; and, three days later, Huntly’s son, Sir John Gordon, was executed at the same place. But Adam Gordon, the younger son, was spared.

Strathbogie Castle was then rifled. Many of its rich furnishings and ornaments were taken to Edinburgh, and others of them were carried by Moray to the Castle of Darnaway to fit up his newly-acquired residence in this ancient Earldom. Those who assisted Huntly were fined to the amount of £3542 6s 8d.

Huntly’s body lay for some time in Aberdeen, and was embalmed by Robert Henderson, a surgeon; and subsequently it was carried to Edinburgh by sea. The body was placed in Holyrood, and on the 29th of May, 1563, it was brought into the Council Chamber, in a chest, when the sentence of forfeiture was passed by Parliament. The arms were torn and struck out of the Herald’s book. The Countess of Huntly protested against the sentence. Huntly’s remains lay in Holyrood until the 21st of April, 1566, when they were conveyed to Strathbogie, and interred at Elgin.

George, Lord Gordon, the late Earl’s oldest surviving son, married Anna Hamilton, a daughter of the Duke of Chatelherault, by whom he had issue. In 1562, when his father and brothers were up in arms, he was living quietly with his wife’s friends—the Hamiltons; yet he was included in the doom of forfeiture passed against the family. The Duke, his father-in-law, was commanded to deliver him up; and in the afternoon of the 28th of November, 1562, he was taken in the Duke’s lodging, in the Kirk of Field Wynd, and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. On the 8th of February, 1563, he was tried and convicted of treason. A few days after, he was sent in "free ward" to the Castle of Dunbar. In May he was ordered to attend the Parliament, to hear the sentence of forfeiture passed upon his father’s body; and, he was again sent to Dunbar, where he remained until 1565. On the 3rd of August it was proclaimed at the Market Cross of Edinburgh that the horning against him was remitted; and he might go where he pleased. He soon presented himself before the Queen and was kindly received.

On the 8th of October, 1565, by a Royal proclamation, Huntly was restored to all the lands held by his father, and to all the family titles. On the 24th of February, 1566, Huntly’s sister Jean was married to the Earl of Bothwell in the Abbey of Holyrood, and the event was celebrated with great splendour. The contract of marriage between the parties shows that it was consented to by Huntly and his mother, and also by Queen Mary. The Queen took a keen interest in this marriage, she signed the contract, "and gave the bride a wedding dress of cloth of silver."

The Earls of Huntly and Bothwell were in their chambers in Holyrood, on the evening of the 9th of March, 1566, when they were suddenly alarmed by the clang of arms in the courtyard of the Palace. This was Lord Ruthven and his band of conspirators in search of David Rizzio, the Queen’s foreign secretary. They found their victim sitting with his cap on his head in Her Majesty’s presence, along with a small social party in the Queen’s supping-room. Some sharp talk passed between the Queen and Ruthven, but more of the conspirators rushed in. Instantly the table and chairs were overturned in the scuffle, and David Rizzio was seized and dragged to an outer room, and there stabbed to death. A guard was placed over the Queen: but several gentlemen escaped, and warned the citizens of Edinburgh. The alarm-bell was rung, and the citizens rushed to the palace with torch lights. They demanded the instant deliverance of the Queen; but she was not permitted to speak to them. Darnley appeared and assured the people that the Queen was quite safe, and commanded them to go home. Lord Ruthven placed armed men to watch the gates and all the private passages; but in spite of the utmost vigilance of the conspirators, the Earls of Huntly and Bothwell managed to escape during the night.

Mary soon disengaged her husband from the nobles who had murdered her favourite; and Darnley was duped by the Queen as well as by the conspirators. He had not the ability, the resolution, nor even the recognised rough honesty of his day, to carry him through such a plot. He fled with the Queen to Dunbar Castle, where they were joined by Huntly.

Huntly was appointed Lord High Chancellor in place of the Earl of Morton, who was forced to flee for his part in the slaughter of Rizzio.

The Earl of Huntly accompanied the Queen on her visit to Jedburgh in October, 1566. He was also present at the conference in Craigmillar Castle in December, when the Lords advised the Queen to divorce Darnley, which she declined to do.

The plot to remove Darnley, which seems to have originated with Maitland of Lethington, the Secretary of State, was soon concocted. According to custom, a bond was drawn up by Sir James Balfour, an experienced lawyer and a firm friend of Bothwell. This bond declared that Darnley "was a young fool and tyrant, and unworthy to rule over them." They therefore bound themselves to remove him by some means or another, and each engaged to stand true to the other in this deadly enterprise. The bond was subscribed by the Earls of Argyle, Bothwell, and Huntly, Lethington, the Secretary of State, Sir James Balfour, and others. Their victim had become sick, and was visited by the Queen at Glasgow, whence he was conveyed to Edinburgh on the last day of January, 1567.

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