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


THE Regent insisted that, as Huntly and the Duke of Chatelherault were the chief persons then holding out, they should be reduced to the King’s authority. In March he issued a proclamation commanding the Crown vassals to muster at Perth. The castle of Dumbarton was taken from the Queen’s party on the 5th of April, 1571, which weakened Mary’s adherents, as Archbishop Hamilton was among the prisoners who surrendered. He was tried, condemned, and executed on the 9th of April. He was the last of the Roman Catholic Bishops of St. Andrews.

There was much skirmishing between the King’s and Queen’s parties about Edinburgh, which had little result. Both parties issued proclamations and counter-manifestoes; and the Regent Lennox summoned a Parliament, which met at Stirling on the 25th of August. About the same time the Queen’s party held their Parliament in Edinburgh, in which sentences of forfeiture were passed against the Earl of Morton and other leading men of the King’s party; while in the King’s Parliament Acts were passed in favour of the Earl of Morton and Lord Lindsay, as a reward for their resistance to the open enemies of the King, and also in favour of those who had taken the Castle of Dumbarton from the enemy. While the King’s party were thus mutually helping and congratulating each other, a body of 300 of the Queen’s adherents, under the command of the Earl of Huntly, Buccleuch, and Lord Hamilton, marched from Edinburgh upon Stirling, and on the morning of the 4th of September completely surprised them and slew the Regent Lennox. The consequences would have been more serious if the citizens of Stirling had not come to the rescue of the King’s party and saved them from being carried off prisoners.

While Huntly was fighting for the Queen in the south, his brother, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, held the north for her. Unhappily the feud between the Gordons and the Forbeses became intensified in this struggle. On the 17th of October, 1571, the two clans encountered each other at Tullyangus, where the Forbeses were defeated, and lost 120 men. Afterwards the Master of Forbes and his allies met the Gordons at the Crabstane, Aberdeen, and a furious conflict ensued, in which many were slain, and the Master of Forbes and 200 of his men were taken prisoners.

Sir Adam Gordon continued his career of warfare. In June, 1572, he entered into the Mearns and surprised the Castle of Douglas of Glenbervie, wasted his lands, and carried off his goods. Early on the morning of the 5th July, at the head of 1600 men, he surprised the King’s forces at Brechin, and took several of the leaders and 200 men prisoners. But, after haranguing them about the wrongs inflicted upon his family through the death of his father and the execution of his brother, he dismissed them. Gordon marched to Montrose and imposed a ransom of £2000 and two tuns of wine upon the town.

A truce between the King’s party and the Queen’s adherents was agreed to at the end of July, 1572, to continue for two months. In the following October the Regent Mar died, and the Earl of Morton was then proclaimed Regent. Proposals were made to Huntly for his submission, which he rejected; but on the 18th of December he agreed to a renewal of the truce. He sent the Laird of Esslemont on a mission to France requesting aid to continue the struggle. In the winter of 1573 Huntly seems to have seen that the struggle against the King’s party was hopeless. Accordingly he resolved to make the best terms he could for himself and his friends.

Huntly had an interview with the Regent Morton at Aberdour on the 18th of February, 1573. A few days after an agreement was concluded, under which Huntly and the Hamiltons were to receive a remission, for past offences and the murders of the late Regents, a discharge for all the damage done by them during the late troubles; and they were also to be secured in their estates and titles. The Master of Forbes and John Glen of Bar, who had been taken prisoners by Sir Adam Gordon, were to be immediately liberated. Huntly was to discharge his armed men, and the forfeiture standing against him was to be reduced.

The Earl of Huntly became a firm supporter of the policy of the Regent Morton, and often corresponded with Queen Elizabeth and her Ministers. Towards the end of April, 1573, the sentence of forfeiture pronounced against him was reduced by Parliament.

In June, 1574, Huntly wrote from Leith to Queen Elizabeth, and earnestly assured her that all the reports circulated against him were quite unfounded. Yet suspicion was so strong that, on the 11th of July, Alexander Seton, younger of Meldrum; Patrick Cheyne of Esslemont; and Alexander Drummond of Medhope, became sureties for him that he should enter the district of Galloway before the 22nd inst., and stay there until liberated. On the 30th of July the Earl wrote a long letter to Queen Elizabeth, assuring her that there was no cause for offence in his behaviour, seeing that his brother Sir Adam was in France, and for his actions there he was not responsible. Moreover, he trusted that his brother was innocent of the charges alleged against him.

The Earl returned from Galloway to Hamilton in September; and in November he gave surety to the Lords of the Privy Council that he would return to ward when required. On the 25th of July, 1575, Sir Adam Gordon returned from France to Scotland, with twenty of his companions. He was immediately seized, and imprisoned in Blackness Castle. In January, 1576, he was released, on the Earl of Huntly becoming surety, for the relief of his cautioners—Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, Lord Elphinstone, and others—that he would enter into ward in the town of Kirkcudbright.

On the morning of the 24th of October, 1576, the Earl was in good health. In the afternoon, he went out to play a game of football, and, after kicking the ball once or twice, he fell upon his face. He was immediately conveyed to his room in Strathbogie Castle, where he died three hours later. His body was embalmed by William Urquhart a surgeon from Aberdeen, and, after lying a few days in the castle chapel, was interred in Elgin Cathedral.

By Lady Anna Hamilton, his countess, he had three sons and one daughter. These were—George, who succeeded him; Alexander of Stradoun; William, who became a monk of the Order of St Bennet, and died in France; and Jean, who married George, fifth Earl of Caithness.

During the minority of George, sixth Earl of Huntly, his uncle, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, managed his affairs, and sent him to France to complete his education.

The latter part of the sixteenth century was remarkable for bitter feuds amongst the Scottish nobility, which sprang from many causes and circumstances. The sad feud between the Gordons and the Forbeses broke out afresh in 1579, owing to contentious expressions between George Gordon of Gight and Alexander Forbes, younger of Towie, uttered in the King’s presence. There was, however, a more tangible cause of quarrel between the two families— the possession of the lands in the Barony of Keig and Monymusk, granted to the fourth Earl of Huntly by Cardinal Beaton. The Forbeses maintained and complained that these lands were granted to Huntly over their heads, as they were "the old kindly tenants and possessors"; but now the Earl endeavoured to have them removed, which in the circumstances they resisted. The interference of the authorities was disregarded for some time. The Laird of Gight was slain, and a party of the Gordons rose up in arms to avenge his death; and there were forays and bloodshed from the valley of the Dee to Strathbogie. For a time the Gordon lairds and the Forbes lairds mustered their retainers, and the struggle proceeded until the Privy Council ordered the chiefs of both parties to sign such assurances as should be presented to them within twenty-four hours, under the penalty of rebellion. They were commanded to appear in Edinburgh, accompanied by forty of their retainers, to settle the terms of an agreement, on the 23rd of April, 1580; and they then made a submission, by which they became bound to abide by the decision of the Privy Council.

The same year, on the 24th of October, the Earl of Huntly gave a bond to the Laird of Grant, in which he promised that the remission he was to obtain from the King for Lachlan Mackintosh of Dunachton should not take effect until Lachlan desisted from disturbing Grant in the possession of Rothiemurchus, Laggan, and Dalfour in Badenoch.

Huntly took an active part in the suppression of the abortive rising of the Earls of Mar, Angus, Gowrie, and others in the spring of 1584. He was one of the jury at the trial of the Earl of Gowrie. This year he obtained bonds of manrent from Mackenzie of Kintail, Monro of Foulis, Macleod of Lewis, Macdonald of Glengarry, Macgregor of Glenstrae, and Drummond of Blair.

In 1585 the Earl was engaged in settling difficulties which had arisen between his kinsmen the Earls of Sutherland and Caithness. He entered into a lawsuit with the Countess of Moray and Argyle, which involved him in serious trouble. The following year, in November, Huntly, through his friendly relations with the Drummonds of Blair and the Menzies of Weem, came into conflict with the Earl of Athole. He declined to make peace with Athole until the latter gave assurance that he would cease from assisting the forays made upon the lands of Drummond and Menzies. Huntly arrested some of Athole’s servants, and tried them before his own courts, which resulted in Athole’s tenants being exempted from Huntly’s jurisdiction.

In 1587 Huntly received, for his good services, a grant of the lands of the Abbey of Dunfermline from the King. He was also appointed High Chamberlain of Scotland. Huntly was present at the meeting of the Estates in May; and on the 15th of May he attended the great banquet at which King James attempted to reconcile many of his nobles who were at feud with each other.

An extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly was held at Edinburgh in February, 1588, for the purpose of. arousing the nation to a sense of danger from the threatening Spanish Armada. The alarming character of the crisis had attracted a great assemblage of members who were animated by one spirit. They drew up an extremely dark picture of the state of the kingdom. Strong complaints against Jesuits and seminary priests, who were permitted to seduce the people and spread their poisonous doctrine, was made in the Assembly. In the north, where the Earl of Huntly was supreme, the Reformed religion had taken comparatively little hold upon the people.

James Gordon, a celebrated Jesuit, and an uncle of the Earl of Huntly, was living at Strathbogie. In February, 1588, he accompanied Huntly to the Court, and was introduced to the king. James VI. considered himself a great authority on religious and theological subjects, and he conversed with the famous Jesuit for some time, and then ordered him into confinement. Shortly after Huntly, Lord Claud Hamilton, and others met at Linlithgow to concert measures in the interest of the Roman Catholics in Scotland. The King, on hearing of this meeting, asked an explanation, and Huntly protested that he and his associates had no intention of forming a conspiracy. Huntly soon returned to Edinburgh, and slept in Holyrood Palace.

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