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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Gordons of Earlston, Gight, Erc

THE cadets of the Gordon family are numerous and influential, especially in the north of Scotland, and not a few of them have acquired great distinction in the service of their country.

The Gordons of Earlston, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, are descended from Alexander Gordon, second son of the sixth Lord of Lochinvar. He embraced the doctrines of Wicliffe, and used to read the New Testament in English to some of his followers at their meetings in the woods of Aird. Alexander, the head of that family in the time of Charles I., strenuously opposed the attempt of that monarch to establish Episcopacy in Scotland. His son, William Gordon, suffered severe persecution for his adherence to the cause of the Covenanters, and was killed by some English dragoons when on his way to join the insurgents at Bothwell Bridge. His eldest son, Alexander, was sentenced to death in his absence in 1680. He was afterwards captured on board ship in 1683, but his life was spared by the intercession of the Duke of Gordon. He was detained a prisoner successively in the castle of Edinburgh, on the Bass Rock, and in Blackness Castle, till the Revolution, when he obtained his liberty and the restoration of his estates.

The Gordons of Pitlurg, in Aberdeenshire, are descended from John de Gordon, who, in 1376, received a grant of Strabolgie from Robert II. In the same county are the Gordons of Abergeldie, Wardhouse, and Fyvie, the Gordons of Gordonstoun and Letterfourie, in Banffshire, the Gordons of Embo in Sutherlandshire, &c. &c. The GORDONS OF GIGHT, now extinct, sprang from the second son of the second Earl of Huntly, and the Princess Jane, daughter of James I. They seem to have been men of a fierce disposition and passionate temper, and were repeatedly guilty of outrages of the most violent nature. On one occasion, in September, 1601, a messenger was sent to deliver letters to the Laird of Gight, summoning him to answer for his conduct in not only destroying the crops of certain persons against whom he had ‘conceived mortal wrath,’ but wounding them to the imminent peril of their lives. The messenger, after delivering the letter, was returning quietly from the house, ‘lippening for nae harm or pursuit,’ when he was seized by a number of armed servants of Gight, and dragged before the laird, who would have shot him but for the interposition of ‘some one, who put aside the weapon. He then harlit him within his hall, took the copy of the said letters, whilk he supposed to have been the principal letters, and cast them in a dish of broe [broth], and forcit the officer to sup and swallow them,’ holding a dagger at his breast all the time. Afterwards the laird, being informed that the principal letters were yet extant, ‘came to the officer in a new rage and fury, rave [tore] the principal letters out of his sleeve, rave them in pieces, and cast them on the fire.’ For this scandalous outrage the Laird of Gight was put to the horn. A much more serious crime was committed by the laird in 1615. His brother, Adam Gordon, was killed in a single combat by Francis Hay, cousin-german to the Earl of Errol. Gordon, resolved to revenge this deed, seized Hay, without any warrant, and brought him to Aberdeen, where, at an irregular, and, indeed, illegal trial, presided over by the sheriff-substitute, who was also a Gordon, he was condemned to death. Next morning he was led out to a solitary place, and there butchered by the Gordons. No punishment seems to have been inflicted on the perpetrators of this bloody deed, which caused a fierce quarrel between the Earl of Errol, the chief of the Hays, and the Marquis of Huntly.

It is instructive to learn that the men who were guilty of these shocking crimes all the while firmly adhered to the religion of their fathers. In 1661, George Gordon, the young Laird of Gight, who had hitherto evaded all the demands of the Church Courts that he should abandon his Popish errors, was threatened with immediate excommunication, unless he should without further delay subscribe the Covenant. He pleaded sickness, and inability to leave the country; offered to confine himself within a mile of his own house, ‘and receipt nane wha is excommunicat (my bedfellow excepted); or he would go into confinement anywhere else, and confer with Protestant clergymen as soon as his sickness would permit.’ He says in conclusion, ‘If it shall please his Majesty, and your wisdoms of the Kirk of Scotland sae to take my blude for my profession, whilk is Roman Catholic, I will maist willingly offer it; and gif sae be, God grant me constancy to abide the same.’ Gordon’s offer, however, was not deemed satisfactory, and he was informed by the Presbytery of Aberdeen that unless he should within eight days give sufficient surety for either subscribing, or leaving the kingdom, he would be excommunicated. The laird would have been entitled to great sympathy under this odious persecution, if his religious principles had kept him from robbery and murder. In 1641 the Laird of Gight retaliated upon his tormentors. He and the Lairds of Newton and Ardlogie, with a party of forty horse and musketeers, ‘made a raid upon the town of Banff, and plundered it of buff coats, pikes, swords, carbines, pistols, yea, and money also,’ and compelled the bailies to subscribe a renunciation of the Covenant.

Towards the close of last century the family ended in an heiress, Catherine Gordon, who seems to have inherited the fierce and unruly passions of her family. She married, in 1785, Captain John Byron, a worthless and dissolute spendthrift, by whom she became the mother of the famous poet, Lord Byron. As she espoused Captain Byron without any ‘settlement,’ her estate was seized by his creditors, and sold to Lord Aberdeen for £18,500, while she and her son were left in penury.

The castle of Gight is now a complete ruin, with the exception of two modern rooms, which are preserved for the accommodation of parties visiting the glen. There is a prophecy regarding it and the family, as usual ascribed to Thomas the Rhymer, which says—

‘When the heron leaves the tree,
The Laird o’ Gight shall landless be.’

It is said that when the Honourable. John Byron married the heiress of Gight, the denizens of a heronry which, forages, had fixed their airy abode among the branches of a magnificent tree in the immediate vicinity of the house, at once left their ancient habitation, and migrated in a troop to Kelly, where it is certain a family of herons is now domiciled. ‘The riggs soon followed’ is a familiar saying, which aptly enough fills up the tradition, for the estate of Gight is now in the hands of the Earls of Aberdeen.

Another prophecy is even more remarkable, since its complete verification has been accomplished within a very recent period :—

‘At Gight three men by sudden death shall dee,
And after that the land shall lie in lea.’

‘In 1791 Lord Haddo met a violent death on the Green of Gight by the fall of his horse; some years after this a servant on the estate met a similar death on the Mains, or home farm. But two deaths were not sufficient to verify the seer’s words. A few years ago the house, preparatory to the farm being turned into lea, was being pulled down, when one of the men employed in the work casually remarked on the failure of the Rhymer’s prediction. But, as if to vindicate the veracity of the prophet’s words, in less than an hour the speaker himself supplied the fated number, lying crushed to death beneath the crumbling ruins of a fallen wall! We need scarcely add that the local fame of the Rhymer is now more than ever in the ascendant.’

Pratt adds: ‘We cannot take leave of the grey romantic towers of Gight in language more appropriate than that of the noble bard whose maternal ancestors occupied them for nearly four hundred years:-

‘And there they stand, as stands a lofty mind—
Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd,
All tenantless, save to the crannying wind,
Or holding dark communion with the cloud,
Banners on high, and battles passed below;
And they who fought are in a bloody shroud,
And those who waved are shredless dust ere now,
And the bleak battlements shall bear no future blow.’

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