The Scottish peerage dignity of Huntly first came into existence as an earldom from about 1445 and later from 1599, as a marquessate, where it has consistently been held by the same family who have adopted the surname of Gordon.

The origins of the Gordons

The Gordons where a family of Anglo-Norman descent who drew their name from the lordship of Gordon (from the Brythonic 'Gawr din' for 'great fort') in Berwickshire. In the early fourteenth century there was an Adam de Gordon who was a supporter of English claims to authority in Scotland and was thus appointed Justiciar of Scotland by Edward II in 1310. But after the English defeat at the battle of Bannockburn he switched sides, and was thus rewarded by Robert the Bruce, who in 1318 granted him the lordship of Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire which had earlier been confiscated from David of Strathbogie, 10th Earl of Atholl. Adam promptly renamed Strathbogie as Huntly, after the name of a village within the Gordon lordship in Berwickshire.

It was another Adam, heir and grandson to the above, who got himself killed at the battle of Homildon Hill in 1403, leaving his only daughter Elizabeth Gordon as a valuable heiress. Elizabeth married Alexander de Seton in 1408 at which point Alexander was recognised as being a Lord of Parliament under the title of the Lord Gordon. It was their son Alexander Seton, the 2nd Lord Gordon who was to be created the first Earl of Huntly.

The Earls of Huntly

The exact date on which Alexander was created Earl of Huntly remains uncertain, some accounts specify the year 1449, whilst others argue for an earlier date around the year 1445. What is certain is that by the time that Alexander was created Earl of Huntly he was on his second (or possibly third) marriage, his then wife being Elizabeth Crichton, daughter of William Crichton, 1st Lord Crichton. Therefore Alexander appears to have designated the children of his second marriage as his heirs and so after his death on the 15th July 1470 the title of Huntly passed to George, the eldest son of this second marriage. It was this George who adopted his grandmother's name of Gordon (whilst Alexander's son by his first marriage remained a Seton).

George Gordon, the 2nd Earl was married three times and in 1459 took for his second wife Annabella Stewart daughter of King James I of Scots, who is traditionally regarded as the mother of his eldest son and heir, although strictly speaking it is not certain which of George's three wives was the mother of his fourteen recorded children. In any event George was an individual of some importance in the kingdom and served as Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1498 until his death sometime around the 8th June 1501 when he was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander.

Alexander the 3rd Earl later led the Scottish vanguard at the battle of Flodden where he achieved the distinction of being one of the few Scottish nobles to survive the defeat. With most of his rivals dead, this allowed Alexander to subsequently consolidate the position of the family within the kingdom. Since his eldest son John Gordon had already died in 1517, at his death on the 16th January 1524 he was followed by his grandson George. This George, 4th Earl was a confirmed Roman Catholic and thus a supporter of the pro-French party during the minority of Mary, Queen of Scots. Appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland in 1546 he was granted the title of Earl of Moray in 1548, but in 1562 he lost favour with Mary, Queen of Scots, who took away the Moray title and granted it to her half brother James Stewart. George rose in revolt but was defeated and killed at the battle of Corrichie on the 28th October 1562. His son John together with other members of his family were later executed at Aberdeen.

The 4th Earl was naturally posthumously attainted but his surviving son George was restored to the title in 1565. The 5th Earl became a close friend of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, even assisting Bothwell in the matter of in divorcing his sister, thus freeing him to marry the queen. He continued to be powerful supporter of Mary until 1572 when together with everyone else, he finally abandoned her cause.

The Marquesses of Huntly

George the 5th Earl died in May 1576 and was succeeded by his son also named George. Raised in France as a Roman Catholic the 6th Earl led an eventful and occasionally bloody career during a particularly turbulent time in Scottish history. Faced with an overwhelmingly Protestant nobility George Gordon was obliged to sign the Presbyterian confession of faith in 1588, but nevertheless conspired to procure a Spanish invasion of Scotland and a restoration of the Roman Catholic faith. Despite such behaviour however he remained a favourite of king James VI, who appears to have regarded him as a useful counterbalance to the remainder of the Protestant Scottish nobility. It was very likely at the instigation of the king that the 6th Earl murdered James Stewart, 2nd Earl of Moray at Donibristle castle in Fife on the 8th February 1592, an outrage which both inspired the composition of the ballad 'The Bonnie Earl of Moray', and the heaping of retribution on the perfidious Earl of Huntly who found his lands remorselessly ravaged.

In December 1592 the discovery of the Spanish Blanks demonstrated clearly that the Earl of Gordon had indeed been conspiring with Spain. Charged with treason and excommunicated on the 25th September 1593 he was attainted later that same year, but remained at large and continued to cause trouble for a number of years. George eventually renounced Catholicism and made his peace with the Kirk in June 1597, and was restored to his estates in December, after which he was again held in great regard by the king and was created Lord Gordon of Badenoch, Earl of Enzie and Marquess of Huntly on the 17th April 1599.

However there remained those who (with good reason) doubted the sincerity of George's conversion, and he was thereafter periodically arrested and occasionally excommunicated but largely escaped punishment due to the favour of the king. The Marquess eventually lost most of his influence with the accession of Charles I in 1625, and after a final period of imprisonment had left his health broken, he died at Dundee on the 13th June 1636, but not before he had openly declared his Catholic faith.

The 1st Marquesses' eldest son George was raised in England as a Protestant and known in his youth as the 'Earl of Enzie' before he succeeded as 2nd Marquess in 1636. An opponent of the Covenanters, he was an active royalist both before and during the English Civil War, he was eventually captured and executed on the 22nd March 1649 and subsequently attainted by the Scottish Parliament. His eldest son Lewis Gordon was acknowledged as Marquess of Huntly by Charles II in 1651, but died shortly afterwards in December 1653. Although the attainder of the 2nd Marquess was not reversed by parliament until after the Restoration in 1661, Lewis is nevertheless recognised as the 3rd Marquess.

At his death in 1653 Lewis Gordon's successor was his ten year old George Gordon who spent most of his early life abroad in France, whilst his uncle Charles Gordon looked after the family's interests back home in Scotland. After the Restoration of the Monarchy the Gordon family were rewarded for their support; Charles Gordon was created Earl of Aboyne in 1660 and George the 4th Marquess was later created Duke of Gordon by Charles II on the 3rd November 1684 at which point he was also created (or re-created) Earl of Huntly and Enzie and Marquess of Huntly.

The Huntly title was therefore submerged in the senior title of Gordon for the next century and a half until the death of George Gordon, 5th Duke of Gordon on the 28th May 1836. The 5th Duke proved to be the last male descendant of the 1st Duke and therefore the title of Duke of Gordon together with the 1684 versions of the Huntly Earldom and Marquessate became extinct. However the original Earldom of 1449 and the Marquessate of 1599 passed to yet another George Gordon, 5th Earl of Aboyne who was naturally a descendant of Charles Gordon, 1st Earl of Aboyne, the younger brother of the 3rd Marquess referred to above.

Therefore George Gordon, 5th Earl of Aboyne became the 9th Marquess of Huntly in 1836 at the age of seventy-four. At his death on the 17th June 1853 at the age of ninety-one, he was succeeded by his son Charles Gordon, who had been the member of Parliament for East Grinstead for twelve years prior to his accession as marquess and was later Deputy-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. The 10th Marquess died on the 18th September 1863 at the age of seventy-one and was followed by his son Charles Gordon as the 11th Marquess, who was married twice but died without issue on the 20th February 1937 at the age of eighty-nine. His successor Douglas Charles was the great grandson of Esme Stuart Gordon, a younger son of the 10th Marquess, and held the title for next fifty years until his death on the 26th January 1987, after which he was followed by his only son Granville Charles.

Granville Charles Gomer Gordon, is the current and 13th Marquess of Huntly. Resident at Aboyne Castle in Aberdeenshire, he also holds the titles of Earl of Enzie, Earl of Aboyne, Lord Gordon of Badenoch and Lord Gordon of Strathavon and Glenlivet all of which are in the Peerage of Scotland, together with the title Baron Meldrum of Morven in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. He is also the premier marquess in Scotland and recognised as the Chief of the Name and Arms of Gordon. The 13th Marquess's son and heir is Alastair Granville Gordon, known by his courtesy title of the Earl of Aboyne.


THE EARLS AND MARQUESSES OF HUNTLY

SETON/GORDON

Title forfeit 1562, restored 1565.

The 6th Earl became Marquess of Huntly in 1599.

Title forfeit 1649, restored 1651.

The 4th Marquess created Duke of Gordon in 1684.

The title Duke of Gordon became extinct in 1836.


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entries for HUNTLY, EARLS AND MARQUESSES OF and GORDON
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • John Mackintosh, Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland 1898. http://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/earldoms/
  • Gordon http://www.scotclans.com/clans/Gordon/history.html
  • HUNTLY, CHIEF OF GORDON http://www.burkes-peerage.net/sites/Contents/book/scotland/FHP/Peerage/fhp-HUNTLY.asp
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm

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