George Gordon, 1st Marquess of Huntly


George Gordon, 1st Marquess of Huntly

George Gordon, 1st Marquess of Huntly (1562 - June 13, 1636), was a Scottish nobleman who took a leading role in politics at the time of the union with England.

The son of the 5th Earl of Huntly, and of Anne, daughter of James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran and Duke of Châtellerault, he was educated in France as a Roman Catholic. He took part in the plot which led to the execution of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton in 1581 and in the conspiracy which saved King James VI from the Ruthven raiders in 1583. In 1588 he signed the Presbyterian confession of faith, but continued to engage in plots for the Spanish invasion of Scotland. On November 28 he was appointed captain of the guard, and while carrying out his duties at Holyrood his treasonable correspondence was discovered. King James, however, finding the Roman Catholic lords useful as a foil to the tyranny of the Kirk, was at this time seeking Spanish aid in case Queen Elizabeth I tried to challenge his right to the English throne; Huntly, always one of his favourites, was pardoned.

Subsequently in April 1589, Huntly raised a rebellion in the north, but was obliged to surrender, and after a short imprisonment in Borthwick Castle was again freed. He then involved himself in a private war with the Grants and the Mackintoshes, who were assisted by the Earls of Atholl and Moray; and on February 8 1592 he set fire to Murray's castle of Donibristle in Fife, and stabbed the earl to death with his own hand. This outrage, which originated the ballad "The Bonnie Earl of Moray", brought retribution on Huntly; his enemies ravaged his lands.

In December the "Spanish Blanks" were intercepted (see Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll), two of which bore Huntly's signature, and a charge of treason was again brought against him, while on September 25 1593 he was excommunicated. James treated him and the other rebel lords with great leniency. On November 26 they were freed from the charge of treason, being ordered at the same time, however, to renounce their Catholic faith or leave the kingdom. On their refusal to comply they were attainted. Huntly then joined Erroll and Francis Stewart-Hepburn, 5th Earl of Bothwell, in a conspiracy to imprison the king, and they defeated the royal forces under Argyll at Glenlivet on October 3 1594, Huntly especially distinguishing himself. His victory gained no real advantage; his castle of Strathbogie was blown up by James, and Huntly left Scotland in about March 1595. He returned secretly soon afterwards, and his presence in Scotland was at first tolerated by James; but owing to the hostile feeling aroused, and the "No Popery" riot in Edinburgh, the king demanded that he should abjure Romanism or go into permanent banishment. He submitted to the Kirk in June 1597, and was restored to his estates in December.

On April 7, 1599, he was created a marquess, and on July 9, together with Lennox, appointed lieutenant of the north. He was treated with great favour by the king and was reconciled with Murray and Argyll. The Kirk still doubted the genuineness of his abjuration and, on December 10, 1606, he was confined to Aberdeen; on March 19, 1607 he was summoned before the privy council. Huntly thereupon went to England and appealed to James in person. He was excommunicated in 1608, and imprisoned in Stirling Castle till December 10, 1610, when he signed again the confession of faith.

Accused of Romanist intrigues in 1616, he was ordered once more to subscribe the confession, which this time he refused to do; imprisoned at Edinburgh, he was set free by James's order on June 18, and having joined the court in London was absolved from excommunication by Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury; this absolution, after a further subscription to the confession by Huntly, was confirmed by the Kirk.

At the accession of Charles I Huntly lost much of his influence at court. He was deprived in 1630 of his heritable sheriffships of Aberdeen and Inverness. The same year a feud broke out between the Crichtons and Gordons, in the course of which Huntly's second son, Lord Melgum, was burnt to death either by treachery or by accident, while being entertained in the house of James Crichton of Frendraught. For the ravaging of the lands of the Crichtons Huntly was held responsible, and having been summoned before the privy council in 1635 he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle from December till June 1636. He left his confinement with shattered health, and died at Dundee while on his journey to Strathbogie on 13 June 1636, after declaring himself a Roman Catholic.

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