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Parentage Family Tree

John Gordon, Lord Gordon
Lady Margaret Stewart
Alexander Gordon
James Gordon
George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly

Offspring Family Tree

George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly
Elizabeth Keith
Thomas Gordon
George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly
Margaret Gordon
Lady Jean Gordon
Lady Elizabeth Gordon
Alexander Gordon, Lord Gordon
Sir John Gordon of Ogilvy
Sir Adam Gordon



George, fourth Earl of Huntly, was ten years of age when he succeeded his grandfather, Alexander, third Earl, in 1524, his father, Lord Gordon, having died in 1517.

His mother was Margaret Stewart, illegitimate daughter of James IV by the Lady Margaret Drummond; his grandmother was Lady Jean Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Atholl, and his great-grandmother was the Princess Annabella, daughter of James I.

It will be seen, therefore, that he had plenty of Stewart blood in his veins, and it is not surprising that, during his minority, Margaret Tudor the Queen Mother, widow of. James IV, should have been appointed his guardian and that he was brought up in the Scottish Court. There his chief companion and playmate was his cousin, James V, only two years his senior.

The Queen Mother was also appointed as ward over the young Earl's estates. He would be fully cognisant of the intrigues that surrounded the Scottish Court during the troublous years of all minority and of all the quarrels that ensued; this should he borne in mind when the tragedy of his life is studied.

Huntly married, in 1555, Elizabeth Keith, daughter of William, third Earl Marischal of Scotland. Powerful as he was through his parentage and the extent of his lands, this marriage added greatly to his wealth and importance.

He was appointed Lieutenant-General of the North when he was but twenty-two years of age and had to deal with the bitter feuds that were common among the various clans in the Highlands. The Mackintoshes (Clan Chattan) were saved from extinction by him and became his fast friends.

Later, the irony of fate forced him to curb, by royal decree, the power of that same Clan Chattan which he had preserved. It is a remarkable, and somewhat incomprehensible, fact, that the Gordons, though not a clan of Celtic origin, were able, for a long period, by diplomatic methods, or by following their motto, "By courage, not by craft," to act as mediators and to keep the peace between the ancient clans of the Highlands.


King James V had decided on a matrimonial alliance with France, and on his departure to that country he nominated Huntly as one of the Regents and appointed him Warden of the Marches. This is noteworthy as Huntly is believed to have been the only holder of this position and that of LieutenantGeneral of the North at the same time.

The king married Princess Magdalene of France who died shortly afterwards, and later he married Mary of Guise, widow of the Duc de Longueville.

His uncle, Henry VIII, who had also wanted to marry Mary of Guise, did everything in his power to circumvent his nephew and, failing in his designs, jealously turned to stir up strife between England and Scotland by promoting border raids and risings amongst the clans.

The Earl of Rutland was the Warden of the English Marches and wrote many letters to Huntly trying to explain away the responsibility for these forays.

Rutland described Huntly as the "wilyest lad" he had ever known, and certainly found it difficult to discover any cause for quarrelling with the Scots Warden, because of the latter's astuteness in not giving provocations.

King James did all in his power to avoid a war with England; while Henry made demands upon the Scots king with which the latter could not possibly comply. At last, James seems to have lost all patience. He collected a force for the purpose of invading England, but the leading men in his country declined to follow him, and disaster ensued in what is known as the Rout of Solway Moss, November 14th 1592.

James was so broken hearted that he retired to Falkland and died of grief.

On the death of James, the Earls of Arran, Argyll, Huntly and Moray were nominated as Regents for the infant Queen Mary, and during that time Huntly was employed continuously either in defending the borders in the south or in keeping order amongst the Highland chiefs.

Huntly was later appointed Lord Chancellor, thus assuming the highest office in the country.

He was then in his thirtieth year and had been employed almost continuously for the past six years, either on the Scottish borders or in the Western Highlands settling questions. which affected the of the peace of the country.

His position was unique and his authority almost without parallel. For a long time, while the Queen Mother was at the head of affairs, Huntly gave her his unfailing assistance.

On the death of Henry VIII in 1547, and the appointment of Somerset as the Protector for the young King (Edward VI), immediate steps were taken by Somerset, for the invasion of Scotland in order to compel fulfilment of the treaty whereby the little Queen of Scots was to marry the boy King of England.


The force collected in Scotland to repel the invaders was quite inadequate, and the armies came into, fatal contact at Pinkie in September, 1547. Huntly proposed to the English that twenty men from each side should be selected and the issue to be decided by a combat between. The English general refused the request, which is said to have been a ruse on the part of Huntly to enable the exact position of the English Army to be ascertained.

In the battle, on September 10th, the Scots were overwhelmed, and Huntly, who had fought on foot, was taken prisoner and conveyed to England. At first he was held under strong guard, but this in the course of time was relaxed, and he was allowed to send for his greyhounds and hawks and, participate in his favourite sport.

He was later transferred to Penshurst in Kent, under the guardianship of Sir Ralph Fane, and stringent orders were once more issued for his safe keeping.

Negotiations were started for his liberation, and he was offered freedom on condition that he signed a bond of allegiance to the English throne. This he refused, and the proposals were altered to a question of what securities he should give in exchange for his release. The matter appeared likely to have a favourable issue and Huntly was being conveyed north, when, with the help of George Kerr of Heton who provided relays of horses for him, he: escaped from Morpeth and got across the border to Scotland, where he was warmly welcomed.

The Queen Dowager bestowed upon him the Earldom of Moray, procured for him the French Order of St. Michael, and confirmed him in all the offices he had previously held.

His escape caused a great sensation in England, and several supposed abettors suffered the death penalty. In Scotland, on the other hand, George Kerr received a grant of land in Berwickshire from the Queen Mother for the help he had given in obtaining Huntly's freedom.

In August, 1550, Huntly accompanied the Queen Dowager to France, where he was received, with distinction.

The Queen returned to Scotland by way of England, but the Earl thought that prudence was the better part of valour and did not venture to set his foot again in south Britain; flattering invitations of a passport did not cajole him into trusting the English.


Later, when the Queen and Regent Arran were on the way to pay a visit to Inverness, Huntly entertained them at Strathbogie. The origin of the sobriquet, "The Cock o' the North" was applied to the fourth Earl of Huntly, and accorded ever since to the head of the Gordon family, and came into general use after this visit of the Regent Arran and Mary of Guise, the Queen Mother, to Huntly Castle, where they were magnificently entertained by the Earl and his Countess Elizabeth Keith.

The Number of friends and kinsmen who obeyed the summons to do honor to his guests was very large, and nothing was omitted that could add splendor to the reception.

It is said that the Queen Mother, in conversation with one of her suite (her French chef, it is believed, or the Master of the Household), remarked to him that their host was known as "The Cock o' the North". "Ah, Madame," was the reply, " take care that you do not have to clip the wings of this 'Cock o' the North.' "

Mary of Guise died in 1560 and on her death bed is said to have blamed the Earl for the estrangement but so bitter was the animosity between the rival parties in Scotland at that time that it is impossible to apportion the responsibility. The Queen Mother did not understand the Scotch character, and her insistence on the employment of French troops in the country (which was the chief cause of Huntly's disagreement with her, as he strongly opposed their presence) was one of the many unfortunate errors into which she fell.

During his retirement, the Earl was occupied in securing his position; in making "bands", or agreements of mutual assistance with his neighbours, Erroll, David Lindsay, Earl of Crawford, and with Munro of Foulis, the Camerons and others, as if foreseeing the storm would break.


Scotland was in this distracted condition when the young and beautiful Queen Mary landed at Leith on August 19th, 1561. Not one of her great nobles was there to meet her. Huntly rushed from the north, "post haste with 16 horses" to do homage to his sovereign, who issued a manifesto to her subjects declaring that they had liberty of conscience, and that she would not interfere in her country. As Chancellor, Huntly presided at the meetings of the Privy Council and did his utmost to protect his royal mistress. His principle opponent in the country was Lord James Stewart, the Queen's bastard brother, who put himself forward as the champion of the Reformers, and who did everything possible, both openly and secretly, against Huntly. Through his influence the Queen deprived Huntly of the rich Earldom of Moray and bestowed it upon Lord James, and in many ways the latter poisoned her mind against the northern Earl.

Arriving at Inverness, Mary found the gates of the castle, of which Huntly was Governor, barred against her. This was not by Huntly's orders, but through some error the necessary instructions had not been sent in time to the Captain in charge of the castle. The upshot, however, was disastrous, for the castle was seized by the Queen's orders and the Captain hanged. At Findlater Castle, also, the Queen was refused admittance, and these unfortunate occurrences increased her displeasure against Huntly, although the latter assured her of his loyalty. There was a cannon at Strathbogie, which stood in the middle of the court. Mary demanded it's surrender, and Huntly returned for answer, that not only the cannon, which was her own, but also his body and goods were at her disposal. Further he offered to hazard his life in the capture of the castle of Findlater.


Mary was not appeased, however, and ordered the arrest of the earl at Strathbogie. This was nearly accomplished, but Huntly managed to escape by a back exit and rode to the hills of Badenoch.

His escape was followed by a royal decree outlawing the Gordons, and orders were given to dispatch a force to take and occupy Strathbogie and other Gordon castles.

Huntly collected a force and marched on Aberdeen. He was met at Corrichie, about fifteen miles from Aberdeen, on the south-east side of the hill of Fare, by the Earls of Moray and Atholl at the head of 2,000 men, and, notwithstanding their superiority in numbers, Huntly assumed the offensive and put the vanguard to flight. This advantage proved of little avail, for Huntly's small force was surrounded; resistance was hopeless, and he, with his two sons John and Adam, surrendered. There is no evidence to show that Huntly was choked in the crowd, as Buchanan states, or strangled by Moray's orders as asserted by Gordon historians; he died of apoplexy immediately after his capture, for Randolph, the English representative, states that "...the Earl suddenly fell from his horse startk ded"; while another account tells that he died from the effects of this fall.

Sir John Gordon (He was a suitor to Queen Mary) was executed under revolting circumstances at Aberdeen (James Stewart, Earl of Moray, forcing the Queen to witness the execution), while Adam, Huntly's forth son, was spared on account of his youth, to become, a few years later, one of Mary's staunchest supporters.

The fall of the Gordons, followed by the confiscation of their property, evidently affected Mary deeply, for Knox describes how for days she would not give a good word, or a blithe countenance, to any earnest favors of the Earl of Moray. She also fell ill, on her return to Edinburgh, of the disease so curiously named " the New Acquaintance," probably the modern influenza.

The Castle of Strathbogie was plundered, and the spoils divided between the Queen and Moray. The lands of Findlater were restored to the Oglivies, and those who assisted Huntly were fined to the extent of more than £3,5000.

His enemies had "clipped the wings of the 'Cock o' the North'," though probably not a man among them in his heart believed him to have been either disloyal or dishonest. Ambitious and fond of power, he nevertheless won, through his honesty of purpose and straightforward character, the confidence of all with whom he came into contact.

His death deprived the loved but ill-fated Queen Mary of the most able and experienced statesman among her subjects, and at a time when the country was rent by the violent passions of rival parties.

His end came in his fiftieth year; for nearly thirty years he had held the foremost place in the councils of the nation. He had been a bold and successful administrator, and though he perished in a cloud of obloquy, his character was subsequently vindicated, and his fame and reputation restored.


The fourth Earl had nine sons and three daughters. The second son, George, married Lady Anna Hamilton, another daughter of Arran, and become fifth Earl of Huntly.

Early in 1565 the outlawing of the Gordons was relaxed by proclamation, and he was free to go where he pleased.

A few weeks later, in connection with the festivities, on the occasion of her marriage to Lord Darnley, Mary restored the new Earl of Huntly to all the family honors, titles and estates.

Thus it came about that the Gordons, who were out of favor in 1562, were three years later again in a position of power; in March, 1565, Huntly was appointed Lord Chancellor, which office had been held by his father and by each Earl of Huntly in succession. In March of the following year he was one of those who assisted Queen Mary to escape from Holyrood after the murder of Rizzio, and saved her life as she had saved his. The Cock o' the North was back in power in the north as his father had been before him.

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