Scottish clan profile: Gordon

ONE of the older Scottish clans, Gordons have been recorded since the 1100s.
The Gordon tartan, based on the Black Watch. Picture: ComplimentaryThe Gordon tartan, based on the Black Watch. Picture: Complimentary
The Gordon tartan, based on the Black Watch. Picture: Complimentary

The first on record is Richard of Gordon, believed to be the grandson of a famous knight responsible for slaying a monstrous beast in the Merse, during the reign of King Malcolm III of Scotland - that is, between 1058 and 1093.

Lord of the Barony of Gordon in the Merse, a territory located on the eastern side of the border between Scotland and England in what is today part of Berwickshire, he likely died at some point in 1200.

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Between 1150 and 1160, he granted land from his estate to the Monks of St Mary at Kelso, which was confirmed by his son Thomas.

Other notable Gordons at the time included Bertram de Gordon, responsible for wounding King Richard of England with an arrow at Châlons.

Family heiress Alicia Gordon married her cousin Adam Gordon, a soldier sent by King Alexander III of Scotland to Palestine, along with King Louis of France.

Legend has it that all of the Gordons in Scotland are descended from Adam’s grandson, also Adam.

Wars of Scottish independence

Sir Adam Gordon had backed William Wallace during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and renounced his subsequent acceptance of Edward I of England’s claims, and lent his support to Robert the Bruce.

He was later killed leading Clan Gordon during the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, but his son Sir Alexander escaped, becoming the first Gordon to be given the title ‘of Huntly’.

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Fifty years later, Sir John Gordon was killed leading the clan at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, where the English were defeated. His son, another Sir Adam Gordon was killed 14 years later, leading the clan at the Battle of Humbleton Hill in September 1402.

The chief left his only child, Elizabeth Gordon, who married Alexander, son of the Sir William, chief of Clan Seton.

15th century and clan conflicts

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At the Battle of Arbroath in 1445, the Earl of Huntly’s cousin Patrick Gordon of Methlic - who the Earls of Aberdeen are descended from - died fighting Clan Lindsay.

In 1449, 1st Earl of Huntly Alexander Seton, eldest son of Elizabeth Gordon and Lord Gordon (Alexander Seton), changed the family name from Seton to Gordon. The male heirs borne from his third wife Elizabeth Crichton continued to bear the name of, and were chiefs of clan Gordon.

The Gordons were embroiled in the vicious and ultimately deadly feud between the king and Clan Douglas, in the pursuit of power. The Gordons supported the King, but when the Gordon forces were moved south, the Earl of Moray - an ally of Clan Douglas - devastated Gordon lands and burnt Huntly Castle to the ground. But the Gordons soon returned to defeat their enemies, rebuilding Huntly Castle in the process and defeating the Douglases to strengthen the Gordons’ power.

Further battles ensued between the Gordons and the Lindsays with the latter clan’s chief, 4th Earl of Crawford Alexander Lindsay (also known as the Tiger Earl and Earl Beardie) was defeated by Clans Gordon and Ogilvy, under the leadership of Alexander Gordon, 1st Earl of Huntly, at the Battle of Brechin in 1452.

Two years later, Clan Douglas broke out in rebellion, but were met with the king in the south and Huntly in the north, and were comprehensively defeated, thus ending the confederacy of Douglas, Ross and Crawford.

For his success, the 1st Earl of Huntly was styled ‘Cock o’ the North’, a designation applied ever since to the chief of Clan Gordon.

16th century and clan conflicts

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During the Anglo-Scottish Wars, Clan Gordon - led by 3rd Earl of Huntly Alexander Gordon - fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

In 1526, the Earl of Sutherland title, and chieftainship of Clan Sutherland passed, through marriage, to Adam Gordon, younger son of George, 2nd Earl of Huntly.

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During the Battle of Haddon Rig in 1542, 4th Earl of Huntly George Gordon defeated an English army with Gordon forces, but the victorious men were part of the Scottish army defeated at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.

The 4th Earl of Huntly was in charge of the forces in the Borders who opposed Henry VIII’s forces, enjoying numerous victories. He was later killed at the Battle of Corrichie in 1562, fighting the forces of Mary Queen of Scots’ half-brother James Stuart, Earl of Moray.

The Earl’s son Sir John and other members of the clan were later executed in Aberdeen.

Feud with Clan Forbes

Clan Gordon was caught up in a bitter and drawn-out struggle with Clan Forbes throughout the 1500s, with murders by both sides in the 1520s. One of the most prominent Forbes murders was that of Seton of Meldrum, who held a close connection with Gordon clan chief the Earl of Huntly.

In retaliation, the Earl then played a key role in plotting against the Master of Forbes, son of the sixth Lord Forbes. The latter had been heavily implicated in the murder of Seton of Meldrum, and was accused by the Earl of Huntly of conspiring to assassinate James V of Scotland in 1536 by shooting him with a cannon.

The Master of Forbes was tried and executed, but his conviction was reversed just a few days later and the Forbes clan was restored to favour.

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The Reformation fuelled the feud even further, in the sense that the Gordons remained Catholic while Clan Forbes became Protestant.

Furthermore, the traditional enemies of Forbes - Clans Leslie, Irvine and Seton - sided with Clan Gordon, while traditionally Protestant clans including Keith, Fraser and Crichton allied with Clan Forbes.

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The long-running feud boiled over in 1571 with the Battle of Tilliangus and the Battle of Craibstone, resulting in the then seat of Clan Forbes, Drumminor, being plundered.

For good measure, the Gordons also massacred 27 members of Forbes of Towie at Corgarff Castle.

Two acts of parliament were needed before the two clans called a stop to the fighting.

Towards the end of the 16th Century, 1st Marquess of Huntly George Gordon led his forces to victory over 7th Earl of Argyll Archibald Campbell’s forces at the Battle of Glenlivet.

17th Century and Civil War

The Gordons became embroiled in yet another feud, after Alexander Leask of Clan Leask, alleged that Adam Gordon, brother of the Laird of Gight, ‘put violent hands upon him’ at the Yet of Leask, wounding him seriously. And the Gordons set about the Leasks again later that year, attacking the clan chief’s son which resulted in George Gordon being outlawed. In 1616, William Leask of that Ilk was accosted by John Gordon of Ardlogy, who had with him a party of men with pistolets and hagbuts (small pistols; and firearms with a long barrel).

In the early part of the century, Clan Gordon had a number of alliances through marriage or friendship, of which a bond with Clan Burnett of Leys was one of the strongest. In fact, the Gordon crest is included in plasterwork on the ceiling of the great hall of Muchalls Castle - built by Alexander Burnett.

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In 1644, Alexander Bannerman of Pitmedden wounded his cousin, Sir George Gordon of Haddo in a duel. In the same year, during the Civil War at the Battle of Aberdeen there were Gordons on both sides.

Lord Lewis Gordon led his forces on the Covenanters’ side, while Sir Nathaniel Gordon’s forces supported the Royalists.

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The 2nd Marquess of Huntly was a fierce supporter of the Royalists during the conflict, with his followers passing into history as the Gordon Horse. They figured very prominently in the campaigns of 1st Marquess of Montrose James Graham.

Clan Gordon cavalry forces fought in support of the Royalists at the Battle of Auldearn in 1645, where they helped defeat Lord Seaforth’s Covenanters.

Led by George Gordon, 2nd Marquees of Huntly, the clan also fought at the Battle of Alford in the same year, coming out on top.

The Marquess of Huntly’s eldest son George Gordon was killed in this battle.

Later that year, clan chief Lewis Gordon - the 3rd Marquess of Huntly - burnt down Brodie Castle, of Clan Brodie.

In 1682, William Gordon of Cardoness Castle was killed in a fight with Sir Godfrey McCulloch. Sir Godfrey fled Scotland, but was apprehended on his return and executed in 1697.

Jacobite risings

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As with the Civil War, there were Gordons on both sides during the Jacobite rising of 1715, and again in 1745.

The fighting force of the clan in 1715 was given by General George Wade as 1000 Claymores. The second Duke of Gordon supported the Jacobites in 1715, fighting at the Battle of Sherrifmuir.

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Cosmo Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon, backed the British government during the 1745 rising, but his brother Lord Lewis raised two Jacobite regiments against the Hanoverians.

The Gordon Jacobites fought at the Battles of Inverurie (1745), Falkirk (1746) and Culloden (also 1746).

Army regiments

There have been two army regiments formed by Clan Gordon - the ‘81st,’ established in 1777 by the Hon. Colonel William Gordon, son of the Earl of Aberdeen, and disbanded in 1783, and the ‘92nd’, formed by Alexander the 4th Duke of Gordon in 1794.

Clan motto

Clan Gordon has two recognisable mottos. ‘Bydand’, meaning either ‘steadfast’ or a contraction of the Scots phrase ‘Bide and Fecht’ (Stand and Fight) and ‘Animo non Astutia’ - By Courage not by Craft.

Clan tartans

As with many clans, Gordon has several ‘recognised’ tartans - Modern, Dress, Ancient, Weathered, Muted and Red.

The Gordon Modern tartan was used by the Gordon Highlanders (now The Highlanders, 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland), and is sometimes referred to as ‘Military’. The tartan itself is based on Black Watch, with the addition of a yellow stripe. The difference between the family sett (Modern) and the military sett is only in the pleating of the kilt, with the military pleat to the stripe, and the family pleat to the sett.

Red Gordon tartan is occasionally referred to as ‘Huntly’.

Septs of Clan Gordon

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Ackane, Adam(son), Ad(d)i.e., Addison, Adkins, Aiken, Aitchison, Aitken, Akane, Akins, Atkin, Atkins(on), Badenoch, Barrie, Connor, Connon, Cote, Craig, Cromb(i.e.), Cullen, Culane, Darg(e), Dorward, Duff, Durward, Eadie, Ed(d)i.e., Edison, Esslemont, Garden, Gard(i)ner, Garioch, Garr(o)ick, Geddes, Gerr(y)ie, Harrison, Haddo(w), Huntl(e)y, Jeffrey, Jessiman, Jopp, Jupp, La(i)ng, Laurie, Lawrie, Leng, Ling, Long, MacAdam, MacGwyverdyne, Mallett, Manteach, Marr, Maver, McGonigal, Meldrum, Mill, Mills, Milles, Miln(e)], Milner, Moir, More, Morrice, Muir, Milnes, Mylne, Pittendri(e)gh, Shellgren, Steel(e), Teal, Tod(d), Troup

Clan Castles

Huntly Castle - the seat of the chief of Clan Gordon from the 14th to late 17th Century

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Balmoral Castle - sold to Alexander Gordon, 3rd Earl of Huntly, in the 15th Century

Castle Craig / Craig of Auchindoir - located on the edge of Aberdeenshire’s ‘wild west’ between Lumsden and Rhynie

Auchindoum Castle - awarded to the Marquess of Huntly in 1535

Gordon Castle - Built in 1789 for the 4th Duke of Gordon, later becoming the new seat for the clan chief

Fyvie Castle - owned by several Gordons during the 18th and 19th century

Clan chief

The current clan chief is Granville Charles Gomer Gordon, 13th Marquess of Huntly; Earl of Enzie; Earl of Aboyne; Lord Gordon of Badenoch; Lord Gordon of Strathavon and Glenlivet; Baron Meldrum of Morven.

Clan chiefs of Gordon are still referred to as ‘Cock o’ the North’ owing to the success of Alexander Gordon, 1st Earl of Huntly, in the mid-15th Century.