With the death of Peter, the thirteenth laird of Abergeldy, in 1819 the entrail took a knights-shift. Peter had no son and heir to leave his estate, and so it passed onto his brother David Gordon who was 62 years of age when Abergeldy came most unexpectedly to him. This moment marked a turning point in the Abergeldy calendar, when its affairs were secondary to business dealings in England. The castle was on the threshold of the Royal lease, and the Gordons were to become distant landlords. There is no intention to show disrespect to this new generation, but arguably, the real glory days of Abergeldy had ended with that Burnsyde alliance.
David Gordon, the fourteenth laird, had spent most of his life in London, far from Deeside and had busied himself with financial rather than domestic affairs. In 1774 he wrote a letter from London, to his cousin Charles Hunter of Burnsyde concerning the receipt of his Power of Attorney and explaining why he had delayed in purchasing Hunter a lottery ticket. It was astounding to learn that this lottery ticket cost David Gordon £13 and 12s. Quite a sum! Surely this was a different sort of lottery to the one we have today!
David Gordon had started his working life in the service of Messrs Drummond, Bankers, and was appointed their representative to New York in 1776. David Gordon later left Drummonds and started in business with his brother Adam, and brother-in-law, John Biddulph. This was to be a most successful firm of Engineers based in Lime Street, London. Under Gordon & Biddulph many ships were built and no project seemingly too large. Thus, before his succession to Abergeldy, David Gordon had already a large house on Dulwich Hill in London with grounds extending to nearly 33 acres.
After David Gordon’s succession, there is little to record for he spent a good deal of his time attending to his business. It was during his lairdship however, that there arose a complication of march interests between the estates of Abergeldy and Birkhall which was not settled till over half a century later. It was apparently a most bitter dispute, between Gordon and the Prince Consort, and if truth be known it was the seed of acrimony that has long-lasted between Abergeldy and the Royal Family.
David Gordon, the fourteenth Laird, married in 1789, Anne Biddulph, daughter of Michael Biddulph of Ledbury, Herefordshire, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. David Gordon died in October 1831, and it is said that his funeral was the last occasion on which birch wine was served. The Abergeldy Household seem to have been famous for their birch wine, for the author of ‘The Scenery of the Grampian Mountains’ tasted some in 1810, and called it excellent, and remarked that it seemed to him to be ‘superior to the finest champagne.’
The small glen still has its native birch wood, the best example of which envelops Linquoch and Newton. In early Celtic mythology, the birch came to symbolise renewal and purification. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year. Later this would evolve into the ‘beating the bounds’ ceremonies in which the farm-toun boundaries were scoured in the promise of renewal and good growth. According to Deeside folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow bear a healthy calf.
Figure 4.33: The small glen birch wood at Linquoch
The uses of birch in the small glen were many and varied. Traditionally, babies’ cradles were made of birch wood, drawing on the earlier symbolism, of new beginnings. The branches were used as fuel in the distillation of whisky – the chief industry of the small glen! The birch spray was used for smoking meat ham – and for this birch was far preferred to every other kind of wood. The bark was used for tanning leather, and sometimes, when dried and twisted into a rope, instead of candles. The spray was most commonly used for thatching of the town-ship houses along with heather. Folklore credited different parts of the birch with a variety of medicinal properties. The leaves were diuretic and antiseptic, and served as an effective remedy for cystitis. The sap (as wine or cordial) was felt to prevent kidney and bladder stones, and to treat rheumatism.
To make birch wine is a relatively straightforward recipe, with the tapping of sap as it rises in spring, though it must be stated, up to a gallon of sap needs to be collected. This then needs at least two cups of sugar added as birch sap has a low concentration of sugars. Two oranges and a lemon, sliced, complete the ingredients; the rest is down to yeast fermentation.
David Gordon the fourteenth laird planned to leave Abergeldy to his oldest son, Charles David Gordon, but sadly he died five years before him in London in 1826. Charles David (1790-1826) was at school at Harrow with Lord Byron, with whom he became very friendly throughout his life. Byron visited Charles David at Abergeldy and corresponded by letter with him over many years:
Figure 4.34: Charles David Gordon
‘Believe me, my dearest Charles, no letter from you can ever be un-entertaining or dull, at least to me. On the contrary, they will always be productive of the highest pleasure as often as you think proper to gratify.’
With the death of his oldest son, the Abergeldy entail passed in 1831 to the second son Michael Francis Gordon and on his death in 1860, to the third son Robert Gordon.
Michael Francis Gordon was born in 1792 and went into the family business becoming a partner in the firm of Gordon & Biddulph. It was he who leased Abergeldy to the Royal Family: ‘a lease of the Lands and Barony of Abergeldy, lying in the parishes of Crathie, Kindrochat and Glengarden and Sheriffdom of Aberdeen, and of the pendicle called Polhollick, and of the Forest of White Mounth, all therein described, with Mansion House of Abergeldy and others therein specified, to be granted in terms of the Act 11 and 12 Victoria, Cap. 36, in favour of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and that for the period of 40 years after the term of Whitsunday 1849.’
Michael Francis Gordon was at the time of this contract in Boulogne and he made every effort to ensure that his entail succeeded to his three surviving sons. When he made his decision to lease Abergeldy in 1849 it was amidst the deepest of despair – the year before he lost his son John aged 24 years. His oldest son, Francis was studying Law in Edinburgh and his two youngest at school in England. Never for one moment could he have understood that within a year of the lease to the Prince consort that his two youngest sons would also be dead. That left only his eldest son Francis as living heir.
Figure 4.35: Albert signs Abergeldy in 1849
Sometimes fate can be a terrible master. Francis David, the only living heir to his father, was sent out to India where as a Captain in the East India Company’s service where he was killed during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 at Jhansai.
Three years later on the very last day of 1860, Michael Francis Gordon, an utterly broken-man, died. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Florence, Italy. Having seen all four of his sons die before him, Abergeldy passed to his, most elderly brother, Robert.
Figure 4.36: Michael Francis loses his eldest and last son in a Mutiny in Jhansai
The Royal occupants of Abergeldy were, over many decades; the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria), the ex-Empress Eugenie of France (1879), King George V, and King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) both of whom took a direct interest in breeding ponies and Aberdeen-Angus cattle. Apparently the initial forty year lease was continued by two further forty year leases, and for that reason the Gordons of Abergeldy were absentee landlords right up until the time of the twentieth laird.
Figure 4.37: The Abergeldy Royals: The Duchess of Kent, Empress Eugenie, George V and Edward VII
Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, was in residence at Abergeldy during seven successive summers between 1850 and 1857. After that her doctors forbade her to make the full journey and she took her holiday in the south of Scotland. Whilst at Abergeldy the old Duchess was very fond of a game of cards – whist or patience, fonder still of her piano and her dogs, especially a white poodle. Mrs Lindsay recalled the Duchess at Abergeldy in glowing terms as a ‘stout, comely, elderly lady whose face overflowed with kindliness and good humour, quietly dignified, yet with a gentle courtesy that set even a shy child at ease.’ The Duchess also liked to entertain and the Abergeldy dances for tenants and staff were spirited occasions with the local fiddlers in vigorous action. On her death in 1861, George the Prince of Wales took over the house and used it continually for his autumn stay in Scotland and for the entertainment of his shooting parties. When he was not there, there were other tenants, most noticeably the ex-Empress Eugenie.
It was whilst Edward Prince of Wales was in residence that a Gypsy made a freak arrival at Abergeldy. On the 26th September 1866 a cart drew up at the Tower, inside, lying dead was 40 year old James McGregor a Tea-Merchant from a Ballater Caravan. The Abergeldy butler, William Grant took the stiff corpse back to Ballater. After that, the Royal tea must have tasted not so delicate.
During the Royal tenancy improvements to the estate were made, and it was in the early years of the Consort’s lease that a great extension was made with fancy elaboration to the west-wing which adjoined the old towerhouse. This made it a much more substantial property. It was also at this time, that an ornate cupola was added, along with the external wall clock. The Abergeldy farm prospered once again, and both George V and Edward VII, took a great deal of personal interest in its husbandry. They were particularly fond of pony-breeding and the rearing of good Aberdeen-Angus cattle. It was at this time, the earliest years of the Royal lease, that the new farms of the Camlet, Bovagli, and Lynvaig were built.
It is a sad note to learn how Edward Prince of Wales was greeted back to Abergeldy in the Autumn of 1881, for his Butler, John Doncaster shot himself dead in the castle tower. Incredibly the death marked the very day of fifteen years before when the stiff-corpse of the Tea-man arrived in the cart at Abergeldy’s door. No explanation has ever been made of the Butler’s suicide.
It is remarkable to think just how tightly the Gordon family has held onto Abergeldy refusing repeated offers from the Royal family to purchase it. Indeed the very date that the 21st Laird reclaimed his castle, has it seems, mythical pretensions. John Howard Seton Gordon took his mantle as 21st Laird on the 23rd April 1963 and mythology records that this was the very day that Perseus was arrested, tortured, and put to death. In the mirrored-reflection of his Abergeldy Coat of Arms, laird John had seen that Royal monster, and in that instant had it slayed. His Gordon forebears would, like Zeus, have been proud.
Six years into his stewardship Laird John was faced with a £30,000 roof repair bill for his castle, and idealism had to give way to reality. So it was that in the early summer of 1969 the demolishers moved in. The destruction of the West wing was controversial even then, and so prior to demolition a detailed photographic survey and inventory was completed by The Royal Commission on the Historical & Ancient Monuments of Scotland. So throughout the summer of 1969, nearly all traces of the Royal occupation removed, and the Scotland home of the Prince of Wales wiped back, with alexithymic rigour, to nout but the Keep.
In the winter of 2007 I found an old box in John Sinclair House in Edinburgh. It felt to me like a scene wrenched from Poliakoff’s masterpiece ‘Shooting the Past’ for the images contained revealed an untold story all of their own. Poliakoff’s work has such sweeping beauty that betwixingly mingles lost and forgotten connections; but even he would have marvelled at the contents of this box.
Figure 4.38: Abergeldy an impressive Royal home c1870
As I found picture after picture, I felt like the eager but eccentric Oswald Bates, the Museum Curator in ‘Shooting the Past.’ I realized then that Abergeldy had once been mightier than ever and that story after story had gone a-begging. The pictures displayed a castle of much bustle; hunting lodges, a ‘Game Street,’ Smoking rooms, pavilions, turrets and much fancy – all now gone. Many architectural details were photographed, from the expected – fireplaces, ornate plasterwork; to the unexpected – chimney pots and cookers. It was at the bottom of the box that I found an 1891 Architectural plan of the castle drawn up by James Anderson. To be honest I almost over-looked it, but was curious about annotated scribbles made to the Second-floor room-plan. Written over two insignificant attic rooms were two words ‘Prince John.’
Figure 4.39: Views of Abergeldy as it was in the time of the Royal occupancy
As Poliakoff well knows, there is a true story of great poignancy, regarding little Prince John, something that he so movingly captured in his BBC production of 2003 ‘The Lost Prince.
Tuesday 17th April 2007
I thought you might like to know about Prince John and Abergeldy. I warn you his story is a sad one.
Have you ever watched any of the BBC films by Stephen Poliakoff? Easily my favourite broadcast production was a two-piece drama by Poliakoff called ‘Shooting the Past.’ Truly it enchants and is just so moving. Anyway two years ago Poliakoff brought out another BBC film called ‘The Lost Prince.’ It was about the last born son of King George V – a son that was hidden in shame for being severely autistic and suffering uncontrollable epilepsy. The music to the drama is so sweepingly sad and touches the soul. It was beautifully composed by Adrian Johnston and as I write this I am listening to it.
I was having a closer look at the Abergeldy plans when I noticed the above annotation. Prince John had two rooms knocked into one. It seems, in Scotland, the little Prince was hidden away in Abergeldy Castle. Poor wee lad.
Prince John was born in July of 1905 and at first appeared to be a normal child, unlike his rather uptight elder brothers Edward, the future King Edward VIII, and Albert, the future King George VI. But before long, it was clear that John was growing too quickly. By the time he was 12, he was severely epileptic and as a result was often struck and felled without warning.
Figure 4.40: Little Prince John and his Scottish hide-out
Over the last few days I have found myself returning to little John, a lad somewhat superciliously dressed in his sailors outfit and with his father’s rheumy eyes. Already he was different and his destiny was to be in the shadows. His dear carer was his nurse ‘Lalla’ who was his constant escort and had the duty of keeping the little prince safely out of the public eye. Today we find it hard to understand, but even by the turn of the century there was no cure for epilepsy (certainly no medications) and the awkward prince presented shame for the Royal family. Brenda Lewis, Royal biographer was to dwell on this ‘shutting Prince John away appears cruel and unfeeling. It was, in fact, the only recourse open to his parents, given the social mores of the time. Isolation also had benefits for John himself, releasing him from the rigours of being royal and therefore, in a sense, public property.’
Figure 4.41: Prince John and his Abergeldy nursery
I like to think that Abergeldy was the comfort that this boy, some so wrongly called ’a monster,’ needed. Together with Lalla he must have played his favourite soldiers on the old stone tower spiral steps. The fresh Abergeldy pines, whilst no cure for his epilepsy, must have soothed that inner restlessness. Queen Mary probably spent more time with John, her youngest child, than she did with her other children, and was nowhere near as cold and unfeeling as she has often been portrayed.
Prince John’s conditioned worsened and the Royal Physicians were impotent to his ceaseless fits. In mid-January 1919 the Prince died. Lalla was distraught. King George and Queen Mary drove to Sandringham to find the dead boy lying as if asleep on his bed.
‘Little Johnnie looked very peaceful …’ the Queen wrote later. ‘He just slept quietly in his heavenly home, no pain, no struggle, just peace for the little troubled spirit.’
The sixteenth Laird, Robert Gordon succeeded unexpectedly to Abergeldy in 1860. He was 64 years of age and unmarried and had spent his entire life in the Navy. He never gained the soldiering accolade of both his uncles but did take part in the conquest of Java. He later took part in many operations against the Americans, and was present at the attack on New Orleans. In July 1816, he was transferred to HMS ‘Queen Charlotte,’ flagship of Lord Exmouth who appointed him Acting Lieutenant, and as such he took part in the bombardment of Algiers. Interestingly his last commission was in the West Indies in 1834. Robert Gordon sixteenth Laird of Abergeldy, died without issue in February 1869, he was never resident at the castle during his nine year reign, and was probably never even in Scotland. The estate then passed to his nephew, Hugh MacKay Gordon (1826-1901), who was the son of his deceased brother, Adam.
The seventeenth laird, Hugh MacKay was 42 years old when Abergeldy came his way. The Royal family having renewed the lease were still in residence so the Laird used to take a house in Ballater for his summer holidays. Hugh MacKay was especially interested in his family tradition and at the turn-of-the-century exchanged by letter much with Dr Bulloch. It was he who told Dr Bulloch that many family papers were destroyed by a fire in 1812. Many have interpreted this quite literally as did I, envisaging the Abergeldy Charter Chest up in flames. However this was clearly not the case, as a trip to Abergeldy castle revealed:
“There was not enough time to examine the John Innes map as wished – yet the laird was determined that its glorious detail should be seen. At the foot of the canvas map was an old chest of the darkest wood ever. It was deeply carved and thick with dust. On top it had a large split. As quick as a blink the laird jumped up upon it and stretched his frame high so as to closely examine the detail of The Camlet. The chest creaked and its echo reverberated around the dust filled Hall. In that instant the laird beckoned me up.
That groan again – would it hold? Oh my goodness!
It was on dismounting that the laird said, now look at this, the box we stood upon, was the charter chest… the Abergeldy Charter Chest. The chest dated from the time of the sixth laird of Abergeldy; William Gordon (died 1630.) The most interesting incident in this laird’s career was his connection with the Catholic plot, usually known as the “Spanish blanks,” by which a Spanish invasion of this country was to be maneuvered.”
When I first visited the castle I was to find the shrubs overgrown and the old Tower keep barricaded, but had I managed to reach its southern face, I would have been greeted by the Castle’s oldest ironwork in the form of an ancient Tirling Pin. To rouse the Laird I might have fared better with this mediaeval facility for there was neither bell nor knocker. Few these days have even heard of Tirling Pins; this, the Abergeldy one, dates from the 1660’s, and carries the initials of Alexander Gordon the eighth laird and his wife Euphemia Graham. Its survival is virtually unique in the north-east.
“Tirl the pin, peep in,
Lift the latch, and walk in.”
It was in Hugh MacKay Gordon’s time that the long running dispute about the marches between Abergeldy and Birkhall was settled by a Court of Session decision against him. However, as Cairnfield recorded, the seventeenth laird’s real interest was in the south, particularly Eltham, where he resided for over thirty years, and with which he was so closely connected that the local paper, in noticing his death, made no mention of his having been Laird of Abergeldy!
Hugh MacKay Gordon, died without issue in 1901. He left £67,669, and of which sum £2,500 was put in trust, to accumulate while the lease lasted for the benefit of the estate. At this juncture the estate was transferred to yet another brother, in this case Lewis Gordon who was also to be an absentee laird, and for only two years as he died suddenly in 1903. The next two lairds were sons of Lewis. Reginald Hugh Lyall Gordon served as nineteenth laird up to his death in 1924, and leaving only a daughter Gertrude, Abergeldy passed to his brother Bertram Fuller Gordon, the twentieth laird.
John Howard Seton Gordon became the twenty-first laird of Abergeldy on his 25th birthday. The year was 1963 and he had just completed seven years as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines. In May of that year, the new laird, married Gillian Voelcker.
Figure 4.44: Abergeldy passed from brother to brother for four generations (blue dots)
It was my Aunt, Janet Risk Gordon who first took an interest in our family origins. In 1961 she excitedly came across an advert in a Scottish newspaper that explained how Abergeldy was desperately looking for its heir. This roused her greatly as she had heard her father say that we were ‘Abergeldy.’ So it was that she set about to prove it! She commissioned a researcher and had the Baxendine report drawn up. This traced our family back solidly to ‘Camlet John.’
It is interesting to note that for four separate generations (marked by blue dots in the family tree on the previous page) Abergeldy passed not from father to son, but from brother to brother. However, by 1957, when the twentieth laird Bertram Fuller Gordon died, not only did he have no surviving son, but searching back neither did any of the previous five lairds. So to find a successor, the Lyon Court had to go all the way back to the fourteenth laird David Gordon (1753-1831). Quite incredible to think, and of course to turn the fortunes of the most unexpecting John Howard Seton Gordon!
John, the twenty-first laird, has now entered his fifth decade of stewardship of Abergeldy. It appears that when he inherited the castle in 1963 it had long been standing empty – the Royal family had not managed to renew the lease and as chatelaines they were no more.
Figure 4.45: The Abergeldy crest from the Great Hall
This has been a busy chapter full of Abergeldy incident, and there is no wish to spoil the ambition of clear narrative. However you may recall that the chapter started not at the family beginning, but with Rachel the tenth, and saving heiress. Both Dr Bulloch, and Edward of Cairnfield, have amassed much detail on the earlier generations, and you might argue that they should be rehearsed here. However I would respectfully suggest for those especially interested in the early Abergeldy years, that they should consult, in particular, Bulloch’s Monograph.
All that said there is a need to draw out some facets of the early generations, particularly as they helped shape later Abergeldy.
Abergeldy was originally an insignificant part of the vast possessions of the Earls of Mar, but the last of that line granted it in 1358 to Duncan, son of Roger. In 1435 Abergeldy was claimed by James I and the estate was leased by the Crown. In 1449 Abergeldy was held by the 1st Earl of Huntly who paid £10 yearly rent. The Roger claim, however, still existed and was sought as late as 1507. It was the Earl of Huntly who gave Abergeldy with other lands to his second son Alexander Gordon, who founded the line of the Gordons of Abergeldy.
The Lairds of Abergeldy, unlike other Gordons, did not go in for extensive land purchases, and what they did acquire was mainly an enlargement of the Abergeldy property itself, though they did in the early generations acquire Easton, in Tarland parish; Midmar, west of Echt; Grandholm, Persley and Craibstone – now northern suburbs of Aberdeen; Ballogie – in Lumphannan parish; and Glengardyn (near the mouth of Glengairn.) It is of interest to note that it was at Glengardyn, where the Gairn enters the Dee that the family of Nathaniel Gordon settled.
Figure 4.46: James I of Scotland claimed Abergeldy
The sixth Laird of Abergeldy is of interest, and worthy of mention for he is styled in the Balbithan Manuscript as Mr William Gordon of Stering, showing that he had taken his degree and had got the lands of Birkhall from his father. William is said to have been involved in the so called ‘Spanish blanks’ affair. William Gordon the sixth Laird of Abergeldy was sent from Spain in March 1591 by William Crichton a Scot’s priest there with letters to Mr James Gordon, a Jesuit Priest and son of the fourth Earl of Huntly, to let papists know what efforts Crichton had made with King of Spain and the latter was to invade England and alter the region of Scotland by Crichton’s advice. Crichton desired that so many blanks and procurations should be sent to him as could be had from the Scots Noblemen.
Upon receipt of the blanks, it was proposed to send an army of 30,000 men in 1592 to land either in the Clyde or Kirkcudbright. The answers were taken by George Ker who bore many letters, but who was apprehended at the isle of Cumbrae. One of them was written in French by the sixth Earl of Huntly and signed by two other nobles, regretting the defeat of the Armada which was said to have been sent out at the wrong time of year. How much truth there was in this story, it is hard to say, but Huntly at any rate was able to clear himself with James VI of connection with the affair.
William Gordon the sixth was summoned to appear before the Privy Council in 1592 for ‘the hearing of mass and resetting of priests and papists,’ and not complying was denounced as a rebel in March 1593. William had irksome domestic troubles as well as the painful strife of his worldlier catholic mission. That trouble was with his wife Elizabeth Seton of Parbroath. She carried on a dispute with the minister of Kinnernie in Midmar for ten years, bringing actions against the tenants of that parish. Elizabeth Seton also had disputes with James Gordon of Balmoral, the Reverend Alexander Gordon, minister in Glenmuick, and John Leith of Achlie! She later gave a good deal of trouble to her son and neighbours. Her son complained in August of 1631, that she refused to move from Abergeldy where she had no rights and obtained ‘letters of removal’ against her and a year later her ‘tack of conjunct feu of Lands’ was cancelled.
It is a mystery is it not how religion fires family distemper and then to outright hostility. That was very true of the family of William, the Catholic, and sixth of Abergeldy. His wife, in her multiple feuds, was paranoid and unyielding and their son Alexander, who became the seventh laird in March 1631, was to become the most wayward of all the Abergeldy Gordons. By nature or nurture, or no doubt both, he had inherited his mother’s fiery outlook. In short he was a brutal and disagreeable rogue, liked it seems, by none. It was Alexander Gordon the seventh that virtually lost Abergeldy for his family.
Alexander was a strong anti-covenanter of a ‘violent temper quarrelling not only with his neighbours, but also with his wife and family.’ Consequently he fell into debt, and but for the intervention of his brother-in-law, might have brought destruction to his line. During his father’s life time, he was invested in 1627 in Ballogie and Abergeldy and had the previous year been admitted a burgess of Aberdeen, being even then styled ‘friar of Abergeldy.’ In light of what you will hear below that epitaph seems absurd!
On his father’s death, and probably on account of his Royalist sympathies, he proceeded to raise money rapidly. In December 1632, with the Marquis of Huntly, a bond for £5,900 was given in favour of Mark Cass of Cokpen. In January 1633, the lands of Abergeldy, Ballogie and Midmar were apprised from him for a debt of £3,325 due to David Adie, burgess of Aberdeen, and six months later another apprising took place. By now the estate was in tatters and all but lost.
Presumably Alexander Gordon the seventh laird had succeeded to the Baillieship of Strathdee, for with James, Lord Carnegie, he was commissioned in 1634 to arrest John Finlay in The Camlet for Robbery. In 1635, the rents for Alexander Gordon were stated to have been £1,368.13s.4d including £250 for Abergeldy itself, but whether these included the lands apprised from him is not stated. The Abergeldy property proper comprised the Mains, Ballochalloch, Mill Croft, Lynebeg (Lynvaig), Camlet, Bovaglie, Dremnapark, Balnacroft, Tulloch Choguir (Tilfogar) and Clachtanturn.
In July of 1632, Donald Farquharson of Inchemarroun was cautioner in 5000 merks for Alexander’s appearance before the Privy Council ‘touching his misbehaviour towards his ladie.’ This was to be the first of many appearances before the Privy Council, for at the very time Alexander was losing his estate he was also ‘battering’ his wife Katherine Nicholsone. His frustration, presumably fuelled by drink, was acted-out domestically, and his poor wife was the unfortunate victim.
In October 1633, he used violent language against Katherine and would have done her ‘bodily harm’ but was restricted by a friend staying there. In September 1634, Katherine complained that Alexander threatened to disinherit the children and to sell and put away the whole estate in defraud of them. To prevent this she was constrained to rejoin him so that his son might get investment of some part of the estate, and Alexander Gordon promised never to ‘strike, hurt, or wrong her in her bodie’ under penalty of 2000 merks. This was a bond that seems to have been frequently broken!
In May 1634, Alexander Gordon, ejected his wife Katherine from the house and she had to seek refuge in a tenant’s house. The following month, after her return to Ballogie where they were living, he again hit out at her, demanding her conjunct fee, and threatening her, till she gave him what little money she had. Alexander was desperate and his behaviour pitiful.
While Katherine was at Ballogie Alexander frequently absented himself for twenty days at a time, leaving her without a penny to maintain herself and her five children, so she had to beg for help from the surrounding tenants, which they gave her though ordered not to do so. The Privy Council discerned that Alexander Gordon should pay the 2000 merks under his bond during her life time.
It is necessary to set the scene here as you must understand that Alexander steadfastly supported King Charles I as head of the Church and had no time for the Covenanters. Abergeldy for generations had been catholic and had dismissed the constrained and strict discipline of the Presbyterian faith. Whilst the Covenanters rebelled against Charles I and his introduction to Scotland of Episcopalianism, Alexander looked on aghast. Scotland was by this time in an almost constant state of civil unrest because of an unwillingness of the Scots to accept the royal decree that King Charles was head of the church. So it was that many signed a covenant which refused this Royal mantle, and which stated their belief that only Jesus Christ could command such a position. This was a truly grim period of religious persecution which witnessed the bloodiest crimes in the nation’s history; committed by Scots against Scots.
Alexander played out this religious unrest in his marriage. The Covenant was signed in 1638. In May of the following year Alexander was one of the gentry who gathered round Lord Aboyne at Aberdeen as a counterblast to the meeting of the Covenanters at Turriff. In March 1644 he met Lord Huntly at Aberdeen and accompanied him to Banff where Huntly waited for some time expecting assistance from Royalists from the south. Getting none, Huntly disbanded his forces, and the Covenanters ordered several castles of the Gordons to be razed, amongst them Abergeldy.
Abergeldy was all but lost. Saviour came not by divine intervention but legal transaction, undertaken by Alexander’s brother-in-law, Thomas Nicholson, advocate and Procurator, for Estates. This turning point in Abergeldy’s history should not be under-estimated. In July 1644, in what must be regarded as Thomas Nicholson’s greatest legal sleight of hand, he brilliantly repossessed the heritable right and property of Abergeldy. At the same time, he had Alexander’s Life rent forfeited which he determined for the maintenance of his sister and her seven children.
Figure 4.47: Marquis of Montrose
The castle of Abergeldy was at this time occupied by Argyll’s troops, who according to Nicholson’s complaint to Parliament did a great deal of damage and ‘so impoverished the place that he was suffering a heavy loss’ for which he asked compensation. Alexander Gordon, after the disbanding of Huntly’s force, joined the Marquis of Montrose and seems to have been with him till his death.
James Graham the Marquis of Montrose was a Scottish general, poet, and Royalist hero who won a series of spectacular victories in Scotland against the Covenanters for Charles I, but was finally deserted by Charles II. To Montrose’s dismay, Charles II entered into negotiations with the Covenanters. When talks broke down in May 1649, Charles attempted to coerce the Covenanters by ordering Montrose to take control of Scotland by military force. Montrose sent a small force of German and Danish mercenaries as an advance guard to occupy the Orkneys in September 1649 and joined them with reinforcements in March 1650. By the time Montrose landed on the Scottish mainland, Charles had reopened negotiations with the Covenanters. Charles wrote to Montrose ordering him to disarm, but the orders never reached him. The Covenanters moved swiftly against him and Montrose was defeated at the battle of Carbisdale by Colonel Strachan in April 1650. A few days later, Charles disavowed Montrose under the terms of the Treaty of Breda.
Montrose escaped into the mountains after Carbisdale. He fled to Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt where he was betrayed to the Covenanters by Neil MacLeod, laird of Assynt. Montrose was taken to Edinburgh and led through the streets in a cart driven by the hangman. Already under sentence of death for his campaign of 1644-5, Montrose was hanged at the Mercat Cross on the 21st May 1650, protesting to the last that he was a true Covenanter as well as a loyal subject. Apparently he was dressed ‘more like a bridegroom than a convicted criminal.’ He was dressed immaculately in scarlet and silver lace, with white gloves, silk stockings, and ribboned shoes.
igure 4.48: Montrose resplendent is hanged in Edinburgh 1650
Montrose’s head was fixed on a spike at the Tolbooth in Edinburgh, his legs and arms were fixed to the gates of Stirling, Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen. His dismembered body was buried in Edinburgh, but Lady Jean Napier had it secretly disinterred. The heart was removed, embalmed, placed in a casket, and sent to Montrose’s exiled son as a symbol of loyalty and martyrdom.
One has to wonder what happened to Alexander Gordon seventh of Abergeldy, the loyal supporter, and close friend of Montrose. He was apparently with him until his death, but Dr Bulloch clearly records that Alexander survived Montrose by five years. So it seems Alexander escaped the execution of his poet brother Montrose, however his last few years, one can only imagine, must have been sad and lonely. Alexander had estranged his family, lost his country, and forfeited his family seat. It is easy for history to be turned to the view of the writer, but one cannot help come to the conclusion that Abergeldy, had in Alexander the seventh, its most wayward son.
This chapter on Abergeldy started with Rachel and as is my wish, I would like to draw it to a close with her. She was Abergeldy’s great chatelaine and with her husband Captain Charles she turned around the fortune of an estate that had been all but ruined by her grandfather Alexander the seventh.
Figure 4.49: Rachel Gordon of Abergeldy
I have deliberately chosen to finish the chapter with Rachel as found in her portrait that hangs high in Abergeldy’s Great Hall. I am sure you agree that it could hardly be said to be flattering. In it she looks awkward, double-chinned and constipated. I must say, the portrait was a terrible disappointment to me, for my own Rachel has a radiant beauty that Lady Abergeldy has not. Yes, chasing gold thread is a wasted cause.
God with Us.