Gordon, George, fourth Marquis of Huntly and first Duke of Gordon 1643-1716, was the eldest son of Lewis, third marquis of Huntly, by his wife Isabel, daughter of Sir James Grant of Grant. He succeeded his father in 1653, when about ten years of age. Charles II had nominally restored the titles and estates, which had been forfeited when his grandfather, George Gordon, second marquis [qv.], was executed in 1649, but it was not till 1661 that the attainder was reversed by act of parliament. At about the age of eighteen he went to France, where he completed his education in a catholic seminary. Afterwards he travelled in Italy, Germany, and Hungary. In 1672 he returned to Scotland by London, but in the following year he joined the French army at Oudenarde, and was present in July at the surrender of Maestricht. In 1674 he took part in the campaign in Burgundy, after which he served with Turenne, and subsequently with the Prince of Orange, in Flanders. In November 1675 he returned to London. In October 1676 he married Elizabeth Howard, eldest surviving daughter of the sixth Duke of Norfolk, and afterwards returned to Scotland, but being precluded by his religion from public employment, he spent his time chiefly on his estate. When in 1680 to keep the highlands quiet it was decided to give 500l. a year to each of the nobles of the four districts or tetrarchies, Huntly's jurisdiction, as being too large, was divided into two, the other half being given to the Earl of Moray (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, 261). By patent dated 1 Nov. 1684 he was, chiefly at the instigation of Claverhouse (Napier, Memoirs of Viscount Dundee, ii. 330), created by Charles II Duke of Gordon. When Argyll landed in the west highlands in 1685, Gordon was appointed commander of the northern forces raised to oppose him, but Argyll's enterprise collapsed so rapidly as to render any action on his part unnecessary. On the confiscation of the estates of Argyll in 1681, he got the gift of his forfeitures so far as they extended to the Huntly estates (Memoirs of Ewan Cameron, p. 210). He also obtained a gift of the superiority of that portion of Lochiel's lands which Lochiel had held as the vassal of Argyll. Lochiel went to London with a view of securing the superiority to himself, but before the necessary documents were completed the king died, 6 Feb. 1685, and during Lochiel's absence the duke raised an action against him in the court of session to get his rights and titles to the whole of the Cameron estates annulled, and also another on account of a debt due by Lochiel to the forfeited Earl of Argyll. After long litigation the king at last interfered on Lochiel's behalf, and by a letter to the commissioners of the treasury, 21 May 1688, intimated his royal will and pleasure that he should be discharged of his debt, and should also have new rights and charters of the property of his lands, of which Gordon was superior, for a small and easy feu duty not exceeding four merks for every thousand merks of free rent (ib. pp. 220-3). In other respects Gordon soon began to experience considerable advantages from the accession of James to the throne. On 12 Nov. 1685 he was named among twenty-six other catholic commissioners of supply whom the king empowered to act without taking the test (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, p. 676). On 11 March 1686 a letter was read from the king to the privy council appointing him captain and constable and keeper of the castle of Edinburgh, in room of the Duke of Queensberry, and being a catholic he was admitted to the office without taking any oath (ib. p. 713). In a private letter to Queensberry, 23 Feb. 1686 (printed in Napier's Memoirs of Viscount Dundee, iii. 469), the king explained that his reason for superseding him by Gordon was that he wished the town at this time to have more regard to his commands, and be civiler to catholics by seeing it in the hands of one of that persuasion. On 11 Nov. a letter was read from the king naming him a privy councillor, but he declined to accept office on the usual conditions (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, p. 759), and on the 18th the king by letter intimated his desire that he should be received into the council without taking the test. On the revival of the order of the Knights of St. Andrew and the Thistle he was installed a knight 27 July 1687 (ib. p. 814). Gordon declined to be a party in assisting James's policy for the establishment of the catholic religion. On this account he was for some time out of favour, and when he went to court in March 1688 was so coldly received that he offered to resign his offices and retire to the continent, but the king would not permit him. After the landing of the Prince of Orange it was reported he had turned protestant, and had gone to Scotland to join the Duke of Queensberry (Hatton Correspondence, Camd. Soc. p. 122). Gordon, however, continued nominally to hold the castle of Edinburgh in behalf of the king, although he was on terms for its surrender when Dundee and Balcarres arrived from London with special instructions from James. When they went to confer with him they actually met his furniture coming out (Balcarres, Memoirs, p. 23). On 2 March the convention of estates before proceeding to business sent him a demand for its surrender within twenty-four hours, on the ground that their place of meeting was commanded by its batteries. He asked a night for consideration, but having had in the meantime an interview with Dundee and Balcarres, he offered to yield on condition that the promised indemnity were made to include all his friends, a proviso which he explained was meant to secure all the highland clans against hostile proceedings. The offer was possibly seriously meant, but it was regarded as a mere evasion, and on 18 March the convention proceeded in a very unscientific manner to invest the castle. On the following day he had his celebrated interview with Viscount Dundee [see Graham, James], who as he was leaving Edinburgh climbed up a steep part of the rock on the western side, and entreated him to hold the castle as long as possible. This Gordon promised to do (Memoirs of Ewan Cameron, p. 235), but his attitude continued to be chiefly passive. The garrison, which originally consisted of 160 men, was gradually weakened by desertions and disaffected. The duke was earnestly requested by the Jacobites to fire on the city in order to compel the convention to adjourn to Glasgow, but he absolutely refused to do so without the king's particular orders (Balcarres, Memoirs, p. 34). Both parties, indeed, virtually consented to an armed truce. After an ineffectual attempt to alarm the duke by throwing bombs, it was decided, in order to prevent injury to the castle buildings, to confine the operations to a blockade (Leven and Melville Papers, p. 57). Gordon did not bear up long against the strain of anxiety and uncertainty. Terms of capitulation were finally completed on 14 June, three days before the battle of Killiecrankie, the garrison receiving an indemnity for themselves and those who had aided them, and being permitted to march out with their arms and baggage. The duke declined to ask terms for himself, stating that he had so much respect for all the princes of King James VI's line as not to make conditions with any of them for his own particular interest (Siege of the Castle, printed by the Bannatyne Club, p. 76). The reason of the surrender was stated to have been that the ammunition had been embezzled by Captain Drummond the storekeeper (Memoirs of the Siege, printed along with Memoirs of Dundee, p. 41). In July William signified his desire that the duke should be kept a close prisoner (Leven and Melville Papers, p. 135). He afterwards proceeded to London, and, after making his submission, visited the exiled court of St. Germain, where he was ungraciously received. On his return to Scotland his movements were regarded with much suspicion, and he was frequently subjected to imprisonment. In 1697 his wife retired to a convent in Flanders, and a litigation ensued between them regarding a separate maintenance, in which the duchess, chiefly through the advocacy of Dundas, was finally successful (see her exulting letter, 19 March 1707, in Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, ii. 192). Gordon is classed by Hooke in 1707 as a catholic and entirely devoted to the king (Correspondence of Nathaniel Hooke, ii. 101). He figures in the Hooke Correspondence under the names of Sabina, Csar, and Mr. Duncomb. His wife was also a zealous Jacobite, and in June 1711 sent to the Faculty of Advocates a Jacobite medal for preservation among their collection of coins. It was accepted, after a somewhat excited dispute, on the motion of her former advocate, Dundas (Flying Post, 31 July and 2 Aug. 1711, quoted in Arniston Memoirs (1887), i. 52). The incident is alluded to in Scott's Heart of Midlothian. On the accession of George I, the duke, being considered hostile to the Hanoverian dynasty, was ordered to be confined in the city of Edinburgh on his parole. He died at Leith 7 Dec. 1716. He had a son Alexander, second duke of Gordon [qv.]; and a daughter Jean, married to the fifth Earl of Perth.

     Fountainhall's Historical Notices (Bannatyne Club)
     Historical Observes (ib.)
     Memoirs of Ewan Cameron (ib.)
     Balcarres's Memoirs (ib.)
     Siege of the Castle of Edinburgh (ib.)
     Leven and Melville Papers (ib.)
     Correspondence of Nathaniel Hooke (Roxburghe Club)
     Lauderdale Correspondence in the British Museum
     Napier's Memoirs of Viscount Dundee
     Burnet's Own Time
     Fraser's Chiefs of Grant
     Macaulay's Hist. of England
     Burton's Hist. of Scotland
     Mackay's Secret Memoirs
     Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 653, 654
     Gordon's House of Gordon, ii. 580-608.

Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]

Published: 1890