The Gordons are descendants of the Normans who possibly arrived in Scotland during the reign of Malcolm Canmore. Their original lands were around the borders although the name spread around the country in later years. In 1320, on behalf of Robert the Bruce, Sir Adam de Gordon went to Avignon to deliver the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope. This letter written by the Scottish barons looked to simultaneously promote Scotland as an independent country and repair the King’s relationship with the papacy (he had been excommunicated for the murder of John Comyn). For this service, he was awarded the lands of Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire.
Three consecutive Gordon clan chiefs, including the aforementioned Adam de Gordon, lost their lives in battles fighting for Scottish independence. Also during this time the Gordon chiefs would become known as Lord of Huntly. The line of male heirs ended and with the grandson of the original Adam de Gordon whose daughter Elizabeth would marry into the Seton clan who were also of Norman stock. Elizabeth’s son Alexander assumed the name and arms of Gordon and was created Earl of Huntly upon his marriage.
16th and 17th Centuries
In the 16th century the Gordons were one of the most powerful clans in the north and were seen as one of the main proponents of the Catholic faith in Scotland. In 1594 the 6th Earl of Huntly was one clan chief accused of conspiring with the King of Spain to restore Roman Catholicism to Scotland. He was later cleared and had favours placed upon him by the king after marrying a daughter of the Duke of Lennox. He would become the first Marquess of Huntly and his son and heir would become a supporter of Charles I.
The 2nd Marquess, in his support of Charles I, refused to sign the National Covenant in 1638 and fought on behalf of the Royalists. He was captured and beheaded by covenanters in 1649. His grandson George would later inherit the titles and become the 4th Marquess of Huntly. George fought under the French at Strasbourg and then the Prince of Orange. For his service, he was created the first Duke of Gordon in 1684.
Many Scottish clans played a large part in the Jacobite Rising and the Gordons were no different. Gordons fought on both sides of the conflict with the 2nd Duke (Alexander) supporting the Jacobite cause in 1715. He was pardoned for his part in the rising and was able to retain his Dukedom. Alexander was a man with considerable power and influence and counted the King of Prussia and Cosmo di Medici as friends, the latter of whom he named his first son after.
Cosmo was the clan chief come the rising of 1745 but he played no direct part in the struggle. His younger brother Lewis lead a large number of Gordon clansmen in the fight that would ultimately end in defeat at Culloden.
The Dukedom of Gordon would end with the fifth Duke, George Gordon. The title of Marquess of Huntly passed on to a distant cousin who was then Earl of Aboyne.
The name Gordon would spring up all over Scotland with a strong contingent remaining in their original lands in the borders. The Gordon’s, although commonly referred to as a clan, can also be described as the House of Gordon due to their Norman heritage but both terms are acceptable. The current chief is The Most Hon. Granville Charles Gordon the 13th Marquess of Huntly and the clan seat is at Aboyne Castle in Aberdeenshire which has been held by the family since the early 15th century.