Origins of the clan
The origin of the Gordon clan in Scotland was not Gaelic. The Gordon clan is originally from Normandy, where their ancestors are said to have had large possessions. From the great antiquity of the race, many fabulous accounts have been given of the descent of the Gordons. Some derive them from a city of Macedonia, called Gordonia (Close to modern day Gevgelija). The best description that the Gordons are not Gaelic is described in H. Potter’s book, Blood Feud. Although the Gordon family in Scotland rose to become the predominant power in the northeast of Scotland they were not natives to that part or indeed to Scotland, and had a feudal origin. Of Norman descent, they were one of many families welcomed into his kingdom by King David I of Scotland. By the early twelfth century they had settled in the village and estates of Gordon, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders under the protection of their kinsman, the Earl of Dunbar.” Because the Gordon family did not start as a “clan”, it is often referred to as the House of Gordon, a name more tied to its Norman descent. While the family organization in Scotland calls itself the “House of Gordon”, most publications use the more common “Clan Gordon” as does the book “Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia” considered the authority.
Some Gordons claim to be Clan Gordon while others House of Gordon out of personal preference. While Clan Gordon is certainly the most common term used, both Clan and House are truly synonymous and either term is proper; hence our use of both House of Gordon and Clan Gordon.
Although described variously as Highland Catholic, Lowland Presbyterian, or even Jewish in some cases, the clan or house is rather broadly Episcopalian and varies by individual branches or even persons.
Wars of Scottish Independence
During the Wars of Scottish Independence Clan Gordon supported Robert the Bruce and fought at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. Clan Chief Sir John Gordon was killed leading the clan at the Battle of Otterbum, where the English were defeated in 1388.
15th century & clan conflicts
The Clan Gordon was at one point one of the most powerful clans in middle Scotland. Clan feuds and battles were frequent, especially with the Clan Cameron, Clan Murray, Clan Forbes and the Chattan Confederation.
Clan Chief Sir Adam Gordon was killed leading the clan at the Battle of Homildon Hill, also known as the Battle of Humbleton Hill on 14th September 1402. On September 14, 1402, a Scottish army was returning from a pillaging expedition in the English county of Northumberland. The chief left his only child, a daughter named Elizabeth Gordon who married Alexander Seton, who was the son of Sir William Seton the chief of Clan Seton.
The Gordons fought at the Battle of Arbroath in 1445 where Patrick Gordon of Methlic was slain. Patrick Gordon was from the branch of the Gordons of Haddo, which has for its head the Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair. This branch claims to represent the original house of Gordon in the male line, by descent from Gordon of Coldingknowes. The Gordons fought alongside men from the Clan Ogilvy, Clan Oliphant, Clan Seton and Clan Forbes of Pitsligo. They fought against an army of over 1000 men from the Clan Lindsay under the Master of Crawford. The Master’s father the Earl of Crawford rode in between the two armies in an attempt to call a truce. However, an illadvised Ogilvie, thinking that this was the start of the Lindsay’s attack, threw his spear at the Earl, hitting him in the mouth and killing him instantly. So the battle began which went in the Clan Lindsay’s favour. Here fell Ogilvie of Inverquharty, Forbes of Pitsligo, Brucklay of Gartley, Gordon of Borrowfield, and Oliphant of Aberdalgie, along with 500 or so Ogilvie’s. However, the Lindsays lost a disproportionate amount of men, most notably the Earl himself.
Huntly Castle 1449; The Gordons defeat the Clan Douglas who had invaded their lands. The Douglases were enemies of the King. The Gordons stood on the king’s side, and with their men involved in the south of the country, the Earl of Moray, a relation and ally of the Douglases, took the opportunity to sack the Gordon lands, setting Huntly Castle ablaze. The Gordons returned and quickly destroyed their enemies. Although the castle was burned to the ground, a grander castle was built in its place.
In 1449 the eldest son of Elizabeth Gordon and Alexander Seton, who was also named Alexander was made chief, Lord of Gordon and Huntly. However, his male heirs through his third wife Elizabeth Crichton were obliged to bear the name of Gordon to succeed as chiefs of the clan.
Chief of Clan Lindsay Alexander Lindsay, the 4th Earl of Crawford, also known as the Tiger Earl and Earl Beardie was badly defeated by the Clan Gordon and Clan Ogilvy under the Earl of Huntly at Brechin in 1452.
16th century & clan conflicts
The Gordons fought at the Battle of the Western Isles in 1505.
1520, Feud with Clan Forbes, During the 15th and 16th centuries the Clan was engaged in a long feud against Clan Forbes. The feud which had been carried on for a long time reached a climax in the 1520s with murders committed by both sides occurring constantly. One of the most prominent of those killed by the Forbes action, Seton of Meldrum, was a close connection of the chief of the Gordons, the Earl of Huntly. The Earl of Huntly soon became involved in a plot aimed at the Master of Forbes (son of John, the 6th Lord Forbes), who was heavily implicated in the Seton murder.
In 1522 Alexander Gordon (the Countess of Sutherland’s eldest son) overthrew John Mackay of Strathnaver at Lairg, and forced him to submit himself to the Countess’s husband, Adam Gordon; unto whom John Mackay gave his band of manrent and service.
In 1526 the title of Earl of Sutherland and chieftenship of the Clan Sutherland passed by right of marriage to Adam Gordon who was a younger son of the chief of Clan Gordon.
In 1536 Chief of Gordons, the Earl of Huntly accused the Master of Forbes of conspiring to assassinate King James V of Scotland while visiting Aberdeen by shooting at him with a cannon. The Master of Forbes was tried and executed, but within days his sentence was revoked and the Clan Forbes family restored to favour. However the damage to relations between the Clan Forbes and Clan Gordon was irreparable. Attacks by each family and their supporters were carried out more or less continuously throughout the remainder of the century, reducing Aberdeenshire to an unparalleled state of lawlessness.
During the Anglo-Scottish Wars the Clan Gordon, under George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly defeated an English army at the Battle of Haddon Rig in 1542.
Later during the Anglo-Scottish Wars the Clan Gordon fought in the Scottish army which was defeated at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.
On the 13th of December 1545, at Dingwall, the Earl of Sutherland entered into a bond of manrent with John Mackenzie of Kintail for mutual defence against all enemies, reserving only their allegiance to their youthful Queen, Mary Stuart
Inverness Castle 1562; In 1562 while visiting Inverness the Princess who would later become Mary Queen of Scots was refused admission into Inverness Castle by the governor of the Castle who was a Gordon. The Clan Munro and Clan Fraser wishing to support Mary took Inverness Castle for her. Mary then hanged the Gordon who had refused her admission.
Corriche 1562, The Battle of Corrichie took place around Meikle Tap in 1562, between George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly and James Stuart, the new Earl of Moray (half-brother to Mary Queen of Scots). Gordon was killed and his son, Sir John, and other members of his family were later executed at Aberdeen.
1571, Feud with Clan Forbes, During the 15th and 16th centuries the Clan was engaged in a long and bitter struggle against the Clan Forbes. By 1571 the feud had got to the point where other clans began taking sides. The Clan Leslie, Clan Irvine and Clan Seton who had their own feuds with the Forbeses joined forces with Clan Gordon. However opponents of the Gordons such as Clan Keith, Clan Fraser and Clan Crichton joined forces with Clan Forbes. The feud culminated in two full scale battles in 1571; The Battle of Tillieangus and the Battle of Craibstone. It was at the Battle of Tillieangus that the 6th Lord Forbes’s youngest son known as Black Aurther Forbes was killed. Legend has it that “he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint in his armour”.
1571, The Castle Druminnor, then Lord Forbes’s seat, was itself plundered and sacked and in the same month the Gordons followed this up by the atrocious massacre of 27 Forbeses of Towie at Corgarff. Two acts of Parliament were required to force the clans to lay down their arms but the struggle had drawn the Forbeses deep into debt making it necessary for them to sell much of their land.
At the Battle of Glenlivet in 1594 the Earl of Argyll’s forces which consisted of Clan Campbell, Clan Stewart of Atholl, Clan Forbes and the Chattan Confederation of Clan MacKintosh were defeated by the Earl of Huntly’s forces which consisted of Clan Gordon, Clan Comyn/Cumming and Clan Cameron.
17th century & Civil War
Between 1615 and 1616 there appears to have been a disagreement of some sort between the Gordons and the neighboring Clan Leask. In all the recorded cases the Gordons appear to have been the aggressors; Adam Gordon, brother of the Laird of Gight assaulted Alexander Leask, then the son of the chief was attacked by George Gordon and finally William Leask of that Ilk was ambushed by John Gordon of Ardlogy and a party of armed men.
In 1644 Alexander Bannerman of Pitmedden fought a duel with his cousin, Sir George Gordon of Haddo, and wounded him.
During the Civil War at the Battle of Aberdeen in 1644 there were Gordons on both sides. Lord Lewis Gordon led his forces on the side of the Covenanters while Sir Nathaniel Gordon led his forces in support of the Royalists.
During the Civil War cavalry from the Clan Gordon fought in support of the Royalist James Graham the 1st Marquess of Montrose at the Battle of Auldearn where they helped defeat the Covenanters of Lord Seaforth who was the chief of Clan MacKenzie. The battle took place on the 9th May 1645.
During the Civil War the Clan Gordon fought at the Battle of Alford in 1645. They are victorious, led by George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly fighting under James Graham the 1st Marquess of Montrose. The Marquess of Huntly’s eldest son George Gordon fell at this battle.
1645, Lewis Gordon, clan chief and 3rd Marquess of Huntly of the Clan Gordon attacks and burns down Brodie Castle of the Clan Brodie. This was part of the Covenanting conflict during the Civil War
1682, A fight over cattle and land with the southern Scottish family the MacCulloch’s of Myreton. Following the fatal fight, Sir Godfrey Macculloch fled the country for a time, but returned, only to be apprehended and executed in 1697.
17th century alliances
In the early 17th century Clan Gordon had a number of alliances by marriage or friendship. Among these was a strong bond to the Clan Burnett of Leys. The Gordon crest is emblazoned in plasterwork on the ceiling of the early 17th century great hall of Muchalls Castle built by Alexander Burnett.
18th century & Jacobite Risings
During the Jacobite Uprisings of 1715 - 1716 and 1745 - 1746 there were Gordons on both sides. The 2nd Duke of Gordon followed the Jacobites in 1715, but Cosmo Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon supported the British government by the time of the 1745 uprising. While his brother, Lord Lewis Gordon raised two regiments against him at the Battle of Inverurie (1745), the Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden (1746).
Huntly Castle was the seat of the chief of Clan Gordon from at least the 14th century until the late 17th century.
Balmoral Castle was sold to Alexander Gordon, the 3rd Earl of Huntly, in the 15th century.
Castle Craig, or the Craig of Auchindoir, is located on the edge of Aberdeenshire’s “wild west”, between Lumsden and Rhynie.
Auchindoun Castle was awarded to the Marquis of Huntly in 1535.
Gordon Castle was built in 1789 for the 4th Duke of Gordon, becoming the new seat for the chief of Clan Gordon.
Fyvie Castle was owned by several Gordons between the 18th and 19th century.
Gaelic Names: Gordan (Surname), Gordanach (Singular), Na Gordanaich (Collective).
Motto: Bydand (Steadfast, Abiding)
Motto: Do Well and Let Them Say …A Gordon
Motto: Animo non Astutia (By Courage not Craft)
Slogan: An Gordonach
Pipe Music: “The Gordon’s March”
Plant Badge: Rock Ivy
Gordon tartan, as published in the Vestiarium Scoticum of 1842. The tartan is based upon the Black Watch tartan.
Clan Gordon has several recognized tartans:
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 the Black Watch military tartan with an additional yellow stripe. The difference between the family sett (modern) and military sett is only in the pleating of the kilt. The military pleat to the stripe, showing a series of stripes across the back of the kilt. The family sett is pleated to the sett, showing the repeat of the pattern in its entirety across the back of the kilt. The Red Gordon tartan is sometimes referred to as “Huntly”.
The Gordon Modern tartan was used for many years as the troop tartan for the 10th Finchley (Scottish) Scout Group, London N3.
Clan chief & arms
The current Chief of Clan Gordon is Granville Charles Gomer Gordon, 13th Marquess of Huntly
Arms: Quarterly, 1st Azure, three boars’ heads couped Or, Proper langued Gules (for Gordon), 2nd, Or three lions heads erased Gules langued Azure (for Lordship of Badenoch), 3rd, Or, 3 crescents within a Royal Tressure, flory counter flory, Gules (for Seton), 4th, Azure three fraises Argent (for Fraser, acquisition of the Aboyne lands)
Gordon of Haddo
Gordon of Lochinvar
Gordon of Strathbogie
Septs of Clan Gordon