George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly, c.1590-1649

Ineffective leader of the Royalist clans in the Highlands who refused to co-operate with Montrose and was finally executed by the Covenanters.

Portrait of the Marquis of HuntlyGeorge Gordon was the son of the powerful sixth Earl (later first Marquis) of Huntly, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics who was exiled with his family in 1596. He was allowed to return to Scotland on condition that George and his brothers should be brought up in the Protestant faith. King James VI (James I of England) encouraged George's attendance at court in England and arranged his marriage to Lady Anne Campbell (1594-1638), daughter of the seventh Earl of Argyll, in order to reconcile feuding Scottish dynasties. Known as Lord Gordon, he travelled to France in 1623 and collaborated with his uncle the Duke of Lennox in reviving the King of France's company of Scottish men-at-arms. During the 1630s, Gordon gained military experience fighting for France against the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand III.

Gordon succeeded as the second Marquis of Huntly in 1636 and returned to Scotland the following year. His return coincided with the outbreak of disturbances that resulted in the Bishops' Wars between Scotland and England. During the First Bishops' War, Huntly attempted to rally Royalist support in the Gordon lands around Aberdeen and was appointed King's lieutenant in northern Scotland. However, the years spent in England and France had alienated him from his clansmen and left him out of touch with Scottish affairs. He hesitated from actively opposing the Covenanters while he waited for the King to gather an army in the south. Possibly misguided by his faith in astrology, Huntly went to Edinburgh for discussions with the Earl of Montrose, where he was arrested and imprisoned in April 1639. Huntly was released after the Pacification of Berwick but played no part in the Second Bishops' War.

Deeply in debt, Huntly returned to his Scottish estates in 1642. He remained loyal to King Charles when the Covenanters intervened in the English Civil War, refusing to raise taxes or recruits for the Army of the Covenant. In March 1644, Huntly seized Aberdeen for the King but this isolated gesture proved futile — the following month he was forced to flee when the Covenanters gathered forces against him. His sons fought in Montrose's campaign against the Covenanters during 1644-5 though Huntly himself regarded Montrose as a turncoat and mistrusted him. After his defeat at Philiphaugh in September 1645, Montrose sought Huntly's help to continue fighting. They quarrelled and were unable to co-operate.

When Montrose went into exile, Huntly remained in arms in Banff. His resistance was ineffective: the Covenanters moved against him in April 1647 and drove him into the Highlands. He was finally arrested at Strathdon in Aberdeenshire in December 1647 and imprisoned at Edinburgh. Already under sentence of death for his seizure of Aberdeen in 1644, Huntly was beheaded in March 1649 after the failure of Pluscardine's Rising in the Highlands. Although Huntly had no connection with Pluscardine, the Kirk and the Scottish Parliament were exasperated at another Royalist uprising and decided to make an example of Huntly.


David Stevenson, George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 (Newton Abbott 1973)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)