Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Robert (1580-1656)

GORDON, Sir ROBERT (1580–1656), historian of the house of Sutherland, born at Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherlandshire, on 14 May 1580, was fourth son of Alexander, (eleventh or) twelfth earl of Sutherland [see under Gordon, John, (tenth or) eleventh earl], by his second wife, Lady Jean, third daughter of George Gordon, fourth earl of Huntly [q. v.], who had been divorced from James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell. In 1598 he was sent to the university of St. Andrews, where he remained six months, and afterwards finished his education at Edinburgh. In January 1603 he went over to France to study civil law, and remained there until October 1605. He was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber to James I in 1606, was granted a life pension of 200l. a year out of the English exchequer in 1609, and was knighted. He married at London, 16 Feb. 1613, Louise, or Lucie, born 20 Dec. 1597, only child and sole heiress of John Gordon, D.D. (1544-1619) [q. v.], with whom he received the lordships of Glenluce in Scotland and of Longorme in France. On 16 July 1614 he received a grant in fee-simple of divers castles, lands, and fisheries in Ulster (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611-18, p. 245). In March 1614-15, having attended the king to Cambridge, he was created honorary M.A. On the death of his brother John, (twelfth or) thirteenth earl of Sutherland, in September of the same year, he became tutor at law of his nephew John, (thirteenth or) fourteenth earl [q.v.] In 1617 James visited Scotland for the first time after his accession to the English throne. Among the entertainments was a competition of archery in the garden of Holyrood, at which Gordon gained the prize, a silver arrow. His father-in-law, at his death in September 1619, left to him the care of publishing his works both in English and Latin. He remained in Scotland for some time, and having settled his affairs in Sutherland, he returned with his family to England in November 1619, and in the succeeding May revisited France, when he disposed of his property of Longorme to Walter Stewart. In 1621 he returned to Sutherland, when he relieved the estates of the earl of a heavy burden of debt, to the hazard of his own property, for which he said he cared little so that the house of Sutherland might flourish. In 1623, when the Earl of Caithness was proclaimed a rebel, and fled to the Orkneys, Gordon received a commission from the privy council to proceed with fire and sword against him, and took possession of Castle Sinclair, the earl's residence. Having quieted the county of Caithness, he returned with his troops into Sutherland, and soon after went back to the court in England, and thence probably to France. In 1624 he was appointed one of the commissioners of the estates of the young Duke of Lennox, and two years later one of the duke's curators. In March 1625 James by privy seal granted him 2,000l. for the abbey of Glenluce, Wigtonshire, with the intention of annexing it to the bishopric of Galloway (ib. 1623-5, p. 502). As he never received the money, he petitioned Charles in 1635 for a grant of a reversion of the place of prothonotary of the common pleas, and obtained his request (ib. 1635-6, p. 63). On 28 May 1625, being then gentleman of the privy chamber to Charles I, he was created premier baronet of Nova Scotia, with remainder to his heir male whatsoever, and he obtained a charter under the great seal granting to him sixteen thousand acres on the coast of Nova Scotia, which were erected in a full and free barony, called the barony of Gordon, with power of regality. He assisted under agreement Sir William Alexander of Menstrie in the plantation of a colony in Nova Scotia. He was much favoured by Charles, who employed him as his confidential messenger to Henrietta Maria both before and after their marriage (Cal. Clarendon State Papers, vol. i., Appendix, ii. 14, 15). In August 1629 he was chosen sheriff principal of Inverness-shire, and represented that shire at the convention of 1630. In May 1630 he was sent by the lords of the council along with Sir William Seton into the north to quell some disturbances. On 13 July in the same year James, duke of Lennox, lord high chamberlain of Scotland, appointed him his vice-chamberlain during his absence in France. At the coronation of Charles I in Scotland in 1633, he, as vice-chamberlain, with four earls' sons, carried the king's train from the castle to the abbey. The next year he was placed on the privy council in Scotland. On 1 May 1639 he was with the court at Durham (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1639, p. 103).

During the civil war Gordon acted as a mediator between the opposing parties. By the gentry of Morayshire he was appointed in 1643, along with Thomas McKenzie of Pluscarden and John Innes of Leuchars, to confer with the Marquis of Montrose. A letter written by Gordon to a kinsman, George Gordon, dated Elgin, 26 Nov. 1644, refers to the dread of the country as to the movements of Montrose. His mother was persecuted as a Roman Catholic, and towards the end of her days excommunicated. In 1627 Gordon, in consideration of the sentence being relaxed, undertook by a formal bond to the Bishop of Caithness that his mother 'sall outterlie forbeir and absteine frome recepting of preistis and Jesuitis, and frome heiring of mass in tyme cuming.' His own orthodoxy was probably suspected, and in 1646 the presbytery of Elgin granted a testimonial in his favour, and a document of like purport was signed by his lay friends in July of the same year. He died in 1656. He had issue five sons and four daughters. He was the founder of the Morayshire family of Gordonstoun. Having acquired various estates in the shires of Elgin and Forres, he had them all united into the barony of Gordonstoun, by a charter under the great seal, dated 20 June 1642. Under the auspices of the Marchioness of Stafford, afterwards Duchess of Sutherland, Henry Weber published from the original manuscript in her possession Gordon's 'Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, from its Origin to the year 1630; with a continuation to … 1651'[by Gilbert Gordon of Sallach], fol., Edinburgh, 1813. Three copies of the manuscript are known to exist, one of which is in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh. A catalogue of the curious library originally formed between 1610 and 1650, drawn up by Gordon, was published in 1816. His portrait has been engraved. His correspondence and the documents which he collected, including his will, dated 11 July 1654, preserved at Gordonstoun, are set forth in the 6th Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, pp. 681-6. Some are printed at length in Captain Edward Dunbar Dunbar's 'Social Life in Former Days,' 2 series, 1865-6.

[Douglas's Peerage of Scotland (Wood), ii. 578-9; Foster's Members of Parliament, Scotland, 2nd edit. p. 153; Irving's Book of Scotsmen, p. 175; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 143; William Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 330-2; Cat. of Printed Books in Library of Faculty of Advocates, iii. 450.]

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