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Clan Gordon: Feuds, Family and Territories

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 11th October 2018

The Clan Gordon tale is one of conflicting sides and bloody feuds with neighbouring clans, which spans the length of Scotland and beyond. The feisty House of Gordon had fire in the belly and weren’t afraid to stand up for what they believed was right.

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The Gordon Name: Origin and Survival

The Gordon name is not Gaelic in origin, but is instead said to originate from Normandy. Many attribute the name Gordon to the Macedonian city of Gordonia. Due to its foreign origins, Clan Gordon is often also referred to as the House of Gordon.

The first Gordons were welcomed to Scotland by King David I, and by the start of the 12th century they had set up home near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, under the watchful eye of the nearby Earl of Dunbar. In the centuries that followed, Clan Gordon would rise to become a powerful name further north, in the Aberdeenshire area of the Scottish Highlands.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Clan Gordon originally backed William Wallace but subsequently switched sides to become staunch supporters of Robert the Bruce and his bid to free Scotland from English rule. Sir Adam of Gordon’s dedication to Bruce’s cause earned Clan Gordon land at Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire, including Huntly Castle which would become the clan’s ancestral home.

The clan chief is the Earl of Huntly and, as of April 1599, also the Marquess of Huntly. Legend has it all Gordons are descended from Sir Adam Gordon, but many argue that not all 150 houses which claimed the name Gordon were descended directly from the original Earl of Huntly himself.

Aboyne Castle, Aberdeenshire

Aboyne Castle, Aberdeenshire, current seat of the chief of Clan Gordon. Photo by Alan Findlay / CC BY 2.0

There are a number of names associated with Clan Gordon, including the septs: Ackane, Adamson, Addie, Addison, Adkins, Aiken, Aitchison, Aitken, Akane, Akins, Atkin, Atkinson, Badenoch, Barrie, Connor, Connon, Cote, Craig, Crombie., Cullen, Culane, Darge, Dorward, Duff, Durward, Eadie, Eddie, Edison, Esslemont, Garden, Gardiner, Garioch, Garroick, Geddes, Gerryie, Harrison, Haddow, Huntley, Jeffrey, Jessiman, Jopp, Jupp, Laing, Laurie, Lawrie, Leng, Ling, Long, MacAdam, MacGwyverdyne, Mallett, Manteach, Marr, Maver, McGonigal, Meldrum, Mill, Mills, Milles, Milne], Milner, Moir, More, Morrice, Muir, Milnes, Mylne, Pittendriegh, Shellgren, Steele, Teal, Todd, and Troup.

 

Clan Gordon Tartan

Clan Gordon tartan has multiple variations, and with its black, blue and green colour scheme, is similar to a Black Watch tartan, except with the addition of a yellow stripe. The Red Gordon tartan is a fetching variation on the original Gordon tartan and is sometimes called ‘Huntly’. The Gordon Weathered tartan is a more muted take on the pattern, with autumnal browns and greys, or the Gordon Red Weathered tartan is a variation on the weathered look. The Gordon Dress Modern tartan is a brighter, more highly contrasting version of the traditional tartan, with white incorporated, similar to the Gordon Dress Ancient version.

Photo by Celtus / CC BY-SA 2.5

 

Clan Gordon Crest

Gordon Clan Crest

The clan’s crest was a symbol of allegiance, used by clan members to show allegiance to their clan chief.

The Clan Gordon family crest features a majestic stag’s head and the crest incorporates two mottos: bydand which has several interpretations, including ‘stay and fight’ or resilience, and animo non astutia which means ‘by courage, not cunning’.

Photo by Celtus / CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Clan Gordon Feuds

During the late 13th and early 14th century, Clan Gordon was heavily involved in the Wars of Scottish Independence, fighting alongside Robert the Bruce. The clan suffered losses during the bitter feuding, including the death of clan leader Sir Adam Gordon at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and the death of chief Sir John Gordon at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. The chief’s only child, Elizabeth Gordon married Alexander Seton, chief of Clan Seton, but the Clan Gordon name lived on when their son reverted back to Gordon in 1457.

As well as fighting the English, Clan Gordon was embroiled in bitter clan feuds, particularly with Clan Lindsay and Clan Douglas.

The cousin of the Earl of Huntly, Patrick Gordon of Methlic, fought Clan Lindsay and died at the Battle of Arbroath in 1445. But Clan Lindsay were defeated when Clan Gordon joined forces with Clan Ogilvy at the Battle of Brechin in 1452.

Clan Douglas battled the Gordons for power and devastated the clan’s lands, including setting Huntly Castle ablaze. However, Clan Gordon eventually overcame Clan Douglas in 1454, and the clan chief Alexander Gordon became known as Cock o’ the North – a moniker which would be passed down to other Clan Gordon chiefs over the centuries to follow.

Huntly Castle, Aberdeenshire

Ruined Huntly Castle, ancestral home of the chief of Clan Gordon. Photo by Mike Searle / CC BY-SA 2.0

During the 16th century, Clan Gordon waged a long and bitter battle with Clan Forbes, which was fuelled by the murder of Seton of Meldrum (a close connection to the Earl of Huntly) and the Protestant Reformation. Battles and massacres ensued until the Parliament stepped in, forcing the clans to thrown down their arms.

When George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, mistakenly refused Mary Queen of Scots admittance to Inverness Castle, he fell foul of the powerful monarch. A raging battle of 2,000 men ensued and the Earl lost the fight and died from apoplexy shortly afterwards. In a bizarre twist, six months after his demise, George Gordon’s body which had been gutted, salted and pickled was made to stand trial before the Scottish Parliament on a charge of high treason.

During the Civil War at the Battle of Aberdeen, Clan Gordon were split down the middle, with members of the clan fighting on opposing sides. One side was led by Lord Lewis Gordon who fought for the Covenanters, while the other was led by Sir Nathaniel Gordon fighting for the Royalists.

The split loyalties of the clan would continue into the 18th century and the Jacobite risings of both 1715 and 1745, when members of Clan Gordon fought on opposing sides at the Battles of Inverurie, Falkirk and Culloden.

Battle of Culloden. Photo by David Morier / Public Domain.

 

Scotland Clan Map: the Clan Gordon Territories

Clan Gordon has connections to both the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire, with many of their 149 castle sites sprinkled across the northeast of Scotland.

The original Gordon Castle is said to have stood in the village of Gordon, in the Scottish Borders, although today there is no trace of the first stronghold. Today, the 15th century Gordon Castle sits east of Elgin in Moray and is a popular tourist destination with contemporary interior design and a delightful walled garden.

The Baronial Fyvie Castle is another Clan Gordon house, and has played hosts to some rather famous guests over the centuries, including Robert the Bruce and Charles I.

Balmoral Castle was sold to the 3rd Earl of Huntly in the 15th century, and today the grand estate is best known as a private royal residence.

Huntly Castle lies north of the city of Aberdeen, and you can still visit the ruins today. Down south in Galloway, you’ll find Clan Gordon’s derelict Kenmure Castle which was used as a hotel up until the 1950s.

Fyvie Castle, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire

Fyvie Castle, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire. Photo by Ikiwaner / CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Clan Gordon Descendants

Today there are descendants of Clan Gordon dotted across the globe. Many members of Clan Gordon return to Scotland to visit the beautiful lands and castles that were once their family home.

 

A Famous Gordon

Portrait of Lord Byron, by Thomas Phillips Perhaps the most famous descendant from the House of Gordon, is not immediately recognisable as a Gordon himself. The 19th century wordsmith Lord Byron was in fact named George Gordon Byron, and his grandfather was George Gordon of Gight Castle. The seminal poet penned famous works including Don Juan, She Walks in Beauty and Manfred during the Romantic Movement. It has been said Bryon led a notorious life and was described by his peers as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.

Photo by Thomas Phillips / Public Domain.

 

Gordons with Highland Titles

As of June 2019, there are over 3230 plots in the Highland Titles Land Register under the Gordon name.

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Highland Titles: A Very Modern Clan

Alike historical clans, our community also share the investment and attachment to the land, our Nature Reserves, and we even have our own tartan and crest. Join the clan by purchasing a plot of land and continue our mission to conserve Scotland, one square foot at a time™!


About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland


Comments on this post

  • Ellie
    11/02/19 - 19:46

    My last name is Steele, but it says Gordon is my clan. How can this be?

  • Barnaby
    13/03/19 - 23:04

    Steele are one of the Septs of the Gordon Clan. Septs are families that followed another family’s chief, or part of the extended family and that hold a different surname.

  • Jeremy Gordon
    28/03/19 - 09:48

    How would I go about finding out what house I belong to?

  • Betty
    03/04/19 - 01:11

    My 7th great grandmother is Elizabeth Gordon. The only info I have is she was born 1660 in Scotland and was the daughter of a Highland Chieftan but no name was given. Is there more information on her? Thank You!

  • Robert Gordon
    09/04/19 - 00:21

    My lastname is Gordon and I was wondering if my family is part of the Gordon clan

    • Peter Bevis
      10/04/19 - 09:40

      Hi
      Almost certainly

  • Sharon
    16/04/19 - 04:46

    Would love to know my gordon tree somehow my mothers name Ann Gordon her father James Gordon now deceased and I never got to meet him this is all I know is there anywhere I can check so interested in finding out : )

  • Christine March
    17/04/19 - 14:18

    Hello, Watching Outlander has re-kindled my interest in my Scottish roots. My grandfather was Tom Gordon Johnston (no “e”); his wife, my grandmother, was Margaret Steele Morton. I see a few of us here could be related. They were from Kilmarnock. I’ve been able to trace the family back a few generations. Quite fascinating but I can’t determine to which clan either grandparent belonged. My Mom was very proud of her Scottish roots but I realise now she had a very simple, romantic view of Scottish history.

  • loren gordon
    18/04/19 - 20:20

    I am a direct descendant of Gordons from Aberdeenshire.
    My Grand and Great Grand father were from there.
    I am one of two remaining from this generation.( 2019)

  • Karen gordon
    02/05/19 - 05:21

    I am doing my family tree and I can trace to my great great grand in virginia William Gordon around from around 1760 to 1860. Can’t find anything past. How can I find out any further back? Have many relatives in virginia i think.

  • Margaret deVries
    05/05/19 - 02:24

    My name. Margaret McInnes Dunlop McDowall. Middle names were my Grandmothers maiden names
    We lived and still live in the Lowlands , Renfrewshire Except me in USA
    My sister and I always thought we were a sept of Clan Gordon , but then It was Clan McGregor ??
    Nothing I have read so far contradicts them both….so confused ! I really would like to know which one …
    My Mothers name was Abraham , My Grandfather was Samuel Abraham his grandfather or father was Jewish
    But he was not practicing the Jewish Religion but at his funeral the women came back to house fixed food and only the men went to cemetery …jewish custom I believe.also everyone in family had to be named after a relation, living or dead ? They all were named this way too ! My sister and I broke that tradition !
    But many of the woman in family have Jewish Features , my mother and several aunts and cousins they were proud of this …it was part of who they were sin
    There seems to be a lot of name changing , My Fathers parents died young leaving 3 girls and 3 boys …I had an auntie Anna who was a cousin brought up with them but not legally adopted
    two sons Died in WWII leaving my Father the only son left ,
    There is so many people who remarried my sister and I wish we had asked more questions
    My Grandmother Jeanie ALSO CALLED JEAN OR JANE .had several kids, all Abraham’s , she married my grandfather and we never found out if the older kids changed their surnames or if both grandparents were Abraham’s, or to some Abram who married another Abraham ?
    My Mother was youngest child of both of them ….had a big family but who belonged to who? My aunt Ina told someone my mother was her half sister? Never thought to confirm this ,,,I knew 2 aunts loved them both but the others ? They obviously were not a close family !
    Sorry for the rant ! Just bringing back memories …
    I believe it could Gordon Clan sept , but would be grateful if you have any ideas how I’d really know …
    Still reading ? Thanks for your time and patience …

    Johnson was a middle name of siblings
    Had uncles died in WWII and wives married again so Ltd like chasing rabbits !

  • John M Gordon
    11/05/19 - 20:45

    A note for Ellie, who posted here on 11/02/19. The following names are considered associated names or septs of Clan Gordon:

    Ackane, Adam(son), Ad(d)i.e., Addison, Adkins, Aiken, Aitchison, Aitken, Akane, Akins, Atkin, Atkins(on), Badenoch, Barrie, Connor, Connon, Cote, Craig, Cromb(i.e.), Cullen, Culane, Darg(e), Dorward, Duff, Durward, Eadie, Ed(d)i.e., Edison, Esslemont, Garden, Gard(i)ner, Garioch, Garr(o)ick, Geddes, Gerr(y)ie, Harrison, Haddo(w), Huntl(e)y, Jeffrey, Jessiman, Jopp, Jupp, La(i)ng, Laurie, Lawrie, Leng, Ling, Long, MacAdam, MacGwyverdyne, Mallett, Manteach, Marr, Maver, McGonigal, Meldrum, Mill, Mills, Milles, Miln(e)], Milner, Moir, More, Morrice, Muir, Milnes, Mylne, Pittendri(e)gh, Shellgren, Steel(e), Teal, Tod(d), and Troup
    I hope you come back to this site and see this message for you Ellie.

  • Gerald gordon.
    20/05/19 - 12:36

    My father’s name was Terence gordon. Sadly I don’t know much about him. He lived in Lancashire, he was also an orphan, I would love to know more about him. And the connection to the gordons. Which I am proud to belong to.. Regards gerry gordon. .

  • Scotty Gardner
    23/06/19 - 08:17

    My last name is Gardner I’ve traced my family heritage back to the Gordon Scottish Clan . And every time I read my family’s history it just makes me so proud. I especially love the fact we are the cocks of the North. I looked it up on YouTube the songs the bagpipes and drums which is beautiful, and then I came across a kick ass punk rock band named the cock of the north … I’m so glad I found this website. Cheers ,& Oi! to all of my family members in the Gordon family clam. I hope you’re all doing well and I wish you the best from Texas!! Scotty Gardner

  • Denise Hemken
    27/06/19 - 02:05

    All i can gather is that my great great great grandmother was Rowena Gordon. And her great great grandfather was lord Gordon of Huntley Castle. And somewhere in there they were related to King James 1.
    Now filling in gaps is a bit tricky. My aunt has done lots of leg work got birth and marriage certificates for many. I know our family trickled to the US due to not being first born so not in line for any titles or such. But wondering how to find anything on this Gordon and find out as much as I can on any of this part of my family history.

  • Robert Milner
    05/07/19 - 08:36

    I am a Yorkshire man living in Sutherland and have noted the largest concentration of Milners are in Yorkshire and Scotland. Any scottish Milners on here with links to Yorkshire and the Gordon’s

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