Posts tagged ‘Gordon’

Mar 12, 2022

The Scots that built Russia’s army and navy

Why did so many men from northeast Scotland play such an important part in the development of Russia’s army and navy? According to the American writer, Washington Irving, it was down to the topography of their homeland – the flat coast, eastward-facing that produced

men of the clearest brains, the strongest arms, and the most determined wills, to a country in which these commodities have never been wanting.

Russia’s military and naval might might not be what it is today had it not been for a few Scotsmen. Quite a few Scotsmen as it turns out but one or two who were instrumental in reorganising the Russian empire’s defences (and lines of attack.)

Russian Imperial Navy 1700s

Since boats were boats Scots sailed to the Baltic from Aberdeen and Leith and points in-between to trade, to study and ply their crafts – including the arts of war. Mackenzies, Lindsays, Watsons, Farquhars, Hays, Elphinstones, MacLeods, Learmonths – George Mikhail Lermontov, ensign in the Russian army and descendant of Thomas the Rhymer, Gordons.

There are a lot of Gordons in Scotland and quite a lot were to be found in Russia over the past four hundred years.

Patrick Gordon from Auchleuchries in Aberdeenshire was in danger as a Catholic from the religious civil wars that brought Cromwell to power so at the age of sixteen he was taken by his father and uncle to Aberdeen to purchase clothes and put him aboard a merchant ship sailing to Danzig. Danzig (now Gdańsk) then held within a union between Poland and Lithuania was an important Baltic port. There he found accommodation with another Scot, John Donaldson, before making his way across Europe, lodging as he went mainly with Scots with whom he was put in contact. For a time he travelled with fellow-countrymen, Thomas and Michael Menzies and a Jesuit priest, Father Blackhall.

Not familiar with the local languages and dialects young Gordon struggled at first to get by speaking Latin and a smattering of Dutch. One particular day it all got too much for Gordon and he sat down on the roadside and wept from desperation but on being comforted by a stranger the young lad found the determination to continue.   

In 1655 young Patrick Gordon, a capable swordsman, did what thousands of his compatriots did, he sold his battle skills to the highest bidder, as a mercenary soldier. He enlisted with the Swedish army as a cavalryman. Opportunities there were plenty for mercenaries with Europe in constant turmoil battling over land and power. Gordon’s allegiances switched about. He fought with the Swedes at times and at other times with the Poles, against his former comrades. It was while in the pay of the Swedes he found himself a prisoner of a Russian force led by Scot, Colonel John Crawford (Crawfurd). Crawford persuaded Gordon to cross to the Russian Imperial army where he was told he’d be in the company of many Scotsmen.  

Patrick Gordon proved himself again and again on the battlefield and he rose through the ranks becoming a Major General, later Lieutenant General and Chief of Command at Kiev (Kyiv in Ukraine). By this time Gordon had become Pyotr Ivanovich, a trusted adviser and friend to the Tsar, Peter the Great. Gordon was the first foreigner in Russian history that a Tsar visited privately, when eighteen-year old Peter went to Gordon’s house in Moscow’s German Quarter. Trusted implicitly by him, Gordon laid the foundations of Peter the Great’s army that became the strongest in Europe.

Gordon died in 1699 at the age of sixty-four having served under three Tsars. The young Scottish laddie broken by loneliness fifty years earlier ended his life deeply mourned by a Tsar who provided his friend with a state funeral.

By the Grace of God, We Peter the First, Tsar and Sole Monarch of all Russi …blah blah blah …Be it known to Every one, That We have Graciously Appointed and Constituted Thomas Gordon (Captain Commander in our Navy for his well recommended to us Experiences, Dilligence and Zeal for our Service) to be our Rear Admiral the first day of January, 1719…  blah blah etc etc.

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Gordon’s namesake who made a career for himself with the Swedish and Polish armies in which he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and earned the nickname, Steel Hand for his swordsmanship, is sometimes confused with the Auchleuchries Gordon.

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Another Gordon was Thomas Gordon, sometime captain of a merchant ship, Margaret, that sailed out of the port of Aberdeen, and was in 1703 in charge of the Royal Scots Navy ship, Royal Mary. Until the Union in 1707 Scotland was often the target of English aggression and ambition – some incidents were deadly and others petty though revealing such as Scottish vessels being denied the right to fly the Scottish pennant when in English waters. Following Union with England the Scottish Navy was scrapped in favour of the continuation of England’s Royal Navy. Scottish vessels and crews were absorbed into it and where both navies included identically-named vessels Scottish ships were ordered to change names – a move that was unpopular with Scots crewmen. From the start of the Union it was clear Scotland would be an inferior partner.

Royal Scottish Navy vessel

Thomas Gordon tholed so much English high-handedness but he refused to take an oath to the newly-crowned George I and left the navy, sailing to France where he stayed for a time before joining the Russian navy in 1717. He was promoted to Admiral in 1727 and later made Chief Commander of the Russian maritime port of Kronstadt. 

In common with numerous other Scots of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Thomas Gordon’s family settled in Russia, either marrying Russians or bringing up their families as Russian. Ann Young was Thomas Gordon’s granddaughter. She married Thomas Mackenzie (Mekenzi) a Rear-Admiral in the Russian Navy. Their son, Thomas, also became a Rear-Admiral in the Imperial navy and founder of the city of Sevastopol – the largest city in Crimea and principal port on the Black Sea, in 1783. Sevastopol under him became a vital station for naval supplies as well as developing its shipbuilding capacity. The Mekenzi mountains in Ukraine are named in honour of him.

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The ’Father of the Russian Navy’

The Sevastopol Thomas Gordon served under another Scot, Samuel Greig. Greig, the son of a merchant captain from Inverkeithing in Fife, became an Admiral and then Grand Admiral during the period of Tsarina Catherine the Great, who tasked him with modernising the Imperial Navy. She was the godmother of Samuel Greig’s son, Aleksei Samuilovich Greig, who was given the rank of midshipman at his birth. Almost inevitably the younger Greig made the navy his life. In 1816 he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Black Sea Fleet and ports at a time when Russia had full control of the Black Sea. Other Greigs enjoyed status roles in both the Russian army and navy. This family were part of the elite of Russian society for a century and a half but the sons were educated in Edinburgh.  

When the ‘Father of the Russian Navy’, Samuel Carlovich Greig, died he was given a magnificent funeral. Laid out with full pomp Greig was dressed in his Admiral uniform, his many medals illustrating his service to Russia Governor of Kronstadt, Chevalier of the Order of St Andrew, St Alexander Newski, St George, St Vladimir, St Anne. A crown of laurel was placed on his head. At the foot of the black-draped bier in a silver urn were his bowels.  

If Great and Good Actions
Command the Respect of Mankind,
The name of Greig will live for Ever.
He deserved good Fortune,
And he found it under the Banners of Cath.II.
He scattered the Enemies of Russia . . .

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James Keith from Inverugie in Aberdeenshire who became a General Field Marshall in the Prussian army, a major military leader in Europe and trusted friend and adviser to Frederick the Great was for a time responsible for the Russian forces in Finland then being fought over by Russia and Sweden. Keith was one of three Inspector Generals of the Russian forces – his responsibility being the frontier with Asia along the rivers Volga and Don and a section of the border with Poland. Keith, however, did not settle in Russia but transferred into the service of the Prussia’s Frederick the Great. Like so many fellow-Scots, Keith was forced to flee Scotland because of his religion and/or his support for the Jacobite cause. He did briefly return to Aberdeenshire once no longer branded an outlaw but couldn’t settle having lived so long on the Continent. He returned to the army and died, killed by cannon fire at the Battle of Hochkirch in 1758. He had been let down by the man whose ear he normally had, Frederick the Great. Keith had warned him his Prussian troops were in grave danger from the Austrians if they didn’t alter position. Frederick disagreed, and Keith paid the ultimate penalty, knocked out of his saddle, he was killed instantly. Generalfedlmarschall Jacob von Keith has a granite memorial at Hochkirch.

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An earlier army reformer with Russia’s Imperial forces was Alexander Leslie of Auchintoul in Banffshire (now Aberdeenshire). Alexander Leslie fought for the Swedes and Poles before transferring to the Russians and becoming Russia’s first General. Leslie recruited men from Scotland as part of his army improvements. He returned to the British Isles and took up arms in the Civil Wars for the Duke of Montrose and was ultimately banished from Scotland. Returning to Russia he lived out his life there, dying in Smolensk in 1663. His son, John, was killed while a Colonel in the Russian cavalry. John was married into the Scot-Russo Crawfords mentioned above.

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Thomas Dalyell (Dalziel) of Binns, West Lothian, Bluidy Tam, fought in the Scottish Royalist army. In the civil wars a price of 200 guineas was put on his head. Not unsurprisingly he fled to Russia, into the service of Tsar Alexis I where his brutal reputation earned him the nickname, Muscovite De’il. He did not remain in Russia but returned to Scotland to crack down on the Covenanters with such force he came to be known here as Bluidy Tam.

Russian Imperial Army in the 18th century

Robert Bruce, not that one but a later scion of the clan, whose family under James Daniel Bruce settled in Russia in the mid-1600s – Robert, Roman Vilimovich Bryusov, served in Peter I’s personal guard and he became the first Commander of St Petersburg. His army career lasted around thirty years and when he died in 1720 he was buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg,

Other members of the Bruce family were prominent in Russian society. Robert’s son, Alexander Romanovich Bruce was a Lieutenant-General in Russia’s Imperial army. Alexander’s uncle, Jacob Bruce, was primarily a diplomat and scientist (astronomer and naturalist – and also an alchemist and magician) but he also did a stint in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish war and the Great Northern War when he was promoted to Major-General of Artillery – and rewarded for his successes by being made a count, one of the first in Russia, almost exactly 300 years ago.  Other Scots would follow into the Russian nobility.

When they travelled Scots took with them their birth brieve – a birth certificate with details of their origins. Additional documentation was kept in the Propinquity Registers of Scotland. Aberdeen holds some of these among its unique collection of archives dating back to Robert the Bruce’s time. Propinquity Books provided early modern travel documents. There’s an entry on 9th July 1725 relating to the family of the late James Gordon of Auchleuchries, ‘brigadier in the service of the Emperor of Russia’ that records the disposal of his property to his kin in Scotland.  

Aberdeen’s Propinquity Registers reveal the importance and extent of Scotland’s east coast maritime trade with Europe. Sailing from Scottish ports such as Aberdeen to Baltic ports “the path to the Baltic ports was easier, and the welcome greater, than the highway that led to England” it has been said. Europe provided opportunities for wealth and reputation and many a Scottish family counted their fortunes in Russian rubles.

Aug 29, 2016

From the Cock o’ the North to Commissioner Jim Gordon via Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle mid 15th - early 17th centuries

Huntly Castle from the mid-15th to early-17th century

Huntly Castle is a ruin but what a ruin. It is big and bold and sits in a green park surrounded by trees and the rivers Bogie and Deveron.

DSC03465

The calm side of the River Deveron

Motte where the first motte and bailey castle of Strathbogie was built in the late 1100s

Motte where the first motte and bailey Strathbogie castle was built in the late 1100s

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next to what remains of the castle is part of an extant motte site of the original 12th century Strathbogie castle – built for an earl of Fife. This first castle was wooden and was burnt down by the Black Douglas clan in 1496. Out of the ashes emerged first a tower house built soon after the fire and gradually more buildings were added until the great hulk of castle we see now – bigger and bolder than the earlier one emerged and to be on the safe side it was constructed of stone; mainly sandstone and freestone, altogether more resistant to fire than wood. Practically nothing remains of the tower house but the later castle, though tumbledown, hints at what it must have been like – something pretty amazing.

stables, brew house, bake house and other lost buildings including where an L-plan tower house once stood built in the early 15thC to replace the lost wooden castle

Stables for the short garron ponies, brew house, bake house and other remains including  the area where the L-plan tower house was erected in the 15th century to replace the lost wooden castle

King James IV used to make annual pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Duthac in Tain, north of Inverness, and he often stopped off at Huntly en route. During one visit, in 1501, he watched the stonemasons at work building or biggin the castle as they say in the northeast of Scotland and so impressed was he with their handiwork he gave them some tokens in the way of money and I’m not surprised because they made a grand job of it; the stone carving is superb.

A fragment of the original roughly paved road made up of pebbles and boulders which led to the eastern part of the castle constructed in the 17thC

The spectacular ruin that stands in Huntly belonged to the Gordon family. Many of you will know that the name Gordon is very much associated with Aberdeenshire although scratch around and you might disturb some French roots in the guise of Gourdon (there is a place of that name farther down the Aberdeenshire coast) and a nod to Berwickshire where a bloke by the name of Sir Adam de Gordon thought he would like a bit of a change – and having shifted allegiance during the Scottish Wars of Independence he eventually ended up on the right side and was promptly rewarded with parcels of land in Strathbogie by Robert the Bruce. Such is how land came to be distributed – ending up in the hands of powerful families – handed out like sweeties. Cronyism has a long pedigree. Doing someone a favour, raising troops to fight their cause once secured immense tracts of land for families who prided themselves on their ability to accumulate piles and piles of the countryside. Some of them are still determinedly clinging on to land they acquired in all manner of dodgy ways in the past and will fight anyone who suggests they don’t have fair claim to their estates – in the courts not on the battlefield anymore.

The Gordons - not shrinking violets

The Gordons were proud of their lands and the great muckle house built at Huntly. George Gordon the 1st Marquess of Huntly had pride a-plenty which probably explains why plastered his and hers names right across the front of their impressive pile – akin today of installing neon lighting on the front of your house. The bold inscription reads:

GEORGE GORDON FIRST MARQUESS OF HUNTLY 16
HENRIETTE STEWART MARQUESSE OF HUNTLY 02

Not forgetting the hand of God pointing out each name. Well if you have it, flaunt it, said God.

The hand of God points out George Gordon's name and points out his wife's name as well

 

The hand of God points to the names of the Gordons who owned the castle

All generations of Gordons included a George so the story of the George Gordons can get very muddled and as the Gordons were always in the thick of the action, more than your average family, I will avoid going into detail. However, I cannot entirely.

three storeys

Three storeys of the castle

Old door

Original studded oak door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the several George Gordons – the one who wrote his name across his house – was an influential political figure in Scotland, attached to the royal court, and a nephew of James V. He was no shrinking violet as you may have deduced and earned himself the nickname, the Cock o’ the North.

 

The oldest wooden toilet seat in Scotland

Certainly one of the oldest wooden lavatory seats in Scotland

The great fireplace was disfigured by Covenanters who disapproved of its Catholic imagery

The great fireplace was disfigured by Covenanters who disapproved of its Catholic imagery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This epithet transferred to the Gordon Highlander regiment who came to be known as the Cocky wee Gordons and not-so-long-ago a popular ditty was oft sung across Scotland – ask your granny or maybe your great granny and watch her face light up with the memory.

A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me,
If ye’re no a Gordon ye’re no use to me.
The Black Watch are braw, the Seaforths and a’
But the cocky wee Gordon’s the pride o’ them a’.

Stairs in castles were usually built to give advantage to the castle family in the case of invading swordsmen (usually right-handed) and disadvantage to their enemies

Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots’ mother, was involved in a plot to clip the wings of the Cock o’ the North. I should have said the Gordons were Catholics and so was Mary of Guise but then she turned on some other Catholics at the time of the Reformation because – well, because that was the politic thing to do – and heads were optional extras in those days.

Gordon the Catholic was ambushed by a party of royalist Stewarts and he was killed. His corpse was then embalmed and put on trial for treason. I can assure you stranger things have happened. His castle was looted and religious carvings relating to the old faith found there, including two medallions above his front door – most unusual in Scotland, were destroyed.

cropped carving at door featuring family and Scottish national heraldry

The main doorway beautifully carved

 

Oriel window high up on the south-facing wall with spectacular views acrosss the countryside

Oriel window high up on the south-facing wall with spectacular views across the countryside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you will have gathered people, let’s be clear men, were pretty bloodthirsty all those centuries ago – and that’s without video nasties – and there was a definite trend for Scotland’s landed families to go at it hammer and tongs against their neighbours. You would think history has been a constant power struggle for land and political influence and you’d be right.

Remnant of ornate plaster work. The whole castle was packed with ornate work

A remnant of ornate plaster work. The whole castle once was adorned with such intricate craftsmanship

Back to the castle. Medieval palaces tended to expand over the centuries ending up in a melange of architectural styles. Huntly Castle is no different. Building was still going on when the Scottish civil war broke out in the 17th century. All these centuries on and the Gordons were still fighting anyone and everyone; family, strangers, neighbours – everyone.

 

Graffiti is there in abundance in the castle with some beautifully written letters

At the Battle of Aberdeen in 1644 at the time of the Scottish Civil War the Gordon clan fought on both sides – Covenanters and Royalists so that at least some of them would be on the winning side.

Details of another fireplace with medallion portraits of George Gordon and his wife Henrietta Stewart

Another fireplace with medallions of George Gordon and Henrietta Stewart

George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly, (son of George Cock o’ the North and Henrietta Stewart) brought up a Protestant Episcopalian at the court of James VI, was on the winning, royalist, side at the Battle of Alford in 1645 at which he fought alongside his son, also George, who was killed. George the 2nd Marquess had, in 1639, been secretly appointed to oppose the Covenanters in the north of Scotland and at Turriff he led a force of 2,000 in a show of strength against a gathering of 800 men led by the Marquess of Montrose (then in support of the Covenanters.) The two sides sized each other up but a tense situation passed without the spilling of blood.

 

Stone stairs lead to all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies. Some original joist ends have survived and the later castle from the north side

The peace was not to last and there followed a game of cat and mouse between Montrose and Gordon who was none too keen on getting dragged into the whole difficult affair with the Covenanters.

One day Montrose said to Gordon, “Do you fancy a trip to Edinburgh?”

Gordon smelling a rat replied, “No, not really.”

Montrose, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer and so Gordon was taken to the capital to intimidate him into behaving but he shrugged off the threat and travelled north again and fought in a battle at the Brig o’ Dee at Aberdeen. As a punishment Huntly Castle was plundered and the fate of both castle and the Gordons thereafter followed a downward trajectory. Gordon/Huntly was again a wanted man who embarked on the 1640s equivalent of trains, planes and automobiles to make his escape – by horse, foot and boat. He kept on the move – all around the north of Scotland but was captured at Strathdon in a violent incident that saw both his servants and friends killed. Gordon ended up back in Edinburgh, locked up in the tolbooth until in March 1649 he was beheaded.

prisoners

Prisoners abandoned in a deep, dark hole beneath the castle had no chance of escape

Life was one long power struggle for wealthy families in past centuries but there were occasional intermissions when peace broke out long enough for a game of football to take place or even a marriage. Football was a popular pastime with the rich and powerful in Scottish society in past centuries – less so today.

 


The Gordons enjoyed a game of fitba and like most landed gentry they also liked to keep their options open by shifting allegiances according to where their interests happened to lie on any particular day. They were split as a family during the Jacobite risings in 1715-16 and 1745-46 when once more royalist/government troops took over Huntly Castle and the gentle decay that had begun in the previous century continued apace following the unfriendly attentions of anti-Jacobite government troops.

It’s hard to get an impression of how opulent Huntly Castle must have been in its heyday – reputedly no expense spared and very grand indeed with all the main rooms highly decorated and beautifully painted ceilings. John Anderson was the painter responsible for some of the ceiling work, not sure if he was local, might have been and so impressive were his efforts he was commissioned to work on Falkland Palace and Edinburgh Castle. Of course Huntly Castle set the standard. The few remaining carvings tease us into regretting what has been lost but Historic Scotland have done a grand job both with the preservation of the place and a highly informative glossy booklet available in the shop.

landscape window frame

As for the Gordons they were scattered across the country and the Continent some settled in Poland. There are still an awful lot of Gordons around Aberdeenshire and some famous ones around the world – and the most famous of all surely Commissioner Jim Gordon of Gotham City unless you think Lord Byron better known – he was half-Scottish – a Gordon through his mother’s family and known as – well what else but George Gordon before England claimed him.

Swallow on nest Huntly Castle

The castle is now home to nesting swallows

Enjoy Huntly Castle.