Monday, February 13, 2017

A VALENTINE VIGNETTE - The First and Final Love of Lady Jean Gordon

by Linda Fetterly Root
The Valentine Heart Rose, T.Kiya, Flicker Commons,
Countesy of  Wikimedia Commons

When we think of the notable love stories in English history and literature, we recognize the names  Elizabeth and Leicester, Nicholas and Alexandra,  Victoria and Albert and more recently , Mrs.Simpson and the Duke of Windsor and the flamboyant Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. If we expand our search to cover the world,  we might add Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, and even the Reagans. But there are many we have missed. For Valentine’s Day, I offer one of my favorites.

LADY JEAN GORDON: A Twice- Jilted Lady

In 1561, the year after her husband Francois II died, the Queen of Scots was faced with few alternatives other than returning to Scotland, which she had ruled through regents since her birth in 1542. Two factions competed to receive her –the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, headed by her half-brother James Stewart, and the Catholic faction, represented by the Earl of Ross but led by the northern warlord George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. The  Protestants won the honor. Within two years, rebellious  Catholics capitulated to an army  under the leadership of the Queen and her brother. The great highland Earl,  George Gordon, died in his saddle, possibly of a stroke or heart attack. The Queen extended mercy to Gordon’s family: only one of his children was executed, the other sons briefly sent into  exile, and by the spring of 1563, all seemed to have been forgiven. The Gordons were back at court, including the dead earl’s wife and oldest surviving daughter, Jean. At the time, Jean was sixteen and in love with one of her brother George’s best friends, Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. They had known one another since childhood in the Highlands, but were both a part of Marie Stuart’s retinue. However, the Queen of Scots had other matches in mind for each of them. There are several versions of what happened.

Marie Beaton
copyright English Heritage
 Even now, marriages within the aristocracy are often business transactions. Matters of power and finance were certainly a great part of what pulled Lady Jean and Alexander Ogilvy asunder. The most popular story presumes the queen no different than other sovereigns who wished to reward or protect their favorites. One of Marie Stuart’s closest friends was Lady Marie Beaton, one of her ladies-in-waiting known as The Four Maries. Beaton, as she was called, had been involved in a well-known romance with Elizabeth Tudor's ambassador to Scotland, Thomas Randolph, who was  twenty years her senior. The love affair ended when Randolph was caught  spying and recalled by his angry queen. According to legend, the Queen of Scots was forced to deal with a female attendant whose sullied reputation was in need of rehabilitation. The best solution was to find Beaton a husband. Concurrently, the queen’s loyal Border earl, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell,  had deep financial problems. He most assuredly did not need the queen’s help in finding a wife. There is evidence he already had two, a  Norwegian heiress and an aristocratic French courtier. What Bothwell lacked was money, and Lady Gordon was one of the richest heiresses in Scotland. The Queen saw a way to solve two problems in one wise move. 

Osvaldo batista de Medieros, Creative Commons, via Wikimmedia Commons

Jean’s brother George, the new Earl of Huntly, who had  received his title back but not his lands, was complicit in what followed. The idea of a Beaton-Ogilvy marriage was probably concocted on an excursion in which both Huntly and his friend Ogilvy accompanied the queen. When they returned, Huntly and his mother persuaded Jean to agree. The Huntly properties were restored in a transaction in which everyone won but the bride. It was not a happy union for Jean, who is said to have worn black thereafter in mourning for her lost love.  Bothwell probably was less affected. From his behavior with the ladies, it seems he found marriage less restrictive than most men. It did not matter that his new wife had a long face and 'bulbous eyes' as long as he got his debts paid. He complained to the queen of his wife's cold nature and soon was dallying with the cook. Three months later,  Alexander Ogilvy married Marie Beaton.  

But the marital intrigues do not end there.

Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots
By the late spring of 1567, after a series of events too controversial and complex to be covered in this post, the probably pregnant, widowed Queen of Scots needed Bothwell free so she could marry him herself. Once again, Lady Jean Gordon was set aside.

Whether she minded all that much is debated in the histories. There is some evidence Bothwell continued to visit her at Crichton after he and the Queen of Scots were wed, and sometimes referred to her as his 'true wife.' Reportedly, he was the one who ordered matching miniatures made of him and Jean, shown below. But language in the highly questioned documents called the Casket Letters indicates Bothwell had complained to the Queen before he and Jean divorced that his wife was a frigid bed partner. In any event, the Countess of Bothwell cooperated with her family and the Queen and agreed to a divorce. After what was said to be a  nearly fatal illness, the Countess of Bothwell left the capital and returned to Huntly Castle at Strathbogie.


The end? No, not yet.

In 1573, nearly six years after her divorce, at a time when Bothwell was in a Danish prison, and the Queen of Scots was detained in England, Lady Jean Gordon married a cousin, Alexander Gordon, Earl of Sutherland. Sutherland was several years her junior and in frail health. In spite of her  young husband's precarious health, Jean managed to give birth to either seven or eight children. When they married, Alexander Gordon was already one of the richest men in the Scottish Highlands, and Jean had always had a reputation for financial acuity. Within two years of their marriage, due to her husband’s ill health, the management of their vast estates and mining enterprises passed to the new Countess of Sutherland. Under her management, the already vast Sutherland fortunes grew. 

Dunrobin Castle, seat of  Highland Clan Sutherland

In 1594, when the earl died, Jean’s oldest son John, 13th Earl of Sutherland, inherited the title, but his mother continued to manage his numerous enterprises. He, too, died young, and Jean continued to manage the Sutherland holdings for her grandson, the 14th Earl of Sutherland, until she retired to a less prominent role  after incurring the wrath of the Scottish kirk. She was accused of harboring Jesuits and boldly had her portrait painted clutching a rosary. Her fourth son, Robert Gordon, the First Baronet of Gordonstoun, became the family historian.  His remarks concerning his mother focus on her entrepreneurship:

"a vertuous and comelie lady, judicious, of excellent memorie, and great understanding above the capacitie of her sex; in this much to be commended that (she) alwise managed her effaris with so grrreattt prudence an foresigh that the enemgies of the familie could never prevail against her. Further, (she) hath by her grat care and diligence brought to a prosperous end many hard and difficult business, or great consequence appertyning to the house of Sutherland.”… 

But enough of her financial expertise and on to the salient question:

Did the Dowager Countess of Sutherland remarry? 

Of course, she did!

Her third husband was a widower named Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. He only lived ten years after their marriage in 1598.  Little is written about the life they shared, but in the spirit of Saint Valentine’s Day, we  hope for whatever time they salvaged, they were happy.

Wikimedia Commons

AUTHOR’S NOTE:   Jean survived her first love well beyond the union of the Crowns, dying  at Dunrobin Castle in 1629. She is buried at Dornoch, a seaside resort in the Highlands.  She outlived the death of nearly everyone mentioned in this post except her son Robert.  She outlived her rival Marie Stuart by more than forty years and the Queen’s son King James VI and I  by four.

Robert Gordon  apparently inherited his mother’s  business acumen, because, during his distinguished career in service to the Stuarts, he managed to clear his family's Scottish holdings of debt and relieve his mother of penalties imposed by the Protestant Kirk. He held title to lands in France, England, and Scotland, and fused his own Scottish holdings into a new barony, Gordonstoun.  He served as a mediator in the English Civil War and although suspected of being a Catholic like his mother, he died in good graces with the Scottish Church.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Linda Fetterly Root is a retired prosecutor and a historical novelist living in the Morongo Basin of the Southern California High Desert.  She is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots (free today for your Kindle at, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and the novels in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots Series, Unknown Princess, The Last Knight’s Daughter, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows.  She has two works in progress, a sequel to Shadow, The Deliverance of the Lamb, and a politically-inspired science fiction novella, 2035:GEN. Visit her author’s page HERE

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