Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Alexander (1516?-1575)
GORDON, ALEXANDER (1516?–1575), bishop-elect of Galloway, and titular archbishop of Athens, was the younger son of John, master of Huntly (d. 5 Dec. 1517), by Jane Drummond, natural daughter of James IV. He was born some time between 1515 and 1518, as his elder brother, George [q. v.], was in his tenth year when he succeeded as fourth Earl of Huntly on 16 Jan. 1524. He and his brother were brought up as companions to the young king, James V (b. 5 April 1511). He probably received his education from the king's tutors, and seems to have had no professional training. He was a favourite at court till the king's death (1542), and his high connections opened to him a career of ecclesiastical preferment. About 1544 he was administrator of the diocese of Caithness, at the time when the bishop-elect, Robert Stewart, was in England, under forfeiture for treason. Had Stewart not been restored, Gordon would have been his successor. On the death of Gavin Dunbar (d. 1547) [q. v.], Gordon was elected archbishop by the chapter of Glasgow; but the election was disputed by the regent Arran, and in 1551 Pope Julius III appointed James Beaton (1517-1603) [q. v.] Gordon was propitiated with the titular archbishopric of Athens, and a promise of the next vacant bishopric in Scotland. Roderick Maclean, bishop of the Isles, died in 1553, and Gordon was appointed to that see. According to Hew Scott he was consecrated on 26 Nov. Grub finds no evidence that he was ever consecrated. A difficulty would be created by the fact of his marriage, which took place not later than 1543. With the see of the Isles he held in commendam the abbacies of Inchaffray, Perthshire, and Icolmkill, Argyllshire. On the death of Andrew Durie [q. v.], a prelate of the old school, in September 1558, Gordon was elected to the see of Galloway, retaining Inchaffray, and having also the abbacy of Tongland, Kirkcudbrightshire, in commendam. He took part (March 1559) in the last provincial-general council of the Scottish church, held in the Blackfriars, Edinburgh, which rejected proposals for innovation in doctrine, and for the use of the vulgar tongue in public prayers, but agreed to some reformations of discipline; and he was one of six dignitaries who were appointed advisers to the two archbishops. He joined in ratifying the convention of Berwick (27 Feb. 1560), which established the English alliance as against France, and soon followed Winram and Greyson, his coadjutors among the six advisers, into the ranks of the reformers, joining on 27 April 1560 the contract ‘to defend the liberty of the evangell.’ At the parliament of August 1560 he voted for the acts which sanctioned the new confession of faith, renounced the jurisdiction of the pope, and prohibited the mass. On 17 January 1561 he subscribed the first book of discipline, substituting superintendents for the hierarchy; but with a proviso to the subscription that existing prelates should enjoy their revenues for life, on condition of embracing the Reformation, and making provision for the ministry within their dioceses. Knox and Wodrow make him the one prelate, Hew Scott says ‘perhaps the only consecrated bishop’ who joined the reformers [cf. Gordon, William, d. 1577, bishop of Aberdeen; Stewart, Robert, bishop-elect of Caithness; Bothwell, Adam, bishop of Orkney].
Gordon's adhesion to the reformed church was dictated by motives of policy. He threw himself into the movement with an evident expectation of securing a prominent position in it. But this hope was not realised, and the remainder of his career is a series of struggles to maintain his former dignity. The book of discipline had included his diocese under the superintendency of Dumfries, but he claimed the superintendence of Galloway. The general assembly, however, on 30 June 1562, refused to recognise him as a superintendent till ‘the kirks of Galloway craved him.’ On 29 Dec. an election was ordered; it seems not to have taken place, for Gordon was recognised only as the assembly's commissioner for Galloway, and his action, or rather inaction, in that capacity made him the subject of almost constant complaints in the assembly. At an interview with Knox in May 1563, Mary described the bishop of ‘Cathenis’ (M'Crie would correct this to ‘Athenis’) as ‘a dangerous man,’ and untrustworthy. He was sworn of the privy council, and on 26 Nov. 1565 was made an extraordinary lord of session, whereupon he resumed his episcopal title, and ‘would no more,’ says Knox, ‘be called overlooker or overseer of Galloway, but bishop.’ He successfully exerted himself in 1566 to secure from the wreck of church revenues a provision for the ministry of the thirds of their benefices. As a member of the privy council, he signed (10 Feb. 1567) the letter to the queen-regent of France, giving an account of the murder of Darnley. He was present at the meeting of the privy council (28 March) which ordered the trial of Bothwell. But he was warmly attached to the cause of the queen, from whom he had received many personal favours. On 20 April he signed the bond acquitting Bothwell, and recommending him, though already married to his niece, as a suitable husband for the queen. On the appointment of Moray as regent (22 Aug.) he temporised, and took his place in the parliament of December which confirmed Mary's abdication. The assembly, which immediately followed, accused him of ‘haunting the court,’ neglecting his charge for three years, taking legal preferment ‘which cannot agree with the office of pastor or bishop,’ and resigning the abbacy of Inchaffray in favour of ‘a young child’ (James Drummond). In accord with his usual tactics he made his submission, but resigned (4 Jan. 1508) his see with its temporalities into the king's hands, in favour of his son John, retaining, however, the supervision which he derived from the assembly. On Mary's escape from Lochleven he signed the bond (8 May 1568) for her restoration. The assembly in July bade him choose between courts and Kirks, and in the following year inhibited him from ‘any function in the kirk.’ He continued to pray for the queen in public; acted as one of her commissioners in England on 20 May 1570, and again on 10 April 1571; and on 17 June 1571 preached in Knox's pulpit at Edinburgh before the adherents of Kirkcaldy of Grange, who were holding a parliament in the queen's name, which he attended. The assembly in August 1572 charged him with intruding into the ministry in Edinburgh and acknowledging the queen's authority. The case stood over till next year, when he was ordered (6 Aug.) to do public penance in sackcloth on three successive Sundays, a judgment commuted (March 1574) to one day's penance without sackcloth.
Gordon attended the assembly which opened on 6 Aug. 1575. This was the assembly in which for the first time objections were raised (but not sustained) to the lawfulness of any form of episcopacy. He died at Clary House, Penninghame, Wigtonshire, on 11 Nov. 1575. He married (about 1543) Barbara Logie, daughter of the laird of Logie, who survived him. The number and order of his children have been variously stated; according to Hew Scott they were, (1) John, dean of Salisbury [q. v.]; (2) Alexander, probably died young; (3) Lawrence, commendator of Glenluce, in whose favour the temporalities of that abbey were erected into a barony by James VI in 1602; he died early in 1611; the Historical Manuscripts Commission's 2nd Rep. 178 mentions ‘certane instructions anent ane testament to be maid by Lawrence, commendator of Glenluce,’ dated at ‘the chappell in Tongland ye fyft of February 1620’ [1610?]; (4) George, who on his father's death obtained the revenues of the see of Galloway, and was its bishop-designate; he died before 1605, when Gavin Hamilton was appointed; (5) Robert, in the service Queen Margaret of France, killed in a a duel; (6) Barbara, married to Anthony Stewart, rector of Penninghame; her father left her the lands of Clary in that parish.[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scotic.; Gordon's Hist. Fam. of Gordon, 1727, vol. i.; Knox's Hist. of the Reformation, 1790, pp. 345, 499, 531; Noble's Hist. Genealogy of the Stuarts, 1795, pp. 177, 179; Laing's Hist. of Scotland, 1804, i. 76, ii. 94, 162; Gordon's Geneal. Hist. of the Earldom of Sutherland, 1813, p. 289 sq.; Strype's Annals, 1824, vol. i. pt. ii. p. 384, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 115, Peterkin's Abridgment of Acts of Assembly, 1831; Lewis's Topogr. Dict. of Scotland, 1851, ii. 354; M'Crie's Life of Knox, 1855, p. 202; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, vol. ii.; Burton's Hist. of Scotland, 1867, vols. iv. v.; Gordon's Scotichronicon, 1867, ii. 526; Walcott's Scotimonasticon, 1874, pp. 168, 226, 309.]