Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Jane

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GORDON, JANE, Duchess of Gordon (1749?–1812), wife of Alexander Gordon, fourth duke [q. v.], was second daughter of Sir William Maxwell, third baronet of Monreith, Wigtownshire, by his wife Magdalen Blair of Blair. She was born in Hyndford's Close, Edinburgh, where her mother occupied a large second-floor flat. Tradition represents her in girlhood as a boisterous young hoyden, one of whose pastimes it was, with her sister Betty, afterwards Lady Wallace of Craigie, to ride on the backs of the pigs turned out of a neighbouring wynd in the Edinburgh High Street. On 28 Oct. 1767 she was married to Alexander, duke of Gordon, at the house of her brother-in-law, Mr. Fordyce, in Argyle Street, Edinburgh. Two sons and five daughters were the result of the union. The duchess soon took the management of family affairs into her own hands, with an unscrupulous desire for family aggrandisement (Autobiog. Sketch, Preface). She possessed beauty —as may be seen in her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1775, which has been often engraved—excellent business capacity, good nature, and ready wit, marred by singular coarseness of speech. Wraxall, who knew her well, says that while far inferior to the Duchess of Devonshire [see Cavendish, Georgiana] in grace and accomplishment, she possessed indomitable pertinacity, importunity, and unconventionality (Memoirs, iv. 457). She was a confidant of Pitt, and became sole arbitress of fashion in Edinburgh, while in London she formed a social centre of the tory party. At her house in Pall Mall, belonging to the Marquis of Buckingham, she received large gatherings of the hangers-on of the government during the last fourteen years of Pitt's first administration (1787-1801, vide Wraxall). She was regarded by her friends as successful beyond precedent in match-making, three out of her five daughters marrying dukes, and a fourth a marquis. Her eldest daughter, Lady Charlotte, was, Wraxall says, destined for Mr. Pitt, but the scheme was foiled by Dundas's jealousy; and she then chose Colonel Lennox, afterwards duke of Richmond. Wraxall also says that during the short peace of 1802 the duchess took her family over to Paris to secure Eugène Beauharnais for her youngest daughter, but failed in her purpose, and Lady Georgiana became duchess of Bedford. On her return from Paris the duchess was accused of having said she hoped to see Bonaparte 'breakfast in Ireland, dine in London, and sup at Gordon Castle.' Such stories, though probably due to malevolent enemies, and her quarrel with her husband, sufficed to dethrone her from her old position. Her end is said to have been very sad. She was estranged from her husband and most of her family, and led a wandering, almost homeless life (Fergusson, Henry Erskine and his Kinsfolk). Some of her letters written at this period (1804-6) to Francis Farquharson of Haughton, accountant, Edinburgh, a confidential adviser of both parties, were privately printed in Glasgow some years ago. It seems to have been proposed to refer the points in dispute between the duke and duchess to Henry Erskine and Sir James Montgomery. Erskine's efforts appear to have been unsatisfactory (ib. p. 408 et seq.)

The duchess died in London at Pulteney's Hotel, Piccadilly, with her eldest son and her other children beside her, on 14 April 1812, in the sixty-fourth year of her age. She lay in state three days, and was buried, in accordance with her request, at Kinrara, Inverness-shire.

[A genealogy of Maxwell of Monreith is given in J. Paterson's Lands and their Owners in Galloway, i. 285; Anderson's Scottish Nation, vol. ii.; H. Walpole's Letters, ix. 279; Wraxall's Memoirs, iv. 457. 459-62, 463, v. 258; P. Fitzgerald's Life of George IV, i. 159; Fergusson's Henry Erskine and his Kinsfolk, pp. 140, 278, 280 et seq., 285 et seq., 408 et seq., 415, 440; An Autobiographical Sketch of Jane Maxwell, duchess of Gordon (with portrait, privately printed, Glasgow, 1865); Edinburgh Ann. Reg. 1812.]

H. M. C.