Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, John (1609-1663)

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GORDON, JOHN, (thirteenth or) fourteenth Earl of Sutherland (1609–1663), second but eldest surviving son of John, (twelfth or) thirteenth earl, by his wife, Lady Anna Elphinston, was born on 4 March, 1609. [For his grandfather, Alexander, (eleventh or) twelfth earl, see under Gordon, John, (tenth or) eleventh earl.] His father died when he was six and a half years old, and his uncle, Sir Robert Gordon (1580-1656) [q. v.], became his guardian. He studied for two years at Edinburgh, and then for four years at St. Andrews, returning home about 1630. He had been served heir to his father at Inverness in 1616 and 1622, and had also then obtained feudal investiture in his lands.

On 14 Feb. 1632 the earl married Lady Jean Drummond, only daughter of James, earl of Perth. Immediately afterwards he redeemed a number of his lands which had been mortgaged, and about the same time he obtained a new charter of his lands, and the erection of Dornoch into a royal burgh, all which, with the sheriffdom of Sutherland, were ratified to him by parliament. Having in his capacity as sheriff seized and imprisoned some thieves in his own country, Lord Lorne charged him before the privy council with having exceeded his powers. The council fully approved his action, and empowered him to have and exercise judicial powers within his own bounds. In 1631 Sutherland had agreed with Charles I to resign his offices of sheriff and crowner of Sutherland for 1,000l. sterling, that the king might, by annexing the districts of Strathnaver, Assynt, and Farintoscher to Sutherland, erect the sheriffdom of Sutherland, and place it under the jurisdiction of sheriffs, with Dornoch as the head burgh of the shire. Charles wrote to the earl in 1634 requesting his assistance in the reparation of the cathedral church of the diocese of Caithness at Dornoch. The earl's share of glazing the cathedral and placing his armorial bearings in one of the windows was 73l. 6s. 8d. (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. App. pp. 178, 179). The Marquis of Hamilton requested Sutherland (with what result does not appear) to join in sending Scottish supports to Gustavus Adolphus in 1631 (Letter dated Holyrood House, 13 May 1631, ib.) When, however, the covenanting struggle began in Scotland in 1637, Sutherland took a leading part in the movement. He was one of the chief negotiators between the supplicant ministers and people and the council, and frequently presented the petitions in reference to the obnoxious service-book. When the national covenant was renewed on 28 Feb. 1638, he was the first to subscribe the new bond. He obtained many subscriptions to the covenant in the north of Scotland, and, in answer to appeals from the Marquis of Huntly, declared that he was for the king, though opposed to the bishops, and begged Huntly himself to join the covenanters. Sutherland was popular with the covenanters, who called him the 'good Earl John.' He was a most active agent in all their proceedings. He raised large levies of men from his estates, sending many to join the military operations in England, while he upheld the authority of parliament in the north. He was one of the leaders at the battle of Auldearn in 1645. His estates suffered severely from ravages made upon them by Lord Reay and the clan Mackay, who took the royalist side, and had a special feud with Sutherland on account of his acquisition of the territory of Strathnaver. Sutherland invoked the aid of parliament, and at length surprised Lord Reay in the castle of Balveny, Banffshire, and sent him a prisoner to Edinburgh. Parliament decreed that he should be detained in the Tolbooth until he had made good the damage he had caused to Sutherland. He also had to oppose Montrose in Sutherlandshire. Sutherland was active both in parliament and in the general assembly. He served on several parliamentary committees and commissions, one of the latter of which, in 1641, was concerned with the trial of his former fellow-student at St. Andrews, the Marquis of Montrose. In that year he was chosen a member of the privy council for life, and on 10 March 1649 parliament conferred on him ad vitam aut culpam the office of lord privy seal in room of Robert, earl of Roxburgh, who had been deprived.

In 1648 Sutherland declined a proffered command in the army levied for the rescue of Charles I under the 'engagement' of the Duke of Hamilton. But in 1650 he raised a thousand men to assist Leslie against Cromwell. When he reached Edinburgh he learned that the battle of Dunbar had just been lost, and at the request of Charles II, who wrote to him from the camp at Stirling, he carried his men thither, and received the royal command to return and raise additional levies. Charles acknowledged the services of Sutherland at this time in a special letter of thanks. On the departure of the expedition under Charles into England, Sutherland was sent north for the protection of the northern parts of Scotland.

During the Commonwealth the earl retired from active public service. After the Restoration, however, he again appeared in parliament. In 1662 he settled the earldom on his eldest surviving son, George, afterwards Earl of Sutherland, and died in the following year, aged 54. His piety is commemorated by Wodrow in his 'Analecta' (iii. 316), who relates that this 'good old Earl of Sutherland' was a very close and regular attender on sermons in his own church, and when the precentor was absent on any occasion he was wont from his own loft to raise the tune and read the line to the congregation.

His first countess, Lady Jean Drummond, who was a highly accomplished and beautiful lady and her father's heiress, having died at Edinburgh on 29 Dec. 1637 of consumption, Sutherland married, as his second wife, on 24 Jan. 1639, Anna, daughter of Hugh Fraser, lord Lovat. Of the first marriage only was there issue, namely, three sons and one daughter: John, who died young, George, who succeeded, Robert, and Jean.

George's heir, John, (fifteenth or) sixteenth earl, is separately noticed.

[Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonston, pp. 314, 423; Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vols. v. vi. and vii.; Diary of the Lairds of Brodie (Spalding Club), pp. 88, 170; Baillie's Letters, ii. 234.]

H. P.