Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Patrick (1635-1699)

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GORDON, PATRICK (1635–1699), general, and friend of Peter the Great, was born in 1635 at Auchleuchries in Aberdeenshire, where his father was a small laird. His mother's name was Mary Ogilvie. He wrote his autobiography in six thick quarto volumes, which are still preserved in Russia in the archives of the foreign office. These have never been published in the original English, but were translated into German by Dr. Maurice Posselt, and appeared in three volumes in Russia, as cited at the conclusion of the present article. In 1859 selections from those parts of the diary which related to the author's native country and some of his foreign adventures were transcribed verbatim by Dr. Posselt for Mr. Joseph Robertson, who edited them for the Spalding Club. The diary is very interesting in parts but dull in others, for it was a custom with Gordon, among other things, to put down the price of every article he purchased. Unfortunately the volumes narrating the events between 1667 and 1677 and between 1678 and 1684 are lost.

In 1651 Gordon, as the younger son of a poor laird, resolved to push his fortunes in a foreign country. He soon found his way into Poland, then swarming with Scots, and entered the service of Charles X of Sweden, who was invading that country. In the following year he was taken prisoner by the Poles; he joined their army as a dragoon, and quitted the Swedes, but in the same year, when captured by the latter at Warsaw, he again entered their service. He was clearly a genuine Dugald Dalgetty.

In 1658, in company with others, he planned at Werder the assassination of Richard Bradshaw [q. v.], the English ambassador to Moscow, whom he had mistaken for the president at the trial of Charles I, for Gordon was an enthusiastic adherent of the house of Stuart. The ambassador was too well guarded to give the conspirators a chance of success. Gordon next served under the German emperor; he then joined the Swedes again, and after that the Poles. In 1660 he was present at the battle of Chudnovo, where the Poles defeated the Russians, and in the following year resolved to enter the Muscovite service, and found his way to Moscow, where he was well received by the Czar Alexis. One of his first exploits was the suppression of a revolt in 1662, caused by the depreciation of the coinage. In 1663 he married Catherine von Bockhoven, daughter of Colonel Philip Albert Bockhoven, a German in the service of the czar, but at that time a prisoner among the Poles. Two years later he was sent by Alexis on a mission to England, and was honoured with an interview by Charles II, at whose restoration to the throne of his ancestors he had most sincerely rejoiced. In the following year (1666) he returned to Russia, and, as there is a gap of ten years in his diary, we know but little of his doings, except that he defeated the Turks at Chigrin, and drove them from the Ukraine. In this campaign Gordon displayed great ability. In 1678 he was made major-general, and the next year appointed to the chief command at Kiev as lieutenant-general. The same time saw the death of the weak Feodor, who had succeeded Alexis in 1676, and the struggle of the Princess Sophia to become the regent during the minority of her brothers Ivan and Peter. Gordon now made the acquaintance of the celebrated Genevese, Lefort, one of the great assistants of Peter in his work of reform; with him he established a close friendship. In 1685 he obtained leave to visit England, and set out the following year; but before going he had an interview with the boy-czar, Peter, then fourteen years of age. 'I was at their majesties' hands,' he eays, 'receiving a charke [charka, glass] of brandy out of the yongest his hand with a command from him to returne speedily.' Many pages of the diary are now occupied with an account of the writer's journey to his native country. He visited the old family property in Aberdeenshire. He had an interview with James II, with whom he had many sympathies as a Roman Catholic. James urged him to quit the Russian service and to hasten back to England. On his return he petitioned for a discharge from the Russian service, but it was not granted, and he appears to have suffered a temporary disgrace on account of his importunities. In 1687 he took part in the expedition against the Tartars of the Crimea, which was under the command of Prince Golitzia and resulted in a failure, but on account of his services Gordon was promoted to the rank of general. This appointment, however, drew down upon him ecclesiastical censure, and the patriarch prophesied disaster to the Russians so long as their armies were commanded by a heretic. But his regiment was soon afterwards sent to Kolomenskoe, near Moscow, once the favourite residence of Alexis, then occupied by Peter, and he gradually fell more under the notice of the future regenerator of Russia. In the following year he had an opportunity of showing his devotion to the cause of the young czar when the struggle broke out between him and his ambitious sister, for the elder brother, Ivan, was a mere cipher. A revolution occurred, in which the cause of Peter triumphed by the help of Gordon. He was rewarded with many estates and dignities. In 1690, when Gordon's daughter Mary was married to a certain Daniel Crawfurd, another Scotchman in the Russian service, the czar honoured the nuptials with his presence. In 1697 Gordon fortified Azov, which had been taken the previous year, and the czar set out on his memorable tour. During his absence the great revolt of the Strelitzes took place; Gordon attempted to negotiate with them, but all methods of conciliation having failed, he brought them to obedience by force of arms, and caused many to be executed. The rest were kept in confinement till the return of Peter, who at once hastened back to Moscow, and commenced that series of sanguinary reprisals which has been handed down with such terrible accuracy by the German Korb.

Gordon closed his diary with the end of 1698; among his last entries is the following: 'This year I have felt a sensible decrease of health and strength.' He died on 29 Nov. 1699, aged 64. The czar, who visited him constantly during his illness and was present at his death, ordered that his favourite should have a splendid funeral. He was buried in the Roman Catholic church in the German quarter at Moscow, in the erection of which he had himself had a great share. The church has been, however, allowed to fall into decay, owing to the erection of a larger one for the use of residents of that faith. Gordon was twice married; his first wife died before 1682, and he was married again before 1686 to a lady of Dutch extraction named Ronaer. He left at his death two sons and two daughters by his first marriage, and one son by his second.

Gordon was a perfect type of the military adventurer of the seventeenth century, a brave, capable man, full of resources, but ready to transfer his services to the cause which paid the best. Even in the case of Russia he cannot be considered to have shown any devotion to her as an adopted country, for he several times tried to leave the czar's service, and only died in it by accident. His diary contains much valuable material, but its interest is rather Russian than English; he has given minute descriptions of the two sieges of Azov and the suppression of the revolt of the Strelitzes. He discusses their terrible punishment without any expressions of pity, and incidentally mentions that he was present when tortures were inflicted, on one occasion on a woman. He has many picturesque details, as when he tells us of his meeting with John Sobieski, the Princess Sophia distributing glasses of brandy to the Russian captains, and the triumphant entry of the Russian soldiers into Moscow after the capture of Azov.

[Tagebuch des Generals Patrick Gordon … zum ersten vollständig veröffentlicht durch … Dr. Phil. M. C. Posselt. 3 vols., Moscow and St. Petersburg, 1849-53; Passages from the Diary of General Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries, Aberdeen, printed for the Spalding Club, 1859 (edited by Joseph Robertson); Diarium itineris in Moscoviam … descriptum a Joanne Georgio Korb, p. t. secretario ablegationis cæsareæ, Vienna, 1700; Ustrialov, Tsarstvovanie Petra Velikago (Reign of Peter the Great).]

W. R. M.