Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Robert (1580-1661)

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GORDON, ROBERT (1580–1661), of Straloch, geographer, second son of Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg, Banffshire, an intimate political associate of George Gordon, sixth earl of Huntly [q. v.], was born at Kinmundy, Aberdeenshire, on 14 Sept. 1580. He was educated at Aberdeen University, and is said to have been the first graduate of Marischal College, then recently founded. In 1598 he went to complete his studies at Paris, where he remained till the death of his father in 1600. Among his Scottish associates at Paris were John Gordon (1544-1619) [q. v.], afterwards dean of Salisbury, Robert Bruce (1554-1631) [q. v.], theological writer, and Robert Johnston, author of 'A History of Britain from 1572.' In 1608, on his marriage to a daughter of Alexander Irvine of Lynturk, he bought the estate of Straloch, where he took up his residence. In 1619 he succeeded to the estate of Pitlurg on the death of his elder brother John without issue, but continued to reside at Straloch. He was one of the commissioners sent by Huntly in March 1639 to treat with Montrose (Spalding, Memorials, i. 148; Gordon, Scots Affairs, ii. 219),and it was through his mediation that Huntly came to terms with Montrose, and subscribed a paper binding himself to maintain the liberties both of church and state (Gordon, p. 230). After Huntly was carried to Edinburgh, Straloch endeavoured to induce Huntly's son, Lord Aboyne, to lay down his arms, but without success (Spalding, p. 176; Gordon, p. 260). On 21 Sept. 1643 he attended a meeting held at Aberdeen for the levying of soldiers (Spalding, ii. 279).

Straloch, at the request of Charles I, agreed, with the assistance of his son, James Gordon, parson of Rothiemay [q. v.], to correct and complete the maps which Timothy Pont had begun to prepare for the Scottish section of Bleau's 'Atlas.' During the progress of the work he was exempted from the ordinary burdens of the rest of the subjects of Scotland ('Straloch Papers' in Spalding Club Miscellany, i. 56); but in the dedication to Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, dated Aberdeen, 24 Jan. 1648, he states that the civil war had greatly interfered with his progress. On this account some of the work was delegated to David Buchanan (1595?-1652?) [q. v.] In the edition of 1655, dedicated by the publisher to Oliver Cromwell, Gordon is referred to in uncomplimentary terms. The Scottish section forms a portion of vol. vi. of the 1662 edition of the 'Atlas.' In addition to descriptions and maps Straloch contributed 'Remarks on the Antiquity of the Scots,' and 'Remarks on the Charts of the Ancient Scots.' Dr. William Gordon, in his manuscript 'Sketch of the Life and Writings of Robert Gordon of Straloch,' states that many of the epigrams, epitaphs, and emblems written by Straloch and his sons remained among the family manuscripts. According to Man his 'lesser composures of Latin touching the antiquities of his native country' were deposited by his son, James Gordon of Rothiemay (to whom they had been left in his will), in the hands of Sir Robert Sibbald, 'who communicated to Dr. Nicolson, bishop of Carlisle, his “Notes on Bede's History, touching the Scotish Antiquities,” and three dissertations: 1. On the Origin of the Saxon Language among the Scots; 2. On the Origin of the Nation; and 3. Accounting for the Country's being so thinly inhabited' (Appendix No. 1 to preface to Scots Affairs, p. vi). The series of Timothy Pont's and Gordon of Straloch's original map and plans for the 'Atlas of Scotland' was in 1723 acquired by the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, along with Sir Robert Sibbald's manuscripts. Gordon has been regarded by some as the author of 'Scots Affairs,' which was really written by his son James Gordon of Rothiemay, although Straloch had undoubtedly supplied him with a large amount of material. Straloch wrote a history of the family of Gordon, of which William Gordon made large use in his 'History of the Family of Gordon.' William Gordon states that it was written by Straloch when very old, and broke off abruptly at 1594, and that though defective on account of his inability to search the public records, it was otherwise very well done (ib. p. xxiv). Man, who had seen the original manuscript, and gives the substance of some interesting portions, characterises it as 'writ in a clear and concise Latin style, and very exact as to the geography of places' (ib. p. viii). Straloch also wrote a Latin introduction to Bishop Spotiswood's 'History,' which was published by Dr. Garden in the preface to the 'Opera' of Professor John Forbes, published at Amsterdam in 1703, i. 68-70. He died in August 1661 in his eighty-first year. He left eleven sons and six daughters. His portrait by Jamieson is preserved in the hall of Marischal College, Aberdeen.

[Straloch Papers in Spalding Club Miscellany, i. 1-58; Man's Introduction to his projected Memoirs of Scots Affairs, printed as Appendix No. 1 to the Preface to James Gordon's Scots Affairs (Spalding Club); William Gordon's Introduction to the Hist. of the Family of Gordon; John Smith's Iconographia Scotica.]

T. F. H.