Mary's Expedition To The North

The Lord James, now Earl of Mar, had for some time felt, that so long as

he was regarded with suspicion by the Hamiltons, and with ill-concealed

hatred by the Earl of Huntly and the Gordons, his power could not be so

stable, nor his influence so extensive, as he desired. If it is true that

he had already proposed to Mary to set aside the succession of the Earl of

Arran, it is equally true that she had refused his request. Foiled,
therefore, in this, his more ambitious aim, he saw the necessity of

limiting, in the meantime, to more moderate bounds, his views of personal

preferment. With regard to the Hamiltons, he had succeeded in securing

their banishment from court, and in making them objects of suspicion and

dislike to the Queen. There was not indeed sufficient talent in the family

ever to have made it formidable to him, had it not been that it was of the

blood royal. Though not possessing this advantage, the Gordons were always

looked upon by Mar as more dangerous rivals. He had long nursed a secret

desire, at least to weaken, if not to crush altogether, the power of

Huntly. In getting himself created Earl of Mar, he had made one step

towards his object. The lands which went along with this title were part

of the royal demesnes; but had for some time been held in fee by the Earls

of Huntly. Her brother had prevailed upon Mary to recall them in his

favour, and he was thus able to set himself down in the very heart of a

country, which had hitherto acknowledged no master who did not belong to

the house of Gordon. Huntly felt this encroachment bitterly; and it makes

it the more probable, that he had secretly joined with Arran in his plot

upon Mar; at any rate Mar gave him full credit for having done so. Their

mutual animosity being thus exasperated, to the highest pitch, Huntly left

the Court, and the Prime Minister waited anxiously for the first

opportunity that might occur, to humble effectually the great leader of

the Catholics.

In prosecution of his purpose, Mar now obtained a grant under the Privy

Seal of the earldom of Murray. A grant under the Privy Seal constituted

only an inchoate, not a complete title. To ratify the grant and make it

legal, it was necessary to have the Great Seal also affixed to it. The

Great Seal, however, was in the custody of Huntly, as Lord Chancellor; and

as Mar well knew that the grant of this second earldom infringed upon

Huntly's rights even more than the former, he saw the propriety of keeping

it secret for some time. The earldom of Murray, which, with its lands and

appurtenances, was bestowed upon Huntly in 1549, for his services in the

war with England, had been again recalled by the Crown in 1554, when

Huntly fell into the displeasure of the Queen-Regent, in consequence of

having refused to punish with fire and sword some Highland rebels. But in

1559, the title and lands were restored, not as a free grant, but as a

lease during five years, to Huntly, his wife and heirs, on the condition

of a yearly payment of 2500 merks Scots. Till 1564, therefore, Huntly was

entitled to consider himself master of all the lands and revenues of this

earldom. But in 1561, the title and lands were privately conferred upon

the Earl of Mar. It is true, that he might have applied thus early only to

prevent himself from being anticipated, and might not have intended to

encroach on Huntly's rights before the legal period of his enjoying them

had expired. The advantage, however, he so eagerly took of an incident

that occurred in the month of June 1562, proves that Mar had never any

intention to keep his title to the earldom of Murray locked up for three


The father of James, Lord Ogilvy, had married one of the Earl of Huntly's

sisters, who gave her some lands in liferent as her dowry. Upon her

husband's death, considerations induced her to surrender the liferent to

her brother, and the Earl then gave it to his son, Sir John Gordon. But

Lord Ogilvy was displeased with his mother's conduct, and questioned its

legality. The matter, however, was decided against him, though not before

it had occasioned much bad blood between him and Sir John Gordon. These

two noblemen unfortunately met on the streets of Edinburgh; and though Sir

John had married Ogilvy's sister, all ties of relationship were

disregarded, and an affray took place, in which both were assisted by

their respective servants. It does not exactly appear who was the

aggressor in this scuffle, but, from the circumstances which led to it,

the probability is, that it was Ogilvy. Both noblemen were severely

wounded; and the magistrates, enraged at their breach of the peace,

committed them to prison. Mary with her Court was at Stirling, but the

Earl of Mar obtained permission to depart for Edinburgh, to examine into

the whole affair. The son of the Earl of Huntly was now within his power,

and he saw the advantages which might be made to accrue to himself in

consequence. After examination, he ordered the Lord Ogilvy and his

retainers to be set at liberty, but Sir John Gordon he sent to the common

gaol. Sir John, not liking to trust himself in such hands, made his

escape, after remaining in prison for about a month, and proceeded to his

father's house in the North to recite to him his grievances.

Such being the state of feeling subsisting between the Queen's prime

minister and these great Northern chieftains, it can scarcely be allowed

that Robertson expresses himself correctly when he says, "The Queen

happened to set out on a progress into the northern parts of the

kingdom." Her motions were at this time entirely regulated by the Earl of

Mar, who, seeing the contempt which had been offered to her authority by

the flight of his son, felt satisfied that Mary could not pass through the

extensive territories of Huntly, without either giving or receiving some

additional cause of offence, which would in all probability lead to

consequences favourable to Mar's ambition. Unless this hypothesis be

adopted, no rational cause can be assigned why the Queen should have

chosen this particular season for her visit to the North. From the recent

suspicion which had attached to the Earl of Huntly, as one of Arran's

colleagues in a conspiracy against her favourite minister, and the still

more recent conduct of his son Sir John Gordon, she certainly could have

no intention to pay that family the compliment of honouring them with her

royal presence as a guest. North of Aberdeen, however, nearly the whole

country was subservient to Huntly; and if Mary did not pass through it as

a friend, she must as an enemy. This was the consideration that prompted

the Earl of Mar to fix this year for the expedition. It was owing to

negociations with Elizabeth, concerning a personal interview between the

two Queens, that Mary was unable to set out till towards the middle of


The Queen left Edinburgh on horseback, as usual, attended by a very

considerable train. Among others, four members of her Privy Council went

with her,--the Earls of Argyle, Morton, Marschall, and Mar,--the three

first of whom had no particular liking for Huntly, and were, besides,

entirely under the direction of the last. Randolph also attended the

Queen in this journey, and furnishes some details concerning it. On the

18th of August, 1562, she left Stirling; and, after a disagreeable and

fatiguing journey, arrived at Old Aberdeen on the 27th. Here she remained

for several days, and all the nobility in these parts came to pay their

homage to her. Among the rest were the Earl and Countess of Huntly, who

entreated her to honour them with a visit at Huntly Castle, informing her

that they had endeavoured to make suitable preparations for her

entertainment. Mary, at Mar's instigation of course, (for, as far as her

own feelings were concerned, she must have looked with favour upon the

first Catholic Peer of the realm), received them coldly. This was but a

poor return for Huntly's long tried fidelity to herself and family; for,

whatever quarrels he may have had with the nobility, he had always

preserved inviolate his respect for the royal prerogative. His son, Sir

John Gordon, also came to Aberdeen, and surrendered himself to the Queen,

to be dealt with as her justice might direct. He was neither tried nor

taken into custody; but, with more refined policy, he was ordered by Mar,

and the rest of the Queen's Council, to proceed voluntarily to Stirling

Castle, and there deliver himself, as a prisoner, to the keeper, Lord

Erskine, Mar's uncle. It was, no doubt, foreseen that this order, so

disproportioned in its severity to the offence which occasioned it, would

not be complied with, nor was it wished that it should. Guided by similar

advice, Mary refused to visit the residence of the Earl of Huntly,--a

refusal which was pathetically lamented by Randolph, as it was "within

three miles of her way, and the fairest house in this country." We learn

from the same authority, that there was such a scarcity of accommodation,

in Old Aberdeen, that Randolph, and Maitland the secretary, who had

recently returned from England, were obliged to sleep together in the same

bed. This is, perhaps, rendered the less remarkable, when we are informed

that there were, at the University, only fifteen or sixteen scholars.

On the 1st of September, Mary left Aberdeen for Inverness; but, in the

interval, the Earl of Mar, perceiving that there might be some occasion

for their services, had collected a pretty strong body of men, who marched

forward with the Queen and her train. In journeying northwards, she

travelled by Rothiemay, Grange, Balvenie, and Elgin, passing very near the

Earl of Huntly's castle. No entreaty would induce her to enter it; but she

permitted the Earl of Argyle and Randolph to partake of its hospitality

for two days. "The Earl of Huntly's house," says Randolph, "is the best

furnished that I have seen in this country. His cheer is marvellous great;

his mind then, such, as it appeared to us, as ought to be, in any

subject, to his sovereign." On the 8th of September, Mary went from Elgin

to Tarnaway, the baronial residence of the earldom of Murray, and at that

time in possession of a tenant of the Earl of Huntly. Information being

there received that Sir John Gordon's friends and vassals, exasperated at

the over-degree of rigour with which he was treated, were assembling in

arms; and that Sir John, instead of going to Stirling, had joined the

rebels, a proclamation was issued, charging him to surrender, by way of

forfeit, into the Queen's hands, his house