A House with a Vendetta
By Dr John M. Bulloch
The Huntly Express
25th February 1910
It is a very remarkable fact that though two vendetta murders (in 1592 and 1666) of the heads of the family have given the Gordons of Braichlie a vast notoriety wherever the Scots ballad is known, scarcely anything has been done to expiscate the history of the "Barons of Braiclie," as they were magniloquently styled. This very magniloquence is half the trouble, for the laird is constantly cited in historical documents as the "Baron" of Braichlie – that is to say, without the Christian name which would help us to identify him.
The confusion is admirably illustrated in the ballads describing the murder, or rather murders, which laid two of the lairds low. These tragedies made a deep impression on Upper Deeside, indeed it may be questioned whether any other local ballad represents so faithfully a vivid everyday tradition. And yet it is perfectly clear – even Professor Child, with his necessarily limited knowledge of local genealogical matters felt this – that the two events are mixed up in the ballads.
Another point which complicates the issue is the fact that the Baron of Braichlie really owned two totally different estates. The Balbithan M.S. speaks of the first of them as Thomas Gordon "of Kenachie or Braikleys."
The first mentioned estate is really Kennerty and the "or" does not connote a synonym, for Kennerty is in the parish of Peterculter, whereas Braichlie is in the parish of Glenmuick, further up the river. And yet that "or" symbolizes much of the difficulty, for one might be tempted to believe that the estates were held by different members of the family at the same time.
It is, therefore, little wonder that the genealogists have been slow to undertake the task of presenting a continuous history of the Braichlie Gordons. By far the most successful attempt to do so is that of the Marquis of Huntly in "The Records of Aboyne," 1894; but, of course, it was beyond his province to produce a systematic deduction. The ballad was dealt with elaborately by Mr. Child in his encyclopedic work on our ballads.
Furthermore, there are two good articles by "J. R. M.." (Rev. J. R. Middleton, Minister of Glenmuick), on "The Murder of the Baron of Brackley, 1666" which appeared in the Aberdeen ‘Free Press,’ 18th and 22nd of November 1901. There is plenty of traditional gossip in various Deeside guides. But the present is the first attempt to deal with the family from its start in the 15th century to its apparent extinction in the 18th. This attempt, in the absence of identifying data, is, however, far from satisfactory; and we must wait for the publication of more data before we can fill in gaps and solve mysteries.
The history of the family in unbroken descent is traced from 1473 to 1708, and will be seen at a glance in the following table:
1. "Tam" Gordon of "Riven"
2. Thomas Gordon of Kennerty – alive in 1494; married Sir Duncan Grant’s daughter
3. Alexander Gordon of Kennerty, died before 1526; wife’s name unknown
4. Thomas Gordon of Kennerty, died about 1563; married Margaret Forbes.
5. John Gordon of Kennerty, murdered 1592; married (1) Janet Lindsay, and (2) Catherine Fraser
6. William Gordon of Kennerty, died before 1628; married Janet Gordon (Knockespock)
7. William Gordon of Kennerty, died March 1645; married Margaret Forbes
8. John Gordon of Braichlie, murdered September 1666; married Margaret Burnett
9. John Gordon, last of Braichlie. Sold Braichlie in 1708; married Anne Allardyce?
Some curious fables about the Braichlie family have found their way into print. For instance, William Anderson, in his "Genealogy and Surnames," (1865, page 104) says, as quoted by Child, that there was a line of nine barons, "all of whom, in the unruly times in which they lived, died violent deaths." According to the genealogy of the Grants in Macfarlanes "Genealogical Collections" (i., 108), and to an account of the "Rise and Offspring of the name Grant," printed for Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk in 1876 (page 30), a Baron of Braichlie is said to have been murdered by the country people about him, in or near, 1540; but the story is, as I shall show, quite uncorroborated.
The modern spelling is Braichlie. It appears thus in the "Poll Book": and is variously spelt Brachlie or Brackley. Mr Macdonald ("Place Names of West Aberdeenshire," page 73) thinks that it is probably identical with that of the old parish in Inverness-shire, now joined to Petty, and he suggests that it derives from breach choille meaning wolf wood. The old Inverness-shire parish of Braichlie is now joined to Pettie. Far more confusing, however, is the fact that Brucklay in East Aberdeenshire is often spelt in old documents very much like Braichlie – thus ‘Brakla’ : and as there were numerous Gordons there, one must be on one’s guard.
In regard to Kennerty, Mr Macdonald ("Place Names of West Aberdeenshire," page 224) says that the oldest form of the name is exactly the same as Kynnardy in Banffshire and elsewhere, which means the "head or end of the little height." It is possible, he adds, that the accent may have changed, "though in such a word this would be very unusual. As now pronounced, Kennerty, the name, is to me, unintelligible."
THOMAS GORDON, I of KENNERTY
The Gordons of Braichlie and Kennerty were descended from Tam Gordon of Riven, the brother of Jock Gordon of Scurdargue, and the (natural) cousin of Elizabeth Gordon, the heiress, who married Alexander Seton, and became mother of the 1st Earl of Huntly. Now, for some reason which is not clear, the genealogy of Tam of Riven’s family is not dealt with at such length as the descendants of his brother Jock.
Let us take the Balbithan M.S. as a test. As printed by the New Spalding Club, it devotes 40-pages to the issue of Scurdargue, but only a little over two pages to the family of Tam of Riven, or Davoch, as he was alternately called, ending with this confession of failure:
"Here I find myself run aground for want of further and better information concerning the family of Davoch, whose representative this day is hard to be condescended upon."
We can do better than the Balbithan M.S. today, but still the difficulties of descent are far from being all solved.
Tam of Riven was THREE times married, and is credited with at LEAST SIXTEEN SONS. These had all to be provided for with lands, which were mostly supplied by the head of the house, the Earl of Huntly.
By his second wife, a daughter of Sir Walter Innes, Tam had four sons. The fourth, George Gordon, was set out in the world with the lands of Cushny and Hallhead. The third son, Thomas Gordon, was sent to find a footing on Deeside, as a close neighbor of the Earl of Huntly’s second son, Alexander Gordon, who established himself, about 1482, in the lands of Abergeldie.
The 1600 M.S. in the possession of Mrs Elphinstone, Dalrymple speaks of Thomas as "in Glenmuick." The Balbithan M.S. states that he was "of Kennachie or Braikleys."
The first mention we find of Thomas the I, is on January the 23rd 1473, when he got the estate of Braeroddach in Aboyne, from his Kinsman the Earl of Huntly, the Irvines of Drum having resigned it (Records of Aboyne, page 22)
Thomas Gordon got his holding extended eight years later, for on the 25th February 1481, the King, James III, granted him a charter of "all and whole the lands of Kennerdy,in the parish of Peterculter." He now was styled, "Baron of Kennardy." On the 29th of October 1486, the King granted him another charter "of the fourth part of the barony of Kennerdy." ("Ant. Abd. And Banff," iii., 347, 348).
Meantime, another part of Braeroddach had fallen to him, for on the 25th May 1484, he had got a charter from Huntly of the half of Craigton of Braeroddach, which had been resigned by the late Janet Richardson, the wife of John Donaldson. It was to be held in "fee and heritage for ever rendering yearly a penny in the name of blench ferme is asked only." (ibid, p24.)
On the 8th September 1491, Thomas Gordon "of Kennerdy" was one of the witnesses of a bond by Alexander Innes of Aberchirder to the Master of Huntly (Spalding Club Misc., ii., 189.)
Thomas Gordon "de Kennerty" was alive on the 8th April 1494 when he was a witness at Aberdeen of an "inquest" of Alexander Irvine of Drum (Ant. Abd. And Banff., iii, 303); but he was dead by 26th August 1495, when the King granted the ward and marriage of his heir to Alexander Irvine of Drum and his assignees. The fermes of Kennerty accounted for in the "Exchequer Roll" in 1499 amonted to £42.13s.4d. (Records of Aboyne, 25).
According to the 1600 M.S., Thomas Gordon "in Glenmuick" married Sir Duncan Grant’s daughter, and "begatt on hir":
1. Alexander Gordon "of Kennathill"
2. Alexander (sic) Gordon "of Knockinaird"
3. James Gordon in Knock (law)ful gotten.
4. "Ane daughter married on the laird of Carnday" (? Cairndoor in Glengairn)