Papers of the Gordon family of Pitlurg and Straloch (The Straloch papers)

Scope and Content

Collection of letters sent to Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg (d 1600), and his two sons, John Gordon of Pitlurg (d 1619) and Robert Gordon of Straloch (1580 - 1661), during the period 1585 - 1665, regarding political, family and professional matters.

9 letters are addressed to Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg. Most of these were written by King James VI, during the period 1585 - c. 1600, and concern trivial matters, but are of interest in as much as they provide evidence of the mutual friendship which existed between the two men. 1 letter of similar content, 1609, is addressed to his eldest son, John Gordon of Pitlurg from King James VI, but the remainder and majority of the collection concerns Robert Gordon of Straloch, his work, and most particularly, the political difficulties which occupied Scotland during his lifetime, c. 1619 - 1665.

A group of 16 letters refer to the concerns of his nephews, Lord Lewis Gordon, later Third Marquis of Huntly, and Lord Charles Gordon, later Earl of Aboyne, following the death of their father, George, 2nd Marquis of Huntly (d 1649), whose estate passed to the Marquis of Argyll. Straloch's advice on this matter was sought from both parties involved in the dispute, as correspondence from the Marquis of Argyll and various members of the House of Gordon testify. 17 letters sent from George, Lord Gordon (eldest son of George 2nd Marquis of Huntly (d 1649)), who fell at the Battle of Alford, in 1645, contain further references to the prevailing political conditions, and demonstrate the role of Straloch as advisor and arbitrator to the family.

Remaining letters in the collection principally concern Straloch's academic work, in particular his General Map of Modern Scotland, and of Orkney, Shetland and other adjacent islands. They also include a renewal of a former Parliamentary protection which had been enjoyed by Straloch when engaged in revising Pont's surveys. Correspondents include the Duke of Gordon, to whom Straloch dedicated his General Map of Modern Scotland ...; John Johnston, Professor of Divinity, St Andrews University; David Buchanan, who composed some of the county descriptions for Straloch's maps of Scotland for Blaeu's atlas; Robert Burnet of Crimond [var. Cramond], later Lord Cramond, father of Bishop Burnet; Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, lawyer, privy councillor, patron of learned Scotsmen; and Samuel Wallace, an intermediary in the Low Countries between Scot and Blaeu..

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir John Gordon of Botharie, Pitlurg and Kinmundie (d 1600), alias Gordon of Pitlurg, was the only son of John Gordon, who died at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547, and his wife, a daughter of James Ogilvie of Cullen. He was descended from the cadets of John Gordon of Essie, alias "Jock of Scurdarg" [Scurdargue, Rhynie], son of John Gordon (d 1394), from whose father the three main branches of Gordons in North of Scotland are descended ("Jock of Scurdarg", "Tam of Ruthven" and the ducal line of the Seton-Gordons, who became the Earls of Huntly).

A trusted friend and confidant of the Earls of Huntly, whose estates were forfeited after the Reformation, and a favourite of King James VI, he was appointed administrator in 1594 to Huntly's forfeited Castle of Strathbogie. He married Isabel, daughter of the seventh Lord Forbes, and had three children, a daughter, Barbara, who married the Honourable John Elphinstone of Wartle, third son of Alexander, fourth Lord Elphinstone, and two sons, John and Robert. Their eldest son, John Gordon, inherited Pitlurg after his father's death in 1600, but he died in 1619, without issue, and the estate passed to his brother Robert Gordon of Straloch (1580 - 1661).

Robert, who had received the estate of Straloch as a gift from his brother in 1609, was an academic, though with Jacobite sympathies and a talent for public affairs. He was an intimate political associate of George Gordon, 6th Earl and 1st Marquis of Huntly (1562 - 1636), and of his son, George Gordon, 2nd Marquis of Huntly (d 1649), by whom he was sent to treat with Montrose in March 1939. Educated in Aberdeen and Paris, he is best known as a geographer and antiquary, but was also an accomplished linguist, poet, musician and classical scholar. At the request of King Charles I, and assisted by his son, James Gordon, parson of Rothiemay, he undertook corrections to Timothy Pont's surveys of Scotland, which were subsequently published by John Blaeu of Amsterdam in 1654 in Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive Atlas Novus. He wrote a history of the family of Gordon, Origo et Progressus Familiae Illustrissimae Gordoniorum, and many other minor treatises on the history and antiquities of Scotland. He died in Paris 1661, aged 81, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Robert Gordon, one of seventeen children from his marriage to Catherine Irvine of Lynturk.

Robert (junior), who is believed to have served under Gustavus Adolphus, married a daughter of Sir Alexander Burnett of Leys (Crathes), and was succeeded by his son, also Robert Gordon, who died in 1680, leaving an only son, Alexander, to the guardianship of his great uncle and namesake, Alexander Gordon, the 'Tutor of Pitlurg.' Alexander, who sat as MP for Aberdeenshire in the first Union Parliament, suffered severe financial losses through his investment in the Mississippi scheme, and sold the estates of Pitlurg and Kinmundy in 1724. He died without issue, and was succeeded in the estate of Straloch by Dr James Gordon of Hilton, who married Barbara, daughter and heiress of Robert Cumming of Birness and Leask, in Buchan. Their eldest son, John Gordon Cumming married Mary Fullerton of Galary but died early, leaving two young sons, John and Thomas. The eldest son, John (b 1761) had a long minority, during which his guardians sold the estate of Straloch. He joined the army in 1779, and enjoyed a distinguished career abroad, returning to Scotland in the early nineteenth century, whereupon, in 1813 he gave the united estates of Birness and Leask the name Pitlurg in memoriam, and succeeded in 1815 to the estates of Dyce and Parkhill, left to him by his relative, Mr Skene of Dyce.

For further details see Margaret Gordon, John Gordon of Pitlurg and Parkhill (London: James Nisbet, 1885); The House of Gordon, ed. by John Malcolm Bulloch, 3 vols (Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 1903 - 1912).; and The Miscellany of the Spalding Club, ed. by John Stuart, Vol. 1 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841).


Arranged chronologically

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Donated to the University in 1955, by John Gordon esq.

Other Finding Aids

Interim descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives, University of Aberdeen (e-mail:

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The papers were published by the Spalding Club in 1841 (see publication note), at which time they were stored in the charter chest of the lately deceased William Gordon Cumming Skene of Pitlurg and Dyce.


No accruals expected

Related Material

A. Strath-Maxwell's collection of writs relating to lands and properties in Aberdeenshire, including the lands of Ower Straloche (otherwise called the Miekle Town of Straloch), Owerhill, Aickinstank, Nether-toune miln and Owertoune milne of Straloche with their miln-lands ... the towns and lands of Kingorne, Brunthill, Quhytrasches, Ower and Nether Clunis and Lie Knappis, 1569 - 1604; and the lands of Pettlurgis, Ower and Nether Auchquhorthies, with the Mill of Auchquhorthies called Tarnaste ... and the croft of Petriffnie, alias Letachie, in the barony of Keith and regality of Spyny, 1580 - 1673 (GB 231 MS 3366)


Published transcripts of the collection in The Miscellany of the Spalding Club, ed. by John Stuart, Vol. 1 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841), and The House of Gordon, ed. by John Malcolm Bulloch (Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 1903 - 1912) 3 vols.

Additional Information

This material is original