GORDON, Hon. William (1736-1816), of Fyvie, Aberdeen.
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Family and Education
b. 1736, 2nd surv. s. of William, 2nd Earl of Aberdeen [S], by his 3rd w. Lady Anne Gordon, da. of Alexander, 2nd Duke of Gordon [S]. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1748. m. his housekeeper Isobel Black, by whom he had previously had a son.
Cornet 11 Drag. 1756; capt. 16 Drag. 1759; lt.-col. 105 Ft. 1762; half-pay 1763; col. 1777; col. 81 Ft. 1777-83; maj.-gen. 1781; col. 71 Ft. 1789-1803; lt.-gen. 1793; gen. 1798; col. 21 Ft. 1803- d.
Groom of the bedchamber 1775-1812.
In 1767 Gordon was returned for Woodstock by his friend the Duke of Marlborough. He did not vote on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768. In the new Parliament his attendance also seems to have been poor: he voted with Administration but appears in only three out of seven division lists giving the names of their side; all three being on Wilkes and the Middlesex election (3 Feb. and 15 Apr. 1769, and 26 Apr. 1773). Over the royal marriage bill, March 1772, Robinson listed him ‘pro—sent to’; and at the end of the Parliament classed him no higher than ‘hopeful’.
In 1774 Gordon was brought in for Heytesbury by Marlborough, who in April 1775 obtained for him the place of groom of the bedchamber with permission to retain his half-pay in addition to his salary.1 A bitter enemy later wrote:2 ‘Never was a more perfect prototype of Polonius than our groom of the bedchamber, and though the King sometimes hit him rather hard, yet he was a great favourite.’ In 1777 Gordon took advantage of his position to steal a march on his nephew the Duke of Gordon, whose offer to raise a regiment hung fire because of the King’s objections to the Duke’s discredited brother Lord William as its commander. The Duke wrote to his agent, 1 Jan. 1778:3
The King, having absolutely refused to give Lord William Gordon the rank, Fyvie was appointed, after having assured Lord George Germain that he was to have my interest and support—and indeed he was sure of it had he behaved properly—but he had named most of his officers and had wrote to them before he was sure whether he or Lord William was to command the battalion ... and you will see that he had an eye to Aberdeenshire in the list he has named ... When Sandy Gordon [later Lord Rockville] delivered me Fyvie’s letter at Edinburgh with the list ... I was very angry and said I was surprised at his brother’s conduct in having got a regiment through my interest and not giving me the nomination of one officer. He answered in a huff: ‘Well, by God, we can raise it without you!’
The Duke complained to Germain and to North, who wrote 30 Dec. 1777 to the King:4
Colonel Gordon, by taking this method has made it HIS regiment and not the Duke’s, and has obliged many of the Duke’s friends in order as he [the Duke] supposes, to gain their interest at a future political contest if [he] should again oppose, as he has already done once, the Duke’s candidate for the county of Aberdeen.
After an interview with the Duke, the King instructed Germain to reprimand Gordon, whose reply seemed to Germain ‘so proper that the Duke of Gordon ought to be satisfied’ and Gordon commended for his attention to the King’s wishes.5 But the Duke was not satisfied and the King reluctantly gave him permission to raise a regiment of his own, ‘The Northern Fencibles’. Competition in recruiting resulted in violent disputes in Aberdeenshire and a lasting breach between the two branches of the Gordon family.6
In Ireland with his ‘Aberdeenshire Highlanders’ from June 1778, Gordon was listed ‘pro, abroad’ on the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, but returned shortly afterwards and voted with Administration on Keppel, 3 Mar. He returned to Ireland during the summer but was back in London by January 1780 seeking military promotion,7 and voted with Administration in every recorded division to the end of the Parliament. On 2 June 1780, when his nephew Lord George Gordon presented the petition of the Protestant Association and harangued the mob besieging the House, Gordon, wrote the Annual Register (p. 258), went up to him and accosted him in the following manner: ‘My Lord George, do you intend to bring your rascally adherents into the House of Commons? If you do—the first man of them that enters I will plunge my sword not into his but into your body.’8
Gordon was not returned for Heytesbury at the general election of 1780, and, despite the Duke of Gordon’s suspicion of his intentions, apparently did not contest Aberdeenshire.
He died 25 May 1816.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Fortescue, iii. 189-90; Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1773-5, p. 563.
- 2. J. M. Bulloch, Territorial Soldiering in the North East, 37, quoting Pryse Lockhart Gordon, Personal Mems.
- 3. Ibid. 39.
- 4. Fortescue, iii. 531.
- 5. Territorial Soldiering, 40-41; Fortescue, iv. 16.
- 6. Territorial Soldiering, 37-57.
- 7. HMC Lothian, 362.
- 8. See also MURRAY, James (1734-94).