First name

Text source

Gilbert Balfour (sometimes erroneously confused with James Balfour) was the brother of Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich.

Gilbert Balfour was a Scottish officer in Swedish service during the first half of the 1570s. King Johan III, who had recently usurped his brother Eric XIV, was now keen to source soldiers for his campaigns against the 'Russians' in the Baltic (Estonia and Livonia), and had commissioned Archibald Ruthven [SSNE 5514] to raise 2000 Scotsmen for his use. Ruthven returned with around 4000 men, which set a series of incidents in flow. A royal letter from King Johan III, dated 14 October 1573, appoints Gilbert Balfour as Captain of Horse. Apparently the new recruits found on arrival in Sweden that there was not enough money to pay their salaries. Rumours began that the officers had embezzled funds for themselves and the recruits refused to embark for the Baltic states until the matter was resolved. Another Scottish officer in service at the time, Hugh Colquhoun [SSNE 778], took the fall for the lack of money and was executed in Stockholm on 20 October 1574 for embezzlement, despite being well-known to King Johan III, having served the Swede for at least 5 years. Colquhoun, possibly in an attempt to save his own life, accused Gilbert Balfour and Archibald Ruthven, along with another officer -Frenchman Charles de Mornay- of being involved in a plot to kill the Swedish king with the ultimate goal of reinstating Erik XIV. 

Despite (or because of?) these allegations Gilbert Balfour and Archibald Ruthven sailed for Livonia with their Scottish troops. There a fight broke out between the Scottish infantry and German cavalry (with some Scottish cavalry supporting the Scottish infantry). Some troops defected to the enemy, many hundreds were killed, and Archibald Ruthven was himself wounded in the melee. Gilbert Balfour and Ruthven were subjected to a preliminary investigation in Reval in April before being returned to Sweden in chains, and this debacle was compounded by the unresolved attempted murder conspiracies. Both Scots were tried and imprisoned. Gilbert Balfour's trial began on 17 July 1574. King Johan III seemed unsure how to proceed. In November 1576 Gilbert Balfour's brother, Sir James, sent the Swedish king a petition on Gilbert's behalf, signed by 23 of his fellow officers. Ruthven also had at least two official petitions for clemency arrive on his behalf from Scotland, ultimately to no avail as he died in prison in 1578. Gilbert Balfour unsuccessfully claimed he had knowledge of buried treasure belonging to the deposed Erik XIV, and then tried to buy his way out of jail by offering the king 800 'rosenobles'. Johan III raised the amount to 1000, which Balfour could not meet and so he was executed in August 1576.

Sources: Swedish Riksarkiv, Titularregistratur till RR, vol.1; National Archives of Scotland, RH 1/2/419 and 420; T. Fischer, The Scots in Sweden (Edinburgh, 1907), pp.54-62; J. Berg and B. Lagercrantz, Scots in Sweden (Stockholm, 1962), pp.16-17.

Service record

Arrived 1573-10-14, as CAPTAIN
Departed 1576-08-31, as CAPTAIN
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY