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John Gordon (1661-1733) was a Scottish nobleman of the Sutherland branch of that family. He was a professional soldier, privy councillor and, later, sixteenth Earl of Sutherland. As the first son of George Gordon, fifteenth Earl of Sutherland, and Jean Douglas, Countess of Wemyss, John was the heir to the earldom. He would later to adopt the surname of Sutherland as would his successors. Due to his status as heir to the earldom John was granted the courtesy title of Lord Strathnaver. Such titles were granted amongst the Scottish nobility as a mark of respect and by tradition; these titles have no legal significance nor land attached. 

Life in Scotland, 1680-1689

As a young man, John took an active role in politics in the 1680s and was made commissioner of supply for Sutherland. He raised an ad-hoc force of tenants and clansmen loyal to his father to assist King James VII & II during the Argyll Rising (1685). Strathnaver remained loyal to James until the Revolution of 1688 when he offered his support to the Dutch Prince of Orange, later crowned William II of Scotland and III of England, and his wife Mary Stuart. The Dutch invasion of England, which began on 5th November 1688, would see the swift removal of James from power in that country. In Scotland, however, the deposition of James would only take place in the following year and with the consent of the Scottish Convention of Estates. John and his father were part of said convention and elected to remove James from power in March 1689. This would lead to the outbreak of a new civil conflict in Scotland as John Graham of Claverhouse, first Viscount Dundee, lead a small but significant faction of army officers and gentlemen into the Highlands to raise an army for the exiled monarch. The Highland War, or first Jacobite rising, would last from 1689 until 1691 and would see fighting between the government controlled by William’s supporters (or Williamites) and the Jacobites. 

The Highland War, 1689-1691

Lord Strathnaver was commissioned to raise a regiment of foot, 600 men in total, as part of the new Scottish Williamite army. His lieutenant colonel was Robert Lumsden of Innergellie, possibly the son of the veteran solder Robert Lumsden of Strathvithie [SSNE 514]. The regiment was mostly composed of Highlanders from Strathnaver’s lands. Several letters of Williamite officers serving in Scotland report that the regiment was badly armed and poorly paid. Sir James Leslie reported, as late as 12th October 1689, that ‘my Lord Strathnavers regiment… have no cloathes as yett, and are very ill arm’d’. The regiment were still using match-lock muskets rather than the newer and more reliable ‘fyre-lock’ armaments. 

Although the regiment faced serious logistical challenges, Major-General Hugh Mackay of Scourie, then commander-in-chief of the Williamite forces in Scotland, held Lord Strathnaver in high regard. Mackay would later write that Strathnaver’s ‘qualitie, intrest and zeale for this service, may contribute much to the securitie of that countrey [the Highlands]’. Yet, lack of discipline amongst Strathnaver’s men led the Major-General to conclude that the formation was not as reliable as their colonel. The regiment remained garrisoned at Inverness and saw little to no fighting during the Highland War. It appears that Mackay’s assessment of the regiment’s discipline was correct as Strathnaver’s Highlandmen agitated several inhabitants of the town whilst they were stationed there.

At Inverness, Strathnaver and his regiment came under the command of Sir Thomas Livingstone, a Scotsman born in the Netherlands and former officer of the Scots-Dutch Brigade. On 3rd July 1689, Strathnaver was encouraged by Livingstone to write to Dundee to compel the Jacobite leader to surrender. Strathnaver was, in fact, Viscount Dundee’s brother-in-law and Livingstone sought to utilise this personal connection in the hope that Strathnaver could persuade him. 

Strathnaver wrote of his concerns to his brother-in-law, noting that it could not ‘but occasion regrait [sic] in me to see that the courses you take tend inevitably to the ruin of you and yours if persisted in’. Shortly before his death at the battle of Killiecrankie, 27th July 1689, Dundee replied ‘I asseur [sic] your lordship I have had no less concern for you, and was thinking of making the lyk adress [sic] to yon... I am sorry your lordship should be so far abused as to think that there is any shadou of apearance [sic] of stability in this newe structure of goverment’. 

Flanders and Dutch Service, 1693-1696

Lord Strathnaver’s regiment of foot was disbanded on 1st February 1691, just as the Jacobite threat began to de-escalate in the wake of the Williamite offensive of the previous year. Strathnaver returned to politics and was appointed to the Privy Council of Scotland by William of Orange. Lord Strathnaver’s regiment of foot was owed significant arrears in pay by the end of the Scottish conflict with £6,449 Sterling remaining unpaid. The end of the war in Scotland, and in Ireland, had secured the Revolution settlement in the Three Kingdoms. However, the Nine Years’ War, or War of the Grand Alliance, (1688-1697) raged on in Europe. The English and Scottish parliaments offered financial and military aid to the Dutch Republic to repay the debt of their ‘liberation’ in 1688-89. Scotland served as a valuable recruiting ground for William II’s armies in Flanders. Several regiments were sent from Scotland to serve in the armies of the Dutch States-General and their allies. In 1693, Lord Strathnaver was called upon to raise a new regiment of Scottish foot. Despite the outstanding arrears owed to him, Strathnaver agreed to this in a personal meeting with King William in London. He wrote to his mother, ‘I yesterday kissed the king’s hand upon one of the new regiments… the king said he wo[u]ld pay all my arrears, and was very weel [sic] satisfied with my person and services, but at this time could not doe [sic] what he wished’. He concluded that there was more to be gained by taking on this ‘imployment’ than by refusing it.

Lord Strathnaver’s second regiment began recruiting and warrants were immediately granted by the Scottish Privy Council. The regiment was to be paid for by the English Treasury. The regiment was engaged in these preparations in Scotland for much of the year. On 23 April 1693, the English Treasury reported that Strathnaver’s regiment was in desperate need of pay due to Lord Strathnaver’s considerable debt and that the Scottish Treasury was ‘advancing the like sum’. The regiment was to raise 780 soldiers and with officers this would bring its total strength to around 900 men in thirteen companies. 

Lord Strathnaver and his men arrived in the Dutch Republic in 1694 and were stationed at Ghent, under the command of one ‘Count de Tyan’ – a noble officer in the service of the Duke of Württemberg. On 30th June 1695, the regiment appears in a plan of Charles Thomas de Lorraine, the Prince of Vaudemont’s camp at Woutergem in western Flanders. Vaudemont commanded a covering force which was tasked with defending the approaches to Namur. The second siege of Namur (2nd July-1st September 1695) saw an Allied army under King William’s personal command seek to retake the critical fortress. In response, Louis XIV ordered a French army under command of Marshal François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroi, to relieve the garrison. On 3rd July 1695, Strathnaver’s regiment, alongside Sir David Colyear’s Scots regiment, were involved in a rear-guard action near Dentergem. They covered the tactical withdrawal of Vaudemont’s force. The French cavalry failed to press the attack at Dentergem and Vaudemont’s army was able to continue guarding Namur. This became increasingly difficult as more and more of Vaudemont’s men were seconded to William’s army at Namur. Vaudemont’s army was reduced from 37,000 men in July to 15,000 men by August of that year. However, Lord Strathnaver’s regiment continued to serve under Vaudemont’s command and were part of the effort to block the roads from Brussels to Namur; an effort which would see the infamous ‘Burning of Brussels’ by Villeroi’s French artillery on the 13th and 14th August 1695. The garrison at Namur surrendered on 1st September 1695.

In the following year, Lord Strathnaver’s regiment was a part of the army tasked with guarding the crossings over the Bruges-Ghent and Bruges-Nieuport canals. However, the regiment was in significant arrears by this time and as a result a mutiny broke out in camp at Marienkirk in October 1696. There had previously been mutinies surrounding arrears in pay, most notably in 1694, but in this instance the leader was named as one Captain ‘Kay’. Kay accused Strathnaver of keeping money from his men and demanded the case be brought before a court-martial. The subsequent trial found that it was not Strathnaver, as colonel, who was holding on to these wages but his lieutenant-colonel, one Alexander Young. The court found Strathnaver innocent of Kay’s charges which were deemed ‘false and malicious’. Kay was deprived of his rank, but confirmation of this sentence was delayed by King William. It is unclear if Young was reprimanded for withholding the money in the first place or if Kay was eventually stripped of his rank. 

Return to Scotland, 1696

Strathnaver returned to Scotland after the trial but his regiment remained in the Dutch Republic – it was encamped at ‘St Quentin’s Lennick’ in 1697. The Peace of Rijswick (20th September 1697) brought an end to the Nine Years’ War and would see both the Dutch Republic and the Three Kingdoms significantly reduce their armed forces. Strathnaver’s regiment returned to Scotland in 1699. Lord Strathnaver appeared to remain nominally in command of the regiment as a letter, dated 12th August 1701, from the third Marquess of Montrose, requesting he favour a relation of his serving in the regiment, indicates.

Escalating tensions between the Dutch Republic and France would see the States-General bolster its armed forces. In 1701, blank commissions were issued for new Scottish levies to return to Dutch service and reinforce the Scots-Dutch Brigade. Strathnaver’s regiment was one such regiment but was this time to be transferred to his son, William Gordon. John Gordon remained in Scotland and ascended to the earldom of Strathnaver in 1703. He was subsequently made a Privy Councillor of Scotland during the reign of Queen Anne. Gordon’s military experience was put to good use when he was involved in raising companies from his local area to oppose the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1719. He outlived his son, whose death in 1720 appears to have been the result of ill-health due to alcohol abuse. John Gordon, sixteenth Earl of Sutherland, died in 1733. 



British History Online [BHO], House of Commons Journal, Volume 11, ‘Army Estimates, 28th October 1696’, pp. 547-551.

BHO, Journal of the House of Commons, Volume 12, 1697-1699, (London, 1803), ‘Further LIST of the Officers of the late Army Disbanded, and to be Disbanded, with their Half-Pay, 11TH March 1699’, pp. 561-583; ‘Army Arrears, 4th March 1699’, pp. 547-551.

Bibliotheque Nationale de France [BnF], Plan du camp que prit l'armée des Alliés commandée par Son Altesse M.r le prince de Vaudemont le 30.e du mois de juin à Woutergem

: [estampe], 1695.

---, Ordre de Battaille de l'armée commande par le Mayst Britannique au camp de St. Quintins Lenick et Eijseringen, le 26 may 1697.

Childs, John., The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-97: The operations in the Low Countries (Manchester, 1981), pp. 275-277, 289, 313.

Dalton, Charles., English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714, Vol III, p. 95.

Ferguson, James, Papers Illustrating the History of the Scots Brigade in the Service of the United Netherlands 1572-1782, Volume II, p. 3 [fn 2].

Fraser, William (ed.), The Sutherland Book, Volume I (Edinburgh, 1892), pp. 317, 319, 321, 322.

---, The Sutherland Book, Volume II (Edinburgh, 1892), pp. 42-43.

Hopkins, Paul., Glencoe and the End of the Highland War (Edinburgh, 1998), pp. 145, 203.

Lumsden, H.W. (ed.), Memorials of the families of Lumsdaine, Lumisden or Lumsden (Edinburgh, 1889), pp. 21-22, 24.

Millen, Graeme S., The Scots-Dutch Brigade and the Highland War, 1689-1691 (University of Kent, 2022).

Paton, Henry and Spain, Jonathan, ‘Sutherland [formerly Gordon], John, sixteenth earl of Sutherland (bap. 1661, d. 1733), army officer and politician’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Records of the Parliament of Scotland, 1689/3/135, Act for levying some regiments of foot, 19th April 1689.

Reid, Stuart, Battle of Killiecrankie: The Last Act of the Killing Times (Barnsley, 2018), p. 141.

---, The Last Scots Army, 1661-1714 (London, 2003), pp. 31-32.

Shaw, William A (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 10, 1693-1696, BHO (London, 1935), pp. 82-90, 597-606.

SUTHERLAND [formerly Gordon], William, Lord Strathnaver (1683-1720), D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks and S. Handley (eds.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715 (2002).

Tytler, Fraser, Urquhart, Adam & Hogg, James (eds.), Hugh Mackay, Memoirs of the War Carried on in Scotland and Ireland, (Edinburgh, 1833), pp. 300, 303.


This entry was provided by Dr Graeme Millen.

Service record

Arrived 1689-04-19, as COLONEL
Departed 1691-02-01, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1693-02-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1699-03-11, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1699-03-02, as COLONEL
Departed 1702-08-01, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY