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William Gordon (1683-1720) was a Scottish nobleman and professional soldier who commanded regiments of foot in the armies of the Dutch Republic, the Kingdom of Scotland, and the Kingdom of Great Britain. Gordon was a member of the Sutherland family and heir to the earldom of Sutherland. As the eldest son of the Earl of Sutherland, William Gordon was granted the courtesy title of Lord Strathnaver. Such titles hold no legal significance but grant the bearer respect among the Scottish nobility by way of tradition. His father, John Gordon, sixteenth Earl of Sutherland was a colonel of foot in armies in both Scotland and the Dutch Republic. William espoused the same politics of his father, who had supported the 1688 Revolution and William of Orange, later crowned William II of Scotland and III of England.

Strathnaver's Regiment in Dutch Service, 1701-1702

In 1701, William Gordon was granted command of Lord Strathnaver’s regiment of foot in Scotland. This came against a backdrop of increasing instability in Europe as the Three Kingdoms, the Dutch Republic and the Holy Roman Empire sought to prevent France from placing a successor upon the Spanish throne in the wake of Carlos II’s (1661-1700) death. The Dutch Republic had significantly reduced its army during the brief peace between the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1714). Although they had retained the three original regiments of the Scots-Dutch Brigade, the Dutch States General sought to bolster the brigade with new levies of Scots. Lord Strathnaver’s regiment of foot had previously served as one of these levies from 1693 until 1699, when they had been transferred back to Scotland.

In 1701, the States-General drew up blank commissions for new Scottish regiments; a practice which had proved successful in the previous war. In 1702, Lord Strathnaver was granted one of these commissions and Strathnaver’s regiment of foot was transferred into Dutch service. These Scottish regiments would effectively be on loan to the Dutch States-General and were to be paid for by the Scottish or English treasuries as a form of military assistance. Lord Strathnaver’s regiment would serve in the States’ army under William Gordon’s personal command. Although his father would not inherit the earldom of Sutherland until 1703, upon the death of William’s grandfather, it appears that John Gordon had handed down the courtesy title of Lord Strathnaver to his son by 1702. He was referred to by this title whilst in Dutch service.

Little remains known about William’s capacity as a regimental commander and a soldier. It was noted that William was overly fond of alcohol but there is no indication this impacted his reputation nor ability whilst serving in Flanders. He commanded the regiment at the siege of Kaiserwerth (16th April-15th June 1702) and, on 9th June, his men performed well during an assault on the counterscarp of the fort. The regiment remarkably only suffered eight casualties with thirty wounded. Strathnaver’s time in Dutch service would prove far shorter than his father’s as he was offered a commission in the Scottish army. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and commander in the Allied armies, was instructed by Queen Anne to request Strathnaver’s transfer. Marlborough wrote to the Grand Pensionary of Holland on 8th June 1702;

‘As Her Majesty would wish to employ My Lord Strathnaver, who commands a Scottish regiment in the pay of the State[s], in the Kingdom of Scotland, where his service would be very useful to her, she has ordered me to communicate it to [the] Gentlemen [of the] States [General], and at the same time to recommend… the Marquis of Lorne, son of the Duke of Argyle [sic], to command the said regiment in his place’.

Return to Scotland, 1702-1708

As the above source reveals, Strathnaver’s regiment was to continue in Dutch service but placed under a new commander, John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne. The request was granted swiftly. Lord Strathnaver returned to Scotland to assume command of a new regiment and his old formation was renamed as the Marquis of Lorne’s regiment of Scots foot in 1702-03. The regiment continued to serve under successive commanders in the Dutch Republic until 1717. Strathnaver returned to Scotland where took his seat in Parliament until the Act of Union in 1707. His father John, now sixteenth Earl of Sutherland, was serving as a Privy Councillor to Queen Anne.He lost his seat during the constitutional amalgamation of the Scottish and English parliaments in the wake of the Treaty of Union of 1707. 

Return to Flanders, 1708-1710

Therefore, Strathnaver returned to his military career and in October 1708 his regiment, now part of the formally established British army, was sent to Flanders. Strathnaver seemed somewhat indecisive about accompanying his regiment to war again and was, alongside his lieutenant-colonel, the Earl of Glencairn, warned to attend ‘their respective posts upon pain of cashiering’. After his arrival in the Netherlands, Strathnaver swiftly requested that Marlborough grant him the ‘just title’ of brigadier general as the oldest colonel of foot in the British army. His father interceded upon his behalf to assist him in gaining this promotion but it was never granted. Strathnaver returned to campaign in Flanders in 1710 but remained convinced that he was being passed over in favour of younger colonels. He sold his commission shortly thereafter and campaigned in the 1710 election in Scotland. His military experience was used in levying local companies, alongside his father, in Sutherland to suppress the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1719. In 1720, Strathnaver fell fatally ill and passed away in that same year.



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], 26-31.

Het staatsche leger 1568-1795 : onder toezicht van den Chef van den Generalen Staf, Volume 8 (den Haag, 1956), 9th June 1702, p. 691.

Murray, George (ed.), The Letters and Dispatches of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, from 1702 to 1712, Volume I (London, 1845), ‘Marlborough to the Pensioner, 8th June 1702’, p. 3.

Murdoch, Alexander, ‘Campbell, John, second duke of Argyll and duke of Greenwich (1680–1743), army officer and politician’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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.

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.

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).


This entry was provided by Dr Graeme Millen.

Service record

Arrived 1702-02-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1702-07-01, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1702-08-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1707-04-03, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1708-10-01, as COLONEL
Departed 1710-12-01, as COLONEL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY