Earlston Castle

The Gordons of Earlston

Earlston Castle, once the stronghold of the Gordons of Earlston, is situated near the east side of Earlston Loch just north of Dalry. (for more information about the castle itself, go to http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/64287/details/earlstoun+castle/). It is supposed to have been built by James, Earl of Bothwell as a hunting lodge. The Gordon family were closely associated with the Reformation and the . Harper (Rambles in Galloway), relates that Gordon of Earlston was a disciple of Wycliffe, and the first layman in Scotland to possess a copy of the New Testament in “the vulgar tongue”. In 1635 the Bishop of Galloway tried to impose an Episcopal minister on the parish of Dalry but the people would not accept him and Alexander Gordon led the opposition. He was summoned to appear before the church court but refused, so he was fined and banished to Montrose. However we find him again as an elder of the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright in 1638 and a Commissioner for the Stewartry in Parliament in 1641; he also was on the Covenanters’ War Committee for the Stewartry.

In 1654 Alexander died and his son William inherited the estate. Although he has been educated to become a minister he took up arms during the Civil War, commanding a company under General Leslie, on the side of the Covenanters. In 1663 the Privy Council sent a committee to investigate riots that had taken place in Kirkcudbright and Irongray protesting about the imposition of Episcopalian ministers. They tried to get Gordon to agree to the ordination of an Episcopal minister in his parish, but he refused and was cited to appear before the Council where lengthy accusations were made against him for condoning, assisting and taking part in worship by the Covenanters. For this he was fined £3,500 and banished from the kingdom.

After the Pentland Rising, Sir William Bannatyne was one of those sent to wreak vengeance on the people of Galloway, particularly on the parishes from where the so called rebels had come. Some of his troops were garrisoned at Earlston during this time. There is some conflict about whether Gordon actually obeyed his banishment order or merely went into hiding, as some sources claim Bannatyne turned him out of the house so that it could be used for the troops.

Whether he went in to exile or not, he was back for the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, where he met his death before reaching the battlefield. On his way to join the battle he was met and killed by a company of English cavalry but his son Alexander (the Bull of Earlston) took part in the battle where he was almost captured. Legend tells that he was saved by one of his tenants who spotted him as he was being pursued through Hamilton. The man dressed Gordon in women’s clothes and told him to rock a cradle, while he removed the insignia from his horse. He was subsequently declared an outlaw and fled to Holland, but returned and was captured trying to leave again from Newcastle in 1683.

He was sentenced to death, but then the authorities decided that perhaps he should be tortured, however when he was led into the place where it was to take place he overthrew his guard and scared the Council. He was declared to be suffering from “alienation mentis, furore latente laborans” and sent first to the Castle Rock and then the Bass Rock. During this time his family were turned out of their home and his wife is said to have made a shelter where she lived beside the Garpol burn, still on the maps as Jean’s Wa’s*. He was eventually set free in 1689 when William III came to the throne and his lands were restored the following year. He became Commissioner of Supply for the Stewartry and commanded the Kirkcudbright Militia. He died in 1726.

* A different authority claims that it was Jean Gordon from Shirmers retired to Jean’s Wa’, heartbroken, having been deserted by her lover.