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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd


Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Old Cruden Parish Church

The year,1746. And in April, the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart – ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ - was crushed at the Battle of Culloden.

Three and a half months later, on July 30, 1746, Mr Charles Gordon, schoolmaster in Cruden Parish, Aberdeenshire, was called in front of his employers, the Ellon Presbytery of the Church of Scotland. They asked him to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Assurance, that is, to swear allegiance to King George III and to give assurance that he would support and defend King George’s Government. Charles Gordon agreed to do this. However, when also asked to pledge the Oath of Abjuration, he hesitated. This oath would oblige him to abjure [disown] the Stuart claim to the throne. He asked the Presbytery to give him more time to think about this, promising to give them an answer before their next meeting.

Which was unwise.

The Church of Scotland supported King George III and his government and despised the Jacobites. So, the Presbytery committee of ministers and elders now asked Charles Gordon awkward questions about rumours concerning his conduct during the ‘late wicked and unnatural Rebellion’.

‘Had the children under his charge worn white cockades?’ – the cloth badges of the Jacobites.

‘Yes, his scholars did wear them, and he owns to his shame that he did not hinder them, but as to his son, he took the cockade from him.’

‘Had he drunk the Pretender’s son’s health, under the title of Prince Charles, and wished success to his Arms?’

‘He had heard the Prince’s health drunk in company, and at the time he drunk His Prince’s health.’

‘Did the company mean the Pretender’s son?’

‘I cannot refuse [deny] it.’

‘Did you in company say that you would join the Pretender’s son’s army?’

‘I have frequently said so, but it was in jest.’

‘When some of his Majesty’s forces appeared in quest of some Frenchman landed on the sands of Cruden Bay (‘the Sands of Ardendraught’), you said, “O! If we had three hundred Highlanders.”’

‘I deny this.’ [This conversation is the only record of the incident having taken place]

Cruden Bay beach

It is then recorded in the minutes that: ‘The Presbytery, taking the said answers under consideration, did unanimously judge it would not be for edification to settle Mr Gordon Schoolmaster at Cruden, and therefore appointed a letter to be sent to the Countess of Erroll [at Slains Castle] intimating the same, and entreating her Ladyship would, with all convenient speed, present a person duly qualified to be schoolmaster there.’

The Presbytery now ‘discharged’ Charles Gordon from teaching at the School in Cruden Parish. However, the matter did not end there - Charles Gordon had a powerful friend.

Mary Hay, Countess of Erroll, now took up his cause. She had been a Jacobite herself, as had been many of those belonging to the Episcopalian Church in NE Scotland. She had persuaded numerous men on her estate to join the Jacobite army, and such was known to the authorities. After Culloden, she kept in touch with former Jacobites, using the services of Jamie Fleeman, ‘The Laird of Udny’s fool’, to correspond with them. It is not known how the Countess had been able to escape sanctions against her, although as a woman and a force in the land, it was probably considered wise to leave her well alone.

The Countess now made representations with the Presbytery, sending a letter stating that Charles Gordon would take all the necessary oaths and demanded he be continued as schoolmaster.

And, so, Charles Gordon met the ministers of the Presbytery again, whereby he laid his petition before them, noting that his ‘six infants and a wife’ depended on him retaining his job. The four elders of the Cruden Parish Church also made representations on his behalf, adding that ‘he was generally acceptable to the whole Parish of Cruden’.

The decision was passed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who now agreed that Charles Gordon should keep his job, while also recommending that the Presbytery should keep ‘a watchful eye over his future conduct.’

There was nothing to worry about. Subsequent minutes of the Presbytery show that peace and quiet reigned in Cruden Parish thereafter.


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