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Lady Jean Gordon
Countess of Bothwell
Countess of Sutherland
Miniature portrait of Lady Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell, painted by an unknown artist in 1566
Miniature portrait of Lady Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell, painted by an unknown artist in 1566
Spouse James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland
Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne
Jane Gordon
John Gordon, 13th Earl of Sutherland
Sir Robert Gordon
Mary Gordon
Sir Alexander Gordon
Noble family Gordon
Father George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly
Mother Elizabeth Keith
Born 1546
Died 14 May 1629
Burial Dornoch, Scotland

Lady Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell (1546- 14 May 1629), was a wealthy Scottish noblewoman and the first wife of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell who became, after his divorce from Lady Jean, the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Lady Jean herself had a total of three husbands. Upon her second marriage, she became the Countess of Sutherland.



Lady Jean Gordon was born at Huntly Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the second eldest daughter of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, the wealthiest and most powerful landowner in the Scottish Highlands[1], and Elizabeth Keith. Her father's Highlands estates were so numerous that they approached those of an independent monarch.[2] He became Lord Chancellor of Scotland in 1546, the year of her birth.

She had two sisters and nine brothers[3], including George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly, Lord Chancellor of Scotland and Sir John Gordon. Her paternal grandparents were John Gordon, Lord Gordon and Margaret Stewart, illegitimate daughter of King James IV by his mistress Margaret Drummond. Her maternal grandparents were Robert Keith, Master of Marischal and Lady Elizabeth Douglas.

In 1562 her mother encouraged her father to rebel against Queen Mary, on account of the latter having given Huntly's title of Earl of Moray to her own illegitimate half-brother Lord James Stewart, who was the husband of Jean's first cousin, Lady Agnes Keith. After the Battle of Corrichie, her father's rebel forces were defeated by the troops of Queen Mary led by James Stewart, Earl of Moray; he died on the battlefield of apoplexy, and her brother Sir John was captured and later executed. Jean's father was posthumously tried for treason, and his title and lands were thereby forfeited to the crown.[4] They were later restored to her brother George, Lord Gordon, who succeeded his father as the 5th Earl of Huntly. Furthermore, as another token of the queen's clemency towards the Huntlys, Jean and her mother were given positions at the royal court.[5]

Marriages and children

On 24 February 1566 at the Kirk of the Canongate, Jean, who was a Catholic, married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell in a Protestant-rites ceremony described as having been '"celebrated with considerable pomp".[6]Queen Mary, who strongly approved of the match, supplied the eleven ells of cloth of silver for Jean's wedding gown,[7] although she had wanted the marriage to have taken place in the Chapel Royal during mass. Bothwell, however had overridden the queen's wishes in the matter.[8]

Jean was pale-skinned, and had a firm nose, bulbous eyes, and a long clever face which lacked beauty and softness.[9] She was said to have had a "cool, detached character warmed by a masculine intelligence, and a great understanding above the capacity of her sex".[10]She was provided with a large dowry by her brother George, and she had an excellent appreciation of the value of her properties. Later she managed to retain her lands, despite the Earl of Bothwell's attainder.[11]

At the end of February 1567, Jean became seriously ill, and hovered on the brink of death. In point of fact, one ambassador announced that she had actually died.[12]

That same year, after much persuasion from her brother, who was Bothwell's ally, Jean agreed to begin divorce proceedings against her husband. On 3 May 1567, she was given judgement against Bothwell in the Protestant commissary court on the grounds of his alleged adultery with one of her maids by the name of Bessie Crawford.[13] [14]The marriage was formally annulled on 7 May by the Consistorial Court of St. Andrews presided over by the Catholic Archbishop Hamilton. The annulment was due to Bothwell and Jean not having received a dispensation for their marriage, although they were within the fourth degree of consanguinity. In point of fact, a dispensation had been given prior to their marriage by Archbishop Hamilton himself.[15] Eight days later, on 15 May Bothwell married, as her third husband, the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots whose late husband Lord Darnley had been murdered at Kirk o'Field, Edinburgh in mysterious circumstances which implicated Bothwell as having been the chief culprit behind the crime.[16] Jean remained at Bothwell's Crichton Castle, its mortgage having been redeemed by her own dowry.[17] Following Bothwell and Queen Mary's's defeat at Carberry Hill, Jean abandoned Crichton, and returned to her mother at Strathbogie Castle. In December, Bothwell's titles and estates, including Crichton Castle were forfeited by an Act of Parliament for treason.

Jean married secondly on 13 December 1573, Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland, thus becoming the Countess of Sutherland. Jean and Alexander together had five children:[18]

  • Jane Gordon (born 1 November 1574), in December 1589 married Hugh Mackay
  • John Gordon, 13th Earl of Sutherland (20 July 1575- 11 September 1615), on 5 February 1600 married Agnes Elphinstone, by whom he had five children, including John Gordon, 14th Earl of Sutherland.
  • Sir Robert Gordon, 1st Baronet (14 May 1580- March 1654), on 16 February 1613 married Louisa Gordon, by whom he had issue.
  • Mary Gordon (14 August 1582), on 21 February 1598 married David Ross.
  • Sir Alexander Gordon (born 5 March 1585)

In the latter years of her second marriage, due to the earl's increasing ill health, Jean ran the vast Sutherland estates.[19]

Around 10 December 1599, five years after the death, on 6 December 1594, of the Earl of Sutherland, Jean married her third and last husband, Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne, the widower of Mary Beaton, one of Queen Mary's celebrated quartet of ladies-in-waiting who had died in 1598. He was the only man Jean had ever, truly loved,[20]as her two previous marriages had been made for political reasons.

Lady Jean Gordon died on 14 May 1629 at Dunrobin Castle at the age of eighty-three. She was buried in Dornoch.

In art, fiction, and film

In 1566, the Earl of Bothwell commissioned an artist, whose name is not recorded, to paint miniature portraits of Jean and himself. These were done in oil on copper.

Jean appears as a character in Elizabeth Byrd's historical romance, Immortal Queen which is a fictionalised story of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Irish actress Maria Aitken played the part of Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell in Mary, Queen of Scots, the 1971 film which starred Vanessa Redgrave in the title role.


  1. ^ Antonia Fraser, Mary, Queen of Scots, pp.220-223
  2. ^ Fraser, p.220
  3. ^ Fraser, p.225
  4. ^ Fraser, pp. 229-231
  5. ^ Jean Gordon, Undiscovered Scotland Online, retrieved 30 March 2009
  6. ^ Fraser, p. 285
  7. ^ Fraser, p.285
  8. ^ Fraser, pp.285, 302
  9. ^ Fraser, p.285
  10. ^ Fraser, p. 285
  11. ^ Fraser, p.285
  12. ^ Fraser, p.360
  13. ^ Fraser, p.370
  14. ^
  15. ^ Fraser, p. 370
  16. ^ Fraser, pp.330-352
  17. ^ Fraser, p. 374
  18. ^
  19. ^ Jean Gordon, Undiscovered Scotland Online, retrieved 30 March 2008
  20. ^ Fraser, p.285


  • Antonia Fraser, Mary, Queen of Scots, Dell Publishing Co. Inc., New York, March 1971, originally published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1969
  • www.the


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