Ruth Grant will present ‘Friendship, Politics and Religion: George Gordon, Sixth Earl of Huntly and King James VI, 1581-1595’

George Gordon, sixth earl of Huntly’s relationship with James VI was unparalleled and often misunderstood by both contemporaries and modern historians, puzzled as to how a Protestant king could exhibit blatant favouritism to a Catholic magnate active in the Counter-Reformation. Their relationship has been interpreted as fraught by religious division, which drove Huntly to rebel and to conspire with Philip II, king of Spain.

When the confessional politics are stripped away and the evidence is studied, however, what one finds is a close friendship between James and Huntly and an earl who assiduously served his king in both national and international politics, enabling James to use Counter-Reformation politics to further his objectives in securing the English throne following Elizabeth I’s death. Huntly’s adherence in 1581 to James’s first favourite, Esmé Stewart, duke of Lennox and his enforcing the change from the Ruthven Regime in June 1583 won James’s trust and close friendship – the dividends of which he reaped throughout his life. Their relationship withstood Huntly’s vehement dissent to John Maitland, lord Thirlestane’s government, which also enabled James to pursue diametrically opposed policies and Huntly’s brutal bloodfeud with James Stewart, earl of Moray from 1590 to 1595. Overall, Huntly needs to be understood as a political faction leader, whose Catholicism was a tool both he and James employed by each to widen political influence. At its most basic, however, the relationship between James and Huntly, was predicated on friendship and loyalty – given and received by both men.

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