Patrick Gordon was an incredibly colourful character. He was a freebooter who fought on every side of a multilateral European war. He wrote a very detailed diary recounting his countless scrapes with death. It is a tale which seems worthy of a fantasist. He went on to be tutor of Peter the Great
He came from Ellon in Scotland. This little town lies in the county of Aberdeenshire. He was related to the aristocratic Haddo family. He was a rear admiral. He was a Catholic at a time when there were few Catholics in Scotland. People of his religious denomination were heavily discriminated against. His family owned five farms. Their annual income was about 360 Pounds Scots. Not that this is not the same as pounds sterling. English Pounds and Scots Pounds were not the same until well into the 18th century. The family had declined in wealth and importance. They strove to keep up appearances and were heavily in debt.
Aberdeen was a great mercantile city. Aberdonian merchants had done commerce with Russian for centuries.
In his diary Gordon gives this account of his primary schooling, ” I was sent to the schoole at the kirk of Crochdan on Lambe masse day, and put to lodge and dyet by a widdow called Margaret Allan, ray school- master being William Logon. Here I, together with my eldest brother, stayed foure years, haveing proceeded to Multiplex v.no sensu in the first part of Despauter’s Graramer.”
The preface to his diaries gives this explanation for why Gordon became a buccaneer, ” He was then a boy of fifteen, on the eve of setting out to seek his fortune as a foreign mercenary, according to the fashion of a time which taught the country gentleman, however needy, to look on trade with contempt Twenty years of successful service enabled the thrifty soldier to pay off one heavy encumbrance. He discharged another in no long time afterwards and when, he died, Auchleuchrie was freed of all but one inconsiderable bond.”
Patrick Gordon wrote this account of why he chose to emigrate, ” Haveing thus, by the most loveing care of my dear parents, atteined to as much learning as the ordinary country schools affoord, and being un- willing, because of my dissenting in religion, to go to the University in Scotland, I resolved, partly to dissolve the bonds of a youthfull affection, wherein I was entangled, by banishing my self from the object ; partly to obtaine my liberty, which I foundly conceited to be restrained, by tiie care- full inspection of my loveing parents ; but, most of all, ray patrimony being but small, as being the younger sone of a younger brother of a younger liouse ; I resolved, I say, to go to some foreigne countrey, not careing much on what pretence, or to which country I should go, seing I had no known friend in any foreigne place”
By his ”dissenting religion” he meant Catholicism. In order to enter university one had to swear an oath abjuring Catholicism.
Gordon sailed to Danzig which was then a German free city on the Baltic Sea. He later spent time in Denmark. He finally moved to Brandenburg and studied with the Jesuits for a time.
Gordon claimed that he was talked into being a mercenary, ” when falling in acquaintance with one John Dick, who was prentice to a merchant called Robert Sleich, I was perswaded by him to travell further up into Polland ; and, because I was much inclined to be a souldier, he told me that Duke Ian Radzewill had a lyfe company, all or most Scottismen, where wee would without doubt be accommodated. ”
Scots mercenaries had been serving in the Russian Army since at least 1391.
In 1658 Charles Gustavus of Sweden was marshalling his army. He was preparing to invade Poland which was then an independent nation.
Patrick Gordon fought in this campaign. He gave an extensive account of his experiences. In one battle he was wounded in the rib and nearly died. Many of the troops in the Polish Army were also foreigners. He stated that Dutchmen were numerous in those ranks.
Gordon described how barbarous warfare was before the Geneva Convention. This incident is what Swedes did to Poles,
” The pursuit was entrusted to Colonel Konigsmark, who, finding that 400 of the fugitiyes had taken refuge in a fortress, summoned them to surrender at discretion. They complied, and were hanged to a man. ”
Gordon defected from the Poles to the Swedes. Later he was captured by the Poles. Fortunately for Gordon they did not realise he had previously deserted from them. He was later set free. He re-entered the fray only to be taken prisoner again. He was then persuaded to rejoin the Polish Army. The Polish soldiers who had taken him prisoner did not know that he was already a turncoat. Patrick Gordon agreed. He fought in campaigns in the Ukraine. In 1661 he was in Warsaw when peace was declared. He was informed by a letter from his father that Charles II had been restored in Scotland.
The preface to Gordon’s diaries offers this summary of one episode in his life, ” we have Gordon’s relation of the circumstances under which, in 1661, he left the Polish army at Warsaw, engaged to follow the Austrian banner, broke his faith, outwitted the Imperial Ambassador, and posted to Moscow to take a Major’s commission under the Czar. ”
Gordon was paid 1 000 Reichs Dollars for his service to the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this he betrayed his master. He began to serve Russia.
Patrick Gordon did little to correct Caledonophobic stereotypes. He carefully noted the cost of every item he bought.
He moved to Russia and settled in Moscow.. He participated in military campaigns. He came to know everyone in the tiny English-speaking community in Moscow.
Gordon married in 1664 for the firs time and had children. His first wife died. Patrick Gordon married again.
Gordon sailed to England and visited London. Thence he went to Edinburgh. He visited his familial estates in Aberdeenshire which he had not seen in many a long year.
He fought against the Crimean Tatars. He was present in 1696 when Azov was stormed. He spelt it ”Asof”
Patrick Gordon was sent to England as an envoy of the Tsar. Gordon recalled when he received the order, ” his Majesty had ordered and com- manded me to go for England, and that I should make myself ready in three or four dayes to be gone. ” He was reluctant to go but obeyed.
Peter the Great attended the wedding of Gordon’s daughter.
In 1724 the University of Aberdeen published his journal. The preface sniffily alludes to ”the thankless country in which he was condemned to breathe his last.” The preface rightly refers to him as ”a soldier of fortune.” At that time being a mercenary was not seen as shameful nor was it illegal.
Gordon had his sons educated in Jesuit schools one in Memel, Germany. Another at Douai in France which was a school for Scots and English Catholics.
Gordon was survived by one daughter and four sons. One of his sons followed Patrick Gordon’s footsteps and served before the colours.