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St Margaret's Chapel & The Spanish Gordons

New Publication: The Spanish Gordons and Huntly ( Profits to The Scalan Association )

Spanish Church Disentailment


The Spanish Connection

SOME years before his death, General Franco recognised Juan Carlos as the legitimate heir to the Spanish throne,and as his successor. Now perhaps is the time to reflect on the new King’s grandparents, King Alfonso Xlllth of Spain, and his Queen, Victoria Eugenia, who spent their honeymoon at Wardhouse, on Uryside, at the back o’ Bennachie, when Rafael Gordon was laird.

During their stay in August, 1906, the Royal couple also visited Fyvie Castle, where they stayed for four days, August 13th to August 17th, and we have a wee poem by local poet James Gower to celebrate the occasion.

Lines on the visit of the King and Queen of Spain to Fyvie Castle

Welcome, welcome, illustrious Strangers,

To Fyvie ‘s sweet belov’d domain

Rest thou in peaceful leisure,

From the cares of state in sunny Spain.

Glad are we, illustrious Strangers,

That both are spared from Assassin’s blow

O’er shaggy heath be thou a ranger,

On bank nor braes there lurks no foe.

King Alphonso (1886-1931) acceded to the Spanish throne in May, 1886 (at birth it would appear) and was deposed on April 14th, 1931.

The King would have been twenty years old and his Queen nineteen when they were at Wardhouse, and a journalist of the period quoted her as:

‘so fair and placid, and majestic, such a solemn contrast to her boyish, nervous !ooking, energetic husband. . .‘

They had arrived at Wardhouse in great style. Their entourage included HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, El Marques de Viana, El Duque de Santo Maure and Lord Leith of Fyvie. No secret honeymoon this.

Alphonso shook hands with the head gardener and the gamekeeper, Tom Kennedy, whose son was to become a cabinet minister in Ramsay MacDonald’s government.

Alphonso is cited as a good king who did much for the Spanish people and got little thanks for it. At his going. maybe they ‘never missed the water or the wallie ran dry.’

Like our own Princess Anne, Princess Eugènia was a keen horsewoman, and at seven years of age she was ‘tossed and rolled upon by her pony,’ causing great concern to her ageing grandmother, who was afraid of brain damage. But all was well, and Victoria Eugènia grew up ‘a lovely fair-haired Princess who took on the hazardous duty as Queen of Spain.’

The Gordons of Wardhouse and Kildrummy were also great horsemen, particularly Pedro Carlos Gordon (1806-1857)  who drove the mail coach in record time from London to York, and is alleged to have driven his four-in-hand full gallop into Castlehill barracks. When the railway came to Keith and Huntly he raced the train from Wardhouse to lnsch station.

But it was his grand-nephew, Rafael Carlos Gordon (1873-1932) also known as the Count de Mirasol who invited the Spanish Monarch and his Queen to spend part of their honeymoon on his estates at Wardhouse, near Kennethmont.

The Count de Mirasol referred to himself as ‘Equerry’ or Master of the Queen’s Horse, but it was sherry more than horsemanship that first associated the Gordons of Wardhouse with Spanish Royalty.

The story of the friendship between the Gordons of Wardhouse and the Kings of Spain goes back to the eighteenth century, when James Gordon, the tenth laird of Beldorney, and owner of Kildrummy Castle, acquired the Wardhouse estate through marriage.

These Gordons were Roman Catholic, and James Gordon’s grandson, Charles Edward Gordon (1754-1832) was to bow before the anti-Catholic legislation of the period, preferring to renounce his faith rather than forfeit Wardhouse to the Crown. Charles opted for the life of a laird rather than an exile, and indeed, devoted the last twenty years of his life to improving and beautifying his estate in Aberdeenshire.

His younger brother James had private means, and feared that legislation might one day be passed, also confiscating the private fortunes of Catholics who refused to give up the faith.

So he decided to try his luck in the Catholic country of Spain, headed for the south, bought lands and vines in Andalusia, and laid the foundations of a highly successful business. Gordon’s sherry was deemed fit for the Spanish Royal table, and thus the family became the friends of Kings.

Later, the Laird of Wardhouse’s eldest son, John Gordon, (1774-1850) joined his uncle in Jerez and after his death, inherited the sherry business. He married in Spain, and the members of his large family also married Spaniards.


John David Gordon

Meanwhile, back in Aberdeenshire, his father, the Laird, lived to a great age, and John was sixty before inheriting Wardhouse. He died in Spain, and his eldest son, Pedro Carlos Gordon (1806-57), fell heir to Wardhouse and took up residence there. The   Laird set a pattern for his successors, commuting between Andalusia and Aberdeenshire.

It was in his day that the Home Farm of Wardhouse was built, the steading like a hugh Spanish arena, with its arch, tower, and four squared courtyard.

Wardhouse Carlos Pedro.JPG (45669 bytes)

A portrait that May be Wardhouse ?

But the great bullyard within the arena of Home Farm has survived the ghosts of yesteryear, and because it is a listed building it has escaped the hands of the despoiler, thus preserving the Spanish influence at Wardhouse. The Mansion of Wardhouse was less fortunate and now stands in ruins

Mr. Alexander Souter, who now owns the farm, showed me the original plans of 1841-43, drawn by one William Findlay, built in the two years by David Wood. Despite the huge area of courtyard, Mr. Souter told me there were only chains for thirty cattle, which suggests specialised breeding of pedigree stock, even bulls for the Spanish arenas, and the plans are meticulously marked with fodder barns and turnip sheds and even ‘liquid manure tanks’, long before our own day of slatted floors and sludge pits.

Mr. Souter has been allowed to roof the open courtyard to house a greater number of loose cattle, but he is content to live with his family and workers within the quadrangle, perhaps in true Spanish traditions--I have never seen anything quite anywhere in Scotland.

The  Laird, Pedro Carlos, was succeeded on his death in 1857 by his son Juan José Gordon, who had been brought up in Spain, and who was only twenty when he took up residence as Laird. He invited his Spanish friends to Wardhouse, and built a bull ring behind the Mansion for their entertainment. He imported bulls from Spain and held amateur bull-fights on Sunday afternoons, making himself the talk of the Garioch. What remains of the bull ring can still be seen, hidden amongst the scrub and nettles of dereliction. Juan José had married a sister of the Count de Mirasol, thus bringing the title for the first time to Wardhouse.

But he died young and left no son. The estate passed tç his uncle, a younger brother of the Mad Laird, and from him to his grandson, Rafael Carlos Gordon, Count de Mirasol, the last Gordon Laird of Wardhouse.

Rafael Gordon was born in the Royal Palace in Madrid. He obtained great favour at the Spanish court and arranged the honeymoon of Alphonso and his bride on his North East estates of Kildrummy and Wardhouse. Mr. Soutar of the Home Farm, who is over eighty, recalls the Spanish King and Queen, returning to Wardhouse after a drive in the Laird’s phaeton, almost colliding with a woodcart in the driveway.

During these years  the Rafael Gordons—the Count and Countess de Mirasol— visited Wardhouse every summer, using the Mansion as a sort of Balmoral, touring the country in a fine 1929 Bentley, now scrapped, but which stood for years in the Nettleyard.

Mr. Souter’s daughter, Mrs. Smith, has childhood memories of the heyday of Wardhouse in the Rafael Gordon era, when there were great festivities, and when Rafael’s Countess Maria Rodriquez Casanova, a stout lady in black, companion friend of Queen Eugenia, came haughtily through the Home farmhouse, with never a ‘by-your-leave.’

Mr. Soutar himself remembers the head gardener at Wardhouse offering to pay half-a-crown to anyone who found a weed in the grounds. Now on an autumn breeze, the willow-herb and thistle-down blow like fine snow across the policies.

In 1931, King Alphonso was dethroned.

On his last lone flight the Count de Mirasol spent a few months on his old estate at Wardhouse.  He travelled north to Nairn to visit his relative but died suddenly in 1932 of a Heart Attack. He is buried in the family vault at Wallkirk, near Glass.

After his death, the Mansion was let out to shooting parties, and let to the Army during the war. Compensation paid for damage caused then just like all the rents paid by tenant farmers, went to Spain. By 1950, the House was a ruin, the only heritable room being the gunroom, where the farmers paid their rents. The sale of the estate in the fifties also took money off to Spain.

Mr. Kenneth MacDonald, whose grandfather for many years was head gardener at Wardhouse tells us, ‘Absentee landlords are not much good to a countryside, and I think the best thing that happened to the estate was the sate of the land to farmers like Alex. Souter.’

In the fifties, the estate had been sold and the new owners took off the Mansion’s roof. Deterioration quickly followed.

The Wardhouse estate is beautiful at all times, but more so in autumn, when the red sunset hangs like the cloak of a matador on the wooded hills, like drops of blood on tree and bracken, glistening on the rowans and the hips and haws of the dog rose; where the sparkle of the burns is like wine uncorked for the castanated dance, the music of the wind like soft hands on the tambourines, the swish of wide skirts in Spanish courtyards.


Extracted from The Leopard Magazine Dec/Jan 1976/6

By David Toulmin

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