Duchess of Gordon (1) (The)

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X:1 T:Duchess of Gordon [1], The L:1/8 M:C R:Strathspey B:Stewart-Robertson - The Athole Collection (1884) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:Gmin A|G/G/G d2 d>=cA>g|G/G/G G2 A>GF>A|G/G/G d2 d>=cd>g| f<d c>A G2G:|^f|g<ab<a g<d d>=e|f>gf>c A<F F>^f| g>a b<a g<d d>g|f>dc>A G2 G>f|g>ab>a g<d d>=e| f>gf>c A>GF>f|g>ab>a g<f a>g|f>dc>A G2G||

DUCHESS OF GORDON [1]. AKA and see "Black Girl is not Cheerful (The)." Scottish, Strathspey. G Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Gow/Carlin): AAB (Athole, Gow). Published in Niel Gow's First Collection (1784) as "The Duchess of Gordon." John Glen (1891) finds tunes by this title in Riddell's collection (p. 17) and Angus Cumming's 1780 collection (p. 4). However, the tune was earlier printed without attribution in Donald (sometimes Daniel) Dow's collection as "The Black Girl is Not Cheerful."

Perhaps the most famous Duchess of Gordon was the celebrated Jane Maxwell who, along with her sister Eglintoun Maxwell, were brought up by their mother in somewhat parsimonious circumstances in Edinburgh, though their financial constraints apparently did little to quell two spirited girls. One story goes that the sisters rode on the backs of the swine which a nearlby innkeeper allowed to forage in the street. In later life she captivated the Duke of Gordon and was at the heart of social activity in Scotland, particularly the northern elite. She was an extroverted leader of fashion, hostess to William Pitt the younger, and particularly loved her entertainments. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus called her a beautiful and very cultivated woman, though Sir Walter Scott thought that her "sole claim to wit rested upon her brazen impudence and disregard to the feelings of all who were near her." The most fashionable dance assemblies were governed by a female tyrant," writes James C. Dick (Notes on Scottish Song, 1908), "who ruthlessly forbade entrance to all but the cream of society. The Duchess of Gordon, in Robert Burns' time, acted in this capacity."

In the late 18th century the Duke and Duchess of Gordon were patrons of the great Scottish fiddler Niel Gow, and Gow would frequently be called upon to entertain at balls, dinners and gatherings. Once when the Duchess called for him she had occasion to raise a passing complaint about feeling giddy with a swimming feeling in her head. Gow, who remained unawed by the gentry, replied with typical wit: "Faith, I ken somethin' o' that mysel', your Grace, when I have been fou the night before, ye wad think that a bike o' bees were bizzin' in my bonnet the next mornin'!" She hosted the poet Robert Burns on several occasions.

Moyra Cowie (Life and Times of William Marshall, 1999) relates the story that the 4th Duchess of Gordon, Jane, raised a regiment of Gordon Highlanders for her son George in 1797. It was perhaps a measure of her 'impudence', or else inspired determination, that she held the King's Shilling (the bonus money for enlisting) between her teeth, thus offering a kiss to any man who dared approach and prize the money from her. Cowie says: "Many a strong willed man, who may not have enlisted under normal circumstances could not resist this beautiful women mounted on horse back with the regimental bonnet bedecked with red plumes jauntily perched on her head." This circumstance inspired Charles Murray (who evidently agreed with Walter Scott's opinion of the Duchess) to write in Hamewith:


There's a yellow thread in the Gordon plaid,
But it binds nae love to me,
And the ivy leaf has brought dool and grief,
Where there never but love should be.

For my lad would list, when a duchess kis't,
He forgot a' the vows he made,
And turned and took but ae lang last look
When the 'Cock O' North' was played.

O her een were bright, an' her teeth were white,
As the siller they held between;
But the lips that he pree'd were they half as sweet
As he vowed that mine were yestereen.

A puir country lass 'mang the dewy grass
May hae whiles hae to kilt up her goon;
But a lody hie sae to shew her knee,
And to dance in a borough toon!

If I were the Duke, I was nae muir look
Wi' love on my high born dame;
At kilt or plaid I wad hang my heid,
And think aye on my lady's shame.

By my leefu' lane I sit morn and e'en,
Prayin' aye for him back to me,
For noo he's awa', I forgie him a',
Save the kiss he was 'losted wi'.

In later life Jane and her husband Alexander became estranged because of his affair with Jean Christie, the daughter of the housekeeper at Gordon Castle. Proud Jane had a home built for herself, Kinrara, into which she moved, and the Duke eventually took Jean as his second wife. Jane died in the Pultney Hotel, Picadilly, London on the 10th of April, 1812, attended by her children and close companion and granddaughter Lady Jane Montague, and was buried at Kinrara.

The Duchess of Gordon is a Scottish country dance which was, at the mid-20th century, one of the 15 or so either wholly or in part in strathspey tempo (Flett, 1964); it was one of the more uncommon dances in a program.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 40. Gow (The First Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 1784 (revised 1801); p. 21. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 202.

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