Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell (with Jennifer Morag Henderson)

Amid the unrelenting grimness of the Mary, Queen of Scots story comes a NICE story with a HAPPY EVER AFTER ENDING. Let’s all take a brain break to learn about Jean Gordon, daughter of Cock o’ the North, briefly the wife of Bothwell, and how her life turned out GREAT after all that happened.

My guest is Jennifer Morag Henderson, who wrote the book Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots, which I’ve been using as a resource in almost every episode this season! So it was great to chat with her.

Learn more about Jennifer and her work at

Buy Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots at and support Vulgar History with this link:

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Vulgar History Podcast

Jean Gordon, Countess of Bothwell (with Jennifer Morag Henderson)

June 30, 2023

Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster, and this is part of our season about Mary, Queen of Scots, There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots. One of the reference books that I refer to – I think in every episode I’ve done so far about Mary, Queen of Scots – has been the book Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson. So, it’s a dual biography of Mary, Queen of Scots as well as Jean Gordon, who is a woman we talked about just this past week in the episode where we were talking about Bothwell. She was the daughter of Cock o’ the North, George Gordon, and then Mary, Queen of Scots arranged her marriage to Bothwell, and then Bothwell ended that marriage when he did what he did in the last episode we were just talking about. 

But Jean herself is such an interesting person so I invited Jennifer Morag Henderson, the author of this book to come on and talk about Jean because nobody can speak more authoritatively about her other than her biographer. Also, I do want to say that it was really exciting to talk to Jennifer because her book – the Mary, Queen of Scots parts, but also her description of the whole Cock o’ the North scenario, and then she explains the Highlands and what some of Mary, Queen of Scots’ decision-making, even when it gets into Bothwell – was really, really helpful for me in developing the episodes that I’ve done about Mary, Queen of Scots. Because Jennifer is coming to this from, it’s a different viewpoint than where some of the other biographies are coming at it with and it really resonated with me, looking at Mary as a political figure, how she’s making her decisions. Anyway, it’s a really great book, so I recommend the book for sure, Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson and today we’re going to be talking about Jean Gordon.

I’m posting this episode today because that Bothwell episode was rough, I didn’t want to leave you for a week with that bad taste in your mouth. So, what’s nice about Jean Gordon’s story, and I think I say this right away in the interview, is it’s got a happy ending. So, this is a nice story. When I was reading the book for the first time I was like, “Wait a minute! Is this a love story that you can cheer for and that ends well?” because it seems like everybody associated with Mary, Queen of Scots had some kind of devastating tragedy happen in their life, but Jean Gordon turned out fine. So, this is a treat! I was also really happy to talk with Jennifer. So, please enjoy this discussion of Jean Gordon with Jennifer Morag Henderson.


Ann: Okay, so I’m joined by – from Scotland, I believe – Jennifer Morag Henderson. Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. I am in Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland.

Ann: I’m really excited to talk to you because your book is so interesting, and I’m really excited to hear you explain this story, but I’m also excited to talk to a Scottish person [laughs] in this season about Mary, Queen of Scots. As a Scottish person, I’m just curious to know… She’s called Mary, Queen of Scots. For 8 years she was all over Scotland, I think every castle she stayed in now has a plaque or something saying, “She was here! She slept here once!” But she’s such a French figure as well and I think for quite a while she wasn’t… I don’t know, what’s her relationship to Scotland now? How do people in Scotland think about her?

Jennifer: It’s hard to think she was only Queen of Scots for such a short time because she had such an impact on Scotland. I think people here would definitely think of her as Queen of Scots first. They would know that she was French, she’s definitely in the consciousness and, as you say, everywhere that she visited in the whole of Scotland, they make a thing of that, and people know all about it everywhere. So yes, definitely.

Ann: I don’t know if I can think of another figure for another country who is… Her name is Mary, Queen of Scots, there’s, I would imagine, a tourism industry around the things she did, but she personally had so little to do with the Scottish, I don’t know, national character. She came from away, all these chaotic things happened, and then she left. I don’t know if there’s another country with a figure who is so thought about but who is so not actually from there.

Jennifer: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’ve never thought of that because yes, you do always just think of her as Scottish. You think of her as being taken away to France but she’s a Scot in France. But yeah, when she gets back here, she doesn’t know enough about Scottish politics and that’s the big problem with her rule is she doesn’t know all the feuds between the different Scottish noblemen, and she doesn’t know who should be her friend. She always sees everything in terms of Europe, which is one way of looking at how Scottish history works at this point in time. 

But you also need to know, because Scotland is such a small country really but for such a small country it’s got– The different parts of Scotland are very, very different. The Highlands, the far north is really different to the northeast; the northeast is really different to the borders; the borders are really different to the western Highlands. And she didn’t really understand that. I think there’s one moment in her reign where she starts to get that, and she could have made it work but then she veers off again and starts thinking about England and what’s happening with Elizabeth. But it’s quite a Scottish tragedy, being kind of a failure and a tragic figure, that’s very Scottish.

Ann: [laughs] And actually, what you were just talking about– I was hoping, before we get into the story of Jean Gordon, if you could explain, north Scotland, northeast Scotland, how that is so different from around Edinburgh and things. The clans and all that sort of stuff. Could you explain how that was functioning during this time?

Jennifer: Yeah, so partly, it’s geographic. Partly you’ve got a big mountain range so, you know, when you go north you’ve got to get over the mountains. It’s different land, in the south of Scotland, that’s where the good growing land is so you get different things can happen there in terms of towns and cities growing up. Whereas in the far north, where Jean Gordon ends up spending a lot of her time, it’s not good growing land. But then you’ve also got this, kind of, these two systems of government, which I talk about in my book. You’ve got the kings and queen of Scotland, or Scots rather, not of Scotland, they are kings and queens of the people not of the land, which is an important distinction. So, you’ve got them. But you’ve also got the clans and the clan chiefs. 

The clans, it’s quite hard to talk about the clans. One of the reasons I wanted to research Jean Gordon was I wanted to know about this because there is so much mythology around clans and what that means and people wearing tartan and kilts, and clan chiefs and speaking Gaelic. I really wanted to know what was actually going on at the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, and particularly for Jean Gordon, who is in the far north of Scotland which is not quite the same as the west of Scotland. The west coast of Scotland is the area where the clans are the strongest and remained the strongest for the longest time and that’s, kind of like, your images that you would get in Outlander; you’ve got people wearing kilts and tartan and the clan chief is in charge… Yeah, this is a little bit complicated. 

So historically, there was the Lord of the Isles, and the Lord of the Isles was genuinely as powerful as the King of Scots. So, the Lord of the Isles, that’s part of the clan system and it’s like, a kind of loose alliance of clans and it’s going over to Ireland, which is obviously also very, very Celtic. You’re thinking about the sea as the way that all these things are joined up. The Lord of the Isles was defeated by the King of Scots and the King of Scots is now in charge of Scotland but there were, kind of, ongoing claimants to be the Lord of the Isles and the very last claimant to the Lord of Isles dies the same year that Jean Gordon is born. And this is really important because it means that throughout Jean Gordon’s lifetime, the clans are kind of in this state of flux where they’re all fighting each other and there’s loads of clan feuds and really, really bloody battles. But they’re no longer a threat to the king of Scots, or queen of Scots, as it becomes. 

But they are or they were, two different systems, they even speak different languages. So, Mary, Queen of Scots speaks Scots, which is a type of English, close to English, not quite the same as English. The clans speak Gaelic. But probably at the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, there was probably the default would be to speak lots of languages, so communication is… We don’t know whether Jean Gordon spoke Gaelic. She definitely spoke Scots, she probably spoke French, and she probably had a working knowledge of Latin, but we don’t know if she spoke Gaelic. We do know that by the time of her grandson, he doesn’t speak Gaelic because the power of the clans is declining, as soon as the Lordship of the Isles is gone and the last claimant is gone, this is the slow decline of the clans. And I make quite a big thing in my book of talking about how there are the clans, like the Clan Mackay, and then Jean sees herself as part of the House of Gordon. The House of Gordon is not a clan; it operates in a similar way to a clan, it’s a big family grouping, but their allegiance is to the Queen of Scots or King of Scots, and they speak Scots, they don’t speak Gaelic.

Ann: So, I think that leads us kind of beautifully into talking about, I think, another important context. Again, we’re going to talk about Jean Gordon, but can you explain the role that her father had at the time that she was born? Her father is such a… he looms very large, he’s such an important person so can you just describe where he fits into this landscape?

Jennifer: Yes, so he’s really, really important. He’s one of the most important noblemen in Scotland. He has a huge amount of power in the northeast, where he’s based, that’s where he’s the Earl of Huntly, that’s where he controls loads of land, and he has loads of families who pay allegiance to him. He grew up at court with James V, Mary, Queen of Scots’ father, and he’s a trusted figure at court. He actually acts as regent at more than one point, so he’s been trusted to be in charge of the whole of Scotland and he is basically the most powerful Catholic nobleman in Scotland by the time of Mary, Queen of Scots because a lot of people by this point have converted to Protestantism and he’s the most powerful Catholic nobleman. He is known as the Cock o’ the North or even the King of the North. So, Jean Gordon grew up in a really, really important household.

Ann: And you describe in the book as well the castle, which is now, it’s sort of a ruin now, I guess. But you really describe how fancy it was. Can you talk about Huntly Castle?

Jennifer: So, Huntly Castle, what I describe in the book is Marie of Guise visiting it for the first time. Marie of Guise came from France, and she’s used to really, really opulent places and she’s in Scotland, she’s like, “It’s kind of small, the castles are cold.” So, she’s on this progress north, the further north they went, they’re getting into the clan lands, people are speaking Gaelic, the French entourage that she was with thought it was pretty backward. And then all of a sudden, they see Huntly Castle and Huntly Castle is just magnificent and it is specifically designed to look like a French castle because Huntly, Jean Gordon’s father, had spent time in France and then he’d come back, and he’d used a lot of his money to build a French castle in Scotland. 

It was, I mean, a castle but it’s not one building, it’s a collection of buildings so there are several different buildings and a big tower house, and then they’ve got it arranged so that Jean’s father has like one floor with a suite of rooms and then Jean’s mother has another floor with a suite of rooms. The castle is still there, it is a ruin. It’s a pretty magnificent ruin because it was rebuilt mainly by Jean’s nephew, but you still get a sense of just how big it is and how… You can still see the cobbled roads that they would have rode up to get to the castle and Marie of Guise would have been traveling along dirt tracks and sailing and really thick, wooded countryside, in the middle of nowhere, and then all of a sudden, there’s this cobbled path that leads to this French-looking, amazing castle in the northeast.

Ann: So, Jean Gordon, she is born, she’s got numerous siblings. So, when she is born what’s the lay of the land? What’s going on there? How are things for her dad and for their family?

Jennifer: Yeah, so she has a big family, many brothers who are all very close to each other. She is the youngest daughter, she has older sisters, the oldest is already married, and her oldest brother is already married. So, she’s one of the younger ones in the family. Her family is doing well at this point; they’re wealthy, they’re doing well at the Scottish court and everything. Scotland itself is not doing great. Jean is almost the same age as Mary, Queen of Scots so it’s, kind of, when she’s born there’s the Rough Wooing and there are wars with England, and Jean’s father of course is involved in all of this and is captured by the English more than once. But being captured if you were a nobleman, it wasn’t like you got thrown in the worst jail ever, you got kept in quite good conditions. So, even if things are not great, he is still at the very top of things not being great. So, things for the Gordon family are still very, very good.

Ann: Yeah, so she’s growing up and this is the period of time Mary, Queen of Scots is in France. So, it’s alternating between who is the regent, like, Marie of Guise is for a while, there are also various other men who are doing that. What’s the status at this point of her Catholic family during the regency era of Mary, Queen of Scots?

Jennifer: So, during… I mean Marie of Guise wants Scotland to be Catholic and she negotiates with Jean’s father. But the thing is, he is so powerful she can’t let him get too much power or he might be a threat to her so she promises him the lands of Moray, which are the lands that everybody wants, they’re Crown Lands so Moray isn’t, at this point, passed on from father to son; the King or Queen of Scots gets to decide who has Moray. And everybody wants the lands of Moray because they’re really good, fertile lands. She kind of strings Jean Gordon’s father along. She’s like, “If you help me and support me to be the regent, then I will give you the lands of Moray.” And then once she becomes regent, she’s like, “Well actually, I’ve promised them to somebody else and I don’t think you’re doing a very good job of keeping the peace up in the north of Scotland, so maybe you’re going to have to help me a bit more before I reward you.” So, although he’s the most powerful Catholic, Marie of Guise is also trying to keep him so that he’s not so powerful that he becomes a threat to her because he has been regent before so obviously, she doesn’t want him to take over again.

Ann: What would be the next significant thing that happens to her family, prior to her first marriage, which we are going to get to? Between being born and that first marriage, can you explain – and I mean, your book gets into this in detail – but an overview of what happens?

Jennifer: Yeah, they are right at the top, okay, so they’re really, really powerful. And then Mary, Queen of Scots comes back from France, and you would think that she’d be like, “Okay, these are the most powerful Catholics in Scotland so they might be my allies.” And that is not what happens at all, it all goes completely wrong for the Gordons. And Jean Gordon’s father assumed that he would be on Mary, Queen of Scots’s side and he said to her, “When you’re coming back from France, why not come to the north of Scotland, you can join me in the northeast and then we’ll ride down toward Edinburgh?” But of course, she doesn’t, she lands in Leith, and she puts a lot of trust in what her half-brother, James Stewart, says. 

And James Stewart tells her, “You don’t want to trust Huntly, you don’t want to trust Jean Gordon’s father. Trust me instead.” And if you remember those lands of Moray that Jean Gordon’s father wanted, James Stewart also wants them because with him being the bastard half-brother he doesn’t have the same amount of lands and power that he feels should be his birthright. He wants these lands of Moray. He kind of talks Huntly down and says, “Scotland is Protestant,” and of course, James Stewart is Protestant. He’s like, “You can’t upset the delicate balance,” and Mary, Queen of Scots doesn’t want to do that at first, she wants to keep it so that there aren’t horrific religious wars, so she goes along with what her half-brother says. 

And then she comes north on a progress to show everybody who she is, and this should have been the moment that she met Jean Gordon and she met Jean Gordon’s father and things could have gone really well. But there’s this really awkward story with Jean’s brother John. John has been involved in this quite complicated dispute involving land and there’s a woman involved. But anyway, basically what’s happened is Jean’s brother John is on the run, and Mary, Queen of Scots, one of her jobs while she’s on this progress in the north, she wants to catch him and put him in prison. And this escalates… really, really suddenly escalates much more than you think it could. And all of a sudden, what happens is Jean Gordon’s father and brother John, all of a sudden, they’re at war with Mary, Queen of Scots and they didn’t really want this to happen. They wanted to be on her side, they wanted to be Catholics together and working together but this has all gotten blown up, and part of the reason is because James Stewart, Mary’s half-brother, is there poking at everything, saying, “Well I think he’s the bad guy, yeah. We need to do something about this very, very powerful Earl of Huntly.” 

So, it all comes to a head at the Battle of Corrichie when Jean’s father dies and two of her brothers, including John, are captured and then John is beheaded in front of Mary, Queen of Scots. And Mary, Queen of Scots then seizes all of the Earl of Huntly’s assets, basically. So, all of Jean Gordon’s… They strip the castle, they take all the furniture, all the wall hangings, absolutely everything, Jean’s mother is left with nothing. It’s just this absolutely dramatic downfall from the Gordons being the most important family, down to absolutely nothing. And James Stewart becomes the Earl of Moray, which I think is the motivation behind the whole thing.

Ann: And I have to say, from reading your book and seeing that sequence of events, was where I really understood her half-brother and how awful he was. I hadn’t really… there are so many awful men in this story that kind of upstaged him, but I was just like, “Oh, he’s also arguably just as bad.”

Jennifer: He is.

Ann: And very consequential.

Jennifer: Yeah, and I have to say he comes out in my book as definitely being the bad guy. Yeah, he knew what he wanted, and he was on a mission to get it and maybe he could have been forgiven if his regency had turned out to be not so short, but it was short. But yeah, he doesn’t come across well, I would say, he does not have the Stuart charm.

Ann: No. And then also, just the fact that Mary trusted him so much in the first place, he knew how little she knew, and then he was able to explain to her through his point of view, “Oh, you should maybe not trust this guy.”

Jennifer: Yeah, she always– Because Marie of Guise, her mother, had actually left, she tried to communicate to Mary, Queen of Scots who you should trust. She said, “You’re going to have to be careful with the Gordons because they are so powerful,” but she had recommended that she should trust them. But Mary, Queen of Scots had been brought up at the French court to always put family first and she thought, “This is my half-brother, he will automatically support me as Queen. Everything my half-brother says will be for my good.” And it wasn’t, it was for his. 

Ann: So, we’ve got Jean then and her family, who very quickly went from being so powerful and influential to, as you described it, the furniture taken away, everything. Turning back to her, what was her experience like when that happened? Would you imagine.

Jennifer: I mean, for Jean Gordon herself it must have been pretty traumatic. I mean, everyone in this story is so young; Mary, Queen of Scots is like 18 at this point and Jean Gordon is about 16. She was, at this point, she was thinking, “Who am I going to get married to? I really like this guy, Alexander Ogilvy. Things are going to be quite good.” She had all the money, and she was in this powerful family but she’s the youngest, maybe she can do what she wants a little bit more than her older siblings. And then, all of a sudden, they’re the Queen’s enemies and she ends up in Aberdeen watching her brother be beheaded and all these rumours are swirling like, her brother is the worst person in Scotland, and he was trying to kidnap Mary, Queen of Scots. And she knows this isn’t what happened. And then she’s taken away from the place where she grew up, all of her stuff is taken away, and she has to move down to Edinburgh. 

I mean, what would her mother do? When I say that her and her mother have nothing, they have nothing in the sense that they are noblewomen and at that point in time, they would have seen themselves as completely different from people who had no money. So, with Mary, Queen of Scots, she wouldn’t have left noblewomen to starve so what they have to do, is go to Mary, Queen of Scots’s court, they have to go to the court and sit with this woman who she’s just watched order her brother to be beheaded, who has just been the cause of her father’s death. And Jean and her mother end up being, like, Queen Mary’s women, they end up being ladies at the court and that must have been quite intense, I would say. But I found some contemporary descriptions of Jean at this time and the descriptions are all extremely positive, they all describe her as being very quiet, you get this impression of someone who is wearing a mask, someone who, all their feelings are inside and all her aim at this point is put on a good show, we’ve got make things better.

Ann: And you mentioned Alex Ogilvy. Can you talk about the young love?

Jennifer: Yeah, this is one of the things that drew me to Jean Gordon’s story because she’s one of the few people at Mary, Queen of Scots’s court who kind of gets a happy ending. The very first time that I noticed her in this story, I was reading Antonia Fraser’s biography, the classic biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, and it’s talking about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Jean Gordon and Bothwell. And there’s a little asterisk and a little footnote and it said, “Jean Gordon wanted to marry someone else before she married Bothwell, she wanted to marry this man called Alex Ogilvy and she does get to marry him at the end of her life and have a happy ending.” And I was like, “I want to know more about that.” 

So yeah, there was this young man called Alexander Ogilvy, who is a minor nobleman, and we know from various different sources that they had some sort of connection when they were teenagers, 16, 17… a very strong connection evidently. And then yeah, Jean has this very long and very eventful life, she actually marries three times. But at the very end of her life, she does marry the man that she loves, that she has loved since she was a teenager, Alex Ogilvy.

Ann: That’s one of the reasons why this episode is coming out when it’s coming out. We’ve gone through Mary, Queen of Scots and everything going so wrong. I thought, “Let’s counterbalance that for a minute with someone who, something nice happens to her.” But before we get to the something nice happening to her, let’s talk about her first marriage and how that came about because that’s kind of where she’s, as you mentioned in the Mary, Queen of Scots biography, in the historical record. If anyone prior to reading your book, prior to your book being published, knew about Jean Gordon they knew, “Oh, she was the previous wife of Bothwell.” So, how did she end up married to Bothwell?

Jennifer: Yeah, so this is kind of the moment where I think it could have worked for Mary, Queen of Scots. Everything has kind of gone wrong with Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots has realized that her half-brother is maybe not working in her best interest. So, she starts to look at who is at court. Who is actually on her side? She’s like, “Bothwell is on my side, and the Gordons,” Jean Gordon’s family – despite everything Mary, Queen of Scots did to them – are also on her side. Jean Gordon’s brother and Bothwell are quite good friends and also, Bothwell is from the borders and Jean Gordon is from the north and this brings two parts of the country together if she can get Jean Gordon and Bothwell to marry. 

So, it’s a really, really clever union that brings together two of her strongest supporters who can call on huge amounts of men who could fight for her and it brings two parts of the country together. Bothwell has all sorts of connections to the north as well because although he’s from the borders, he actually grew up partly in the north of Scotland with his great uncle in Moray, in fact. So, he has all these connections with the North, and he understands it. So, it could have been a great success if Jean Gordon and Bothwell had actually liked each other, which they didn’t.

Ann: You say this in your book and whether it’s true or not, it’s a good story. Wasn’t there something like, on their wedding night, Jean Gordon appeared dressed in, like, black mourning dress to be like, “I don’t love you I will never love you. I love Alex Ogilvy.”

Jennifer: Yes, “I’m in mourning for my lost love. I was forced to marry you.” Is it true? I spent a long time looking for the source for this because it came up in a lot of secondary sources and I was like, “Where is this story from? I want to know more about this.” It’s obviously quite an intimate moment, their honeymoon. So, I think the source that I could trace it back to is Bothwell’s mistress Anna, the Skottefruen from Norway. 

The Casket letters – and you would probably need a whole two hours to go into the Casket letters – are probably based on letters that Mary, Queen of Scots wrote, that Jean Gordon wrote, and that one of Bothwell’s mistresses or former wives, Anna, wrote. And the story about Jean Gordon wearing mourning clothes seems to come from Anna because Bothwell had this mistress, and this became entangled with Jean’s story, and they were sniping at each other, and Bothwell was telling both of them a lot of details. So, yeah, I think it’s a very, very good story, there certainly seems to have been something very dramatic happen on their honeymoon because it’s cut very short and Bothwell comes back to Edinburgh to Mary, Queen of Scots’ court a lot earlier than planned.

Ann: I’m going to talk about the Casket letters in the next episode. But effectively, they were letters that were later rewritten or reinterpreted as, like, “These were from Mary, Queen of Scots.” But actually, what you found is they were probably letters from Anna, letters from Jean. These were the people writing to him, not Mary.

Jennifer: I think they make a lot more sense if you see them in the context of Bothwell’s life rather than in the context of Mary, Queen of Scots’s life. Obviously, they’re kind of altered and used as evidence against Mary, Queen of Scots and some of them certainly came from Mary, Queen of Scots. But yeah, I used, my book is all referenced, and you can follow the footnotes to see where I got the references for the Casket letters. But yeah, there’s a biography of Bothwell, which is a very passionate biography, it’s quite old now, by a guy called Robert Gore-Brown, and I very much kind of… that was my starting point for learning more about Bothwell’s life and his mistresses and exploring the Casket letters that way.

Ann: I will say, and what I have attempted to do in my own Mary, Queen of Scots episodes… because I’m coming in knowing how this story ends but a lot of listeners don’t. So, I’m trying to do it, inspired by what you did in your book to just be like, “Here’s Bothwell, and he’s helpful, and he’s in her corner.” I don’t want to spoil how it all ends. But you do such a good job in your book I was just like, “Wow, I’ve never…” especially early on when he’s there and he’s by Mary, Queen of Scots’s side, I’m like, “I’ve never seen him be treated so evenly,” [laughs] I guess.

Jennifer: I find Bothwell fascinating. He raised such strong emotions at the time, and he still raises such strong emotions now. But yeah, it’s hard to look at his story without knowing what happened to him but I think it’s really important to see how he was seen when he first appears on the scene and how Mary would have seen him and to understand where he’s coming from and his background as well.

Ann: Side note, and we don’t need to get into this, but on the television show Reign which, I don’t know how people in Scotland feel about that show – but I thought it was really an interesting choice that the show made when they introduced Bothwell as a character, he’s this strapping, handsome guy who was helping her. And I thought, “What are they doing? Why would they ever…?” But in your book, it’s like, that’s how he comes on the scene!

Jennifer: Yeah, I would say that’s– I haven’t seen Reign, well that’s not true, I managed 10 minutes of it. [Ann laughs] Yeah, I would say that when he first appears, he’s not how he is seen later on. Also, a lot of how we see him is through the eyes, in terms of contemporary sources, a big contemporary source that everybody uses is the English ambassador’s notes. And the English ambassador does not like Bothwell because, at a time when people’s allegiances were often to their religion first, Bothwell’s allegiance is to Scotland. So, the English ambassador is not going to like him. And this partly comes from where he lives because he’s from the borders and the borders are the region that suffered the most when Scotland and England fight because the fight is obviously going to be on the border. So, he sees things differently from a lot of the lords whose lands are not the ones that are being fought over.

Ann: Also, I do want to mention, it’s not like he comes in and he’s great and then he turns. He’s a wildcard. 

Jennifer: He is.

Ann: He’s coming into this, he’s got Anna who is maybe his wife, they had some sort of entanglement. He is married to Jean and if he and Jean had had a different personal relationship, things could have gone very differently, but they right away clearly don’t get on with each other. He very quickly starts having an affair with one of the servants, right?

Jennifer: Yes. Well, the affair with the servant, that’s what is cited in the divorce he gets from Jean so that’s why we know so much about that. But yeah, you can’t really say, “Oh, he was the good guy.” He’s got his own character quirks. I find Bothwell so interesting because he’s like, “Here is Point A, and here’s Point B, and I’m going to go from Point A to Point B no matter what is in the way.” And what is in the way might be other people, you might cause all sorts of problems, all sorts of hurt, but he has a vision. People with a vision are uncomfortable.

Ann: So, we’re going to get to how this marriage… unravels, I don’t know. But if we’re going sequentially, the next major historical event that Jean is tertiarily involved in, is the murder of Rizzio.

Jennifer: Yes. So, she would have been there that night. She would have been, she was living in Holyrood at that point in married quarters with Bothwell. Bothwell is there and her brother is there, her mother is really involved in the escape that Mary has to make afterward. So yeah, that is another moment when… It’s the moment where this thing that Mary, Queen of Scots has set up with Bothwell and Jean seems to work because she’s in trouble and who is going to come in and save her? An alliance with the Gordons and the borders and it works. 

Ann: There’s a part in your book, and again, I don’t want to be like, “Is this true? Is it not true?” But you say it and it’s a great story. So, in the part where Rizzio has been murdered, Mary is trapped in a room and is being held hostage, Jean’s mother comes in with a rope ladder in a tray pretending like it’s food so she can escape.

Jennifer: Yeah, so Jean’s mother was one of Mary’s ladies in waiting; a person, lady, who would help her. And she comes in and Mary, Queen of Scots is pregnant, obviously, very, very pregnant. She’s like, “I’m not feeling great, someone is going to have to check me.” Jean Gordon’s mother, she had, what? Like, 12, 14 children? So, she’s like, “I will go with her to the toilet, and we will make sure everything is okay.” And she goes in and she’s like, “I can take a note to my son and to Bothwell and then I will come back in later. And how are we going to do this? How are we going to escape? I will bring a rope ladder in, and you can escape down the rope ladder.” And Mary, Queen of Scots is like, “I’m 6 months pregnant, I’m not going to escape down a rope ladder. I will write a letter with instructions. Get the letter to your son and to Bothwell,” and that’s when she decides to speak to Darnley and get out that way. But yeah, Jean’s mother was like, “We’ll get a rope ladder, we’ll get out that way. I’ve had 14 kids; you can totally do it.”

Ann: I love that detail and I love that just– Especially the first part of Jean’s life is so entwined with what’s happening with Mary, Queen of Scots. The fact that she’s there the night where that murder happens and the fact that her… Again, this is a part where it’s kind of like, “Oh, this is working.” The Jean-Bothwell marriage brought together these groups and that’s part of why Mary was able to escape.

Jennifer: Yeah, and then she’s there as well the night that Darnley dies; she is Bothwell’s alibi for the night that Darnley dies. They say, “Where were you?” And he said, “I was in bed with my wife, for most of the night.” So yeah, she is right in the middle of court, and she would have known everything that was going on. The stories that she must have had. I imagine her as an older woman with her own children, she must have been able to tell them so much.

Ann: And so, the Darnley– Actually, you describe this in a really interesting way, I hadn’t thought about this before in this way. The fact that Darnley’s death is because of an explosion, that was the first time– Well, okay, his death was mysterious, but an explosion was involved, whether or not that’s what killed him. But that was shocking to everybody because, not a bomb, but gunpowder, that had never been used in that way, right?

Jennifer: Yes, so this is one of the really interesting things about this period in history. It’s the early modern period and one of the things that makes it modern is the advances in weapons and gunpowder and guns. And it’s yeah, an explosion! They hadn’t had the technology to do that before. People in Edinburgh heard this explosion when the house that Darnley was living in was blown up. They would never have heard a manmade noise like that before; it must have been, imagine hearing a bomb going off for the first time and you didn’t know what a bomb was. 

And it really affected how other heads of states, they looked at this and it didn’t even occur to them that this could have happened before. The world that they lived in was changing, it was becoming this modern thing with access to these horrific new technologies. So yeah, I think that’s a really key way of understanding the early modern time period.

Ann: And then later on, a similar thing happens when Moray, her half-brother, is assassinated by being shot, and that’s the first assassination by gun, right?

Jennifer: Yes, one of Scotland’s fantastic records there, to have one of the first heads of state who was assassinated by a fired arm. [Ann laughs] But yeah, it hadn’t occurred to kings and queens that an ordinary person could shoot them in the street. That’s a real shift in mindset, that’s a world-changing thing that this could happen, that potentially somebody who… Things would be really rigid in terms of class at this point; you would have your noblemen and you would have your poorer people and you would never switch. But anyone can fire a gun. I mean, not anyone can access a gun, obviously, because guns are expensive and whatnot, but potentially, anyone could fire a gun. It’s a world-altering thing.

Ann: Yeah, one of the trickle-down effects, you said, was that right away, other heads of state heard about this, specifically the assassination of Moray. Elizabeth suddenly dramatically, I think you said, increased her security.

Jennifer: They increased her security because they’re like, “Oh, we didn’t, this didn’t occur to us before.” Yeah, Scotland was pretty violent at that point in time so leading the way in new forms of violence.

Ann: [laughs] So, from a Jean point of view, as much as possible, given that she’s not an active member of this thing, but how did it affect her, the fallout? So, Darnley was murdered. Bothwell was the sheriff of– he was leading the investigation, right?

Jennifer: Yeah, one of his titles at this point, one of his positions of responsibility, is he’s officially in charge of justice and pursuing who might the murderer be. All these placards are going up saying, “We think it’s Bothwell who is the murderer.” So yeah, it’s really awkward. So, they end up putting on this show trial, basically at the sort of insistence of Darnley’s father. But Jean is actually really ill at this point so she’s not even… You only hear about what’s happening between Bothwell and Mary, Queen of Scots at this point, Jean is barely in the story because she would have been… Her job is to run Bothwell’s estate, that’s what she would have done as Countess of Bothwell. So, she would have been in his main castle, which is a little bit south of Edinburgh. But yeah, the report is at this time that she’s just really, really ill and it’s hard to tell what illnesses are at this distance. She does retrospectively say it’s partly stress because she’s married to Bothwell.

Ann: Honestly, fair. So, why did people immediately suspect Bothwell of being involved in the Darnley murder?

Jennifer: He was probably involved, yeah definitely. [Ann laughs] But also Mary’s half-brother, Moray, he does not want Bothwell on the scene, he would be a useful fall-guy for a plot that probably an awful lot of people were involved in.

Ann: Well yeah, when you think about if you need to make the plan to blow up a house, which no one has ever done before, to acquire the gunpowder, to do everything… One person didn’t murder Darnley, this was a group of people. So, the half-brother, again, he’s still on the scene and is still being, to me, a surprise bonus villain in a story full of villains. You make a point in your book, and you do it in a very subtle way, every time something major happens like this, he happens to be out of town. [laughs]

Jennifer: Yeah, he’s never there. He’s like, “It definitely wasn’t me because I definitely wasn’t in Edinburgh on the night when that happened, and also I wasn’t there the week before or the week after.” He is always not there. He knew what week he had to not be there. He knew what was going on, practically everyone knew what was going on because nobody wanted Darnley at that point. 

And the whole… I mean, there’s this big explosion but Darnley escapes from the explosion, he’s found strangled outside, he doesn’t actually die in the explosion. And there were reports, because there was a big explosion, so everyone comes running out of their houses, so there are these reports of Edinburgh citizens say that they heard Darnley say, “Oh pity me, kinsman,” so presumably it was a kinsman, possibly a Douglas who strangles him. But if you’re an ordinary Edinburgh citizen and suddenly you’re embroiled in this plot that all the nobles in Scotland seem to be embroiled in, they would never have gotten a sensible witness to the witness box, nobody would want to draw attention to themselves in that way.

Ann: So, there’s this show trial, and just through the book, and I want to tell the listeners, Jennifer does such a fantastic job of explaining who is who, even though everybody is named George, you find other things to call them. But when you talk about the show trial and you’re like, “Here’s the jury,” and the jury is Alex Ogilvy, Jean’s brother… 

Jennifer: Rigged. Yeah.

Ann: Yeah, it’s all people who we’ve met before in the book.

Jennifer: Yes. The jury, if they’re not a Bothwell supporter they’re a Gordon supporter and because the Gordons and Bothwell at this point are still… I mean, all the nobles knew each other, it’s a small country and it’s a small elite. But yeah, the jury was very heavily weighted toward people who would do what the Gordons and Bothwell wanted them to do.

Ann: And so, Bothwell is found innocent. And I talked about this in the previous episode, what happens next, no one could have foreseen, which is that he decides he’s going to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and makes that happen in a very violent way. So, Jean, he’s already married to her so how– I think you suggest in your book maybe she was so ill he might have thought, “She’s about to die so that will make this easy.” But she didn’t die so how… Yeah, how did that marriage dissolve so that he could marry Mary, Queen of Scots?

Jennifer: Yeah so, they divorced very comprehensively and both Catholic and Protestantly. When Bothwell is in Dunbar with Mary, Queen of Scots and all the stuff is happening there, he sends an express rider to Jean and he’s like, “We’re going to get divorced.” And she says, “No, we are absolutely not going to get divorced,” and he says, “Oh yes, we are,” with how much force, we don’t actually know. But eventually, she’s like, “Okay, I suppose we’re going to get divorced,” and they do. 

She manages, somehow, to hold onto the land that he gave her in their marriage settlement despite the fact that they get divorced. She’d already seen her family go from really powerful to absolutely nothing, she didn’t want to end up with absolutely nothing again, that’s kind of her, one of her reasons, probably, for saying, “I don’t want to get divorced.” Also, she was Catholic so she couldn’t really get divorced, it’s a kind of separation. The whole thing was becoming a mess and she didn’t want it to happen and become like this. So, she’s trying to stay out of the mess and trying to keep herself safe and still with some money and land.

Ann: It all happens very quickly.

Jennifer: Really quickly.

An: For the time period.

Jennifer: Just a few weeks and it’s over. 

Ann: Yeah. But then also what happens with Mary and Bothwell’s new marriage, which I talked about in the last episode, that all goes bad really quickly. Bothwell is now a poisonous person to have anything to do with. So, how does this affect Jean’s reputation, to be the ex-wife of this guy who is now public enemy number one?

Jennifer: Yeah, so she needs to try and make herself safe, so she goes to the person she thinks is going to be able to help her the most which is her cousin Agnes, because Agnes is married to Mary, Queen of Scots’ half-brother, James Stuart the Earl of Moray. So, she goes to Agnes, and she says, “I don’t want anything more to do with Bothwell, I’m completely innocent in all of this and I’m going home to the northeast.” And it gets her out of the situation, and she’s publicly allied herself with Moray, who is in the ascendant and then she goes back up to the northeast where her brother is now the Earl of Huntly, back to Huntly Castle where she grew up.

Ann: What I appreciated in this story, that I don’t often see in the stories of the women whose stories I research is that her family was always there for her and helped her. I appreciated that she had a place that she could go, and the Gordons were family first. No matter what had happened, Jean always had a support system.

Jennifer: They seem, as a group of siblings, all these absolutely terrifying brothers that she had, they seem to have been particularly close. One of the sources that we have for this is Jean’s son, who she has eventually, Robert, who writes a family history, and he, kind of, describes the Gordon siblings as being like, really, really close. Even at a time when family was everything – because family was absolutely everything in 16th century Scotland – this was a close family. She was probably brought up closely with her brothers and educated alongside them, she had a very good education because it’s a high point for girls’ education. And yeah, they are there for her when she needs them. Her brother George, because everything is called George, who is now the Earl, was Bothwell’s friend and Bothwell comes to him and says, “Can you help me?” And he says, “No, because of what you’ve done to my sister.” So yeah, when it came down to it, was he going to help his friend or his sister? He was going to help his sister; he was going to help Jean.

Ann: It’s just, it’s really rare and this is again where I feel like, there’s obviously so much drama and stuff, but this is, to me, in the context of this podcast, a nice story.

Jennifer: Yes. Apart from all the blood and feuds and horrific injuries. But they do, they have the kind of image of the strong brothers and Jean and her sisters as well, because they stand up for her other sister Margaret – her older sister Elizabeth is dead by this point – but her sister who is closer to her in age, the brothers stand up for her as well and they help her sort out her marriage which also goes horribly wrong. And you do, you get this impression of a strong family. There are some descriptions of Jean’s brother George playing football with the men in Huntly Castle and having meals with them and you just get this impression of a really convivial family group who genuinely got on with each other.

Ann: Again, all the details are in your book but if we’re just going to focus on Jean and her story, the next thing that happens that affects her in a profound way is that she thinks Bothwell is dead, which gives her the freedom now, whether she believed that she was divorced or not, to now find a new husband and it makes her family realize that Jean could maybe be remarried. This is the part in your book, listeners, I was reading this book with the frantic pace that I usually read a psychological thriller or a murder mystery because Jennifer puts these cliffhanger endings at the ends of chapters. And you say something like, “To explain about Jean’s next husband, first let’s move back a bit, I need to tell you the story of a poisoning.” And my break at work was over and I thought, “I can’t put down this book. She’s going to tell me the story of a poisoning!” But explain who her next husband is, please.

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean there are so many, the stories around Mary, Queen of Scots’s life are well known but the stories around Jean Gordon’s life are amazing, and the Helmsdale poisoning and what happens to her future husband is just… Even people in Scotland don’t know these stories so well and it’s like, “You need to know this because it is such a good story.” 

So yes, she remarries when she believes Bothwell is dead to the Earl of Sutherland, who is Alexander Gordon. The Earl of Sutherland has this dramatic escape and there’s a poisoning and all sorts of stuff happens. So, he’s had this traumatic life and also former forced marriage and Jean’s had this traumatic life and forced marriage. So, these two people find each other, and they get married and it’s a happy marriage. This isn’t the man she was in love with when she was a teenager, this is someone else. And she would have believed at the time that this was it, this was the person she was going to marry, this was going to be the rest of her life. And it turns out really, really well and they are happy. 

So, she moves over to the far north of Scotland, so that’s north of where I am here in Inverness, and they live at Dunrobin Castle, and she’s the Countess of Sutherland. And she does all sorts of things because her husband is not really… She’s the power, she and her brothers, the Gordons, are the power. She does all these incredible things; she’s this amazing businesswoman and she starts this coal mine and salt pans and, just, industry at a time in the Highlands where people are thinking the Highlands are clans and wild men and she’s doing this incredible industrial development. And really, what she does in the far north really alters Highland history. At the same time, it’s a happy marriage. So, it’s an incredible part of her story that’s not as well-known as the part with Bothwell.

Ann: Can you explain what the business was? What is a salt pan?

Jennifer: Okay, so salt is really, really important at this time because you don’t have fridges, yeah? So, how do you preserve food? You need salt. Salt, people sometimes called it white gold, that’s how important salt is. So, if you have salt, it’s a commodity you can sell for cash and this is at a time when the economy is still, kind of, people are swapping food and when she got her rent on the estates it would rent in kind so, it would be food rather than money. But she figures out this way to make salt which she can then sell for cash. 

So, it’s sea salt, so what she’s doing essentially is you get a big pan and put loads of seawater in it, and you boil off the water and you’re left with the salt. In order to do this, you need a ready source of fuel. She knew that there was a coal mine, there was a seam of coal near to where she was now living with her new husband the Earl of Sutherland, so she sets up a coal mine and they can dig the coal and use the coal to boil off the seawater to make salt. She can then sell the salt, they were selling it as far away as France and not just selling salt but also selling things like salted fish, there are lots of fish in the rivers around about. So, they’re catching the fish, they’re salting the fish, they can then pack it and send it on boats and sell it and you’re making money which is a big thing.

Ann: I think this is where in your book you have, like, Part One and then Part Two. But to me/to the average history aficionado, if you’ve heard of Jean Gordon, it’s like, yeah, she was the previous wife of Bothwell. So, everything we just talked about, she was all up in the Mary, Queen of Scots story but then the whole rest of your book is, “And then she did other stuff too.”

Jennifer: It’s not like it slows down. It keeps on going because there’s all this stuff she’s doing with salt, but there’s also this whole other story with the Clan Mackay that’s going on as well, yeah. How long do you have? I could talk about this for hours.

Ann: [laughs] And this is the thing, this is where we got… the Mary, Queen of Scots stuff, I was just like, I know that story in another context, so just seeing what Jean’s involvement was like, “Okay this part, yeah. Darnley, Bothwell, okay.” And then this stuff where it’s just, like, what was happening here is what I know now which is that Scottish history is really exciting; there’s always a rivalry, there’s always a murder, poisoning is involved. It’s a very action-packed what’s going on in Scotland. 

Jennifer: Yes, there’s a lot going on. And I think the history of the north of Scotland… Because eventually over time, the north of Scotland, the population is much smaller up here now and by the time that Jean Gordon was living, that hadn’t happened yet, the Clearances hadn’t happened yet. But because of everything that’s happened since the history of the far north of Scotland is really understudied. Obviously, my own way into this story was Mary, Queen of Scots and I was interested in Mary, Queen of Scots but then I was interested in the north because I’m from the north and I just became… I was like, the bit with Mary, Queen of Scots was interesting but there’s all this other stuff, which is also fantastic, and just the stories, you get such a strong impression of the personalities of everyone involved and it seems… I wanted to tell all the stories because they seemed so real. They are real but it’s so modern! 

One of the main sources for my book was Jean Gordon’s own letters, written in her own handwriting. And I was reading these letters and it’s this really weird balance between things that we know about from history books and then she’s also talking about her servants, and so-and-so’s baby, and did you hear about this? And half the stuff she’s talking about is stuff that you know and the rest of it is just like, this family story. And I love that mixture of the kind of grand stories of history and not just Scottish history but European history, but then also it was a very, very personal thing. 

Ann: And there are so many colourful characters. If I think of your book or Jean Gordon’s life, really, it’s kind of like, from birth until the end of her marriage to Bothwell is kind of one era and then the whole rest of her life, which is a much longer period of time, it’s this northern Scotland stuff and it’s just– when I talk about the cliffhangers in your book, it’s not just like, “Okay, now she’s married she has these salt pans.” No, there’s still drama. You’ve got these really colourful characters with great names; you’ve got the Wizard Earl, you’ve got his brother, the Wicked Earl, you’ve got the Herod of the North, you’ve got, just… [laughs]

Jennifer: Everyone’s called George, so I had to find a way to distinguish everybody but all of the names, I was saying this to you before, all of the names are contemporary names and particularly, up here, bynames are kind of still a thing. There are a lot of people with the same name so you never say, ”It’s Donald,” it’s always “Donald the Taxi,” the guy that drives the taxi. So, her grandson for example, is Donald of the Troubles which gives you a little bit of an insight into what happens to poor Donald, who I like very much. But yeah, these bynames, they were contemporary names and I think they hopefully help the reader to picture them, the Mad Wizard Earl.

Ann: So, we’ve got the Mad Wizard Earl, we’ve got his brother the Wicked Earl, and then the third brother is Of the Battleaxe, what was his name?

Jennifer: Yeah, Dark Uisdean of the Battle Axe. That is who Jean marries her daughter to, Dark Uisdean of the Battleaxe. Would you want to marry your daughter to someone called that? [Ann laughs] But yeah, I like Uisdean as well, he is Donald of the Trouble’s father. So yeah, he was the Chief of Mackay, this is where the clan history really gets going.

Ann: And so, Jean’s married life. Her husband is, I think, ill a lot of the time, which is part of why she… I don’t know if that’s part of why she really stepped up, or just she finally was in a position where this is what she was like, and this is what she wanted to do and she did it. But they had this successful marriage.

Jennifer: I think a bit of both. He can’t have been too sickly because he does lead his men into battle. In order to be an Earl at that time, you had to be super fit because you were going to be on the battlefield, you were going to be leading from the front. So, certainly, toward the end of his life, he does seem to have some health problems, which is partly why she marries her daughter to Dark Uisdean of the Battleaxe, because they need a strong ally. But yeah, she is very much, kind of, using at this point in Scottish history as well, people are moving away from just hacking at each other with swords, they’re trying to settle things a bit more through the courts and sensibly, and as a woman, that’s what she can do. She can come in through the courts and try and do things on paper and do things legally and she really manages to use that as a strength. 

She helps to manage the estates for her husband and then when he dies, she manages the estates in the minority of her son. Unfortunately, he inherits his father’s constitution, so she ends up managing the estates in the minority of her grandson as well so it’s basically this one woman in charge for three generations. And any analysis that looks only at the male line of the Earls of Sutherland misses a huge part of the story because it is this one woman in charge. And I think part of it as well, because it’s her second marriage and she’s a little bit older, she’s just like, “We’re not going to do all that nonsense like what happened with Bothwell, we’re just going to go for it.” And her mother is incredible, all the women in her family are incredible. They’re all these really, really strong-minded, capable estate managers and she’s just really, really good at that and quite ruthless actually, not always in the nicest way.

Ann: Just as a contrast, I find this really interesting from reading your book and reading about her experience and her mother, her family, and the other women involved, that to me, seems like that’s the history of women in Scotland is these women who grew up rough and tumble around the brothers and then, crazy chaos is happening around them constantly, there are all these feuds but they’re all strong and up for the challenge. And then you’ve got the national heroine, Mary, Queen of Scots who, that’s not her constitution. Nothing against Mary, Queen of Scots but that wasn’t her experience, that’s not the kind of person she was. I would think that a Scottish heroine would be more of the Jean Gordon style than the Mary, Queen of Scots who is just, kind of, she had her skillset and we’ve talked about that in three hours of podcasting so far, but it’s a completely different kind of person.

Jennifer: Yeah, the moment where Bothwell abducts Mary, I started to change how I thought about that when I realized that Bothwell was with his sister, Janet, and his former lover, also called Janet and those two women were just like, “Why is Mary, Queen of Scots making so much fuss? You just have to get on with it.” They’d both had these horrific things happen to previous husbands and they’d buried husbands and they were living in this violent country, in this violent time and they were tough. Whereas Mary, Queen of Scots is brought up in the French court where you just don’t have to be like that. So yeah, Jean Gordon, she’s brought up in luxury in Scotland but in an area full of feuding clansmen, she knows you have to be tough.

Ann: Just constitutionally, Jean Gordon was the right sort of person to be living the life she was living, I think.

Jennifer: Yes. You can see how the Gordons got so much power when you look at her and her brothers.

Ann: So, she has various children, and then eventually she is widowed, her second husband passes away and coincidentally her long lost childhood love, Alex Ogilvy, also widowed at around the same time, and then what happens?

Jennifer: Yeah, he married one of the four Marys, the famous attendants who supported Mary, Queen of Scots. He married Mary Beaton, and she dies. So, he’s a widower and she’s a widow and they’re like, “Nothing is in our way anymore. We can have the teenage dream; we can finally get married. And they do.”

Ann: About how old are they at this time?

Jennifer: So, he is slightly older than her, but she would have been in her 50s, I think he would have been late 50s, early 60s maybe. Even just to have lived that long at that time, they’ve already beaten the odds. They were very, very lucky. I mean, widows in Scotland were in a fairly good financial position, they didn’t have to remarry, and they would have been guaranteed money. So, any second money and definitely a third marriage is usually a marriage of choice if it’s a rich woman. 

And I managed to track down their marriage certificate. It’s a big, long document that goes into the financial details of their marriage and normally it would be how the man is going to provide for the woman and how their families are going to intertwine. But Jean was so much wealthier than Alex Ogilvy at this point and the marriage certificate kind of falls over itself to say, you know, the man will provide for the woman. He’s not providing for her; she’s not getting remarried because she needs the money. Normally, marriage certificates would be, you know, talk about– This marriage certificate is like, the children are not involved, this is not a marriage that involves children, the estates are not going to get mixed up. Jean is going to keep all her stuff, Alex Ogilvy and his family are going to keep all their stuff, this is purely a marriage of two people who want to be together. It’s a love match, it’s a happy ending.

Ann: That’s so rare, not just in anything I look into for the podcast, but in the story of Mary, Queen of Scots where it just seems like everybody has the worst possible ending, this is such a nice thing!

Jennifer: Yes, it is a happy ending. I mean, well, I’ll spoil your happy ending because it’s not the end of Jean’s life, she actually lives until her 80s so there’s another bit that happens with Donald of the Troubles and all this stuff. But yeah, she got what she wanted when she was 16, how many people get that?

Ann: I do want to just sit in this moment for a minute because it’s just so nice that they were in love when they wanted to be together as teenagers and they both went off, had their lives, had their children, and then to be able to come together… As you explain, there’s no other explanation except this is a love match. Even if this marriage was not decades and decades but just to be able to do that, I think that’s just so nice.

Jennifer: They get a few years together. We’re really, really lucky with Jean Gordon that there are two portraits of her so you can picture what she looks like as a young woman and then as an older woman. I spent quite a long time trying to find out more about Alex Ogilvy because he’s this fairly minor nobleman, and he probably couldn’t even afford to get his portrait painted. So, I was kind of like, “What was it? What was it about him that made her hold this image of him in her head since she was a teenager?” 

And I was going through the archives and going through old documents, and I found in Jean’s son’s archive, in amongst his papers, I found this really unusual little booklet and it’s a herbal, and it’s someone’s handwriting, and it’s a list of plants, and flowers and trees and loads of information about them, their Latin names, their medicinal properties. And it’s written by Alex Ogilvy. And that’s who he was; he was a gentleman gardener. I just have this image of him, he had a beautiful castle as well, which is now very, very overgrown, but you can see the ruins of an old garden there. And I have this image of him, because this amazing little herbal – and I showed it to the archivists, I was like, “This is something special, isn’t it?” And they were like, “We don’t usually see documents that look like this,” – because it’s covered in doodles, and on the front cover there are lots of little drawings of, like, trees. And there’s a little tiny sketch of a man in a shady sunhat in a garden with a stick, I think it’s Alex Ogilvy. That’s the image of him in my head, this older man, this gentleman gardener who has lived quite… He had an eventful life too, but he eventually comes back up north, and I just have this image of him in the garden of his incredibly romantic castle, and him and Jean finally together. I can’t prove that the picture is of him, but I like to think it is.

Ann: That’s such a nice– Again, we’re going to keep talking because her life keeps going. But in such a life lived of just nonstop crises, this is a nice pause where they get married, picturing them just like you said, he’s in his garden, he’s just writing down the plants and their properties. She can maybe sit, I don’t know, do some stitching, just a nice moment for them being together.

Jennifer: She’s not usually a restful person I would say…

Ann: Okay, fair.

Jennifer: But you’re right, it’s nice to think that there was a moment of peace. 

Ann: That’s true, she reminds me in that way of my mother, her favourite day off is, “Okay, I had the day off, so I woke up early and did this, and this, and this, and I cleaned this…” Yeah, Jean is maybe that, that’s restful for her. 

Jennifer: Yes.

Ann: Okay. So then, Alex sadly passes away a few years into their marriage. What happens with Jean next?

Jennifer: So, she goes back to her married home, Dunrobin, up in Sutherland where her son unfortunately has died, and her grandson becomes the Earl, and she takes over once more and starts leading the Earldom of Sutherland once more. Yeah, I went through estate papers and it’s just, like, you get estate papers and they’re signed by like, seven or eight men and Jean Gordon at the bottom. And sometimes it’s just signed by Jean Gordon, and underneath it says, “And sundry other gentlemen,” because she was the one that was important. So, it all carries on for her up there. 

She has three sons who survive infancy so her oldest son eventually dies but she has two other sons, Robert and Alexander who are very, very different brothers. Robert ends up down in London at the court of James VI while Alexander stays up north and marries a local woman, so they are kind of managing the estates. So, she’s got these two sons and lots of grandchildren.

Ann: And the whole thing, like, she was growing up and as a young woman, her brothers, there was so much… The strong family. And then this continues on with her, her children, and her grandchildren, the Gordon family continues to be a very strong and meaningful presence in her life, I think.

Jennifer: Yeah, she is always all about the Gordons but toward the end of her life it does become more about the Sutherland Gordons rather than the Huntly Gordons. Their surname is all Gordon but the ones over in the northeast, her brother’s children, they do kind of grow apart as people get older. 

And she remains Catholic and she’s still very involved, because Scotland is firmly Protestant by this time, and one of her brothers had become a Jesuit, so she spends quite a lot of time sheltering him which is fairly dangerous to do at that time, she’s really promoting the Catholic cause at a time when Catholics are banned in Scotland. And she was seen as a threat because of that, she was excommunicated when she was in her 80s from the Protestant church, from the pulpit of her local church. Yeah, and she does a lot for the Catholic cause in Scotland, as do her brothers and their children.

Ann: I love that– well, I don’t love that, but what I love is this is evidence that she did not decide, “You know, I’m 80 years old, I’m just going to hang back and go with the flow.” No, she was excommunicated because she was harbouring Catholics, she was just nonstop.

Jennifer: She doesn’t stop, it’s not like she retires into the background quietly, she is… I mean, her brother James was probably the last serious threat to Protestantism in Scotland, not a very serious threat because it was very entrenched by that time. But yeah, a lot of stuff is still going on with James VI and her family end up, it’s a little bit like her father in that they end up on his side and then against him and they go from the very top to the very bottom again. And yeah, a lot is going on and there’s a Gordon-Moray feud, a long and very bloody blood feud that takes up quite a lot of the second half of my book.

Ann: At what age was it that she passed away and from what?

Jennifer: So, she dies of old age in her bed in her early 80s. And she was buried with the full ceremony that would normally be given to a male earl, she got the full respect from her children and the people around her.

Ann: I don’t often get to say this on this podcast, but it was a life well lived, you know?

Jennifer: Yes, yes. She got everything she could, she was such a good subject for a biography.

Ann: I think, yeah, to you, what a gift. I’m sure all the work that you needed to do to find this information but sometimes in the biographies that I read for this podcast, or just for fun, there’s an exciting part of their life and it’s like, “And then for the 25 years, she managed the home,“ which is nice for her, that’s a nice life to have. But you just had in this story so many things kept happening around her and she was always tertiarily involved in so much drama.

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean she’s involved as a woman, she is managing the home, but she is managing Dunrobin Castle in the middle of loads of hostile clans and an ongoing feud with the earls around about her, whilst promoting her religion. And yeah, she’s managing the home was exciting, there was a lot going on.

Ann: Yes, exactly. She did manage a home for numerous years, but it wasn’t just, you know, choosing staff and, I don’t know, choosing a curtain fabric.

Jennifer: Definitely not.

Ann: So, I know that you have listened to some of my episodes before so you’re familiar with the scoring I do at the end, it’s the Fredegund Memorial Scandilicious Scale. So, there are four categories. I’m going to entirely let you choose the numbers because you’re so intimately familiar with this subject. But I’ll explain what the categories are and then you can think about, in the context… Because we’re thinking of her not in the context of her compared to anyone else, I’ve talked about on the podcast but just her in her life and how she was seen by the people around her. 

So, the first category is Scandiliciousness, which just means was she seen as a scandalous person by anyone in her life? My instinct is to say not really.

Jennifer: No, not really.

Ann: I mean she was scandal-adjacent, but she was blameless in it.

Jennifer: Yeah, she does a very good job of presenting herself as completely blameless at all times. Possibly slightly scandalous toward the end of her life because even her own son says, “She had an almost masculine understanding,” and he talks around, why is this woman in charge of everything when normally it’s a man? So, I think people had started to notice by the end of her life that she’d done some pretty unusual things. But most of the time, not very scandalous.

Ann: No. And I guess in terms of harbouring fugitive Catholics, that would be seen as scandalous to Protestant people.

Jennifer: That’s true.

Ann: But on a scale of 0 to 10, what would you score her for Scandalousness?

Jennifer: I’m not sure. Maybe quite low, like, 4 or 5? Maybe 4, not very scandalous.

Ann: Yeah. There’s some there but there’s not a lot and you know what? To her credit, that’s why she was able to live into her 80s. And the fact that she got out of the Bothwell-Mary, Queen of Scots situation with her name and reputation intact I think speaks well of her family connection but also her.

Jennifer: Yeah, because poor Bothwell ends up in a terrible place.

Ann: Yeah, we talked about Bothwell in my episode about that. Actually, side note, when we were emailing each other, arranging this interview, you mentioned that you find Bothwell a fascinating person, you have a chapter in your book that is, “What happened to Bothwell?” because we kind of have to tie that up. What do you think about him– Well, first of all, it’s a sequence of improbable coincidences that led him to being trapped in that, it’s Norway, right? In this dungeon prison.

Jennifer: Yeah, first Norway and then eventually Denmark toward the end. He gets moved around a wee bit in Scandinavia but yeah, I mean it’s, like, the worst possible karma. Whatever he did, and he did some pretty awful things, I mean, he gets punished for it and just to end up in that horrible, horrible dungeon, such an active man to be trapped in that way, I find it very sad. 

I mentioned that there was this Bothwell biography that I read by Robert Gore-Browne which is quite a revisionist kind of… I don’t know if you’ve read my first biography that I wrote, it was a biography of a crime writer called Josephine Tey, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her?

Ann: I have heard of her, I haven’t read your book yet.

Jennifer: Yeah, Josephine Tey wrote, her best-known novel is The Daughter of Time, which is this, it’s kind of, it’s very hard to describe, it’s this kind of revisionist, it’s a murder mystery but it’s a revisionist thing about Richard III and how he wasn’t a monster. 

So, this biography of Bothwell is kind of revisionist in that it’s, like, he’s not a monster and it went into some detail about the prison, and what happened, and the karma that he was served. And I found it such a striking image in this biography where the author visited the castle where Bothwell was imprisoned and Bothwell’s body was mummified by the sea air and it was on display for years, and there’s a very vivid description of it. 

And I, kind of, got to know these other people who were very, very keen on history and got to know there was a wee group of people in Scotland who thought it might be a good idea if Bothwell’s body was brought back to Scotland. And one of the people involved in this was a descendant of Bothwell, slightly sideways obviously, because he doesn’t have children with Jean or anybody. And he described to me how he ended up visiting Bothwell’s tomb – eventually, Bothwell’s body was placed in a closed tomb – and he gave me this very vivid description of finally going there and this was his ancestor, and he knew all the history and he’d thought it might be a good idea to bring him back. But then he was like, “I just felt this sense of peace that we brought attention to this story and that was what needed to be done, the story needed to be told.” Yeah, it’s all in my book, I explain it better. I’m better at writing than speaking. But yeah, it’s just, history means so much to so many people, people get so into it, so worked up about it, it’s their ancestors and it’s part of their, how they see themselves and I just love it. I love all the passion I love how into it people are.

Ann: I really appreciate in your book, you’re very even-handed in describing the Bothwell situation. I went into your book coming in hot, I hate Darnley, now I hate Mary’s half-brother and I’m like, “Eugh, Bothwell. He sucks.” And it’s like, yes, but also, isn’t this interesting, and also, he, I think, paid for what he did, so we don’t need to keep…

Jennifer: And you can kind of be flippant when you’re talking about kings and queens and things that happened 500 years ago, but you also have to remember that they were real people and they suffered, and they loved, and yeah. In my first biography of Josephine Tey, occasionally people come to talks that I’ve given about Josephine Tey and they tell me that they know her, or they were related to her, or they know people I’ve written about. So, I was very aware that I’m writing about real people, and even with this book, it’s 500 years ago, but when I was researching in archives, often I’d have to go to family archives and I did go to the Earl of Moray’s castle for example where the current Earl of Moray, he can trace his descendants from Mary’s half-brother. So, although it was 500 years ago, they were real people, and you have to think about that.

Ann: Yeah, and what does that… If that’s someone’s ancestor, what does that mean to them versus just, “Oh, it’s a character in a novel or a story.” No, this was a person.

Jennifer: Yeah, I wanted to tell it like a story, that’s how people respond to life, through stories. But I never wanted to lose sight of the fact that these were real people.

Ann: And I think that’s a real part of what made your book so compelling to me and I think to other people is that combination of your storytelling is so propulsive, I can’t wait to read the next chapter but at the same time, you respect the people you talk about which I also appreciate.

The next category on our scale, I call it Scheminess. It’s basically so all the categories can start with an S, the word I chose is Scheminess. So, what it means is, if we’re thinking of schemes but in terms of, it’s not a negative necessarily, it’s just coming up with plans, being resilient, being an active person. If you’re backed into a corner, coming up with a clever thing to do. I think she could score high on this; the salt pans, always landing on her feet, figuring out what to do in a variety of bizarre situations. I think she was a very thoughtful person and a very intelligent person.

Jennifer: Definitely intelligent, well-educated. She knows what direction she’s going in, she’s got goals, Gordons must come first, yeah, and she puts plans into place, executes them brilliantly. So yeah, she’s not a sideways schemey person, very direct person but yeah, quite high. Maybe 7 or 8? Less because she’s not, I think of schemey as being quite devious and she’s not devious at all.

Ann: I think I’m comfortable with an 8 for scheminess. 

The next category, and I’m interested to hear what you’re going to say, I’ve got some thoughts based on what you’ve been saying, Significance. My first thought was what you said about the significance of the coal mines and salt pans to industry in northern Scotland, it sounds like that was a significant thing she did. But it’s also her significance, not necessarily to world history because that’s not the sort of life she was living but just to… her significance. It drew you to write a biography of her so what do you think?

Jennifer: Yeah, I would put her significance pretty high. For the north of Scotland, she created the House of Sutherland and the House of Sutherland then set a massive influence throughout the subsequent years on what happened in the north of Scotland. So yeah, I think it’s got to be quite high. She was there for her husband, her son, and her grandson so I reckon it’s got to be up there, like, a 9 or something.

Ann: Yeah. And I think also the fact that she was leading this household for three generations inherently is significant because they thrived under her care. If someone else had been there, the same sequence of events wouldn’t have happened. I’m comfortable with a 9 for Significance, I think. I’m relying on you for all of these numbers obviously, but you know the history of northern Scotland to an extent that I do not. The House of Sutherland, that’s good to know that that…

Jennifer: And the coal mines existed in Brora until the 1970s.

Ann: Really?

Jennifer: Yes. I mean it kind of died and got revived three or four times, I think, all together. But yeah. For people thinking the Highlands are kind of remote, no they weren’t.

Ann: I was also just going to say, after this I’m really excited to learn more about… It’s the same way as when I first read about the history of Angola or Peru for the first time, I was just like, oh this is great! Northern Scotland, I think when I was reading your book I was like, “Wow,” I felt like, “Yeah, I know about Scottish history,” but I don’t. Everything I’d read until your book was about the border area, Edinburgh, and really Scotland in relation to England is what I know, and that’s an entirely different story from the clans and what was happening up north. So, I’m excited to learn more about that because clearly, it’s really dramatic and exciting.

Jennifer: Yes, there’s a lot but not enough about the north of Scotland, I think. I think there should be more.

Ann: Definitely. Honestly, my concept of Scotland before I was researching this Mary, Queen of Scots season I was just thinking… Okay, have you seen the Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots movie?

Jennifer: Yes, I went to see that with one of my good friends who is a professor of history, and we had a great time. We were in hysterics, we were whispering pointing out all the historical inaccuracies, we particularly liked the men from Thurso, we had a lot of thoughts about that, the denim dresses. Yeah, great film. We had a great time. Possibly not in the way the filmmakers intended. 

Ann: I think that’s one I’m definitely going to cover on Vulgarpiece Theatre where I talk about costume dramas with my friends. But when I was reading your book, I was thinking about… Because I, for various reasons, most of what I know about Scottish history is from pop culture, basically, I don’t know, Brigadoon, things like that. So, I just sort of thought, even Outlander, I know it’s the Highlands, but I just, sort of, conflated everything. So, I was like, “Mary, Queen of Scots, she gets to Scotland, she comes to the Scottish court,” and I was picturing them, like in the Saoirse Ronan movie, her half-brother, he looks like Mel Gibson as Braveheart. He’s got dreadlocks, eyeliner.

Jennifer: No, the hair, the big hair! They would have had big hair! No, they would have had neat hair, they would have not wanted to look like clansmen, definitely. Yeah, we had fun with that.

Ann: Exactly. So, in my defence, the reason why I was imagining Mary, Queen of Scots, or even Marie de Guise or Margaret Tudor, coming to Scotland, and I pictured the people who they would meet would look like that. But I have since been told by my friend who also is in Scotland but also from your book and from reading, I’m like, “Oh no! Edinburgh, people there would look the same as they looked in England, effectively.” Tidy hair, courtly dress. Yeah. So, okay good.  I was wondering what you thought about the portrayal of James Stewart in that film as kind of a wild Highland-looking guy.

Jennifer: No, he would have been nothing like that at all. There are portraits of him looking very, dressed in black, very proper.

Ann: So, for me, I guess it’s similar to other regions I’ve read about where my understanding of them is so much based just on movies I’ve happened to watch, or that sort of thing. And then when you read the history, you’re like, “Oh, this is wrong,” and I see why people from that country don’t like this because…

Jennifer: But there were clansmen, there were clansmen in kilts, speaking Gaelic. Yeah, that was a big part of Scotland’s history as well. It’s just that that didn’t happen absolutely everywhere. For a small country, it’s got a lot of different areas with a lot of complex history going on in each separate area.

Ann: And the men, the Highlanders in the kilts, speaking Gaelic, were not in royal court advising Mary, Queen of Scots.

Jennifer: No. [Ann laughs] Okay, yeah so yes, later in my book, Donald of the Troubles, who is Jean Gordon’s grandson and also the Chief of Mackay, he does go to court in London to meet James VI, but he would not have worn a kilt to do that. There are descriptions of him, he would have worn a slashed doublet. But when he was back up north, he probably wore a kilt then because there are pictures of him in Europe because he ended up in the Thirty Years’ War, which you definitely don’t want to get into, but yeah, they’re wearing plaid, like the old-fashioned kilts. So yeah, Outlander style. I grew up in Culloden, I grew up next to the battlefield so that’s why I’m interested in history.

Ann: You would be, oh my gosh, yeah. Whether one believes in ghosts or not, I think there’s just so much history one can feel when you’re there every day. 

The last category – and I’m not sure how this is going to go – is what I call the Sexism Bonus. What that is there for, it’s not so much in her story, but if you think about a story of, I don’t know, the sort of woman who did something scandalous and then got locked away for 25 years and had no freedom, or somebody who just didn’t have any opportunities in life, it’s the sexism bonus. It’s a way to give points to those people who maybe didn’t get the opportunity to scheme or to be scandalous but also, we consider, how much did sexism get in her way? And I would say very little.

Jennifer: Yeah, very, very little. I was really interested when writing my biography to think about what life was like for women in Scotland and even just legally, the position is really different to women in England. For things like when they were widowed, women in England could be left with nothing, in Scotland they had something. So yeah, very low. I would say about 1 on that score, maybe. Maybe 2 for being with Bothwell and Bothwell’s mistresses, maybe she could get more for that.

Ann: I think so, having to deal with being married to Bothwell. That was also interesting to see the difference, culturally. Even the fact that her brothers supported her, the fact that when Bothwell went for help, they sided with her instead of him. I can see in another cultural context, a woman’s brother might have sided with the husband because they’re like, “Well, you’re the man.” But in her situation, family trumps everything, it’s all about family whether it’s a girl or a boy, family is number one.

Jennifer: Also, Bothwell is Protestant and she’s Catholic but her brother kind of was a Protestant at one point but then switches back to being Catholic. So yeah, that’s going on as well.

Ann: So, her total then is 23, which on… It’s, I don’t know. I do the score at the end because it’s a way to wrap things up. But she’s certainly, that’ snot the lowest store. Boudica, the Queen of the Roman– She has a 23, so she’s in good company there. Lola Montez, I don’t know if you know her, she’s got a 23. So, it’s interesting, it’s rare for somebody to score high in all four categories but a 23 generally means you lived a good life, and you did okay for yourself. If you’re a high Scandiliciousness, that also goes with a very stressful situation, I think. 

And actually, there’s one more thing I wanted to ask you. There’s another category that I’ve added, it’s called The Lady Jane Seymour Memorial Award for Outstanding Supporting Performance. It’s named after Lady Jane Seymour, who was the best friend of Lady Katherine Grey, Jane Grey’s sister, just because Lady Jane Seymour was a really good best friend, and by the time I did that episode it was rare for me to find somebody who helped someone. I talk about so many women on this podcast who are just totally abandoned and left to their own devices, so I like to say if somebody was there for her. I would nominate, frankly, the Gordon family I think, her siblings.

Jennifer: Her family and her siblings. Maybe also her cousin Agnes Keith because Agnes was the wife of James Stewart, the half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots which should make her an enemy but because she’s related to Jean on Jean’s mother’s side, she kind of helps Jean. But again, that’s Gordon family, isn’t it? It’s family.

Ann: I’ll say, “The Gordon family including Agnes Keith,” just so that she’s specifically noted. 

Jennifer: Agnes Keith would hate to be counted as a Gordon.

Ann: “Gordon family, and Agnes Keith.”

Jennifer: Yes.

Ann: [laughs] Just so I’ll remember what story that relates to. But yeah, that’s part of what makes this story, as much as it involves so much crisis and drama and murder, a nice story because she was never abandoned, there’s always somebody in her corner, her family was just always there supporting her. The fact that she ends up with Alex Ogilvy at the end, these are nice things. And then just the fact that she got to be this woman running the household, running a business, and everyone was basically okay with it. For the time and era, couldn’t have done better, I don’t think.

Jennifer: She’s got to be the only one from Mary, Queen of Scots’ court who doesn’t die horribly.

Ann: And that’s why I wanted to do this episode where I’m posting it because it feels just unrelenting to do the Mary, Queen of Scots, all the episodes, all in a row. It’s just like, “And then this person died horrifically…” Here’s a nice story to brighten up the mood before we get into Mary, Queen of Scots and her time imprisoned. 

So, tell everybody the title of your book, and where they can find your book, and things like that.

Jennifer: Okay, so my book is called Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots it’s published in the UK by Sandstone Press, you should be able to get it in North America though because they have North American distribution so if you go to a large retailer like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It’s also available as an eBook and an audiobook.

Ann: Is the narrator of the audiobook a Scottish-accented person? Do you know?

Jennifer: Yes, but they don’t sound anything like me, they have a very different Scottish accent. It’s beautifully read by an actress called Joan Walker.

Ann: Okay, I just feel like this story, the names, the place names… I was hoping you would say that. It needs to be somebody who knows how to pronounce those words, Scottishly.

Jennifer: We had discussions about that, yes, how to pronounce all the different names.

Ann: I’m sure you did. I’m sure the name that I said some of them in my head is incorrect, but I won’t embarrass myself by saying them. Like the brother of the Battleaxe, how do you say his name?

Jennifer: Uisdean, and Uisdean’s father is Aodh. Yeah.

Ann: Is that the one that’s spelled A-O-D-H?

Jennifer: A-O-D-H, yeah. Aodh.

Ann: I had no idea. To me, I was just… I would embarrass myself, it would sound like I was talking Klingon, I think, if I tried to pronounce it.

Jennifer: There’s some debate over how to pronounce it, but yeah.

Ann: Okay. Well good, so it’s not just me being confused as a Canadian person. Also, you have a website, is there social media where people can keep up with what you’re doing?

Jennifer: Yeah, I have a website which is just my name, and I’m on Instagram @North_Morag and I’m on Twitter @Jennifer_Morag. 

Ann: Is that a Scottish name, Morag?

Jennifer: It is, yeah, very Scottish.

Ann: There was a book I read as a child; I just had this sudden vivid memory I’m going to share with you for no reason. As a child, I loved to read historical fiction and there was a book about a girl from modern times whose name is Meg, in Canada or the US, and then she time-travelled back to the colonial era and into the body of her ancestor, whose name was Morag.

Jennifer: Very good.

Ann: Clearly Scottish immigrant family. I’ve always thought of Morag as Meg but the old-fashioned version of it but that’s incorrect. That’s just what happened in that book.

Jennifer: I’m not sure. Meg would be from Margaret, wouldn’t it? I’m not sure if Morag is, yeah, I don’t know. I was named after a family friend.

Ann: And I wanted to mention, well I just wanted to have you say about your website and about your social media especially because you’ve been nominated for the Highland Book Award, and I know you’ve been doing various readings and things so people can follow you there to see where they can catch you to see you presenting.

Jennifer: Yes, I do have some readings coming up but actually, not until after the summer. But yeah, I put them on my social media when I have them, and I try to put nice pictures as well. I was up in Brora the other week, which is where Jean Gordon had her salt pans and coal mines and it was such a nice sunny day and I got all these photos of us in raincoats and sunglasses, so they’re very Scottish pictures. But yeah, I try and put nice pictures of ruined castles up because I know people like them.

Ann: Yeah, okay. I was just thinking, because I was looking at your Instagram earlier and I was just like, “Ooh, that’s that castle and that’s that castle.” So, some are kept and a lot of them are just, you can see the skeleton of what it was. I think there was a picture of Huntly Castle on your website or Instagram, and I thought, “Oh, okay!” You get a sense of scale even though it’s fallen into disarray now.

Jennifer: Yeah. Huntly Castle is massive, yeah. And it’s a very well-managed site. The last time I was there was a few years ago but they had some reenactors setting off cannon in the courtyard which was very cool.

Ann: That’s so interesting. I hope one day to be able to travel around not just Scotland but all of the British Isles just to see, to have history right there. You know, this is where the castle was, even just to see what it was, I think that would be really magical for someone like me who lives in a country with not so much old buildings, shall we say.

Jennifer: Yeah, I lived in Canada for a year and people would be like, “Oh, this is the old bit,” and I was like, “Really?”

Ann: [laughs] “You know, this building, it was built in 1950, it’s the old building.” Yeah, that’s the vibe here. 

Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this, I was really excited when I first realized the existence of your book and I loved reading your book and I loved getting to have you on here to share the story with the listeners.

Jennifer: Well, thanks for inviting me. And I hope I haven’t talked for too long, but I could talk for a long time more about Jean Gordon.


So again, this book is Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson and it’s available as a book, you can get the eBook, you can get the audiobook. It’s available wherever you like to get books from, including your local public library. There’s a link in the show notes if you want to buy it through, then a little bit of money goes to support this podcast. 

So, you can also support this podcast, we have merch which is at, that takes you to the TeePublic store and as I understand it, that’s best for people in the US in terms of shipping costs. If you’re living somewhere internationally, the shipping is a bit better on the Redbubble store, which is So many great designs are in there. Most recently I added two new designs by Siobhan Gallagher, which are based on some memorably bad reviews this podcast has gotten from people who just don’t get it but in this poetic way I enjoy. One of them is a very cute design that says, “Very biased,” which is what somebody called me, and I own that, and I am very biased and I think everybody is, every historian is. If you go all the way back to reading transcripts from Mary, Queen of Scots’ time, lots of people are very biased for or against her. You can’t tell history in an objective way. Anyway, it’s a really cute design, it says “Very Biased” in this bubbly pink font. And then as a companion in the sort of bubbly purple font also designed by Siobhan Gallagher, it says, “Rambling and unscholarly,” which is what somebody called me in a review, and you know what? I’ll own that as well. This podcast is not a textbook although I do do a lot of research. Anyway, so you can get that at our regular merch stores. 

And if you want to leave a nice review, I can’t say that I’m going to turn that into merch, necessarily, but it could help counterbalance some of these other reviews. If you go to Apple Podcasts, you can leave me a nice review, if you want. There’s also a place, if you’re listening on Spotify when you go into each episode, there’s a place where you can leave nice comments too, or mean comments, you know, whatever moves you. 

You can also support this podcast by joining my Patreon which is, where if you pledge at least $1 a month, you get early ad-free access to all the episodes and then if you pledge $5 or more a month, you get access to our special bonus podcasts. So, that is So This Asshole, where I talk about men from history who are terrible. And I have pledged that if and when I get 500 people supporting me on Patreon, I will do “So This Asshole John Knox,” so, you know, if that persuades you. We also do Vulgarpiece Theatre episodes on Patreon, that’s where I’m joined by Allison Epstein and Lana Wood Johnson, and we talk about various costume dramas and have a really good time. Most recently we talked about The Woman King. The next one we have coming up is going to be about Ned Kelly, the Australian film starring Heath Ledger. We’re also going to be talking about Chevalier, the movie about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges which just came out, which is a really good movie, although, spoiler for that episode of the podcast. 

And I’m just trying to think, are there other reminders to tell you? You can follow this podcast, we’re on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod. Also, I’m on TikTok @VulgarHistory. 

We’re going to be back next week, continuing the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. I hope you enjoyed this break from the grimness with Jean Gordon and her, I was going to say delightful love story, and I will say delightful love story, in the midst of lots of murders and other things happening around her. It‘s just nice to know something nice could happen to somebody in this narrative. 

Anyway, thank you so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time. Until then, keep your pants on and your tits out! 

Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


Learn more about Jennifer and her work at

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