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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Gordon, Jane, Duchess of Gordon (1746 — 1812)

2nd daughter of Sir William Maxwell, 3rd baronet of Monreith, Wigtownshire, by his wife Magdalen Blair of Blair. She was born in Hyndford's Close, Edinburgh, where her mother had a second floor flat. She was a boisterous girl, according to tradition, on several occasions with her sister, Betty (who became Lady Wallace of Craigie, unconventional wife of Mrs Wallace), riding on the back of pigs, turned loose from a neighbouring wind, down the High Street. In 1767, she marride Alexander, fourth duke of Gordon, to whom she bore two son and five daughters. She herself was a beauty, as may be seem from her portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. She had ready business sense, a quick wit and a good nature, but 'singular coarseness of speech'. In London, her house in the Mall was the social centre of the Tory party. In Edinburgh, she was arbiter of fashion. Writing to John Ballantine on 13rg December 1786, Burns listed her as one of his 'avowed Patrons and Patronesses'. Mrs Alison Cockburn, too, commented: 'The town is a t present agog with the ploughman poet, who receive adulation with native dignity, and is the very figure of his profession, strong and coarse, but has a most enthusiatsick heart of love. He has seen dutchess Gordon and all the gay world...'

'Dutchess Gordon' invited Burns to several of her drawing-room parties, and on one occasion told Scott that Burns was the only man whose conversation carried off her feet.

Because of her forthrightness, many unpleasant and derogatory stories were spread about her. On 10th April 1789 Burns wrote an angry letter to the Gazetteer, which had copied a sneering stanza, allegedly by Burns, from The Star. To the Editor of the Star, he wrote on 13th April:

'Mr Printer,
I was much surprised last night on being told that some silly verses on the Duchess of Gordon, which had appeared in a late Paper of yours, were said to be my composition. As I am not a Reader of any London Newspaper, I have not yet been able to procure a sight of that paper. I know no more of the matter than what a friend of mine, from having slightly glanced over the paragraph, could recollect; but this I know, I am not the author of the verses in question. My friend told me that the Printer himself expressed a doubt whether the poem was mine: I thank you, Sir, for that doubt. A Conductor of another London paper was not so candid when he lately inserted a disrespectful stanza on the same highly respectable personage, which he, with unqualified assurance, asserted to be mine; though in fact, I never composed a line on the Duchess of Gordon in my life. I have such a sense of what I personally owe to her Graces's benevolent patronage, and such a respect for her exalted character, that I have never yet dared to mention her name in any composition of mine, from a despair of doing justice to my own feelings.
'I have been recollecting over the sins and trespasses, peccadilloes and backslidings of myself and my forefathers, to see if I can guess why I am visited and punished with this vile calamity.* to be, at one time, falsely accused oth the two most damning crimes, of which, as a man and as a poet, I could have been guilty — INGRATITUDE and STUPIDITY.
'I beg of you, Sir, that in your very first paper, you will do justice to my injured character with respect to those verses, falsely said to be mine; and please mention farther that in the Gazeteer and New Daily Advertiser, of March 28, another forgery of the like nature was committed on me, in publishing a disrespectful stanza on the Duchess of Gordon. I have written to the Conductor of that Paper, remonstrating on the injury he has done me; but lest from some motive or other, he should decline giving me that redress I crave, if you will undeceive the Public, by letting them know through the channel of your universally known paper, that I am guiltless of either the one or the other miserable pieces of rhyme, you will much oblige,
'Sir, Your very humble servant,...'

The Duchess was regarded as a skilful matchmaker, three of her five daughters marrying dukes and the fourth a marquis.

Towards the end of her life she became estrange from her husband and most of her family, and led a wandering, aimless and homeless existence, her quarrel with her husband having lost her former position in society.

She died at Pulteney's Hotel, Piccadilly and was buried at Kinara, Inverness-shire at her own request.

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