Alexander Gordon of Auchintoul (1669-1752) was a Scottish nobleman who had a remarkable career as a soldier and a politician. He served in the Russian army under Peter the Great, fought for the Jacobite cause in Scotland in 1715, and is mentioned as “Sandy Don” in the song Cam Ye O’er Frae France.
Alexander Gordon was born on December 27, 1669 at Auchintoul, a towerhouse in Banffshire that belonged to his family since the late 16th century. He was the eldest son of Alexander Gordon, 2nd of Auchintoul, who was an advocate and a judge of the Court of Session. His mother was Margaret Ogilvie, daughter of Sir George Ogilvie of Banff.
He received his early education at home and then was sent to Paris at the age of fourteen to complete his studies. He learned French, Latin, Greek, mathematics, history, geography, and military science. He also became acquainted with some influential people in France, such as Louis XIV’s minister Louvois and Marshal Vauban.
In 1696, he left France and travelled to Russia with his cousin Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries, who was a general in the Russian army under Peter the Great. He joined Peter’s campaign against the Ottoman Empire and participated in the siege of Azov. He impressed Peter with his courage and skill and soon rose to high ranks in the Russian army.
He fought in several battles during Peter’s Great Northern War against Sweden (1700-1721), such as Narva (1700), Poltava (1709), Riga (1710), Stettin (1713), Stralsund (1715), Greifswald (1715), Wismar (1716), Gadebusch (1716), Aland Islands (1719), Nystad (1721). He also took part in Peter’s naval expeditions to capture ports on the Baltic Sea.
He became one of Peter’s most trusted generals and advisers. He helped him reform the Russian army by introducing new tactics, weapons, uniforms, drills, discipline, engineering skills. He also helped him build fortifications along Russia’s borders. He received many honors and rewards from Peter for his services.
In 1711, he returned to Scotland with Peter’s permission and settled at his ancestral home of Auchintoul. He married Margaret Duff, daughter of William Duff of Braco (later Earl Fife), and had four sons and three daughters.
In 1715 he led about 2000 men from Banffshire and Aberdeenshire to join John Erskine, Earl of Mar, who proclaimed James Stuart as king at Braemar on September 6. He fought at Sheriffmuir on November 13, where he commanded the right wing of Mar’s army. The battle ended inconclusively, but Mar retreated northward, while George I’s forces advanced southward.
He then went to Perth, where he met James Stuart, who arrived from France on December 22. He advised him to march southward and attack George I’s army before they could receive reinforcements. However, James Stuart hesitated and decided to stay at Scone Palace until January 30, when he learned that Mar had signed an armistice with George I’s general John Campbell, Duke of Argyll.
He accompanied James Stuart back to France on February 4 and lived there until his death in July 1752. He was buried at Saint-Germain-en-Laye with full military honors.