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HADDO HOUSE

Haddo House, Home Of The Gordons

Although Lord Haddo's political career ended badly, the attention he
lavished on his ancestral estate is celebrated still.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

Haddo House is a beautiful building, but one constructed of laughter and tears. On a beautiful summer's day, when the sky is an azure blue, clouds utterly absent and the air filled with bird song, one could climb the curving stone steps that lead to the grand entrance and imagine oneself in Italy, so refined and noble is the architectural design. But, let's be quite honest; Haddo House is situated in the northeast of Scotland where the weather is more likely to be blowing a gale than a softly whispering heatwave. And yet, Haddo House, in whatever weather it is approached, remains a beautiful building. As one critic said in compliment, it is "a classic English stately home, transplanted to Scotland."

It is also a house with a history of particular interest to students of politics, and on a previous visit I collected a rather interesting fact. I was standing in an anteroom of the house, which is sometimes called the "political room" for reasons that quickly become apparent to any visitor. The walls are decorated with oil portraits of the political titans of the 19th century -- men such as William Pitt the Younger, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. There is also a portrait of the French minister of state François Guizot, which was painted by Paul de la Roche and presented, with customary Gallic humility, by Guizot himself. The reason for the paintings’ presence in the house is that it was once the country home of George Gordon, a previous prime minister of Great Britain.

Gordon, the 4th Earl of Haddo, or Lord Aberdeen as he was also known, was prime minister from 1852 to 1855 and had previously served as foreign secretary, during which time he had entertained Guizot at Haddo House. The pair were attempting to establish an improved relationship and a lasting treaty between Britain and France, and so it was here, in this house, that the term "entente cordiale" was first coined.

Sadly for Lord Haddo, and most tragically for a generation of British soldiers, his premiership coincided with the outbreak of the Crimean War. The disastrous handling of the campaign led not only to Haddo's resignation, but also to reports that he never smiled again for the remainder of his life. One imagines him sitting glumly in this room pondering what might have been. He died five years later in 1860.

I remember leaving the room and thinking that, despite his many faults, his legacy is not universally tarnished. Every visitor to Haddo House owes him a small debt of gratitude for the beauty they see around them, for that is a direct result of his expense and labours.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2018 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © National Trust for Scotland, Haddo House