Skip to main content

Lady Elizabeth Dunbar, Countess of Moray
of Westfield, Morayshire, Scotland

Born: 1425 and died 1494.
Daughter of: James Dunbar Earl of Moray and Katherine or Janet (Jean) Gordon.
Sister of: Lady Janet Dunbar who married James 2nd Lord Crichton.
Half sister of: Sir Alexander Dunbar.
Elizabeth married 1st: Archibald Douglas who became 6th Earl of Moray (?-1455).
Elizabeth married 2nd: George Lord Gordon, heir to the Earl of Huntly.
Elizabeth married 3rd: Sir John Colquhoun (14?-1479).
Elizabeth had issue:
1. James, who's father was Archibald.
2. Janet, who's father was Archibald.
3. John, who's father was John.
Possibly others?

Lady Elizabeth Dunbar, Countess of Moray: An Overview

The younger daughter of Sir James Dunbar and Katherine or Janet (Jean) Gordon, she became co-heiress of the wealthy earldom of Moray with her sister Janet when their father was killed in 1429.  Despite the fact that she was the younger of the two sisters, she became Countess of Moray around 1442 when she married Archibald Douglas, one of the powerful Black Douglases. Archibald became the 6th Earl of Moray and moved in to the family seat at Darnaway castle.  In a poem written about 1450 and dedicated to her, Richard Holland played with his patrons' names, hailing Elizabeth as "the dow of Dunbar ... dowit with ane Dowglass, and boith war thai dowis" (the dove of Dunbar ... endowed through marriage with a Douglas, and they are both doves).  They had two children, James and Janet.  When Archibald died in battle on May 1, 1455, fighting with his brothers against King James III, who had decided to curb the power wielded by the Douglases, the Moray title and estates were forfeited along with various other Douglas possessions.

Her second marriage, to George Lord Gordon, heir to the Earl of Huntly, required a papal dispensation because they were related within the forbidden degrees. In their matrimonial contract, which the poet Holland witnessed, the spouse is bound not to constrain the countess to resign her offspring's right to the earldom of Moray.  The notarial copy of this contract specifies that Elizabeth signed it with her own hand.

The marriage did not last long, perhaps because the king chose to bestow the forfeited earldom of Moray on one of his younger sons in 1456. Presumably the couple's consanguinity provided the grounds for divorce or annulment.  By 1459 the ambitious George Gordon was married to Arabella Stewart, one of the king's sisters.  (That marriage was in turn annulled because of the consanguinity of the first and second wives, who were related within the third and fourth degrees to their common ancestor, Robert II.

Her final marriage, to the magnate Sir John Colquhoun, took place before 1463.  They appear to have had only one child, a son, John.  Colquhoun, however, had several offspring from his first marriage and it was to the eldest of these, Sir Humphrey, that the Colquhoun estate and title passed when Sir John was killed at the siege of Dunbar in 1479.  Shortly thereafter what was to become Elizabeth's long-running quarrel with her step-son over her rightful inheritance began, traces of which are preserved in the proceedings of the Lord Auditors' Court of Complaints.

When Elizabeth died she left property that was claimed by her grandson Malcolm Colquhoun in 1494, presumably because his father John had died by then.  Her son James by her first marriage to Archibald Douglas, had died the previous year; we know nothing of her daughter Janet's fate after 1455. 

A book of hours, the most popular kind of medieval prayer book among lay people, has survived which was probably used by Elizabeth Dunbar in the private family chapel on the Colquhoun estate at Rossdhu on the banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland. This beautifully illuminated, handwritten book is known as the "Rossdhu Book of Hours" and is now preserved as part of Special Collections at Auckland Central Library, New Zealand.  The perpetual calendar section at the beginning contains the original dedication to St Mary of Rossdhu chapel on April 6, 1469, and brief obituaries (erased but just decipherable under ultra-violet light), of a number of Elizabeth Dunbar's relatives, including her father (11 August 1429) and her son James (18 March 1493).


The above overview was written by Anne McKim, 15/2/2003.

Images of the Rossdhu Book of Hours supplied courtesy of Auckland City Libraries (NZ)

Rossdhu House:


If you have any information to add to what is listed please contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.