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Lord John Grey

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A romantic or a novelist might count the world well lost for love. So far as Grey's own opinion counted, a love that sacrificed honor was less honest than simple lust, and degraded those who professed to glory in it.

Lord John Grey is a secondary character in the Outlander novels and the protagonist of a subseries of historical mysteries, the Lord John novels and novellas. His first appearance is as a young English soldier, age sixteen, before the Battle of Prestonpans in Dragonfly in Amber, and subsequently he appears as the new governor of Ardsmuir Prison, where he strikes up a tenuous friendship with Jamie Fraser. He has had appearances in each subsequent novel, although his appearance in The Fiery Cross is limited to a series of letters exchanged between him and the Fraser family. The Lord John stories take place during the period of time in which Jamie is at Helwater.

Personal History Edit

Lord John William Bertram Armstrong Grey was born around June 1729 to Gerard Grey, Duke of Pardloe and Earl of Melton, and his wife Benedicta Grey, née Armstrong. Grey has three elder brothers; Harold "Hal" Grey, his elder brother from his parents' marriage, and Paul and Edgar DeVane, from his mother's marriage to Captain DeVane. It is unclear just how much older Grey's siblings are, although Grey was about ten when Edgar married.

Grey was enrolled for the The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, a gentleman's club, upon his birth by his godfather, who began taking him there for lunch every Wednesday starting when he was seven. As an adult, Grey continues to frequent the club, preferring it to White's Chocolate House, of which he is also a member. At the time of the Lord John series it is not uncommon for him to sleep at the Beefsteak instead of returning to his mother's home, where he keeps his rooms. Grey is a fine swordsman, having first begun lessons with one at the age of three; at a young age he once struck Hal on the leg with a sword, doing no lasting damage but leaving a scar.

On Grey's twelfth birthday he was given a pocket watch by his father, his brother having received an identical one on his own twelfth birthday. The next day Grey's father was found dead by his mother, having been murdered in the night. Not knowing who had committed the murder and wanting to protect her family, Grey's mother covered it up, making it appear as though Pardloe had committed suicide; at the time, he had been under the suspicion of having been a Jacobite supporter and thus his death was seen as proof of such. The family was dishonoured by the allegations, and an attempt to have the dukedom of Pardloe revoked was briefly made. Thoroughly shamed, Grey's elder brother Hal chose to be referred to by his second title, the Earl of Melton, rather than take on one that was associated with such a scandal. As the head of the family, Melton was able to push his will onto his mother, who became known as the Dowager Countess, but not Grey, who insisted on being called Lord John, as befitting a duke's younger son, instead of the Honourable John, as befitting an earl's younger son. Immediately after his father's death, Grey was sent to Aberdeen, Scotland, to stay with his mother's family and avoid the scandal, although it was not until much later in his life that Grey came to realize this.

Outlander seriesEdit

In September of 1745, sixteen-year-old Lord John Grey first sees Jamie Fraser by the light of a campfire in the Carryarick Pass while on campaign with his elder brother's regiment. Young Grey recognizes him as the notorious Highlander called Red Jamie, and while he hesitates to attempt capturing the criminal alone, he makes his decision to kill the man when he notices an Englishwoman in the man's company, and assumes she is there against her will. Grey fails to kill Jamie, and feels unbearably foolish when he learns that the woman is in fact Fraser's wife – after having divulged military intelligence about the nearby English army in exchange for the lady's honor. Fraser lets John live, and has him tied to a tree where his fellows will find him in the morning. Grey's parting words include the pronouncement of a debt of honor between them, and he avows that, should he have the chance to discharge that debt, he will do so, and then kill Fraser.

On February 15, 1755, Lord John arrives in Ardsmuir, Scotland, to replace Colonel Harry Quarry as governor of Ardsmuir Prison. He was sent there after his involvement in a hushed-up scandal.

When he learns from Quarry that one of the prisoners under his care is Jamie Fraser, Grey immediately relives the mortification of their encounter nearly a decade before. Despite the suggestion of his predecessor that Grey meet with Fraser, whom the Jacobite prisoners consider their leader, to discuss matters concerning the prisoners' welfare, Grey stubbornly resolves not to face Fraser again.

This notion becomes short-lived when Grey receives word of a man in the nearby village raving about gold in a mixture of French and Gaelic. Grey realizes he must seek Fraser's assistance, as Fraser is the only man in the prison who speaks both languages, and would have no way of acting on the information they obtain. There is also the tantalizing idea that if he, Grey, were able to locate the fabled Frenchman's gold meant for Charles Stuart during the Rising and hand it over to the crown, he might escape his banishment sooner. Though Fraser agrees to translate, the strange man's words make little to no sense, and he dies early the next morning. Thereafter, Grey finally heeds Quarry's advice and has Fraser summoned to meet with him in his quarters every month, with the endgame of discovering more information about the gold.

The two men, though their acquaintance is necessarily formal, develop a certain rapport – they recognize each other as fellow soldiers, and both enjoy discussing literature and playing chess. However, their fragile bond is shattered when Grey, who has found himself attracted to Fraser and falling in love with him, makes a tentative move on the prisoner. Fraser rejects him utterly, and severs all contact with him. Later, Fraser takes the blame for the presence of an illicit bit of Highland tartan in the prison block, and Grey has no choice but to have Fraser flogged as punishment.

Upon the completion of the fortress renovations at Ardsmuir in 1756, Grey is charged with transporting the prisoners to the American colonies. In Fraser's case, however, he makes an exception, and arranges to have him paroled at Helwater, to be quartered with the Dunsany family, who have a long acquaintance with Grey. Throughout Jamie's parole, Lord John visits Helwater periodically to ensure Fraser's welfare.

For events between 1756 and 1766, refer to summaries for the Lord John series below.

For events between 1756 and 1766, refer to summaries for the Lord John series below.

In early 1767, Lord John meets Claire again on a ship to the West Indies, though he only knows her as Mrs. Malcolm and does not see her in the daylight, and thus does not recognize her as Jamie's wife. Later, after Claire escaped the ship and Lord John had assumed his position as governor of Jamaica, Lord John meets Jamie at a ball for his arrival as governor, and finally sees Claire for who she really is. During the ball, John meets with Jamie in private to give him a miniature portrait of his son, William, and Claire observes them, unseen, as they embrace with great feeling. After his initial shock at discovering her true identity, John talks privately with Claire and explains how Jamie came to have a son and how he, John, came to be stepfather to the boy.

In the autumn of 1769, Lord John arrives unannounced at Fraser's Ridge with his stepson, WilliamJamie's illegitimate son. He reveals that his wife, Isobel, died while on the passage to Jamaica with William, and he travels now to his wife's estate in Virginia. Fraser's Ridge is not precisely on the way from Charleston to the estate in Virginia, but Lord John wanted to stop and see Jamie, for various reasons.

While visiting, Lord John contracts the measles, and Claire treats him while Jamie takes William on a hunting trip to protect him from infection. John and Claire speak frankly while Jamie is gone, a tense conversation that perhaps helps them understand each other better. He leaves once he has recovered and William returns with Jamie from hunting.

About a year later, John returns to North Carolina, this time to Cross Creek, where a pregnant Brianna awaits news of Roger and her parents. Lord John stops at River Run in the course of searching for Roger Wakefield, as Jamie had asked him to do months ago, but Brianna apprises him of the developments in the search for Roger. Instead of moving on to Wilmington, Lord John stays on at River Run and keeps Brianna company while they wait for Jamie and Claire to return, hopefully with Roger.

After witnessing Lord John paying a late night visit to the slave quarters, and guessing at his homosexuality, Brianna tries to blackmail Lord John into marrying her, threatening to expose him as a "pederast" if he refuses. Lord John insists she explain how she came to resort to blackmail to solve her problems, and they have a long discussion about her predicament and John's own history. Eventually, John agrees to fake an engagement with her, in order to throw off her other potential suitors while they wait for news of Roger. It is during these months at River Run that Brianna and Lord John become close friends.

In the spring, Lord John hears of Stephen Bonnet's arrest and sentence to hang, and tells Brianna of it. She insists she wants to see Bonnet before his execution, and Lord John reluctantly agrees to take her to him. While in the cellar of the building where Bonnet is being kept, Sergeant Murchison knocks a blow to Lord John's head, rendering John apparently dead. Brianna discovers he is not, and gets Bonnet to carry John's lifeless body out and away from the building, which is set to explode. They get out in time, and Bonnet escapes while John survives.

Lord John is still recovering from his injuries when Jamie and Claire return from their journey in May. Claire inspects the healing wound to John's head, on which another physician performed surgery. Claire returns John's ring to him, which had helped maintain the ruse of his engagement to Brianna.

Lord John does not appear in person in The Fiery Cross, but he and Jamie exchange several letters throughout the novel. Jamie writes to John and tells him that Brianna's son is named Jeremiah Alexander Ian Fraser MacKenzie, "Ian" being the Scottish version of "John", and informs him of his task of forming a militia and leading them to do the governor's bidding. Jamie asks John to look after his family, should anything happen to him.

Later, Brianna finds a letter from Lord John in her father's study, but not the one that the family had all shared earlier. She reads that John has been helping Jamie find out about Stephen Bonnet's whereabouts, at Jamie's request. He has also been on the lookout for an astrolabe for Jamie, but one of these does not appear until some time later, and not from Lord John, but his stepson, William.

-- Event summary for Lord John in A Breath in Snow and Ashes --

-- Event summary for Lord John in A Echo in the Bone --

-- Event summary for Lord John in Written in My Own Heart's Blood --

Lord John SeriesEdit

After returning to London from Ardsmuir in the autumn of 1756, Grey becomes caught up in the investigation of the death of Robert Gerald, a cousin-by-marriage to Harry Quarry. Grey met Gerald early on the night of his death, and was so shocked by it that he vowed to find Gerald's murderer. His investigation leads him to a meeting of the Hellfire Club, to which he is invited by his former lover, George Everett. There, he discovers that Everett was Gerald's killer.

In June 1757, Grey finds himself investigating his cousin Olivia's betrothed, Joseph Trevelyan. While at the Beefsteak, Grey had caught a glance at Trevelyan in the washroom and spotted what he suspected to be a syphilis sore. Not wanting to incite a public scandal that would definitely taint his cousin's reputation, Grey begins to investigate the matter more privately, in an attempt to force Trevelyan to end the engagement without ruining Olivia. While looking into this, Grey also becomes responsible for investigating the death of a soldier from the 46th Regiment, who had been suspected of espionage. His investigation of Trevelyan leads Grey back to the Lavender House, a discreet London club that caters to gay men, which he had previously frequented while in the company of George Everett years before. While there, Grey meets Percy Wainwright for the first time, though not intimately. During his investigation, Grey also meets Hubert Bowles, a spymaster, Stephen von Namtzen, a German captain, and Tom Byrd, the younger brother of one of the men implicated in the investigations and whom Grey takes on as his valet.

In the autumn of 1757, Grey has joined Stephan von Namtzen's regiment in Prussia, where he serves as a liaison officer. While there, rumors of a succubus emerge, leading Grey to investigate the deaths of British and Prussian soldiers. During his time in Prussia, Grey's friendship with von Namtzen grows, and he continues to speculate about the German's sexuality.

In January 1758, having returned to London, Grey meets General Sir George Stanley, his mother's fiancé, and, formally, Percy Wainwright, Stanley's stepson from his second marriage. Grey and Wainwright become romantically involved, despite Grey's continued feelings for Jamie Fraser. Wainwright also joins the 46th Regiment, which is assigned to fight under Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in the Rhine Valley during 1758. While in the Rhine Valley, Wainwright is caught in flagrante delicto with another man, by Grey and two other soldiers. In the aftermath, the man is then discreetly shot by his commanding officer, Captain von Namtzen, while Wainwright is arrested and sent back to London to await a court-martial. Before returning to London, Grey fights at the Battle of Crefeld on 23 June 1758, where he takes charge of a gun crew that has lost its commanding officer. During the battle, the cannon blows up, severely injuring Grey. Once back in London and on the mend, Grey arranges to have Wainwright escape from prison and flee to Ireland. He also discovers the identity of his father's murderer, and clears his family's once-tarnished name. It is during the course of this novel that Geneva Dunsany gives birth to a son, William Ransom, shortly before both she and her husband die.

In November 1758, months after the Battle of Crefeld, a Royal Commission of Inquiry is convened to investigate the cannon that blew up under Grey's command. Grey is called to stand before a tribunal led by Colonel Reginald Twelvetrees during the investigation, the accusations of which lead him to investigate the matter himself.

While at an electric eel party in 1759, Grey enters into a duel, which ends in the death of the other man. In order to avoid the ensuing scandal, and the demand that he marry the woman in whose name the duel took place, Grey flees London for Canada, on the grounds of appearing as a character witness for his friend and former-lover, Charlie Carruthers. While in Canada, Grey joins General Wolfe's forces during the siege of Quebec, and partakes in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He also takes a two-week fishing trip with an Indian guide, Manoke, who becomes his lover. It is at this point that he is officially made a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, because of his involvement in the Battle of Crefeld.

After returning to England, Grey receives a package in April 1760 which contains documents that once belonged to Carruthers, which explicitly detail the illegal actions of an English soldier. Grey must embark upon a mission to arrest him and return him to England to face a court martial, a course of action which requires the assistance of Jamie Fraser and a trip to Ireland. During the course of the novel, Grey pieces together the relationship between Fraser and William Ransom, while he and Fraser begin to rebuild their friendship. It is also during this novel that Grey enters into a duel with Edward Twelvetrees, whom he kills.

In June 1761, Grey has traveled to Jamaica in response to a plea for help from the island's governor. There, Grey investigates a slave rebellion and the rumors of zombies.


Physical AppearanceEdit

Lord John is described as a man of slight build and shorter-than-average height (about 5'6"), with thick blond hair and large, long-lashed, light blue eyes. Several characters observe that his features, of fine bones and fair skin, are "saved from girlishness only by the firm set of mouth and jaw"[3]. John has observed to himself that his beard grows in nearly the same color as his hair, but thick as well, and he keeps his face clean-shaven as a rule. He declines to wear a wig, preferring to wear his own hair, though this is usually bound back to combat its naturally wavy unruliness.


Lord John places great value in his relationships, from those with family and friends, to his more intimate sexual relationships.

John's relationship with his brother, Hal, is one of great trust and respect. The brothers lost their father when John was still a boy; consequently, Hal acts as a fatherly elder brother, looking after John while helping him make his own way. After their father's death, John lived away from home and Hal for two years, staying with his mother's people in Aberdeen. Even after John had returned to England, the brothers did not interact much, as Hal was busy building up the regiment. During the campaign against the Scottish Jacobites in 1745-6, John accompanied Hal and his regiment to the Highlands, where John had his first taste of military life and warfare. It was there, after the Battle of Culloden and the death of John's friend and lover, Hector, that Hal explained that John must see his friend's body, in order to accept his death, grieve him, and move on.

John took up his commission with Hal's regiment, the 46th, and since then the brothers have grown closer, sharing their talent for soldiering.

On the matter of John's sexuality, Gabaldon has suggested that Hal almost certainly knows of John's preference for men, but that the brothers would never speak of it. She has hinted that even if Hal wasn't directly responsible for John's exile to Ardsmuir (in the wake of a near-scandal involving George Everett), he almost certainly had a hand in it.[4]

It is suggested that Harry Quarry is a longtime friend of the Grey family[5] (John recalls seeing Quarry at his father's funeral), but Grey apparently first meets him in Ardsmuir, Scotland, having arrived to replace the colonel as Governor of the prison. Quarry teases Grey subtly, knowing the embarrassment that the young Major suffered at the hands of Jamie Fraser before the Battle of Prestonpans, but otherwise briefs Grey on the running of the prison and imparts some advice regarding its inmates.

After Grey leaves Ardsmuir and returns to London, he is at first reluctant to interact with Quarry, but reminds himself that the Colonel is the only man with whom he shares the experience of Ardsmuir, and thus agrees to dine with him at the Beefsteak, of which they are both members. Shortly thereafter, the affair of the Hellfire Club, during which Quarry saves Grey's life, cements the camaraderie between the two. They frequently work together to solve various mysteries that crop up around London and the regiment.

Hector was Grey's first love, a twenty-year-old lieutenant in the 46th Regiment. He was the son of Lady Mumford and her late husband. Grey's attempts to capture Jamie Fraser prior to the Battle of Prestonpans were done in part to impress Hector, who in turn was one of the few people who didn't mock him for his own capture. Hector died during the Battle of Culloden, and his death haunted Grey for some years afterwards.

In the years following Hector's death, Grey became acquainted with George Everett. He introduced Grey to Lavender House, and during that time the two developed a sexual relationship. Gabaldon has confirmed that Everett was involved in the near-scandal that sent Grey to Ardsmuir in 1755, but only to the extent that "there was a near-scandal, and it involved George Everett".[6] 

They meet again when Grey returns to London after his turn as prison governor, and discuss the Hellfire Club whilst staying at Medmenham Abbey along with the club's other members. It is here that Grey reveals to Everett that he knows Everett was responsible for Robert Gerald's murder, and consequently Everett attempts to kill Grey. He comes close, but is killed by Harry Quarry before he can succeed.

After his first encounter with Jamie Fraser in the Carryarick Pass, which continues to be a source of mortification to Grey, he does not meet the man again until he is appointed the new governor of Ardsmuir Prison, where Fraser is a captive of war, though still a natural leader among the other Jacobite prisoners. Though they develop a mutual liking for one another through their monthly discussions of literature and chess matches, Grey's feelings far surpass those of a friend, let alone a soldier's for his prisoner, and makes the mistake of acting on his attraction. Fraser rejects him completely, and their relationship is shattered.

When Grey arranges for Fraser to serve his parole in England, rather than be transported to the colonies, Fraser is deeply suspicious and refuses to interact with Grey beyond the barest minimum. Still, Grey returns to London and does his best not to think of Jamie Fraser, with varying degrees of success. Upon receiving word of Geneva Dunsany's death in childbirth in early 1758, Grey travels to Helwater to pay his respects, and draws certain conclusions when he notices Fraser's thinly veiled grief.

On another visit, while in pursuit of information about extant Jacobites, Grey also asks Fraser's advice on the matter of his step-brother – and lover – Percy Wainwright, who faces court-martial and possible execution for the crime of sodomy. Grey's sense of honor, he explains, could not abide his allowing Wainwright to be punished for a crime he, Grey, is also guilty of. Fraser, disgusted by this revelation, scornfully dismisses Grey's dilemma along with the notion that men can love each other, as a man may love a woman. After Fraser suggests that Grey's predilections extend to molesting young boys as well, Grey swears he would challenge Fraser to answer for that were the other man armed. Fraser retorts that Grey could not master him, and, furious, Grey assures Fraser that, should he wish it, he could take Fraser to his bed and make him scream. Fraser's reaction is instantaneous and violent; Grey dodges the blow and escapes, though not before seeing in Fraser a devastating vulnerability, and realizes that Fraser must have been victim to some similar threat, and worse.

Grey does not see Fraser again for nearly two years. In spring of 1760, Grey's brother Hal summons Fraser to London for his assistance in deciphering a message written in Erse, a then-common term for the Gaelic language.

Lord John first meets Stephan von Namtzen, a Hanoverian captain, in London at one of his mother's musicales. His first impression of the German is that he is loud and uncouth, but it is improved by later events, in which von Namtzen assists Grey in the pursuit of the man who poisoned him, as well as the truth about a matter which may have deadly consequences for the army. These finally being resolved, von Namtzen invites Grey to be seconded to von Namtzen's regiment in Prussia. There the two men become friends, and Grey suspects that the German may be inclined to more than that in their relationship, but does not act on it.

While in Prussia on a later campaign, Grey hears that von Namtzen suffered an accident which resulted in the amputation of one of his arms. Grey next visits the Hanoverian at the latter's hunting lodge, a place called Waldesruhe, while recovering from an injury sustained during battle, only to find that Stephan has taken to engaging in dangerous enterprises – much to the horror of his servants. Grey talks to Stephan about the incident involving Percy Wainwright and one of von Namtzen's Hanoverian officers, which leads to talk of stories about King Friedrich's male lover. After, Grey asks to see the stump of Stephan's left arm, and kisses it. Though the moment is intimate, and Grey feels more certain about Stephan's personal inclinations, he decides not to act further, having realized that Stephan's state of mind is still fragile and not up to the task of acknowledging that part of himself.

Grey next sees von Namtzen, again in London, in 1760, while the Hanoverian is in town to place his children with his sister after the death of his wife. When they retire together to Stephan's rooms, Stephan makes the first move on Grey, and they have sex.

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  • John is the English form of Iohannes, the Latin form of the Greek name Ιωαννης (Ioannes), itself derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan) meaning "YAHWEH is gracious".[7]
  • Grey has two possible origins: 1) an Anglo-Saxon, Old English nickname for someone with grey hair or a grey beard, derived from the Old English pre 7th Century word "graeg", grey; 2) from the place called "Graye" in Calvados, Normandy, so called from the Old Gallo-Roman personal name "Gratus" meaning "Welcome" or "Pleasing", with the suffix "acum" meaning settlement or village.[8]


  • In Dragonfly in Amber, sixteen year old Lord John gives his name as 'William Grey' when captured by Jamie during a botched rescue attempt. Diana explains in The Outlandish Companion that while writing Voyager, there were too many Williams to keep track of in a small space, and she decided to make 'William' Lord John's middle name. (In the canon, it makes sense that Lord John would use an alias; he also attempts to hide his privileged status by adopting a Hampshire accent.[9])
  • Lord John appears "in person" in 14 of Diana Gabaldon's published works, more than any other character. Jamie Fraser appears in 12, while Claire Fraser and Roger MacKenzie each appear in 9.

TV SeriesEdit

Main article: Outlander (TV series)

English actor Oscar Kennedy portrays sixteen-year-old Lord John (using the alias "William Grey") on the Outlander television adaptation.[10]



  1. Age as of the end of Written in My Own Heart's Blood.
  2. Courtesy title only; appropriate to the younger son of a duke.
  3. Drums of Autumn, Chapter 58
  4. Gabaldon on Lord John's homosexuality – Compuserve, 27 March 2010
  5. Gabaldon responds to a question regarding Lord John and Harry Quarry – Compuserve, 28 November 2007
  6. Gabaldon on the scandal that sent Lord John to Ardsmuir – Compuserve, 9 January 2006
  7. – accessed 19 June 2014
  8. The Internet Surname Database – accessed 19 June 2014
  9. Lord John and his accent – Compuserve, 27 May 2009
  10. Outlander Starz Twitter – Oscar Kennedy Casting Announcement, November 16, 2015

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