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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Ruthvens of Gowrie


THE Ruthvens derive their descent from a Norwegian baron named Thor, who, in the reign of King Edgar, founded the Church of Edinham, or Ednam, on the banks of the Tweed, the birthplace, five centuries later, of Thomson, the poet of the ‘Seasons.’ The charter which Thor granted to this religious establishment is a model for its brevity and clearness, and may serve to illustrate the process by which the waste places of the country were peopled and the inhabitants civilised. ‘To the sons of Holy Mother Church,’ ran this interesting document, ‘Thor the Long, greeting in the Lord: be it known that Aedgar my lord, King of Scots, gave to me Aednaham, a desert; that, with his help and my own money I peopled it, and have built a church in honour of St. Cuthbert, which church, with a ploughgate of land, I have given to God and to St. Cuthbert and his monks to be possessed by them for ever.’

Suconus, the son of this Thor, who flourished in the reign of William the Lion, obtained a grant of the manors of Ruthven, Tippermuir, and other lands in Perthshire, and was also superior of the territory of Crawford, in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, which the progenitors of the great family of the Lindsays held as vassals under him.

The descendants of Suconus assumed the surname of Ruthven from one of their Perthshire estates, and no fewer than three great barons of this designation are mentioned in the Ragman Roll among those who swore fealty to Edward I. in 1296. SIR WILLIAM DE RUTHVEN, the seventh in descent from Suconus, obtained from Robert III. the office of sheriff of Perth, or St. Johnston, as it was then called, which became hereditary in the family. The son of this baron was one of the commissioners appointed to treat for the release of James I. in 1423, and one of the hostages for that monarch in the following year. He was killed in the North Inch of Perth in a fierce struggle with some Highland caterans, who attempted to rescue a notorious freebooter whom he had taken prisoner. His grandson, also named Sir William, was created a peer by James III., in 1488. The eldest son of the first Lord Ruthven fell along with his sovereign on the fatal field of Flodden, leaving a son, WILLIAM, who succeeded his grandfather as second Lord Ruthven. He was one of the first persons of rank in Scotland who embraced the Protestant faith, and one of the most zealous and active leaders of the party in their deadly and successful struggle with the Romish party—’ A stout and discreit man in the cause of God,’ as he is termed by Calderwood. Cardinal Beaton, who hated him for his ‘knowledge of the Word,’ and his exertions to obtain for the laity the privilege of reading the Holy Scriptures, made a strenuous effort to deprive Lord Ruthven of the office of Provost of Perth, and to confer it on Charteris of Kinfauns, which led to a sanguinary conflict on the Bridge of Perth between the Ruthvens and the citizens of the Fair City on the one side, and Lord Gray and other allies of Beaton on the other, in which the latter were defeated.

PATRICK, the third Lord Ruthven, has acquired an unenviable historical notoriety as a principal actor in the murder of Rizzio. He was not, however, as has been commonly supposed, a savage barbarian, but a man of literary tastes and accomplishments, who had received a learned education at the University of St. Andrews, and could use his pen as readily as his sword. Like his father, he was a zealous supporter of the Protestant cause, and was one of the leaders of the Congregation in their contest with Mary of Guise, Queen-Regent. Along with the Earl of Argyll, Lord James Stewart (afterwards Regent Moray) and other prominent Reformers, he took part in the Capture of Perth, the siege of Leith, the deposition of the Regent, and other proceedings of the Protestant party, and was one of the most active and courageous in the efforts made by them to drive the French troops out of the country. His last public appearance was on the memorable night of Rizzio’s murder, 9th March, 1566. He had for some months been confined to bed by an incurable disease; but at the urgent and reiterated request of Darnley, whose great-uncle he was, he agreed to assist that foolish profligate to make away with ‘the villain Davie.’ The most shocking and memorable feature of that tragic scene is the appearance of Ruthven, ‘scarcely able,’ as he himself says, ‘to walk twice the length of his chamber,’ clad in a coat of mail covered by a loose gown, and brandishing a drawn sword in his hand; his form attenuated by wasting disease, his pale and haggard countenance showing under the helmet like that of a corpse tenanted by a demon; his vindictive purpose lurking out at his flashing eyes; his hollow, sepulchral voice; his whole appearance more like that of a fiend than a man, suddenly appearing in the Queen’s closet and coolly superintending the bloody deed. The savage reproaches which he heaped upon the poor Queen, after the perpetration of the murder, added not a little to the horror which the scene was fitted to inspire, and account for the vindictive reply of Mary, ‘I trust that God, who beholdeth this from the high heavens, will avenge my wrongs, and make that which shall be born of me to root out you and your treacherous posterity’ —a denunciation which was strikingly fulfilled in the total ruin of the house of Ruthven in the reign of Mary’s son.

On the escape of the Queen to Dunbar, the assassins fled in all directions. Lord Ruthven escaped to England, and died there 13th June, 1566, at the age of forty-six, just three months after the murder, having, however, before his death written a history of the affair, in which there is not one expression of regret or symptom of compunction for the crime. ‘He made a Christian end,’ says Calderwood, ‘thanking God for the leisure granted to him to call for mercy;’ but it is evident that he regarded the ‘slaughter of Signior Davie’ not as a crime requiring pardon, but as a meritorious deed deserving commendation. WILLIAM, the eldest surviving son of this ruthless baron, succeeded him in his titles and estates, and was created Earl of Gowrie in 1581. But, as Mr. Bruce remarks, he possessed none of the active energy of his father. His nature was calm, indolent, and passive. None of the great public events in which he was subsequently mixed up originated with him. His course was ordinarily straightforward and consistent, but he followed the lead of men more busy and more active than himself.

The Ruthven family had now reached the zenith of their rank and power. In addition to the hereditary possessions of his house, the first Earl inherited from his grandmother—the eldest daughter of Patrick, Lord Halyburton—the valuable barony of Dirleton, in East Lothian, and along with his new title he obtained the lands of Gowrie in the fertile ‘Carse’ of that name, which had formerly belonged to the monastery of Scone.

The Earl of Gowrie was, of course, a staunch supporter of the cause of the Reformation, by which he, in common with many other Scottish nobles, had largely profited. Though quite young, he was present with his father at the murder of Rizzio, and shared his exile in England. He obtained the Queen’s pardon through the intercession of Morton, and joined that crafty noble in the association against Bothwell in 1567. He was one of the confederate lords to whom Mary surrendered at Carberry Hill, and to him, in conjunction with Lord Lindsay, was entrusted the task of conducting the hapless Queen to Lochleven Castle on the night of the 16th June in that same year. He is said to have been one of the nobles who received from Mary the resignation of her crown on the 24th of July following, and no one who has read Sir Walter Scott’s tale of ‘The Abbot’ will ever forget the description which the great novelist has given of the scene of the abdication in the castle of Lochleven, and of the appearance of Lord Lindsay’s harsh and stern features scarred with wounds, his thick and grizzled eyebrows lowering over large eyes full of dark fire, which seemed yet darker from the uncommon depth at which they were set in his head; his upright stature and large limbs, girt with the huge antique sword once worn by Archibald Bell-the-Cat, contrasted with his smoother but deeper colleague, who had the look and bearing of a soldier and a statesman, and the martial cast of whose form and features had procured for him the popular epithet of Greysteil, by which he was distinguished among his intimates, after the hero of a metrical romance then generally known. The son of an ill-fated sire, and the father of a yet more unfortunate family, he bore in his look that cast of inauspicious melancholy by which the physiognomists of that time pretended to distinguish those who were predestined to a violent and unhappy death. There is some reason, however, to doubt whether Ruthven was really present on that occasion, though it is quite certain that in company with Lord Lindsay and Sir Robert Melville he had at least one interview with the Queen during her imprisonment in Lochleven, and he was conjoined with Lindsay in the commission which she signed empowering them in her name to renounce the Government.

Throckmorton, the English ambassador, mentions that at this time Ruthven was employed by the confederate lords in another commission, because ‘he began to show favour to the Queen, and to give her intelligence.’ This leaning towards Mary, however, could not have been of long continuance, for he fought on the side of the Regent Moray at the battle of Langside, which ruined the Queen’s cause, and he prevented a junction between the retainers of Huntly and the clansmen of Argyll and Arran, and compelled these noblemen to disband their forces. He was rewarded for his services by his appointment for life, in 1571, to the office of Treasurer. He was also appointed Lieutenant of the Borders, in room of the Earl of Angus, and towards the close of the same year he was nominated one of the Extraordinary Lords of Session. But a bitter quarrel now broke out between him and his former friend the Regent Morton, who had taken the part of Lord Oliphant in a deadly feud between that nobleman and the Ruthvens; and in the following year Lord Ruthven was one of the leaders of the party who brought Morton to the scaffold. Titles and estates were liberally conferred on the successful plotters. Lord Maxwell obtained the earldorn of the fallen Regent, and Lord Ruthven, as we have mentioned, was created Earl of Gowrie. But the new favourite, Arran, a person of most infamous character, soon made himself so obnoxious that a conspiracy was formed to expel him from the royal councils. In the month of August, 1582, the young King, who had been enjoying his favourite pastime of the chase in Athol, was invited on his homeward journey to Edinburgh to visit the Earl of Gowrie at Ruthven Castle, near Perth. He readily accepted the invitation, but on his arrival found himself a prisoner in the hands of the associated lords, who compelled him to dismiss his minions, and to adopt measures favourable to the Protestant cause. The fate of Rizzio was impending over Arran, when Gowrie interposed and saved his life. James remained for about ten months in the hands of the lords, but in the month of May, 1583, he effected his escape through the assistance of Colonel William Stewart, a brother of Arran, and took refuge in the castle of St. Andrews. The Protestant lords were commanded to retire to their own estates, and to remain there till the King should call them. Gowrie, however, having obtained permission from James, repaired privately to St. Andrews, and, falling on his knees before him, professed his sorrow for his share in the raid and implored forgiveness, which the King readily granted. The Earl, however, retained his self-respect while expressing his penitence. Though there was ‘a fault in the form,’ he argued that the deed itself was not evil, ‘in respect of the great danger that both religion and the commonwealth did stand into at that time.’ James, overjoyed at regaining his freedom, declared, in the presence of the lords of both parties and of an assemblage of the neighbouring gentry, the chief magistrates of the adjacent towns, and the ministers and the heads of colleges, that he would not impute the seizure of his person to any one as a crime, and that he would henceforth govern all his subjects with strict impartiality and justice. As a proof of his sincerity, he paid a special visit to Ruthven Castle, ‘to let the country see that he was entirely reconciled with the Earl of Gowrie.’ The Earl entertained his Majesty with great splendour. After dinner he fell on his knees publicly before him, and entreated pardon for the indignity which had been put upon him at his last visit to that ‘unhappy house,’ assuring the King that the detention of his person was unpremeditated, and had fallen out rather by accident than by deliberate intention. James professed the greatest kindness for the Earl, told him he well knew how blindly he had been involved in the conspiracy by the practices of other persons, and promised never to impute to him his accidental fault. Arran was still a prisoner in the hands of Gowrie, but the King begged so earnestly that his old favourite should be permitted to come and see him ‘but once’ and then return to his place of detention, that the lords at length consented. As might have been foreseen, the interview was followed by Arran’s restoration to the Court and to his former place in the Council. The obnoxious favourite speedily regained his ascendancy over the King, and a proclamation was issued repudiating all the Acts of State and royal promises respecting the pardon granted to the lords who had been engaged in the Raid of Ruthven. That enterprise was declared to be treason, and the royal clemency was to be extended to those who had taken part in it only upon their acknowledging their offence and suing for pardon within a limited time, and submitting to temporary banishment, money payment, or such other punishment as the King, or rather as Arran, might think fit.

The tyranny of the wicked and ruthless favourite at length became intolerable. Like Cataline, he was covetous of other men’s money and prodigal of his own. His boundless extravagance was naturally connected with an insatiable rapacity, which was gratified by utter disregard of law and justice. He cast a covetous eye upon Gowrie’s extensive lands, and, as it was justly said, no man who had an estate was safe if Arran set his heart upon his possessions. Day by day some new device was tried to obtain forfeitures and escheats, land or benefices. Angus, Mar, and Glamis, the real leaders in the Ruthven Raid, were banished, the first of them to the north of Scotland and the two others to Ireland. Gowrie, whose submission had pacified the King, was allowed to remain at Court, but he was annoyed and insulted to such an extent by the favourite that he felt it necessary to return to his residence at Perth. The King, who seems really to have liked him, sent Melville to entreat the Earl to return. He complied with the request, and James attempted to reconcile him with Arran, but in vain. The haughty and insolent upstart subjected the Earl to constant mortifications. ‘He was vexed and put out,’ says Melville, in every imaginable way. Arran hated his person but loved his lands, and was bent upon obtaining them. His wife was still more eager to possess the great estates of the Ruthvens. [Arran’s wife had previously been married to the Earl of March, the King’s uncle-in-law, who had received the royal favourite as a friend. He repaid him by seducing his wife. When far gone with child she petitioned for a divorce for a reason which, Principal Robertson declares, no modest woman will now plead. The corrupt judges pronounced the desired sentence, and public decency was outraged by the pomp and splendour of her marriage to Arran—a precedent, it has been remarked, for a similar case which afterwards occurred to another of the King’s favourites in England.] Gowrie had probably some secret apprehension of danger from his powerful and unscrupulous enemy, and he asked and obtained from the King permission to retire to France. Dundee was a convenient seaport for his embarkation, and he repaired thither for that purpose. At this juncture, however, he received information of a plot on the part of Angus, Mar, and Glamis for the expulsion of Arran from the King’s council, and was urged to join it. He hesitated for some time, but at length consented, and held himself in readiness to take part with his former associates in the Raid when the time for action arrived. At this stage, however, the plot was betrayed to Arran. Gowrie had received a royal command to set sail within fifteen days, but he still lingered. ‘He was timorous of nature,’ says a contemporary and friend. He evidently believed, no doubt with good reason, that if he quitted the country some pretence would be found for the forfeiture of his estates. This feeling was expressed in characteristic terms to a friend who visited him at his mansion in Perth, which he had recently enlarged and was furnishing with princely splendour. ‘Impius heec tam culta novalia miles habebit? Barbarus has segetes.’ Some difficulties had arisen about the vessel which he had chartered, and the Countess, who had been recently confined, was lying very ill. The Earl of Athole, his son-in-law, went to the King at Edinburgh and besought an extension of the period limited for Gowrie’s embarkation. It was peremptorily refused, and Athole was not even allowed to return to Dundee and speak to his father-in-law before his departure.

On the 13th of April Colonel Stewart was sent to Dundee by sea with a hundred men, bearing a royal warrant, written by the hand of Arran himself, to arrest Gowrie and bring him to Edinburgh. Gowrie was at the harbour when the vessel which bore Stewart arrived. As soon as he saw the brother of his deadly foe step forth upon the shore he retired hastily to his lodgings, which were in the house of one of the citizens, and summoning his servants, barricaded the doors, and set Stewart at defiance. He made good his defence for several hours, but was at length compelled to surrender, and was conveyed a prisoner to Edinburgh. About the end of April he was removed to Stirling to take his trial, or rather to be put to death, for his fate was already determined. But as the Earl had been captured before Angus, Mar, and Glamis had taken up arms, it was difficult for his enemies to prove that he had been a party to the conspiracy. Arran, therefore, devised a scheme every way worthy of him to entrap the Earl into a confession. Accompanied by two of his brothers, and also by the Earl of Montrose, Sir John Maitland of Lethington, and Sir Robert Melville, Arran waited upon Gowrie, in Edinburgh, under the guise of a friend deeply concerned for his welfare. They informed him that the King was highly incensed against him for the part he had taken in the expulsion of the Duke of Lennox, and recommended him to make a full confession of all that he knew of a design against his Majesty’s person, and to offer to reveal the particulars if admitted to an interview. In this way he might vindicate his innocence and explain the whole affair to the King. Gowrie refused to follow this ‘perilous’ advice. They came to him again and again, and urged him to adopt this course. ‘Nay,’ said Gowrie, ‘that shall I never do, for so I should promise the thing which I could not discharge myself of. I should confess an untruth, and put myself in a far worse case than I am in. I will rather trust in the simplicity of mine honest cause and upright meaning, and take my hazard as it shall please God to dispone upon me.’ Arran and his accomplices continued still to reason with him as to the propriety and safety of the course which they recommended. ‘That policie is very perilous,’ said Gowrie, ‘for I know myself so clear of all crimes against his Highness, I should by that means make mine own dittay [indictment], and, not being sure of my life, nor how the King will accept mine excuse, incur the danger of forfeiture for confessing treason to the tynsell (loss) of my life and the defamation and utter ruin of my house.’ His treacherous counsellors assured him that his life was safe if he followed their counsel, but his death was determined on if he did not confess that he had a foreknowledge of the conspiracy of the Protestant lords. Gowrie still hesitated unless he had an assured promise of his life. They alleged that it stood not with his Majesty’s honour to capitulate with his subject by writing. The Earl, however, still held out. They came again, and ‘swore upon their honours and faith that the King sware to them that he would grant him his life if he would disclose those things whereof he should be asked.’ ‘I will willingly pledge my honour,’ Arran declared, ‘that your life shall be in no danger if you will do so.’ ‘I did yield upon this promise,’ said Gowrie, ‘and did write those things whereof I am accused.’ But instead of receiving the answer he had been led to expect, he was immediately placed upon trial. He pleaded, among other things, the solemn promise that had been made to him of his life. ‘You must remember;’ he said, looking to Arran, who was one of the jury, and his coadjutors, ‘how I at first refused, and how you sware to me upon your honour that the King would grant me my life if I made my confession.’ To this pointed appeal no answer was returned; but the Lord Advocate interposed and said that the lords had no power to make such a promise. The Earl then appealed to Arran and his associates whether his statement was not true, but they denied upon oath that any such promise had been made. Gowrie made a final appeal to Arran as he was about to accompany the other jurymen to the inner chamber to deliberate, and asked him to remember the good deed he did to him last year in his house. The heartless villain replied, that it was not lawful, ‘for, my lord, you are accused of treason, and I was no traitor; besides, my life was safe.’ Gowrie, who now perceived the snare that had been laid for him, convinced that he had no mercy to expect, smiled, and with great composure called for a cup of wine and drank to his friends around him. He then desired one of them to commend him to his wife, and to conceal his death from her, and put her in good hope of his life till she was stronger in body, for she was even at this instant weakened through the delivery of his child. The jury soon returned into court with a verdict of guilty, which he heard without changing his countenance; and being about to address the court, he was interrupted by the judge, who informed him that the King had sent down the warrant for his execution. ‘Well, my lords,’ he remarked, ‘since it is the King’s contentment that I lose my life, I am as willing to part with it as I was before to spend it in his service; and the noblemen who have been upon my jury will know the matter better hereafter. And yet in condemning me to die, they have hazarded their own souls, for I had their promise. God grant that my blood be not upon the King’s head. My Lord Judge, since there are but small oversights whereupon I am condemned, I pray you not to make the matter so heinous as to punish it by the penalty of forfeitrie. My sons are in my lands many years since, and have all their rights confirmed by the King, and failing the eldest, the second is to succeed, [A formal deed had been prepared some years before and completed, authorising a surrender to the King of the land and baronies of Ruthven and Dirleton, in order that a new settlement of them might be made in favour of the eldest son of the Earl and his heirs, reserving only a life interest to himself and his wife.] and is assigned to all my causes.’ He was informed by the judge that this request could not be granted; for the penalty of treason, of which he had been found guilty, necessarily included that of forfeiture, and he proceeded to pronounce the usual sentence. ‘I pray God,’ said the Earl, ‘that my blood may satiate and extinguish the bloody rage and ire of the courtiers and bring this country to quietness.’ He bade farewell to those around him, and then retired for a short space with a minister to a chamber to his private prayers. He was then conveyed to the scaffold in the market-place of the town, from which he briefly addressed the people who had assembled to witness the scene. ‘Brethren,’ he said, ‘this spectacle is more common than pleasant to you. I am to die this night, for so it is the King’s pleasure; but I shall never ask mercy for anything that I ever thought against him; and the Lord is witness that I was more careful of his welfare than I was of my own and my wife and children.’ Then, after praying, he said, ‘I have forgotten something which I purposed to speak.’ It was broached that he had spoken against many noblemen, and had been their accuser. He indignantly repudiated this charge as utterly false. He accused none, he said; he knew of none but such as had taken the fault upon themselves. He then, with great composure, loosed his buttons, tied the handkerchief over his eyes with his own hands, then with a smile kneeled down and laid his neck upon the block, and his head was severed from his body by a single blow.

Though the Earl of Gowrie was frequently implicated in the plots of that turbulent period, he was by no means naturally fond of intrigue; he was, on the contrary, an easy, simple-hearted man, exceedingly popular in the country and especially among his own tenants and retainers. He was not only possessed of excellent abilities and great force of character, but he was a person of cultivated mind and refined taste, was no mean proficient in the scholarship of the time, and was fond of music and the fine arts. ‘He was,’ says Spottiswood, ‘a nobleman who in his life was much honoured, and employed in the chief offices of court. A man wise, but said to have been too curious, and to have consulted with wizards touching the state of things in future times; yet he was not charged with this, nor seemed to be touched therewith in his death, which, to the judgment of the beholders, was very peaceable and quiet. He was heard to make that common regret which many great men have done in such misfortunes, that if he had served God as faithfully as he had served the King he had not come to that end; but otherwise died patiently, with a contempt of the world, and assurance of mercy at the hands of God.’

The Ruthvens were a prolific race—families of eight, ten, and twelve children were not uncommon among them. The first Earl of Gowrie left five sons and seven daughters. The latter were noted for their beauty and their fortunate marriages. The eldest became the wife of the Earl of Athole, the second married Lord Ogilvy, the third the Duke of Lennox, the fourth the Earl of Montrose, by whom she was the mother of the great Marquis. Two became the wives of baronets of old families, and the seventh married James Hunt, of Pittencrieff, in Fife.

An extraordinary exploit of one of these ladies—probably the youngest—has been preserved in the traditions of the country. She was courted by a young gentleman whose addresses did not meet with the approval of her family. He was on one occasion on a visit to Ruthven Castle, and was lodged in the upper storey of a tower which was disconnected from the rest of the building. The lovers were together in this apartment, when some prying domestic acquainted the young lady’s mother with the circumstance. The Countess, full of anger, hastened to detect the delinquents. The maiden hearing the sound of her mother’s footsteps, in this emergency ran to the top of the leads, and with a desperate bound cleared the space of upwards of nine feet, over a chasm sixty feet deep, which separated the tower from the rest of the castle. Arriving with safety on the battlements of the other tower, she crept into her bed, where she was soon after found by her mother, who was in consequence convinced of the injustice of the suspicions entertained of her. Next night the courageous damsel eloped with her lover and was married. The space over which she sprang retains to this day the name of ’The Maiden’s Leap.’

Arran lost no time in securing the spoils of his murdered victim. Gowrie was executed on the 4th of May, 1584. On the 6th of the following month an order was made by the Scottish Privy Council ‘to inbring and deliver the escheat guidis of William, sumtym Earl of Gowrie, to the Earl of Arran.’ And on the 10th Davison, who was at that time envoy from the English Court, mentions that the King’s favourite was already in possession of ‘Dirleton, Courland, and Newton, all sometime belonging to Gowrie.’ There can be no doubt that the Earl’s wealth was the main cause of his destruction. Arran had set his heart on Gowrie’s lands, and his profligate and shameless wife was believed, Jezebel-like, to have encouraged him in his rapacity. It is a striking fact that the fate of the royal favourite closely resembled that of the idolatrous queen of Israel. He was put to death by Douglas of Torthorwald in revenge for the prominent part he took in bringing the Earl of Morton to the scaffold, and his body, left on the highway, was devoured by dogs and swine.

The treatment which Arran and his associates, with at least the tacit permission of the King, gave to the widowed Countess of Gowrie and her children, filled up the measure of their cruelty. When the Earl was conveyed from Dundee to Edinburgh, his wife, a Stewart of Methven, set out immediately after his departure, with the intention of interceding with the King on his behalf, but she was so unwell as to be obliged to travel by short stages, and at the slowest pace. Her purpose became known, and a royal mandate was issued forbidding her to come within twenty miles of the King’s person. After her husband’s execution, Davison says, she was treated ‘with the greatest inhumanity that may be,’ and Hume of Godscroft declares that she was ‘basely and beastly used.’ Having come to Edinburgh to entreat for herself and her children while the Parliament was sitting, and ‘having fallen down upon her knees before the King, she was trodden under foot and left lying in a swoon.’ Even the mediation of Queen Elizabeth in behalf of the Countess and her children was unavailing. She addressed a letter to James reminding him that the deceased Earl was one of the chief instruments in putting the crown upon his head, and that in defence of his Majesty’s rights against the murderers of his father, that of his grandfather Lennox and those of his uncle, Regent Moray, Gowrie had lost many relatives and members of his clan, and had subjected his own life and estate to the greatest hazard. She earnestly solicited James’s compassion towards the Earl’s ‘poor wife and thirteen fatherless children.’ She reminded him of their innocency and their youth. She begged that by their restoration to their father’s lands some monument of that ancient house might abide to posterity, and their names be not rooted out from the face of the earth, through the private craft and malice of adversaries whose eyes could not be satiated otherwise than by the Earl’s death. Finally, Elizabeth appealed to James on the score of natural affection to his own, the Gowries, as she states, being ‘tied so near by kindred and consanguinity’ to himself. No attention was paid, however, to these appeals. It need create no surprise that such cruel treatment engendered revengeful feelings in the minds of Gowrie’s sons.

About two years after the death of the Earl of Gowrie his forfeiture was reversed, and his estates and titles were restored to his eldest son, JAMES, who died in 1588, in the fourteenth year of his age. He was succeeded by his brother JOHN, the third and last Earl of Gowrie, who manifested at a very early age the disposition which had characterised most of his race to engage in perilous enterprises. In his sixteenth year he was elected Provost of Perth, an office which had become almost hereditary in his family. In the same year he was implicated in the plots of the Popish earls through the influence of his brother-in-law the Earl of Athole. Immediately after he went to the Continent to complete his education, and for five years studied with great distinction at the University of Padua. Like his father and grandfather, he was addicted to the study of magic, for which Italy was then famous, and he was also a dabbler in chemistry and judicial astrology. His reputation for ability and learning was so great that he is said to have been elected Rector of the University, or, according to another account, to have been offered a professor’s chair. His letters written at this period are sufficient to show that his high reputation was well deserved. He left Italy in the end of the year 1595, and went to Geneva, where he spent three months in the house of the learned Beza, to whom he so endeared himself that this famous divine ‘never made or heard mention of his death but with tears.’ Thence he proceeded to Paris, where the English ambassador, Sir Henry Nevil, ‘found him to be of very good judgment.’ On leaving the Continent he passed through London, and was received by Elizabeth with flattering distinction. His entry into the Scottish capital took place amidst a brilliant retinue of noblemen, gentlemen, and dependents on horseback, and great crowds of citizens went out to welcome him with every mark of popular favour. The people, and especially the clergy, regarded him as the destined leader and champion of the popular cause. King James was greatly displeased with these marks of popular enthusiasm, but the learning and scholarship of the young Earl, together with his handsome countenance and graceful manners, soon gained for him the royal favour, and James often conversed with him on strange and abstruse subjects. It speedily became apparent, however, that Gowrie had no intention of becoming courtier, or of looking to the royal favour for promotion. He was the leader of the successful opposition of the Estates to a cherished project of the King, that a liberal grant of money should be made to enable him to raise and equip a body of troops for the purpose of maintaining his right to the English throne; and his bearing towards the enemies of his house excited a suspicion that he was determined to avenge the death of his father on all who had been concerned in that deed, not excepting the King himself.

In all probability the plot which ended in his own ruin and the destruction of his family was concocted soon after his return to Scotland. The leading incidents of that mysterious event are briefly as follows:— On the morning of Tuesday, the 5th of August, Alexander Ruthven, a younger brother of the Earl, came to Falkland, where the King was then residing for the purpose of buck-hunting, and invited him to come to Perth to examine a man whom he alleged he had seized with a large pot of gold pieces in his possession. As soon as the chase was ended, James agreed to accompany Ruthven to Perth, attended by the Earl of Lennox and the rest of his suite, amounting in all to fifteen persons. The Earl of Gowrie, followed by about a hundred of his retainers, met the King at the South Inch, immediately without the walls of Perth, and escorted him to Gowrie House, a large baronial mansion on the banks of the river Tay. After dinner the King accompanied Alexander Ruthven to a small room up-stairs, where the latter alleged the suspicious-looking person with the pot of gold was confined; but on reaching the chamber his Majesty was startled to find, instead of the prisoner, a man clad in complete armour, with a sword and dagger by his side. Ruthven, holding a dagger to the King’s breast, upbraided him with the death of his father, and declared that his innocent blood should be avenged. James, though greatly alarmed, does not appear to have lost his presence of mind, but remonstrated with Ruthven, pleading that he was but a minor when Gowrie was put to death, and was not responsible for his execution. The conspirator, though evidently shaken in his purpose, insisted on binding the King’s hands. A struggle ensued, in the course of which James succeeded in thrusting his head half through the open casement of the window, and shouted for help to a group of his attendants in the street below. Several of them rushed up the staircase, and finding Ruthven struggling with the King, they attacked and killed him on the spot. The Earl, who hastened to his brother’s assistance, after a brief but desperate conflict shared his fate. Meanwhile a confused rumour of what had taken place spread rapidly through the town. The alarm-bell was rung, and an immense mob of the citizens, among whom the Earl was very popular, together with the retainers of the Gowrie family, beset the house, and with shouts and maledictions threatened vengeance on the ‘bloody butchers’ who had murdered their Provost and his brother. Some of the females of the family were specially prominent in this exciting scene, and ran wildly out to the street, crying, ‘Thieves, limmers, bloody traitors, that have slain these innocents!’ Others exclaimed, ‘Greencoats, we shall have amends of you! Ye shall pay for it. Give us our Provost!’ Many even uttered threats against the King himself, crying out, ‘Come down, come down, thou son of Seignor Davie, thou hast slain a better man than thyself.’ James endeavoured to pacify the enraged multitude by addressing them from the window of the tower, but without effect. In the end, he was rescued from his perilous position by the magistrates of the city, who persuaded the mob to disperse.

Cowards are always cruel, and James, whose cowardice was notorious, at once adopted measures of the most revolting cruelty against the brothers and sisters of the slain Earl, and he and his greedy courtiers sought to hunt them down and extirpate them like wild beasts. ‘On the very night of the catastrophe,’ wrote the English ambassador to Cecil, ‘the King, at his return to Falkland, presently caused thrust out of the house Gowrie’s two sisters, in chief credit with the Queen, and swears to root out that whole house and name.’ The next day an attempt was made to seize the two surviving brothers of the family, who were living with their mother at Dirleton; but a friend had sent timely warning of their danger, and, accompanied by their tutor, the two boys made their escape only half an hour before a band of horsemen, headed by the Marquis of Orkney and Sir James Sandilands, reached the castle to effect their apprehension. At the meeting of Parliament, which was held in November following, the dead bodies of the Earl and his brother were produced, and were sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and quartered at the Cross of Edinburgh. Their heads were fixed on the top of the Tolbooth, where they remained till the time of the Great Civil War. Their estates and honours were forfeited, their arms cancelled; their very name was abolished, and those who bore it were forbidden to approach within ten miles of the King; their surviving brothers, their posterity, heirs, and successors were declared to be in all time coming incapable of enjoying any office, dignity, lands, or possessions in Scotland. The very seat of the family—Ruthven Castle—was to lose its ancient designation, and to be called Huntingtower. So ruthlessly did James carry into effect his threat to ‘root out that whole house and name,’ that no male descendant of the family is now known to exist. ‘To make assurance double sure’ that the hated race should be utterly rooted out, their hereditary estates, comprising the richest soil in Scotland, were divided among some of their neighbours, who were alleged to have long had an eye upon the broad and fertile lands of Gowrie. The vast extent of the possessions of the Ruthven family is shown by the enumeration of their lands and baronies given in the deed of their surrender to the King by the second Earl, A.D. 1583, for the purpose of their being resettled upon his eldest son and his heirs male, &c. Mention is made in that document of the land and barony of Ruthven, with the tower, fortalice, manor, mills, &c., and the advowsons of the chapels of Ruthven and Tippermuir; the lands of Ballanbreych, Pitcarny, Craigingall, Ardendachye, Hardhauch; a third part of the lands of Airlyweich; the mill and lands of Cultrany; the lands of Denngrene; a moiety of the mill of Auchtergaven; the lands of Monydie, Bonblair, Cragilmy; a third part of a moiety of the lands and barony of Abirnyte, a third part of the lands and barony of Forgundeny, with the advowson of the chapel lying in the shrievalty of Perth; a third part of the lands and barony of Segie, in the shrievalty of Kinross; all the land and barony of Ballerno and Newtoun; the mill and lands of Cowsland lying within the shrievalty of Edinburgh; a third part of the lands and barony of Dulburn, with the tower, fortalice, manor; Brabyn Park, Hickfield, &c.; the mill and lands of Dirleton; a third part of the lands of Bowton, the said barony lying within the shrievalty of Edinburgh and the constabulary of Haddington; the third part of the lands of Hassintoun and Haliburton, with the donations of the chapel of Haliburton, the said baronies lying within the shrievalty of Berwick. Connected with these lands and baronies were mills, mill lands, salmon and other fisheries, which must have been of great value.

The destruction of the Ruthvens was the making of the Murrays. The head of this family, the Laird of Tullibardine, ancestor to the Duke of Athole, after the slaughter of the two brothers, came to the door of Gowrie House and danced for joy. Calderwood, who reports this incident, expresses his belief that for this malignant behaviour Tullibardine is undergoing his appropriate and well-merited punishment in the other world. ‘But little cause,’ he adds, ‘has he to dance at this hour.’ This representative of a family always unpatriotic and self-seeking, obtained for his eldest son Gowrie’s hereditary office of sheriff of the county of Perth, and for one of his younger sons the barony and castle of Ruthven. His relative, Sir David Murray, ancestor of the present Earl of Mansfield, received at the same time a grant of the abbey and lands of Scone.

In connection with this tragic event a story has been handed down by tradition which has been quoted in support of the theory that the Ruthvens were the victims, not the authors, of the conspiracy by which they lost their lives, and that the hatred entertained towards them by the King was in part at least owing to his jealousy of the younger Ruthven. It is alleged that the good looks of this gallant youth had attracted the notice of the Queen, and that he stood high in her Majesty’s good graces. James, it is said, on one occasion had presented his wife with a locket suspended to a ribbon of a peculiar colour. Rambling about his garden one day, the King stumbled upon Alexander Ruthven asleep in an arbour, and perceived around his neck a ribbon of the same colour as the one he had given to the Queen. Stung with jealousy and wrath, James hobbled off, as fast as his shambling gait would allow, to find his royal consort. One of the maids of honour, however, had witnessed the scene, and saw at a glance what was passing in the King’s mind. She instantly snatched the locket from the neck of the sleeping youth, and ran with all speed by another route to the Queen’s apartment. Placing the trinket in her Majesty’s hands, she in a few hurried words told her what had taken place. The Queen put the locket among her jewels and quietly awaited the result. In a minute or two the King burst into the apartment, flushed in face and sputtering with excitement, and demanded a sight of the trinket he had presented to his wife. Anne quietly opened her jewel. box and placed the locket in his hands. Surveying it with a suspicious and puzzled look, but unable to resist the evidence of his senses as to its identity, James remarked, in words which have become proverbial, ‘Diel ha’e me, but like’s an ill mark.’ Whatever amount of truth there may be in the story, there is good reason to believe that there is no truth in the allegation that the destruction of the Ruthvens was owing to the jealousy of the King.

The two younger brothers of the unfortunate Earl fled for their lives towards the Borders, and, travelling on foot through unfrequented byways, reached Berwick on the 10th of August, four days after their flight from Dirleton. Sir John Carey, the governor of that Border fortress, writing to Secretary Cecil, says: ‘The King has made great search and lays great wait for the two younger brothers, who, not daring to tarry in Scotland, they are this day come into Berwick secretly in disguised apparel, and being brought to me they only desire that their lives may be safe, and that they may have a little oversight here till the truth of their cause may be known. And the pitiful case of the old distressed good Countess hath made me the willinger to give my consent to their stay here a while.’

Such was the vindictive hatred which James cherished towards these two innocent and helpless youths, that on his way to take possession of the English throne he issued at Burghley, where he remained several days, a proclamation, dated 27th April, 1603, commanding all sheriffs and justices to arrest ‘William and Patrick Ruthven,’ and to bring them before the Privy Council. He also warned all persons against harbouring or concealing them. William, the elder of the two, made his escape to the Continent, where he acquired a great reputation for his knowledge of chemistry. Burnet says that it was given out that he had discovered the philosopher’s stone. A turn for the study of natural science, combined with magic, was hereditary in the Ruthvens. Lord Patrick, the assassin of Rizzio, presented Queen Mary with a diamond ring, which he told her had the virtue of preserving her from poison. His son, the first Earl, was alleged to have consulted wizards for the purpose of prying into futurity, and Earl John, the conspirator, brought with him from Italy ‘a little close parchment bag full of magical characters and words of enchantment, wherein it seemed that he had put his confidence, thinking himself never safe without them, and therefore ever carried them about with him.’ Patrick, the youngest of the five sons of the Earl of Gowrie (‘Greysteil’) was arrested under the proclamation issued by the vindictive enemy of his house and carried to the Tower, where he languished without trial or even accusation for a period of nineteen years, extending from about the nineteenth to the thirty-eighth year of his age. In 1616 Patrick Ruthven obtained a grant of an annual payment of 200 ‘for apparel, books, physic, and such like necessaries,’ which sum was to be in lieu of the allowances previously made to the Lieutenant of the Tower for those purposes. Six years after this period the doors of Patrick Ruthven’s prison were at length opened, and he was set at liberty on condition that he should reside at the University of Cambridge, or within six miles of it. A few weeks later (11th September, 1622) he received an annuity of 500 ‘payable out of the Exchequer for life.’ On the 4th of February, 1623—4, he petitioned the King for an enlargement of the condition which bound him to reside at Cambridge. His request was granted, but, with the old petty jealousy of his approach to the royal presence, it was with the reservation that he should come no nearer the Court than he was permitted to do by the previous stipulation, and that he should not at any time seat himself in any place where his Majesty should not like him to be resident. He selected Somersetshire for his place of abode in the meantime. In 1624 a proposal was made, sanctioned by King James, for the establishment of a Royal Academy, and in the list of those who were to be the first Fellows sanctioned and approved by the King occurs the name of ’Patrick Ruthven.’ Nothing farther is known of his history until after the lapse of sixteen years, when James had been long dead. On the 27th of February, 1639—40, a deed was executed by him assigning 120 per annum, part of his pension of 500, to his ‘lovinge daughter, Mary Ruthven, spinster.’ This was the first notice of his having been married. It has recently been discovered that his wife was Elizabeth Woodford, ‘a fair young lady,’ widow of Thomas, first Lord Gerrard of Abbots Bromley, who died when Lord President of Wales, in 1617. But nothing is known as to how she became acquainted with the prisoner in the Tower, or where or when they were married. The lady died in 1624, leaving Patrick Ruthven a widower, with two daughters and three sons. Mary Ruthven, the younger daughter, is said to have been a young lady of extraordinary beauty. She was for some time at the Court of Queen Henrietta, and became the wife of Sir Anthony Vandyke, to whom she bore a daughter, but on the 9th of December, 1641, the very day on which the child was baptised, the great painter died. His daughter, named Justina, married Sir John Stepney of Prendergast. The gleam of sunshine which had been thrown across Patrick Ruthven’s melancholy life was thus swallowed up in darkness. Amid the turmoil of the Great Civil War, Patrick Ruthven’s pension appears to have been unpaid, and he was reduced to absolute poverty. He procured a degree of doctor of medicine and practised as a physician in London, but apparently with not much pecuniary success. Sir Harry Slingsby states in his Diary, under the year 1639, that his wife, after consulting many other medical advisers, made some ‘trials of Mr. Ruthven, a Scottish gentleman of the family of the Lord Gowrie, who made it his study in the art of physic to administer help to others, but not for any gain to himself.’ In Sanderson’s ‘Additions to Bishop Goodman,’ referring probably to the year 1651, it is stated that Patrick Ruthven ‘walks the streets poor, but well experienced in chymical physic and in other parts of learning.’ He was a fellow-student in chemistry and astrology with the celebrated Napier of Merchiston, who mentions him as a person ‘occupied in alchymie.’ It appears that in common with other leading members of his house, Patrick Ruthven was a student of those ‘mysteries of chemical philosophy which ignorance and prejudice have too often confounded with sorcery and magic.’ It is very sad to think that this inheritor and representative of some of the noblest blood in Scotland—a cousin of the King, and an accomplished philosopher—died at the. age of sixty-eight in the King’s Bench. His second son, Patrick, was twice married, but it is not known whether he left any issue. In 1656 he petitioned the Protector, Oliver Cromwell, for relief, alleging that 5,000 was due for arrears of his father’s pension. His petition was referred to the Council, but the result is not mentioned.

A great - grandson of the first Lord Ruthven was created by Charles I. Lord Ruthven of Escrick in 1639, Earl Forth in the Scottish peerage in 1642, and finally, in 1644, Earl of Brentford in that of England. He was one of the most eminent military men of his day, having served for many years under Gustavus Adolphus, who entreated Charles, but in vain, to restore Patrick Ruthven to his father’s titles and estates. The Earl afterwards was commander-in-chief of the royal forces in the Great Civil War. As he had no male issue, his titles expired at his death in 1651. In that same year the Scottish title of Baron Ruthven was conferred by Charles II. on Sir Thomas Ruthven of Freeland, a grandson of the second Lord Ruthven of the old stock, and this title is still possessed by his descendants in the female line.

The Gowrie conspiracy is one of those strange and mysterious events that attract the attention of historians and critics generation after generation, and excite controversies which, after the question seemed to have been finally set at rest, break out again at intervals with renewed energy. Even at the time when it occurred there were many who doubted, and not a few who denied altogether, the existence of a conspiracy. Sir William Bowes, the English ambassador; Nicolson, an agent of Elizabeth at the Scottish Court; and Lord Scrope, the English Border Warden, in their communications to their Government, threw the principal blame on the King himself. The Presbyterian clergy, who had no great goodwill towards James, indicated as plainly as they could venture to do their distrust of the royal narrative; and the celebrated Robert Bruce of Kinnaird, though he was ultimately induced, after a rigid cross-examination of the King, to express his belief of the guilt of Gowrie and his brother, would never consent to declare this from the pulpit, and was in consequence deprived of his benefice and banished the kingdom. James seems to have felt that he had acted a somewhat ridiculous part in allowing himself to be drawn to Perth on the faith of a story so absurd and foolish as that which was told to him by Alexander Ruthven, and with the view of screening himself from ridicule, probably coloured some parts of his narrative and glossed over some of the incidents. And the vindictive cruelty with which he and his greedy courtiers sought to revenge the crime of the Ruthvens on their innocent brothers, who were mere boys at the time, was fitted to cause a reaction in their favour. In later times Pinkerton and several other writers have revived the doubts which were expressed by contemporaries respecting the credibility of the royal narrative, and maintain that it was not Gowrie or his brother who conspired against the King, but the King who, by a prearranged plot, murdered them in their own mansion. Mr. James, the well-known novelist, has constructed his historical romance of’ Gowrie; or, the King’s Plot,’ on this theory, which he has also supported in an ingenious pamphlet; and now lastly, though in all probability not finally, Mr. Bisset adopts the same notion in his dissertation on the character of King James, whom he represents as a profound dissembler, plotter, and poisoner, who without scruple compassed the destruction not only of a large number of his leading nobles, but even of his own children. That there are difficulties connected with the narrative of the King, no candid person will deny. The silliness of the story of the alleged pot of gold found in the possession of the man whom Alexander Ruthven pretended to have seized, the unlikelihood that James would give credit to such a tale, and the apparently unpreparedness of Gowrie for the reception of the King, are all suspicious circumstances. On the other hand, if we adopt the theory of Mr. Bisset, we must believe that the King accompanied the younger Ruthven from Falkland to Perth for the purpose of murdering him and his brother in their own mansion, and that a person notoriously defective in courage deliberately planned to put to death two young men skilled in the use of their weapons, in the midst of their own retainers, and with the townsmen of Perth, among whom they were highly popular, within call, while the King had with him only fifteen attendants. Such a notion we hold to be quite incredible.

One cause of the doubt that prevailed at first regarding the truth of the conspiracy was the apparent absence of accomplices. No person seemed to have been taken into the confidence of the Earl except his brother. But this was accounted for by the opinion which Gowrie had formed and repeatedly expressed, that the failure of unsuccessful plots was generally owing to the fact that too many persons had been admitted into the secret. William Rhynd, his tutor, gave evidence that having several times conversed with the Earl respecting the best way of conducting a dangerous enterprise, his lordship always professed for his opinion, that ‘he was not a wise man that having intended the execution of a high and dangerous purpose, communicates the same to any second person, because, keeping it to himself, he could never be discovered or disappointed.’ This statement is corroborated by a curious anecdote preserved by Spottiswood. A few days before the Earl met his death, William Couper, minister of Perth, found him in his library perusing a work on the subject of ‘Conspiracies against Princes.’ On inquiring and being told what was the subject of Gowrie’s studies, Couper remarked that it was a ‘perilous subject.’ ‘Yes,’ replied the Earl, ‘because most of such plots have been foolishly contrived and faulty either in one point or another; for he that goeth about such a business should not put any man on his council.’ It turned out, however, that besides his brother he had taken other three persons into his confidence.

In considering the balance of probabilities we must not pass over unnoticed the corroborative testimony of Henderson, the Earl of Gowrie’s chamberlain. When the King, after dinner, accompanied Alexander Ruthven through the hall and up the great staircase to the picture gallery, and thence to a small circular chamber where he expected to find the person whom Ruthven professed to have seized with the pot of gold in his possession, he beheld standing there not a fettered prisoner but a man clad in armour. This man, who proved to be Henderson, the Earl’s chamberlain, witnessed the whole scene between James and Ruthven up till the moment when the King’s attendants, having heard his cries, rushed into the chamber. Henderson made his escape unnoticed in the midst of the confusion, but he afterwards came forward in obedience to a royal proclamation promising him pardon for his offence. He twice told his story of what he had witnessed, once in a preliminary examination, and a second time at the trial. His two accounts substantially agree with each other, and though great weight has been attached to some slight discrepancies between the statement of the King and the testimony of Henderson, these are not greater than might have been expected in the circumstances of the case. Henderson’s account of the conversation between James and Alexander Ruthven, and of the struggle that took place when Ruthven attempted to bind the King’s hands, is very graphic and truthlike. It was he who put his left hand over his Majesty’s left shoulder during the struggle and drew up the movable wooden board which formed the lower part of the window at the King’s back, and thus enabled the Duke of Lennox and the other nobles in attendance upon his Majesty to see his face at the window, his head uncovered, and a hand grasping his mouth, and to hear his cry for help. These noblemen had shortly before been told by Gowrie that the King had left the house, and was riding over the Inch towards Falkland. They immediately rushed through the hall into the courtyard shouting for their horses, but were informed by the porter at the outer gate that the King had not passed. It was at this moment that they heard the cry for help. And the false information given by the Earl respecting the King’s departure must be taken into account in forming our judgment on the case, and it certainly corroborates the statements both of Henderson and the King, and constitutes strong presumptive evidence against the Ruthvens.

But it was not until eight years after the death of Gowrie and his brother that the most conclusive evidence of the truth of the conspiracy was brought to light. A notary named Sprot, who resided in Eyemouth, a fishing village near St. Abb’s Head, hinted to several persons that he was acquainted with some secrets respecting the Gowrie conspiracy. These intimations reached the ears of the members of the Privy Council, who caused Sprot to be apprehended and examined by torture. He made a full confession of all that he knew, and produced some portions of a correspondence which Robert Logan, the laird of Restalrig, had carried on with the two brothers. A certain Laird Bower, a retainer of Logan’s, had been entrusted with the perilous task of carrying these letters, and as he was unable to read or write, he had been obliged to obtain the assistance of Sprot to decipher the instructions which were addressed to him by his master. The notary, fatally for himself, had stolen some of these letters from among Bower’s papers. The documents were produced, and after a careful examination by the Privy Council, declared to be in Logan’s handwriting. The unfortunate notary was condemned to be hanged for misprision or concealment of treason. He adhered to his confession to the last, and after being thrown from the ladder he thrice clapped his hands in confirmation of the truth of his confession. Logan had died some years before this, but his bones were dug up and brought to the bar of the Justiciary Court, where the dead man was put on his trial for treason. He was found guilty, and by a sentence equally odious and illegal, his lands were forfeited and his posterity declared infamous. The discovery of Logan’s letters was thought to have set this disputed question finally at rest; but Mr. Bisset professes to find in these documents the strongest corroboration of his disbelief of the conspiracy. Some of his arguments are ingenious and not wholly without weight, and if the letters had disappeared grave doubts might have been entertained of their genuineness. But the originals have, fortunately, been preserved and are deposited in the General Register Office, Edinburgh. It is somewhat surprising to learn that Mr. Bisset, who has taken upon him so confidently to pronounce these documents spurious, has never seen them, and has contented himself with requesting a friend to examine them for the purpose of ascertaining whether the paper on which they are written bears the watermark of the year 1600. This friend of course informed him that there was no watermark of any year on the paper. Mr. Bisset might and ought to have known, that it was not until a century after the date of the Gowrie conspiracy that a watermark with a year on it came into use. The genuineness of these letters was attested at the time by several witnesses who were acquainted with Logan’s handwriting. They have repeatedly of late years been subjected to a searching scrutiny by persons skilled in deciphering ancient papers, and have been compared with undoubted specimens of Logan’s handwriting, and the result has been a unanimous and unhesitating decision in favour of the genuineness of the letters.

Logan, the writer of these letters, was a gentleman of ancient family, the uterine brother of Lord Home, but a reckless and unprincipled villain, a scoffer at religion, and a person of openly profligate life. He had recently come into the possession of Fast Castle, an ancient possession of the Home family, which has been immortalised as the ‘Wolf’s Craig’ of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Bride of Lammermoor.' [‘Fast Castle was surprised and taken, in 1410, by Patrick Dunbar, son of the Earl of March, when Thomas Holden the governor was made prisoner. Patrick Hume of Fast Castle was one of the negotiators of the truce made betwixt Henry VII. and James IV. Cuthbert Hume of Fast Castle fought at Flodden under the standard of his chief Lord Hume. In the year 1570, this fortress, then belonging to Lord Hume, was attacked by two thousand English, under Sir William Drury, Marischal of Berwick, to whom it surrendered. A party of fourteen English was then left in garrison as a sufficient force to keep it against all Scotland, the situation being so strong.’— Cardonnet’s Antiquities. The Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VII., after her marriage by proxy at Lamberton, and on her way to join her husband, James IV., lodged a night at Fast Castle.] This fortalice is perched on the brink of a steep and almost perpendicular rock, two hundred feet above the German Ocean, near the southern entrance of the Firth of Forth. The rock is nearly isolated, and is only connected with the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Logan was under the belief that this castle contained a vast quantity of hidden treasure, and a curious agreement is still extant between him and Napier of Merchiston, in which that celebrated philosopher consents to make search, by divination, on condition that he was to obtain one-half of all the treasure that should be discovered, and to have his expenses paid whatever might be the result. It was in all probability Logan’s possession of this almost unapproachable stronghold that induced the Earl of Gowrie to take such a man into his confidence. His retainer and messenger, Laird Bower, was an old Borderer, who was trained up under David Home of Manderston, commonly called ‘Davie the Devil,’ and was a greater villain even than his master, but he seems to have been most faithful to his trust. In one of his letters to Gowrie Logan says, ‘Your lordship may confide more in this old man, the bearer thereof, my man Laird Bower, more nor in my brother, for I lippen my life and all I have else in his hands, and I trow he would not spare to ride to hell’s yett (gate) to pleasure me.’

These remarkable letters throw a very distinct light on the character and object of the plot for the seizure of the King. The conspirators consisted of the two Ruthvens, Logan, and one other person styled right honourable, still unknown, who appears to have been a person of rank, and was probably connected with the royal household. The letters show that the conspirators were determined to revenge the ‘Machiavelian’ massacre of their dearest friends, and that they especially anticipated an ample revenge for the death of Greysteil, as they termed the late Earl of Gowrie. At the same time there can be no doubt that they were actuated by the promptings of ambition as well as the desire of revenge. The Ruthvens possessed vast power in the country, and as Mr. Burton remarks, ‘seizing upon or kidnapping a king, had in that day become almost a constitutional method of effecting a change of ministry in Scotland.’ The father of the two young men had in this very way obtained possession for a time of the Government. Logan was to be rewarded for his services by a gift of the rich and beautiful barony of Dirleton, in East Lothian, which had come into the Gowrie family through the marriage of the first Earl with the heiress of the Haliburtons. But the Ruthvens flew at higher game, and aspired at supreme power in the kingdom, which would over and above have enabled them to inflict condign punishment on those who had been the instruments of their lather’s late. The project was skilfully planned and narrowly missed being successful. James was induced to visit Gowrie House accompanied by a slender train. The garden wall of the mansion was washed by the rapid river Tay, and if the royal attendants had followed without question the route which they were told the King had taken across the Inch, there would have been nothing to prevent the two brothers from carrying James bound and gagged to a boat, which would speedily have conveyed him down to the German Ocean and along the coast to the lonely and almost inaccessible stronghold of Fast Castle. This appears to have been the first object of the conspirators; but how the King was to be treated on reaching that fortalice is an absolute mystery, on which the letters of Logan cast no light. James himself and many of his nobles had a strong suspicion that the conspiracy which had so nearly proved successful had been secretly encouraged by the English Queen, and it must be admitted that various circumstances occurred at the time to strengthen such a suspicion, though the researches of historical students have not yet discovered in the State Paper Office any documents calculated to throw further light on this subject.


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