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Perth, the Ancient Capital of Scotland
Chapter XV

The Gowrie Conspiracy.

Scotland under the Stewarts was anything but a peaceful kingdom, and its people were anything but law-abiding. Its administration was not characterised by integrity, but rather by corruption, immorality, and crime. Allegiance to the throne was disregarded in high quarters when any great scheme was afloat, and the effect of this was destructive of loyalty and of the general safety, and calculated to keep the people in constant excitement. Conspiracies were common, and the lives of the lieges were never absolutely free from danger. The conspiracy of Robert Graham and the Earl of Atholl against the life of James I. was an inexcusable and treacherous act, in which the lives of all three were sacrificed. The conspiracies against Riccio and against Darnley were equally inexcusable, and attended with much greater loss of life; while the conspiracy against the Queen of Scots was carried on for nineteen years, and culminated not only in her execution, but in the wholesale execution of a large number of the nobility and people.

In the reign of James VI. the conspiracy against him by William, Lord Ruthven, and his followers, lasted for upwards of ten months, and some years afterwards what is known as the Gowrie Conspiracy followed suit These do not exhaust the list, but they unfold the spirit of the times. Such plots had one object only, and that was the aggrandisement of the men by whom they were put forward. The condition of Scotland was pitiable. It was financially in a state of chronic bankruptcy, and the English monarch was its chief creditor. The general poverty and insecurity were shown in some of the sieges of Perth, the Ancient Capital, when on one occasion only one man in the burgh was able to give hospitality, and on another occasion, when the Provost and Magistrates forsook the town and ran away to escape danger. With one exception, these cabals were directed against royal personages, a state of matters that disclosed a spirit of rebellion and treason amongst the leading men of the time. Everything, unfortunately, has not been recorded, and we can only criticise what appears in the official narrative. The treasonable conduct of the nobles, which figures conspicuously in the historical record, is difficult to believe, but it seems beyond doubt; and not only so, but there is reason to believe that all of them entered into and promoted these unlawful schemes without the least hesitation. For example, when James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, undertook to murder Darnley if the nobles gave him as a douceur Darnley's wife, nineteen out of twenty nobles who had convened signed the bond.

The Gowrie Conspiracy was different from every other conspiracy, in respect that it was evidently a plot by a royal personage against a subject; it differed also from the conspiracies we have named, in that it was conceived and executed without any plan being disclosed. Ruthven at Falkland, the drama at the dinner, the King's uncovered head at the window, the false report that he had returned to Falkland, the death-scene in the turret chamber, the prompt execution of those who could give evidence against the King, and the farce of the bogus depositions, leave no reasonable doubt as to the elaborate scheme which must have been " cut and dry," constructed and rehearsed, before the fatal 5th of August. To most students of history it will appear mysterious why the negotiations for the deed were kept so quiet; so quiet, in short, that nothing about them has found its way into the State Paper Office or into any private collection. Whether it was a conspiracy by Gowrie to remove the King, or a conspiracy by the King to remove Gowrie, has always been a debatable question. Although Gowrie and his brothers were killed and his estates confiscated, he had five married sisters who were evidently undisturbed. One of these was married to Lennox, and died some years before the Conspiracy; but some of the other brothers-in-law ought to have aided Gowrie. From whatever reason, history is silent Even that noble woman, Dorothea Stewart, Gowrie's mother, who in agony witnessed her two youngest boys being pursued and hunted to death by the bloodhounds of James, was unable to communicate with them or to give them food, clothing, or shelter, and has left nothing on record to enlighten the seeker after truth. The Ruthven family were extensive landowners in Scotland, and were also identified very closely with the town of Perth, while by marriage they were connected with various county families. Their •country residence was Ruthven Castle, in the neighbourhood of Perth; their town residence Gowrie House, and the head of the family was usually Sheriff and Provost of Perth, There does not seem to have been any crime recorded against any of the family until the reign of Queen Mary, when Patrick, Lord Ruthven, who died in exile, joined the rebels, became a violent conspirator, and was one of the murderers of Riccio. He committed the unpardonable offence of striking Riccio with his sword in the presence of the Queen, and otherwise of grossly insulting Her Majesty, as is fully recorded in the Queen's biography. For this she indignantly told him, after the murder, that she hoped "the Eternal God, who from the high heavens beheld this murder, would avenge her injury by rooting out him and his treacherous posterity." The Gowrie Conspiracy evidently fulfilled this prophecy. His son succeeded as William, Lord Ruthven, and was afterwards created first Earl of Gowrie. He also became a rebel, and evidently was a man of the most brutal description, judging from his outrage on the Queen at Lochleven, when, in company with Lindsay, he compelled her to sign her abdication by brute force. The Queen had no greater enemy. He was also one of the Darnley murderers, and during the reign of James he concocted and carried out what is called the Raid of Ruthven, for which he was afterwards beheaded.

The narrative of the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy, which has been frequently published, is the official version issued by the King's authority, and presumably written by him. We do not think it can be accepted as a bona-fide report of what occurred, nor do we think the depositions afterwards taken before the Town Council and at Falkland are of the slightest value, because they are notoriously onesided and untruthful. This narrative has done its work by manifesting to posterity that the atrocious deed was the act of Gowrie and his brother. No narrative from the Ruthvens or their friends has been published, very probably because no one was left who was in a position to do it

William, Lord Ruthven, first Earl of Gowrie, was the first Ruthven who owned Scone. He acquired it on the death of Patrick, Bishop of Moray, Commendator of Scone, about 1569, at which period it evidently belonged to the Abbey of Scone. In 1580 John Ruthven, son of this William Ruthven, and third Earl of Gowrie, was by the King appointed perpetual Commendator of Scone in succession to Patrick, Bishop of Moray. The connection of the Ruthvens with Scone would thus be limited to thirty years, as their estates were confiscated at the Gowrie Conspiracy in 1600.


On the 5th August, 1600, the King and his nobles were in the great park at Falkland, ready to mount and proceed to their sport This was between six and seven a.m. The King was surrounded by his hounds and huntsmen when Alexander Ruthven came up and craved an audience Ruthven then declared that the evening before he had met a suspicious looking fellow outside the walls of St Johnstoun, with his face muffled in a cloak; and perceiving him to be terrified when questioned, he seized him, and on searching found a pot full of gold pieces under his cloak. This treasure, with the man who carried it, he had secured in a small chamber in Gowrie House, and he now begged the King to ride with him to St Johnstoun and make sure of it, as he had not yet told his brother. The King disclaimed having any right to money thus found, but on being told it was foreign gold he proposed to send a warrant to the Provost to seize it Ruthven protested against his doing so, as if the Magistrates got a hold of it he would never see it. All he wanted was that the King would ride with him to St Johnstoun, see the treasure, and judge for himself. The King said he would decide after the hunt was over. At the close of the chase he surprised his companions by telling them that he meant to ride into Perth and see the Earl of Gowrie, and he immediately rode off with Ruthven at a rapid pace. During the ride Ruthven despatched Andrew Henderson, his chamberlain, to advise Gowrie that the King would arrive very shortly. Gowrie, it would appear, dined at half-past twelve along with three friends. Shortly after, Ruthven arrived to announce the King's approach, and Gowrie and his friends and followers rose to their feet and walked to the South Inch to meet him. The King had an escort of twelve or fifteen persons. On coming to Gowrie House he called for a drink, and was annoyed at having to wait long for it, and also at the delay of an hour before dinner was served. During this interval Alexander Ruthven sent for the key of the room leading to the gallery chamber, which room adjoined the cabinet where the King dined At the end of this apartment was another, which led by a stair into a circular room formed in the interior of a turret, and this room could be entered not only by the door at the end of the gallery, but by another door communicating with a back stair. Soon after the King sat down to dinner, Gowrie sent for Henderson and told him to go to his brother in the gallery. He obeyed, and was joined by Gowrie. Henderson, beginning to get uneasy, asked excitedly what they were about to do with him. Gowrie and his brother proceeded to the little chamber, made him enter, and locked him up. Gowrie then returned to the King, who was sitting at his dessert, whilst Lennox and the rest of the suite were dining in the next room. The King in a bantering way proposed Gowrie's health in a flowing bumper of wine. Gowrie, calling for wine, joined Lennox and his companions, and at this moment Alexander Ruthven, when the King was alone, whispered to him that now was the time to go. Lennox spoke of following, but Gowrie prevented him. The latter then opened the door leading to his pleasure grounds, and Lennox and others passed into the garden. The King, believing some of his suite were following him, accompanied Ruthven up a stair and through a suite of chambers, all of them opening into each other, Ruthven locking every door as they passed out At last they entered the room already mentioned. On the wall hung a picture with a curtain before it; beside it stood a man in armour; and as the King started back in alarm, Ruthven locked the door, put on his hat, drew the dagger from the side of the armed man, and tearing the curtain from the picture, showed the well-known features of the late earl, his father. "Whose face is that?" said he, advancing the dagger with one hand to the King's breast, and pointing with the other to the picture. "Who murdered my father? Is not thy conscience burdened by his innocent blood? Thou art now my prisoner, and must be content to follow our will, and to be used as we list Seek not to escape, utter but a cry" (the King had crossed to the window), "make but a motion to open the window, and this dagger is in thy heart!" Said the King: "As for your father's death, I had no hand in it: it was my Council's doing. And should you now take my life what preferment will it bring you? Have I not sons and daughters? You can never be King of Scotland, and I have many good subjects who will avenge my death." Ruthven seemed struck with this, and swore he neither wanted his blood nor his life. Said the King, "What want ye if ye seek not my life?" "But a promise, Sir," was the reply. "What promise?" "Sir," said Ruthven, "my brother will tell you." "Go, fetch him then," said the King, and he assured Ruthven that until his return he would neither call out nor open the window. Ruthven commanded Henderson to watch the King, and departed, locking the door behind him. The King being alone with Henderson, asked him if Gowrie would do him any mischief, to which Henderson said he would die first " Open the window then," said the King, and while Henderson was in the act of doing so Ruthven entered the room, and swearing there was no remedy, seized the King by the wrists and attempted to bind him with a garter which he had in his hand. The

King was too much for him, and wrenching himself from Ruthven, exclaimed he "was a free prince and would never be bound," Henderson at the same time forcing away the cord. The King made for the window, when Ruthven seized him by the throat with one hand and thrust the other into his mouth to prevent him giving alarm. James dragged his assailant to the window and thrust his head half out, though Ruthven's hand was still at his throat, and cried out, "Treason, help, Earl of Mar, I am murdered." Ruthven dragged him back, and attempted to draw his sword, which the King prevented by grasping his right hand. Henderson supported the King, and, unlocking the door of the room, stood trembling while the King and Ruthven engaged in a desperate struggle. A report was got up by the Ruthvens that the King and his suite had left the Castle by a back door and were riding over the South Inch on their return journey. (This was an ingenious device to entrap the Ruthvens.) In a few minutes the King's cry of treason was heard, and some of the nobles saw the King's face at the turret window with a hand on his throat Sir Thomas Erskine immediately seized Gowrie, with the words, "Traitor, thou shalt die: this is thy work," but was felled to the ground by Andrew Ruthven. Lennox and Mar rushed up the great staircase to the hall, but found the door locked. John Ramsay, one of the King's suite, ran swiftly up the back stair to the top, dashed open the door of the Round Chamber with his foot, and found the King and Ruthven still wrestling, the King with Ruthven's hand under his arm, while Ruthven grasped his throat Ramsay struck Ruthven, the King calling out to strike low, as he wore a doublet Ramsay then stabbed him twice on the lower part of the body. The King thereupon pushed him backwards through the door downstairs, when Erskine and Herries despatched him with their swords. The King was hurried into an adjoining chamber, when Gowrie arrived with a rapier in each hand, rushed along the gallery, followed by seven of his servants with drawn swords. He had seen the bleeding body of his brother, and swore that the traitors who murdered him should die. He attacked Erskine and three companions, who were all wounded, but they fought with determined energy. Some one called out that the King was slain, and Gowrie, as if paralysed with the news, dropped his weapon, while Ramsay, who noticed this, slew him instantly with his sword. After all was over, the King knelt in company with his nobles and thanked God for their deliverance!

There are some highly ridiculous touches in this narrative. For example, if Alexander Ruthven wanted to assassinate the King, he had a sufficient opportunity of doing so when he got him into the turret-chamber. Had Ruthven been the conspirator, he would have despatched the King when he had him in that position, and the door of the chamber locked. Ruthven told the King that "he killed his father and must therefore die," and thereupon wrestled with the King; finally he put his hand in the King's mouth, and attempted to tie him with a cord or garter. Could anything in the circumstances be more grotesque? If Ruthven decoyed the King into the turret-chamber in order to kill him, is it likely he would waste time discussing the situation? It is important to notice that it is not even hinted that Ruthven attempted to slay the King, or that he had any intention whatever of doing so. The argument proceeds, "What want ye?" said the King, "if ye seek not my life?" "But a promise, Sir," was the reply. "What promise?" "Sir, my brother will tell you." "Go, fetch him, and in your absence I will neither cry nor lift up the window." All this seems the merest fable. For Ruthven to leave the apartment at so critical a moment was ridiculous, if he decoyed the King there in order to assassinate him; but if the King was the conspirator, it was an ingenious touch of imagination, because the King by that means might secure the Ruthvens in the chamber, and in that compromising position the King was not so likely to be suspected, while the Ruthvens would the more easily be despatched; that is practically what happened.

In the matter of the conversation in the turret-chamber, we are surrounded with difficulty. Assuming that it never occurred, we have the problem of three armed men being there, supposed by one writer to be three servants of Gowrie's, bribed. This is unlikely, and in the circumstances seems impossible to determine. There is nothing but the King's statement for a muffled man being there and his pretended ignorance of who that man was, and charging three men with it who all could prove an alibi, suggests the idea that the King was withholding the truth. It does not seem probable that any man could be there who was unknown to the King. Evidently it was a device of the King to throw suspicion on the Ruthvens. Henderson's evidence may be put aside as quite unreliable, but it is generally supposed he was the muffled man. It is stated that Ramsay, Herries, and Murray, went up to the turret-chamber as soon as they saw the King's head at the window. This is again the King's narrative, and the question may naturally be asked how far it is true. We do not presume to answer it

There is no doubt, as one writer states, that if the King had been killed it would have ruined the Gowrie family, seeing the King had openly gone into Gowrie House, and Gowrie would have been accountable for his protection. We are told, as a matter of fact, that the opinion in Perth, from the day the deed was done, was that the King was the conspirator; and that the death of Gowrie was denounced as a cruel murder. Considering that Gowrie was a highly popular Provost of Perth, and that there was no independent evidence, outside the King's narrative, that he was concerned in the conspiracy, the people of Perth were bound to entertain suspicious feelings towards the King.

The King's conduct after the event is not reassuring. The citizens would not believe his statement that the conspiracy was the act of Gowrie, and to such an extent did this feeling prevail, that he had to wait inside Gowrie House on the fatal day till it was dark, and then disappear clandestinely with his escort to Falkland, in order to save his life. When he arrived at Falkland, the first thing he did was to dismiss on the spot two of Gowrie's sisters who were maids of honour to the Queen. He made a bold effort to pacify the people of Perth by granting them charters and all kinds of privileges; visiting Perth on many occasions, eventually becoming a burgess and signing his name in the book of the Guildry Incorporation and afterwards becoming Provost The purpose of all this is too transparent, we think, to mislead any one. But the question remains, what was his object in committing this crime, if he did commit it He was a jealous man. He was Gowrie's debtor for the sum of 80,000; he could not bear a rival to his popularity, while his throne might possibly be in danger. Gowrie, on the other hand, was a scholar, one of the most accomplished men of his time, a favourite at the Court of England, a general favourite in Scotland, and as Provost of Perth was beloved by the people; so much so, that when he left to complete his education in Padua the Town Council of Perth kept him in the Provostship during his absence (six years), and would have no other. This is a compliment that never was paid to a Provost of Perth outside of the Ruthvens either before or since, and it indicates to what extent they were respected in the Fair City. How far the Raid of Ruthven was responsible for this conspiracy it is impossible to conjecture.

If the King was an innocent man, why did he on the 23rd August execute, after a mock trial, the three confidential servants of Gowrie,—Cranston, Craigengelt and Macgregor,—all of whom were eye-witnesses of the event. The explanation evidently is that he was determined to remove every person who would or could give evidence in Gowrie's favour, and the testimony of these three men was not only of the highest importance, but would have settled the guilt or innocence of the King.

The event, as might be expected, created an impression over Scotland which was appalling, and an inspection of the correspondence of the period reveals one conspicuous point, and that is that not one of the recorded letters condemns Gowrie. It must be kept in view that, as the King was involved in this matter, no one was safe to write much about it, unless they took his part Nicolson's letters are noticeable; they are with one exception addressed to Sir Robert Cecil, Elizabeth's Prime Minister, and strange though it may seem, we have not been able to discover any of Cecil's replies, Nicolson was Elizabeth's envoy in Scotland, and, unlike some of his predecessors, he was a man of integrity and high principle. Every word that he has written about this conspiracy may be accepted. In his estimation the general opinion was, that it was a conspiracy of the King to slay the Gowries. His letter of August 11 to Sir Robert Cecil is of great importance. He was compelled to send the King's version of the deed to England because " the King caused it to be written." In his position he had no alternative, but he goes on to tell Cecil that there are great doubts of the truth of the King's report, and that these doubts are greatly increasing. "Unless the King bring the conspirators to the scaffold, the people will form dangerous opinions about him; they will believe him guilty and Gowrie innocent" But the most serious charge in this letter is that the reports of the conspiracy coining from the King differ. This is probably the strongest point recorded against the King, a point from which he cannot escape. An innocent man could only have given one version, and whatever the King's intentions were, we fear he must stand convicted in the eyes of posterity, Nicolson is careful and guarded in his language about the King, but he tells us that Alexander Ruthven wore on the occasion a silk cut doublet without armour; whether with or without weapon he does not seem to know. Gowrie himself, he alleges, was without arms, save two rapiers, which he had to borrow. Nicolson's reference to the attitude of the clergy is very cautiously put; but, reading between the lines, these were not at all convinced of the bona fides of the King's narrative. And in view of the Ruthvens being both defenceless, this is a strong argument in their favour. But Nicolson, though he makes no comment, makes it clear to Cecil what he means. "The matter is believed to be otherwise than the King reports it: all parts of the country, so far as I can learn, are in great suspicion at the Kings attitude? It would appear that before the conspiracy a Convention of some importance was summoned by the King, at which he made a demand for money for his honourably entering on the Crown of England after Elizabeth, and in order to effect his purpose he proposed that an excessive tax should be levied on the people. The meeting was out of sympathy with him. The Earl of Gowrie made a speech about the extravagant proposal of the King, expressing his strong dissatisfaction with it, at which the King fell into a rage and dismissed the Convention.

The King made his position more ludicrous by his desperate and persistent efforts to break the obstinacy of Bruce, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and those who stood by him. Bruce refused to thank God for the King's deliverance, as he believed Gowrie to be innocent Then came this scene. The King asked Bruce: "Now are ye yet persuaded? Ye have heard me, ye have heard my ministers, ye have heard my Council, ye have heard the Earl of Mar, touching the report of this treason : are ye yet fully persuaded or not?" "Surely, Sir," says Bruce, "I would have further light before I preached it to persuade the people. If I were but a private subject, not a pastor, I could rest upon your Majesty's report as others do." Then the King asked Balfour, another minister: "Are ye fully persuaded ? " He answered: "I will speak nothing to the contrary, Sir." "But are ye not persuaded?" says the King. "Not yet, Sir," said he. Watson, another minister, answered after the same manner. Balcan-quhal, another minister, said that he would affirm all that David Lindsay said from the pulpit in presence of His Majesty yesterday. "What said Mr. David?" says the King. "Mr. David founded himself upon your Majesty's report and a faithful rehearsal of it; and so shall we." "Think ye," says the King, "that Mr. David doubted my report?" "No; David was sent from the Continent" They said unto him: "Are ye not certainly persuaded of this treason?" "Yes, Sir," said he, "I am persuaded in conscience it" "Now," says the King, "Mr. Balcanquhal, are ye truly persuaded?" "Indeed, Sir," said he, "I would have further time and light" The King asked John Hall, another minister: "Are ye fully persuaded?" He answered: "I would have the civil trial going before, Sir, that I may be persuaded."

In a second interview with Bruce, the King referred to his secretary, Sir Thomas Erskine, to satisfy the obdurate minister about the facts. "As for Sir Thomas Erskine," said Bruce, "I trusted him in a part; but there were other things that I thought hard." "What was that?" said the King. "That part which concerned the Master of Gowrie and your Majesty." "Doubt ye of that?" said the King, "then you could not but count me a murderer." "It followeth not, if it please you, Sir," said Bruce, "for ye might have some secret cause." The King urged him to preach the articles which were sent to him. Bruce said he had given his answer already to those articles, and had offered to the ambassadors that which all men thought satisfactory far more than preaching. "What is that?" said the King. "That I will subscribe my resolution," said Bruce. "Trust you it," said the King. "Yes, Sir," said Bruce. "If ye trust it, why may ye not preach it?" said the King. "I shall tell you, Sir," said Bruce. "I give it but a doubtful trust, for I learn this out of Bernard— in doubtful things to give undoubted trust is temerity, and in undoubted things to give a doubtful trust is infirmity." "But this is undoubted," said the King. "Then bear with my infirmity," said Bruce. "But ye say it is more than preaching," said the King. "Sir, I ought to preach nothing but the word of God," said Bruce. "Obedience to the princes, suppose they are wicked, is the word of God," said the King. "I will lay a wager that there is no express word of King James VI. in Scripture. Yet, if there be a King, there is a word for you also."

At a third interview with Bruce, "Ye must subscribe my innocence," said the King. "Your own conscience, Sir, can do that best," said Bruce; "it is very hard for me to do it" "Why is it hard?" said the King. "Had ye a purpose to slay my lord?" said Bruce. "As I shall answer to God," said the King, "I knew not that my lord was slain till 1 saw him in his last agony, and was very sorry, and prayed in my heart for the same." "What say ye then concerning Mr. Alexander?" said Bruce. "I grant," said the King, "I am art and part of Mr. Alexander's slaughter, for it was in my own defence." "Why brought ye him not to justice?" said Bruce, "seeing ye would have had God before your eyes?'" "I had neither God nor the devil before my eyes, but my own defence," said the King.

The attitude of Bruce does him great credit, particularly the independent way in which he addressed the King, and the firm and unflinching position he maintained during the entire discussion.

The Town Council were ordered to hold a court of inquiry, which they did, and of 355 persons examined, "the greater portion had nothing to tell." Why so is not stated, but may be conjectured. If there was a conspiracy, it is necessary to suppose that there were several persons in the plot prepared to support the principal actor. At any rate, it is certain that the people of Perth did on that occasion show strong attachment to the Gowrie family, and by their behaviour indicated that the death of Gowrie and his brother was a cruel murder. One would have imagined that their resentment of the deed would have induced the King to keep at a distance from Perth and to banish all thoughts of it for years to come; but before three months were over, to find him heaping honours and riches on that very city where such a horrid plot had been contrived, was so far the King's policy of bravado. The heaping of these honours on the Ancient Capital was to show "his gratitude for his miraculous deliverance," and to convince the people that he was an innocent man: these honours would further show his high sense of appreciation of his wonderful escape. The next act of the drama was the examination of witnesses in order to prove Gowrie's guilt Under the presidency of the Lord Chancellor, the Court met at Falkland on the 6th August, four days after the event A second Court met there on the 20th August, presided over by the Lord Chancellor. Among the witnesses examined were the Duke of Lennox, Earl of Mar, Andrew Henderson, the Abbot of Inchaffray, Abbot of Lindores, Sir Thomas Erskine, Sir John Ramsay, John Graham of Orchil, John Graham of Balgowan, Andrew Roy, bailie of Perth, George Hay, Prior of the Charter House, etc. (Lord Kinnoull). These were supporters of the King, and it is not difficult to see what would be the scope of their evidence. Such a volume of depositions against Gowrie would no doubt be intended to influence the people at the time. The evidence is worthless in respect that it is not the testimony of independent men, but of mere partisans of the King. On the 22nd September the Town Council held another Court in order to take some precognitions. This Court was presided over by the Provost, and was to receive the testimony of the whole inhabitants. None of the witnesses were in Gowrie House, consequently they could only speak to the circumstances from second hand.

But evidently the tragedy was not yet played out The vindictive spirit of the King was not appeased. In order to divert suspicion completely from himself, he must have their dead bodies exhibited in Parliament in order to receive sentence. Consequently, on the second day after he returned to Falkland, he sent the following dispatch to the Magistrates of Perth: "As John, Earl of Gowrie, and Alexander his brother, being in the actual execution of a horrible and traitorous conspiracy against the King, it has pleased God most miraculously to deliver His Majesty from their intended treason and to turn their traitorous practices upon themselves, who have deservedly suffered death, as they were in the actual pursuit of His Majesty's person. Wherefore it is necessary that the bodies of the said Earl and his brother be kept and preserved pending further investigation of the matter. Therefore charges the bailies of Perth to preserve and keep the bodies unburied until they know the King's pleasure as they shall answer to His Majesty on their highest peril." Then follows a charge to the keepers of the Earl's Castles of Ruthven, Strathbraan and Gowrie House, to deliver the same with goods and gear with inventory to the King's treasurer and that they "remove furth thereof within six hours after the charge under pain of treason and if they fail, to be denounced as traitors and proceeded against according to the laws of the Realm." On the 1st November the posthumous trial of Gowrie and his brother took place at Edinburgh and their dead bodies were transmitted from Perth and placed at the bar; an appalling spectacle. The trial appears to have been adjourned till the nth, and on the 15th the Court of Parliament, presided over by James VI., announced that "John, Earl of Gowrie, and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, committed the crime of treason against the King in manner as contained in the summons: and therefore decrees and declares the name, memory and dignity, of John, Earl of Gowrie, and Alexander, his brother, to be extinguished, and their arms to be cancelled, so that their posterity shall be unable in all time coming to possess or enjoy any offices, dignities, honours, possessions, hope of succession within this nation which in any way pertained to John, Earl of Gowrie, and Alexander, his brother, the same to be confiscated, and in all time coming to remain the property of his Majesty for ever. His Majesty and Estates, in detestation of the said horrible, unnatural, and vile treason, attempted by John, Earl of Gowrie, and Alexander, his brother, against the King's life, decrees and ordains that the bodies of the said traitors shall be carried on Monday next to the public cross of Edinburgh, and there hanged, drawn, and quartered in presence of the whole people, and thereafter the heads, quarters, and carcases to be affixed to the most public places in Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, and Stirling. And this I give for doom." It will be noticed that this is the Scottish Parliament, an assembly that was entirely controlled by the King. The persistency with which Gowrie is charged as a conspirator, and the extreme cruelty send brutality of the sentence, manifests the King's unforgiving and relentless temper; and what is to be said if he was himself the conspirator ? Three centuries have passed away, and posterity has failed to be convinced of any crime committed by young Gowrie against the King.

James would doubtless be aware that his relative, the Regent Moray, acted in precisely the same manner in respect of the body of Lord Huntly, so that the diabolical deed from constitutional practice would probably to him be bereft of its shocking nature. Though we have a record of the executions of the time, there is every probability that a large number of persons were executed of whom no record whatever has been handed down to us. Lord Hailes, who also formed his opinion on the King's narrative, informs us that by an Act of the Privy Council the Magistrates and Town Council of Perth were summoned to appear before the King on the 16th September, 1600, at Linlithgow, to answer for the contempt and indignity done to his Majesty. That Act makes mention of certain irreverent and undutiful speeches against the King. According to Calderwood, Alexander Ruthven of Freeland called up to the King, "Come down, thou son of Signor Davie, thou hast slain an honester man than thyself," and George Craigengelt and others cried, "Give us our Provost, or the King's green coat shall pay for it."

The ingenuity of the King was still further illustrated in a mortification of 1,000 per annum to the poor for his miraculous deliverance. Having given the Magistrates of Perth instructions not to bury the bodies of the Ruthvens, he ordained this sum to be paid to the poor out of his revenues of the Abbey of Scone. The announcement was dated at Holyrood, and was in the following terms: As the death and destruction of the King was traitorously attempted by John, Earl of Gowrie, and his brother, it pleased God, who ever has carefully watched over the King's person most miraculously, to deliver and free his Majesty from that danger and peril, with the due punishment of the said traitors and conspirators. For which deliverance his Majesty and all dutiful and loving subjects has good cause to continue thankful to God. So his Majesty has resolved that in perpetual memory of the said happy deliverance he shall make a special mortification to the poor of 1,000 yearly out of the revenues of the Abbey of Scone which have now fallen into his Majesty's hands (by confiscation!). The King remits the matter to the Lords to carry out Then follows the disposal of the Gowrie estates: The King and his Council have concluded that the three gentlemen who under God saved his Majesty's life shall be honourably rewarded according to their merit by Parliament, and the causes whereby they have deserved their reward shall be engrossed on their infeftments. The next matter the King gave his attention to was those five ministers who ventured to have an opinion of their own about this conspiracy. We are informed that at a meeting of the Privy Council on 12th August it was resolved and declared that those five ministers are not worthy to speak or preach publicly to his Majesty's people, and the King and the Lords have discharged them of all speaking or preaching hereafter publicly in this realm under pain of death, and command them to remove furth from the burgh of Edinburgh (their home) within forty-eight hours, after the date hereof, and not to reside within ten miles of Edinburgh under same penalty. Other five ministers were substituted for those unfortunate ones. We are informed, however, that four of the five ministers forswore themselves rather than be excommunicated, and at the following Privy Council meeting held at Stirling they made a pitiable exhibition of themselves. The Privy Council meeting records that, excluding Bruce, the other four appeared in answer to a summons, and confessed that they were now persuaded of the treasonable conspiracy against the King. Thereupon they were ordained to visit various parts of the country and preach to the people, and in their sermons to make a declaration of their own assurance of the truth of the treason, and crave God and his Majesty's pardon for being so slow in believing. Bruce does not appear to have attended this meeting, but he appeared before the King and Lords of Secret Council at Edinburgh, and admitted that he still continued doubtful and not thoroughly convinced of the conspiracy against the King. The Council resolved that they cannot allow distrustful persons to remain within the country, and therefore ordain Robert Bruce to depart furth of the realm, and not return without the King's authority, under pain of death. What became of Bruce from this date up to 1605 is not recorded, but he never resiled from the position he had taken up, viz., that the King was the conspirator. The King's conduct to him was brutal, as the following deliverance will show. Bruce was determined to lay down his life rather than perjure himself.

HOLYROOD, 15th August, 1605.—Forasmuch as the detestable and horrible treason conspired by the traitor Gowrie and his brother against the sacred person of the King, is evident to the consciences of all His Majesty's subjects; also that His Majesty has given clear testimony for removing the distrust of those who by curiosity, sentiment, or preposterous opinions, were carried away in this matter: nevertheless, Robert Bruce, having a sinister distrust and opinion of His Majesty's sincerity in that matter, notwithstanding the evidence which might reasonably have been given to satisfy him therein : he has continually remained constant and resolute in his distrust, and by his behaviour in private and public meetings and conferences, he avows his distrust, drawing away thereby simple and innocent persons to listen to him and in some respects to favour his opinion. For which he being justly and deservedly banished from this realm, and unworthy to reside in his native country, yet the King who, in his actions, especially with the clergy, has ever been a considerate and merciful prince, saving rather by fair and gentle means to move them to be conformable, than by execution of the law to punish them, recalled him, hoping that at length he should have acknowledged his error, and given His Majesty satisfaction. His Majesty, seeing clearly that neither time nor any other thing can move the said Robert Bruce to frame his opinions to the truth . . . and that he sometimes criticises the proceedings of His Majesty's Privy Council and sometimes censures the doings of the ministers, creating thereby factions and divisions in the Kirk and discontent in the present Government His Majesty, therefore, has just cause to take steps with him, and to exile him from his dominions. His Majesty, following his usual practice, and desirous to abstain from extremity which Bruce justly merits, ordains him to be imprisoned in Inverness during His Majesty's pleasure, and at his own expense under pain of rebellion.

For some years poor Mr. Bruce had to suffer all the miseries of a miserable gaol, and on 21st February, 1611, the King, vindictive and cruel as ever, issued the following edict:—

Three years ago or thereby His Majesty being informed that Mr. Robert Bruce, minister, was visited with infirmity and sickness, was pleased to grant him license to repair from Inverness to Aberdeen and to remain there a certain time whereby he might have the help and advice of a physician for the recovery of his health ; His Majesty's intention and meaning being at this time that he should return and go back again to his former ward as soon as restored to health. Within the past three months, and without His Majesty's knowledge, he has withdrawn himself from Inverness to Aberdeen and has there settled himself and his family against His Majesty's intention. The Lords ordain him to return to his former ward in Inverness within twenty days after the charge, and to remain there during His Majesty's pleasure under pain of rebellion.

This appears to be the last entry in the Record respecting Bruce.

As early as July, 1608, Henderson had written a strange rigmarole of a letter to the King, hinting some accusation of disloyalty against Lord Scone. The letter, the wording of which is extremely obscure, is given in Pitcairn, and is followed by a letter of exculpation from Lord Scone to the King, and another in the same strain from Lord Scone's nephew, Sir Andrew Murray of Balvaird, who was involved in the business. The purport of the exculpation is that Henderson's accusation had been got up by mangling or misinterpreting a letter which Sir Andrew Murray had written to his uncle, four and a half years before, informing him of a certain suit of his in which Henderson also was interested:—

As soon as the letter came into my hands (says Lord Scone), I sent it to Henderson to the effect that he should take no exception of my goodwill, albeit I had refused to pay his gift in respect of the promises; but I assured him I would ask your Majesty for a benefit to him, which I did, and obtained, viz., 700 merks yearly, what he still receives, which was thought by many to be more than he deserved. Yet in respect that he did your Majesty no harm being where he might have done it (in the turret chamber) if God had not been your Majesty's better friend; and ever since that time I have retained him in my service, and have protected him and ever shall. Your Majesty will know in good time that this is not come from Henderson (he is but the tool of others), for he was never very wise, and he has lost a good part of his wit which he had. He is not his own man, for which I am sorry, and in your own time your Majesty will know how this comes, from whom and how this poor man has been abused.

There is still a very significant communication to reproduce before we are done with this mysterious story. It occurs in the Privy Council Register for 1612, and relates to Henderson, who was supposed to be the muffled man in the Turret Chamber:—

Forasmuch as Andrew Henderson, Chamberlain of Scone, repairing lately to Court on pretence of making some accusation against Lord Scone, and His Majesty thereupon appointed them to be heard and confronted together, and no just cause being found by Henderson against Lord Scone, yet His Majesty was of new importuned by Henderson complaining of things which did not belong to him so that it clearly appeared to be conceived malice that was the cause. Therefore the Lords of Secret Council ordain Henderson to retire to his house of Lawton within twenty-four hours and remain there or within a mile of it and not to go beyond the said bounds without His Majesty's authority under pain of rebellion.—Edinburgh, 14th May, 1612.

Nearly four years had elapsed since this first skirmish between Henderson and Lord Scone; and now in May, 1612, there is another, either on the former ground or on some new one. Doubtless Henderson was still trading on the recollection of his part in the Gowrie Conspiracy, and wanted some thing more on that account than either Lord Scone or the King thought reasonable. For what reason was Henderson receiving from the King 700 merks per annum ? Simply, as Lord Scone put it, "that he was trading on his recollection of the Gowrie Conspiracy." It would seem evident from the tenor of the official paper that the King bribed Henderson on the day of the conspiracy to do what he did, and because he obeyed the King's command and took the King's place in the turret chamber, he was presented with 700 merks per annum. This paper throws additional light on that mysterious event, light that condemns the King. Notwithstanding that Henderson was Gowrie's servant, it is evident from this paper that the King bought him over and was deeply indebted to him, seeing that in addition to 700 merks Lord Scone was to protect him for the rest of his life.

In reviewing the Gowrie Conspiracy, we are met at the threshold with the impossibility of reconciling the official narrative with the testimony of men whose word cannot be called in question. A prominent feature is the prompt disapproval of the King's conduct by the inhabitants of Perth, which showed itself on the very day of the commission of the deed. The high character of Gowrie and his brother seems to have been regarded by them as unassailable. But for the King's superior forces a riot would undoubtedly have taken place. This fact is significant, as is also the fact that those who suspected Gowrie were in the King's service and receiving the King's pay.

An important statement is made by a local writer, that when the Royal suite was assembled in the street in front of Gowrie House to follow their master to Falkland, the King was to give the alarm that his life was in danger. His confidential servants were to ascend by a private staircase and kill the brother. They were next to kill Gowrie when he came armed. This is a statement of importance, coming from a writer who, probably more than any man, has studied and written elaborately on the history and antiquities of Perth.

Another local writer says that Gowrie was attending a marriage when the King arrived, and was so much concerned about a dinner for him that the wedding dinner was at once offered him for the King's use. It is impossible to verify this statement, but if true it is another proof of Gowrie's innocence. Had he been connected with the conspiracy, or had he even known of it, he was not likely to have gone to a marriage on the very day it was to be carried out. It has been suggested that the separation of the brothers was part of a pre-arranged scheme, as a stratagem that would more easily effect their assassination. The idea, if true, was ingenious, and does credit to the villainy of those concerned.

Gowrie was in every respect a greater favourite than James. Even at the English Court he was esteemed by all, including Elizabeth herself; and as he gained in popularity, the breach between Elizabeth and James gradually became wider. It is reasonable to suppose that a man of the temperament of James, finding one of his subjects evidently overshadowing him, would feel more than chagrined, he would feel desperate. Gowrie was entertained by Elizabeth for two months, and he found the English Court very congenial to him. When he arrived at Edinburgh from England (three months before the conspiracy), his enthusiastic reception by the nobility and people was quite extraordinary. James was an onlooker. He could not but see that he was relegated to a back seat, and that the eyes of his subjects were directed to this young nobleman, believing, no doubt, that it was only a question of time when he should become James's principal Secretary of State and ipso facto governor of the realm. Immediately after the conspiracy the relations between Elizabeth and James began to be less strained, Gowrie being out of the way. Elizabeth, who was an accomplished dissembler, threw aside her interest in Gowrie, congratulating James because Gowrie was removed, having, as she said, "1,000 spirits with him she believed there would be few left in hell." This speech indicates no strained relations. The formation of the conspiracy with all its secret negotiations has been studiously kept in the dark. That it involved correspondence and secret negotiations is beyond doubt, but all this has evidently been destroyed. The Logan Letters we may dismiss as pure inventions, and we have then nothing to fall back upon on which to form judgment save the attitude of the King and his Court at and after the event This brought out unmistakably the suspicion of a portion of the clergy— those who refused to offer up prayers for the King's deliverance. In taking up that position these men cannot be too highly commended. They knew they were hazarding their lives, while their desire for the discovery of truth would not allow them to perjure themselves by becoming hypocrites. They realised that the subject was delicate on account of the King's connection with it, and they therefore abstained from entering into debate. Of the five we have named, four eventually forswore themselves at the prospect of imprisonment for life.

Great sensation was created by this event, and the Magistrates of Perth, realising that public attention in Scotland and at the English Court was directed to them, felt that their position was one of great anxiety and responsibility. What were they to do? They were not, according to the laws of the realm, able to act independently of the King. They summoned, by the King's instructions, a Court for the examination of witnesses—bribed witnesses we may be sure. The result was that every man who went there gave testimony against Gowrie and in favour of the King. Nothing else was to be expected; evidence against the King would have meant the scaffold.

It seems evident that the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy was falsely recorded by James VI.; that his narrative is supported by tx parte depositions of men evidently nominated by himself, but unsupported by the testimony of a single independent witness; that the conduct of the Ruthvens, even by the King's own showing, does not prove that they were guilty of conspiring against him; that no manifestation of enmity was shown by Gowrie and his followers to the King so far as can be discovered; and that the King was himself evidently the prime mover in order to abolish the house of Ruthven, root and branch, from the realm or kingdom of Scotland.

The most substantial reason for this atrocious event that seems to suggest itself after a careful study of the circumstances is the King's indebtedness to Gowrie, amounting to 80,000. The conspiracy not only cancelled this obligation, but it gave the King the whole estates, which would be a matter of vast importance to an avaricious man like James, and in his estimation quite sufficient to warrant a conspiracy.

By an act of sederunt of the Court of Session dated June 20th, 1600, the King on Gowrie's return to Scotland appears to have been his debtor to the extent of 80,000. To this extent Gowrie had burdened his estates. It is suggested that James never intended to pay this debt, and this may be apprehended from the following letter from Lady Gowrie to Lord Balmerino, 2nd November, 1600, in which she desires him to bring the matter before the King. She appeals for her bereaved daughters whose estate is very desolate, and for help for herself to meet creditor's claims. "I am so overcharged with the payment of annual rents for his Majesty's debts, contracted during the time of my husband being Treasurer, which loans were taken on my fee lands, that I am scarcely able to entertain my own estates, much less to bear the burden of others." The King wanted to borrow more money, viz., 40,000, and it is not to be wondered at that at the Convention at Perth, when it came up, Gowrie should in such strong terms have opposed it:—" It was not consistent with his Majesty's dignity to ask more than the country could give, and to expose himself to the humiliation of a denial; neither was it consistent with a proper regard for the honour of either the King or the country to reveal the poverty of the land"

We have not been able to verify the 80,000, but we find the following entry in the MS. Act of Sederunt, vol. iv., 20th June, 1600, or six weeks before the Gowrie Conspiracy:—The King understanding that William, Earl of Gowrie, during his treasurership was forced for the honourable discharge of his Majesty's affairs and the weal of the Realm to burden himself and his estate with great sums of money and that at his last balance 10th May, 1583, he was super-expended 48,063 4s. 8d. sterling; the King has specially ordained at the date of the said balance that the Earl should not be troubled or charged with the payment of any sums of money until he has first been completely paid the said super-expenditure. The King understanding since his decease that John, Earl of Gowrie, his son, has paid several sums of money to those who advanced it although the King has as yet made no payment, and that it is not possible for the Earl to make further payment to his father's creditors at present: the King with the advice of the Lords and the Senators of the College of Justice ordains that the Earl should in no wise be charged with payment of his father's debts for the space of a year after the date hereof. In the meantime the King may see the Earl satisfied of the said super-expenditure resting owing by his Majesty, and therefore discharges the Clerk Register of all extracting or giving extracts of the said expenditure: and the Lords and Senators of the College of Justice declare that they will not grant any letters or charges at the instance of anyone against the Earl of Gowrie or his cautioners or tenants, for the space of a year to come, and in the meantime suspend all letters of horning, arresting, etc, during the foresaid space. (Before the Union the Scottish peers were liable to be arrested for debt)

Whatever may have been the reasons which induced the King to issue this ordinance, it is evident on the face of it that Gowrie's creditors, who had advanced money to enable him to finance the King—on the security of his estates—were pressing Gowrie for repayment In these lawless times no one could blame them, and in the circumstances, Gowrie would be compelled to bring pressure to bear on the King. This ordinance was evidently the King's answer, and throws a lurid light on his conception of his lawful obligations and responsibilities.

In place of endeavouring to meet these, and satisfy men who came forward honourably and supplied him with money at a time when he urgently required it, he ordained the law officers of the Crown to prevent them preceding with any action to recover what he owes them. It is not recorded, but it is highly probable that a high-principled man, as young Gowrie is known to have been, indignantly resented this conduct of the King, and at the expiry of twelve months' grace would probably take steps to compel the King to respect his obligations. Whether these relations led to the unfortunate conspiracy is a controversial question, but the whole circumstances appear to us to point to an affirmative answer.

In 1591, the young Duke of Lennox fell violently in love with Lady Sophia Ruthven, Gowrie's sister, and by the King's order she was secluded from him at Easter Wemyss, Fife. The Duke crossed the Firth on April 19, took the lady out of her house and carried her away on his own horse, travelling all night. In the morning he married her, contrary to the ordinance of the kirk, and the King was displeased. The young lady died in May, 1592, having enjoyed her married life only a year.


Painted on the chimney-piece of Ruthven Castle are the following significant words:—

Vera diu latitant, sed longo temporis usu
Emergunt tandem quae latuere diu.

Truth long lies hid, but in time's long (delayed) opportunity At length come to light the things that have long been concealed.—Mercer Chronicle.

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