James VI and the Gowrie Mystery
by Andrew Lang
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Perhaps few persons who are accustomed to weigh and test evidence, who know the weaknesses of human memories, and the illusions which impose themselves upon our recollections, will lay great stress on the discrepancies between Henderson's first deposition (in August), his second (in November), and the statement of the King. In the footnote printed below, {69a} Hudson explains the origin of certain differences between the King's narrative and Henderson's evidence, given in August. Hudson declares that James boasted of having taken the dagger out of Ruthven's hands (which, in fact, James does not do, in his published narration), and that Henderson claimed to have snatched the dagger away, 'to move mercy by more merit.' It is clear that James would not accept his story of disarming Ruthven; Henderson omits that in his second deposition. For the rest, James, who was quite clever enough to discover the discrepancies, let them stand, at the end of his own printed narrative, with the calm remark, that if any differences existed in the depositions, they must be taken as 'uttered by the deponer in his own behouf, for obtaining of his Majesty's princely grace and favour.' {69b} Henderson's first deposition was one of these which James printed with his own narrative, and thus treated en prince. He was not going to harmonise his evidence with Henderson's, or Henderson's with his. On the other hand, from the first, Henderson had probably the opportunity to frame his confession on the Falkland letter of August 5 to the Chancellor, and the Provost of Edinburgh; and, later, on the printed narrative officially issued at the close of August 1600. He varied, when he did vary, in hopes of 'his Majesty's princely grace and favour,' and he naturally tried to make out that he was not a mere trembling expostulating caitiff. He clung to the incident of the garter which he snatched from the Master's hand.

Henderson had no Royal model for his account of how he came to be in the turret, which James could only learn from himself. Now that is the most incredible part of Henderson's narrative. However secret the Ruthvens may have desired to be, how could they trust everything to the chance that the town councillor of Perth, upper footman, and Chamberlain of Scone, would act the desperate part of seizing a king, without training and without warning?

But was Henderson unwarned and uninstructed, or, did he fail after ample instruction? That is the difficult point raised by the very curious case of Mr. Robert Oliphant, which has never been mentioned, I think, by the many minute students of this bewildering affair.


Suppose that men like the Ruthvens, great and potent nobles, had secretly invited their retainer, Andrew Henderson, to take the role of the armed man in the turret, what could Henderson have done? Such proposals as this were a danger dreaded even by the most powerful. Thus, in March 1562, James Hepburn, the wicked Earl of Bothwell, procured, through John Knox, a reconciliation with his feudal enemy, Arran. The brain of Arran was already, it seems, impaired. A few days after the reconciliation he secretly consulted Knox on a delicate point. Bothwell, he said, had imparted to him a scheme whereby they should seize Queen Mary's person, and murder her secretary, Lethington, and her half-brother, Lord James Stuart, later Earl of Moray. Arran explained to Knox that, if ever the plot came to light, he would be involved in the crime of guilty concealment of foreknowledge of treason. But, if he divulged the plan, Bothwell would challenge him to trial by combat. Knox advised secrecy, but Arran, now far from sane, revealed the real or imagined conspiracy.

To a man like Henderson, the peril in simply listening to treasonable proposals from the Ruthvens would be even greater. If he merely declined to be a party, and kept silence, or fled, he lost his employment as Gowrie's man, and would be ruined. If the plot ever came to light, he would be involved in guilty concealment of foreknowledge. If he instantly revealed to the King what he knew, his word would not be accepted against that of Gowrie: he would be tortured, to get at the very truth, and probably would be hanged by way of experiment, to see if he would adhere to his statement on the scaffold—a fate from which Henderson, in fact, was only saved by the King.

What then, if the Gowries offered to Henderson the role of the man in the turret, could Henderson do? He could do what, according to James and to himself, he did, he could tremble, expostulate, and assure the King of his ignorance of the purpose for which he was locked up, 'like a dog,' in the little study.

That this may have been the real state of affairs is not impossible. We have seen that Calderwood mentions a certain Mr. Robert Oliphant (Mr. means Master of Arts) as having been conjectured at, immediately after the tragedy, as the man in the turret. He must therefore have been, and he was, a trusted retainer of Gowrie. But Oliphant at once proved an alibi; he was not in Perth on August 5. His name never occurs in the voluminous records of the proceedings. He is not, like Henderson, among the persons who fled, and for whom search was made, as far as the documents declare, though Calderwood says that he was described as a 'black grim man' in 'the first proclamation.' If so, it looks ill for James, as Henderson was a brown fair man. In any case, Oliphant at once cleared himself.

But we hear of him again, though historians have overlooked the fact. Among the Acts of Caution of 1600—that is, the records of men who become sureties for the good behaviour of others—is an entry in the Privy Council Register for December 5, 1600. {73} 'Mr. Alexander Wilky in the Canongate for John Wilky, tailor there, 200l., not to harm John Lyn, also tailor there; further, to answer when required touching his (John Wilky's) pursuit of Lyn for revealing certain speeches spoken to him by Mr. Robert Oliphant anent his foreknowledge of the treasonable conspiracy of the late John, sometime Earl of Gowrie.'

Thus Robert Oliphant, M.A., had spoken to tailor Lyn, or so Lyn had declared, about his own foreknowledge of the plot; Lyn had blabbed; tailor Wilky had 'pursued' or attacked Lyn; and Alexander Wilky, who was bailie of the Canongate, enters into recognisances to the amount of 200l. that John Wilky shall not further molest Lyn.

Now what had Oliphant said?

On the very day, December 5, when Alexander Wilky became surety for the good behaviour of John Wilky, Nicholson, the English resident at Holyrood, described the facts to Robert Cecil. {74a} Nicholson says that, at a house in the Canongate, Mr. Robert Oliphant was talking of the Gowrie case. He was a man who had travelled, and he inveighed against the unfairness of Scottish procedure in the case of Cranstoun.

We have seen that Mr. Thomas Cranstoun, Gowrie's equerry, first brought to Lennox and others, in the garden, the report that the King had ridden away. We have seen that he was deeply wounded by Ramsay just before or after Gowrie fell. Unable to escape, he was taken, examined, tortured, tried on August 22, and, on August 23, hanged at Perth. He had invaded and wounded Herries, and Thomas Erskine, and had encouraged the mob to beleaguer the back gate of Gowrie House, against the King's escape. He had been in France, he said, since 1589, had come home with Gowrie, but, he swore, had not spoken six words with the Ruthvens during the last fortnight. {74b} This is odd, as he was their Master Stabler, and as they, by their friends' account, had been making every preparation to leave for Dirleton, which involved arrangements about their horses.

In any case, Mr. Robert Oliphant, in a house in the Canongate, in November or early December 1600, declared that Cranstoun, who, he said, knew nothing of the conspiracy, had been hanged, while Henderson, who was in the secret, and had taken the turret part, escaped, and retained his position as Chamberlain of Scone. Henderson, at the critical moment, had 'fainted,' said Oliphant; that is, had failed from want of courage. Oliphant went on to say that he himself had been with Gowrie in Paris (February-March 1600), and that, both in Paris and at home in Scotland later, Gowrie had endeavoured to induce him to take the part later offered to Henderson. He had tried, but in vain, to divert Gowrie's mind from his dangerous project. This talk of Oliphant's leaked out (through Lyn as we know), and Oliphant, says Nicholson, 'fled again.' {75}

Of Oliphant we learn no more till about June 1608. At that time, the King, in England, heard a rumour that he had been connected with the conspiracy. A Captain Patrick Heron {76} obtained a commission to find Oliphant, and arrested him at Canterbury: he was making for Dover and for France. Heron seized Oliphant's portable property, 'eight angels, two half rose-nobles, one double pistolet, two French crowns and a half, one Albertus angel; two English crowns; one Turkish piece of gold, two gold rings, and a loose stone belonging to one; three Netherland dollars; one piece of four royals; two quart decuria; seven pieces of several coins of silver; two purses, one sword; one trunk, one "mail," and two budgetts.' Oliphant himself lay for nine months in 'the Gate House of Westminster,' but Heron, 'careless to justify his accusation, and discovering his aim in that business' (writes the King), 'presently departed from hence.' 'We have tried the innocency of Mr. Robert Oliphant,' James goes on, 'and have freed him from prison.' The Scottish Privy Council is therefore ordered, on March 6, 1609, to make Heron restore Oliphant's property. On May 16, 1609, Heron was brought before the Privy Council in Edinburgh, and was bidden to make restitution. He was placed in the Tolbooth, but released by Lindsay, the keeper of the prison. In March 1610, Oliphant having again gone abroad, Heron expressed his readiness to restore the goods, except the trunk and bags, which he had given to the English Privy Council, who restored them to Robert Oliphant. The brother of Robert, Oliphant of Bauchiltoun, represented him in his absence, and, in 1611, Robert got some measure of restitution from Heron.

We know no more of Mr. Robert Oliphant. {77} His freedom of talk was amazing, but perhaps he had been drinking when he told the story of his connection with the plot. By 1608 nothing could be proved against him in London: in 1600, had he not fled from Edinburgh in December, something might have been extracted. We can only say that his version of the case is less improbable than Henderson's. Henderson—if approached by Gowrie, as Oliphant is reported to have said that he was—could not divulge the plot, could not, like Oliphant, a gentleman, leave Perth, and desert his employment. So perhaps he drifted into taking the role of the man in the turret. If so, he had abundance of time to invent his most improbable story that he was shut up there in ignorance of the purpose of his masters.

Henderson was not always of the lamblike demeanour which he displayed in the turret. On March 5, 1601, Nicholson reports that 'Sir Hugh Herries,' the lame doctor, 'and Henderson fell out and were at offering of strokes,' whence 'revelations' were anticipated. They never came, and, for all that we know, Herries may have taunted Henderson with Oliphant's version of his conduct. He was pretty generally suspected of having been in the conspiracy, and of having failed, from terror, and then betrayed his masters, while pretending not to have known why he was placed in the turret.

It is remarkable that Herries did not appear as a witness at the trial in November. He was knighted and rewarded: every one almost was rewarded out of Gowrie's escheats, or forfeited property. But that was natural, whether James was guilty or innocent; and we repeat that the rewards, present or in prospect, did not produce witnesses ready to say that they saw Henderson at Falkland, or in the tumult, or in the turret. Why men so freely charged with murderous conspiracy and false swearing were so dainty on these and other essential points, the advocates of the theory of perjury may explain. How James treated discrepancies in the evidence we have seen. His account was the true account, he would not alter it, he would not suppress the discrepancies of Henderson, except as to the dagger. Witnesses might say this or that to secure the King's princely favour. Let them say: the King's account is true. This attitude is certainly more dignified, and wiser, than the easy method of harmonising all versions before publication. Meanwhile, if there were discrepancies, they were held by sceptics to prove falsehood; if there had been absolute harmony, that would really have proved collusion. On one point I suspect suppression at the trial. Almost all versions aver that Ramsay, or another, said to Gowrie, 'You have slain the King,' and that Gowrie (who certainly did not mean murder) then dropped his points and was stabbed. Of this nothing is said, at the trial, by any witnesses.


We now come to the evidence which is most fatally damaging to the two unfortunate Ruthvens. It is the testimony of their contemporary Vindication. Till a date very uncertain, a tradition hung about Perth that some old gentlemen remembered having seen a Vindication of the Ruthvens; written at the time of the events. {80} Antiquaries vainly asked each other for copies of this valuable apology. Was it printed, and suppressed by Royal order? Did it circulate only in manuscript?

In 1812 a Mr. Panton published a vehement defence of the Ruthvens. Speaking of the King's narrative, he says, 'In a short time afterwards a reply, or counter manifesto, setting forth the matter in its true light, written by some friend of the Ruthven family, made its appearance. The discovery of this performance would now be a valuable acquisition; but there is no probability that any such exists, as the Government instantly ordered the publication to be suppressed. . . . '

The learned and accurate Lord Hailes, writing in the second half of the eighteenth century (1757), says, 'It appears by a letter of Sir John Carey, Governor' (really Deputy Governor) 'of Berwick, to Cecil, 4th September, 1600, that some treatise had been published in Scotland, in vindication of Gowrie.' That 'treatise,' or rather newsletter, unsigned, and overlooked by our historians (as far as my knowledge goes), is extant in the Record Office. {81} We can identify it as the document mentioned by Carey to Cecil in his letter of September 4, 1600. Carey was then in command of Berwick, the great English frontier fortress, for his chief, 'the brave Lord Willoughby,' was absent on sick leave. On September 4, then, from Berwick, Carey wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, 'I have thought good to send you such' (information) 'as I have received out of Scotland this morning on both sides, both on the King's part and the Earl's part, that you may read them both together.'

Now we possess a manuscript, 'The Verie Maner of the Erll of Gowrie and his brother their Death, quha war killit at Perth, the fyft of August, by the Kingis Servanttis, his Majestie being present.' This paper is directed to 'My Lord Governor,' and, as Carey was acting for 'My Lord Governor,' Lord Willoughby, at Berwick, he received and forwarded the document to Cecil. This is the Vindication, at least I know no other, and no printed copy, though Nicholson writes that a 'book on the Ruthven side was printed in England' (October 28, 1600).

The manuscript is in bad condition, in parts illegible; acids appear to have been applied to it. The story, however, from the Gowrie side, can be easily made out. It alleges that, 'on Saturday, August 1' (really August 2), the lame Dr Herries came, on some pretext, to Gowrie's house. 'This man by my Lord was convoyed through the house, and the secret parts shown him.'

Now there was no 'secret part' in the house, as far as the narratives go. The entry to the narrow staircase was inconspicuous, but was noticed by Ramsay, and, of course, was familiar to Gowrie and his men. On Tuesday, the fatal day (according to the Ruthven Vindication), Gowrie's retainers were preparing to go with him 'to Lothian,' that is to Dirleton, a castle of his on the sea, hard by North Berwick. The narrator argues, as all the friends of the Ruthvens did, that, if Gowrie had intended any treason, his men would not have been busy at their houses with preparations for an instant removal. The value of this objection is null. If Gowrie had a plot, it probably was to carry the King to Dirleton with him, in disguise.

[Picture: Dirleton Castle]

The Master, the apology goes on, whom the King had sent for 'divers times before, and on August 5,' rode early to Falkland, accompanied by Andrew Ruthven, and Andrew Henderson. None of James's men, nor James himself, as we have remarked, saw Henderson at Falkland, and modern opponents of the King deny (as the aforesaid Mr. Panton does) that he was there. Here they clash with 'The Verie Manner' &c. issued at the time by Gowrie's defenders. It avers that the Master, and his two men, did not intend to return from Falkland to Perth. They meant to sleep at Falkland on the night of the Fifth, and meet Gowrie, next day, August 6, 'at the waterside,' and cross with him to the south coast of the Firth of Forth, thence riding on (as other friendly accounts allege) to Dirleton, near North Berwick. 'And Andrew Henderson's confessions testified this.' As published, they do nothing of the sort. The Master 'took his lodging in Falkland for this night.' Hearing that James was to hunt, the Master breakfasted, and went to look for him. After a conversation with James, he bade Henderson ride back to Perth, and tell Gowrie that, 'for what occasion he knew not,' the King was coming. Now after they all arrived at Perth, the Master told Gowrie's caterer, Craigengelt, that the King had come, 'because Robert Abercrombie, that false knave, had brought the King there, to make his Majesty take order for his debt.' {83} This fact was stated by Craigengelt himself, under examination. If Ruthven spoke the truth, he did know the motive, or pretext, of the King's coming, which the apologist denies. But Ruthven was not speaking the truth; he told Craigengelt, as we saw, that he had been 'on an errand not far off.'

As to the debt, James owed Gowrie a large sum, with accumulated interest, for expenses incurred by Gowrie's father, when Lord Treasurer of Scotland (1583-1584). James, in June 1600, as we shall see, gave Gowrie a year's respite from the pursuit of his father's creditors, hoping to pay him in the meanwhile. Whether this exemption would not have defended Gowrie from Robert Abercromby; whether James would act as debt collector for Robert Abercromby (a burgess of Edinburgh, the King's saddler), the reader may decide. But the Master gave to Craigengelt this reason for James's unexpected arrival, though his contemporary apologist says, as to James's motive for coming to Perth, that the Master 'knew nothing.'

Henderson having cantered off with his message, James rode to Perth (nothing is said by the apologist of the four hours spent in hunting), 'accompanied by sixty horsemen, of whom thirty came a little before him.' No trace of either the sixty or the thirty appears anywhere in the evidence. No witness alludes to the arrival of any of the King's party in front of him. On hearing from Henderson of the King's approach, says the Vindication, Gowrie, who was dining, ordered a new meal to be prepared. All the other evidence shows that Henderson came back to Perth long before Gowrie dined, and that nevertheless Gowrie made no preparations at all. Gowrie, with four others, then met the King, on the Inch of Perth says the apologist. James kissed him when they met, the kiss of Judas, we are to understand. He entered the house, and all the keys were given to James's retainers. The porter, as we saw, really had the keys, and Gowrie opened the garden gate with one of them. The apologist is mendacious.

Dinner was soon over. James sent the Master to bid Ramsay and Erskine 'follow him to his chamber, where his Majesty, Sir Thomas Erskine, John Ramsay, Dr. Herries, and Mr. Wilson, being convened, slew the Master, and threw him down the stair, how, and for what cause they [know best] themselves.' Of course it is absolutely certain that the Master did not bring the other three men to James, in the chamber where the Master was first wounded. Undeniably Herries, Ramsay, and Erskine were not brought by the Master, at James's command, to this room. They did not enter it till after the cries of 'Treason' were yelled by James from the window of the turret. A servant of James's, says the apologist, now brought the news that the King had ridden away. Cranstoun, Gowrie's man, really did this, as he admitted. Gowrie, the author goes on, hearing of James's departure, called for his horse, and went out into the street. There he stood 'abiding his horse.' Now Cranstoun, as he confessed, had told Gowrie that his horse was at Scone, two miles away. By keeping his horses there, Gowrie made it impossible for him to accompany the Royal retinue as they went on their useless errand (p. 21, supra). In the street Gowrie 'hears his Majesty call on him out at the chamber window, "My Lord of Gowrie, traitors has murdered your brother already, and ye suffer me to be murdered also!"'

Nobody else heard this, and, if Gowrie heard it, how inept it was in him to go about asking 'What is the matter?' He was occupied thus while Lennox, Mar, and the others were rushing up the great staircase to rescue the King. James, according to the Ruthven apologist, had told Gowrie what the matter was, his brother was slain, and slain by Erskine, who, while the Earl asked 'What is the matter?' was trying to collar that distracted nobleman. The Master had brought Erskine to the King, says the apologist, Erskine had slain the Master, yet, simultaneously, he tried to seize Gowrie in the street. Erskine was in two places at once. The apology is indeed 'a valuable acquisition.' Gowrie and Cranstoun, and they alone, the apologist avers, were now permitted by James's servants to enter the house. We know that many of James's men were really battering at the locked door, and we know that others of Gowrie's people, besides Cranstoun, entered the house, and were wounded in the scuffle. Cranstoun himself says nothing of any opposition to their entry to the house, after Gowrie drew his two swords.

Cranstoun, according to the apologist, first entered the chamber, alone, and was wounded, and drawn back by Gowrie—which Cranstoun, in his own statement, denies. After his wounds he fled, he says, seeing no more of Gowrie. Then, according to the apologist, Gowrie himself at last entered the chamber; the King's friends attacked him, but he was too cunning of fence for them. They therefore parleyed, and promised to let him see the King (who was in the turret). Gowrie dropped his points, Ramsay stabbed him, he died committing his soul to God, and declaring that he was a true subject.

This narrative, we are told by its author, is partly derived from the King's men, partly from the confessions of Cranstoun, Craigengelt, and Baron (accused of having been in the chamber-fight, and active in the tumult). All these three were tried and hanged. The apologist adds that James's companions will swear to whatever he pleases. This was unjust; Ramsay would not venture to recognise the man of whom he caught a glimpse in the turret, and nobody pretended to have seen Henderson at Falkland, though the presence of Henderson at Falkland and in the chamber was an essential point. But, among the King's crew of perjurers, not a man swore to either fact.

What follows relates to Gowrie's character; 'he had paid all his father's debts,' which most assuredly he had not done. As to the causes of his taking off, they are explained by the apologist, but belong to a later part of the inquiry.

Such was the contemporary Vindication of Gowrie, sent to Carey, at Berwick, for English reading, and forwarded by Carey to Cecil. The narrative is manifestly false, on the points which we have noted. It is ingeniously asserted by the vindicator that a servant of James brought the report that he had ridden away. It is not added that the false report was really brought by Cranstoun, and twice confirmed by Gowrie, once after he had gone to make inquiry upstairs. Again, the apologist never even hints at the locked door of the gallery chamber, whereat Mar, Lennox, and the rest so long and so vainly battered. Who locked that door, and why? The subject is entirely omitted by the apologist. On the other hand, the apologist never alludes to the Murrays, who were in the town. Other writers soon after the events, and in our own day, allege that James had arranged his plot so as to coincide with the presence of the Murrays in Perth. What they did to serve him we have heard. John Murray was wounded by a Ruthven partisan after the Earl and Master were dead. Some Murrays jostled Gowrie, before he rushed to his death. Young Tullibardine helped to pacify the populace. That is all. Nothing more is attributed to the Murrays, and the contemporary apologist did not try to make capital out of them.

Though the narrative of the contemporary apologist for the Ruthvens appears absolutely to lack evidence for its assertions, it reveals, on analysis, a consistent theory of the King's plot. It may not be verifiable; in fact it cannot be true, but there is a theory, a system, which we do not find in most contemporary, or in more recent arguments. James, by the theory, is intent on the destruction of the Ruthvens. His plan was to bring the Master to Falkland, and induce the world to believe that it was the Master who brought him to Perth. The Master refuses several invitations; at last, on his way to Dirleton, he goes to Falkland, taking with him Andrew Ruthven and Andrew Henderson. The old apologist asserts, what modern vindicators deny, that Henderson was at Falkland.

Then the Master sends Henderson first, Andrew Ruthven later, to warn Gowrie that, for some unknown reason, the King is coming. To conceal his bloody project (though the apologist does not mention the circumstance), James next passes four hours in hunting. To omit this certain fact is necessary for the apologist's purpose. The King sends thirty horsemen in front of him, and follows with thirty more. After dinner he leaves the hall with the Master, but sends him back for Erskine, Wilson, and Ramsay. James having secured their help, and next lured the Master into a turret, the minions kill Ruthven and throw his body downstairs; one of them, simultaneously, is in the street. James has previously arranged that one of his servants shall give out that the King has ridden away. This he does announce at the nick of time (though Gowrie's servant did it), so that Gowrie shall go towards the stables (where he expects to find his horse, though he knows it is at Scone), thus coming within earshot of the turret window. Thence James shouts to Gowrie that traitors are murdering him, and have murdered the Master. Now this news would bring, not only Gowrie, but all the Royal retinue, to his Majesty's assistance. But, as not knowing the topography of the house, the retinue, James must have calculated, will run up the main stairs, to rescue the King. Their arrival would be inconvenient to the King (as the nobles would find that James has only friends with him, not traitors), so the King has had the door locked (we guess, though we are not told this by the apologist) to keep out Lennox, Mar, and the rest. Gowrie, however, has to be admitted, and killed, and Gowrie, knowing the house, will come, the King calculates, by the dark stair, and the unlocked door. Therefore James's friends, in the street, will let him and Cranstoun enter the house; these two alone, and no others with them. They, knowing the narrow staircase, go up that way, naturally. As naturally, Gowrie lets Cranstoun face the danger of four hostile swords, alone. Waiting till Cranstoun is disabled, Gowrie then confronts, alone, the same murderous blades, is disarmed by a ruse, and is murdered.

This explanation has a method, a system. Unfortunately it is contradicted by all the evidence now to be obtained, from whatever source it comes, retainers of Gowrie, companions of James, or burgesses of Perth. We must suppose that Gowrie, with his small force of himself and Cranstoun, both fencers from the foreign schools, would allow that force to be cut off in detail, one by one. We must suppose that Erskine was where he certainly was not, in two places at once, and that Ramsay and Herries and he, unseen, left the hall and joined the King, on a message brought by the Master, unmarked by any witness. We must suppose that the King's witnesses, who professed ignorance on essential points, perjured themselves on others, in batches. But, if we grant that Mar, Lennox, and the rest—gentlemen, servants, retainers and menials of the Ruthvens, and citizens of Perth—were abandoned perjurers on some points, while scrupulously honourable on others equally essential, the narrative of the Ruthven apologist has a method, a consistency, which we do not find in modern systems unfavourable to the King.

For example, the modern theories easily show how James trapped the Master. He had only to lure him into a room, and cry 'Treason.' Then, even if untutored in his part, some hot-headed young man like Ramsay would stab Ruthven. But to deal with Gowrie was a more difficult task. He would be out in the open, surrounded by men like Lennox and Mar, great nobles, and his near kinsmen. They would attest the innocence of the Earl. They must therefore be separated from him, lured away to attack the locked door, while Gowrie would stand in the street asking 'What is the matter?' though James had told him, and detained by the Murrays till they saw fit to let him and Cranstoun go within the gate, alone. Then, knowing the topography, Gowrie and Cranstoun would necessarily make for the murder-chamber, by the dark stair, and perish. The Royal wit never conceived a subtler plot, it is much cleverer than that invented by Mr. G. P. R. James, in his novel, 'Gowrie.' Nothing is wrong with the system of the apologist, except that the facts are false, and the idea a trifle too subtle, while, instead of boldly saying that the King had the gallery chamber locked against his friends, the apologist never hints at that circumstance.

We have to help the contemporary vindicator out, by adding the detail of the locked door (which he did not see how to account for and therefore omitted), and by explaining that the King had it locked himself, that Lennox, Mar, and the rest might not know the real state of the case, and that Gowrie might be trapped through taking the other way, by the narrow staircase.

An author so conspicuously mendacious as he who wrote the Apology for English consumption is unworthy of belief on any point. It does not follow that Henderson was really at Falkland because the apologist says that he was. But it would appear that this vindicator could not well deny the circumstance, and that, to work it conveniently into his fable, he had to omit the King's hunting, and to contradict the Hays and Moncrieff by making Henderson arrive at Perth after twelve instead of about ten o'clock.

The value of the Apology, so long overlooked, is to show how very poor a case was the best that the vindicator of the Ruthvens was able to produce. But no doubt it was good enough for people who wished to believe. {93}


So far, the King's narrative is least out of keeping with probability.

But had James been insulted, menaced, and driven to a personal struggle, as he declared? Is the fact not that, finding himself alone with Ruthven, and an armed man (or no armed man, if you believe that none was there), James lost his nerve, and cried 'Treason!' in mere panic? The rest followed from the hot blood of the three courtiers, and the story of James was invented, after the deaths of the Gowries, to conceal the truth, and to rob by forfeiture the family of Ruthven. But James had certainly told Lennox the story of Ruthven and the pot of gold, before they reached Perth. If he came with innocent intent, he had not concocted that story as an excuse for coming.

We really must be consistent. Mr. Barbe, a recent Ruthven apologist, says that the theory of an accidental origin of 'the struggle between James and Ruthven may possibly contain a fairly accurate conjecture.' {94} But Mr. Barbe also argues that James had invented the pot of gold story before he left Falkland; that, if James was guilty, 'the pretext had been framed'—the myth of the treasure had been concocted—'long before their meeting in Falkland, and was held in readiness to use whenever circumstances required.' If so, then there is no room at all for the opinion that the uproar in the turret was accidental, but Mr. Barbe's meaning is that James thus forced a quarrel on Ruthven. For there was no captive with a pot of gold, nor can accident have caused the tragedy, if Ruthven lured James to Falkland with the false tale of the golden hoard. That tale, confided by James to Lennox on the ride to Perth, was either an invention of the King's—in which case James is the crafty conspirator whom Mr. Bruce, in 1602, did not believe him to be (as shall be shown);—or it is true that Ruthven brought James to Perth by the feigned story—in which case Ruthven is a conspirator. I reject, for reasons already given, the suggestion that Lennox perjured himself, when he swore that James told him about Ruthven's narrative as to the captive and his hoard. For these reasons alone, there is no room for the hypothesis of accident: either James or Ruthven was a deliberate traitor. If James invented the pot of gold, he is the plotter: if Ruthven did, Ruthven is guilty. There is no via media, no room for the theory of accident.

The via media, the hypothesis of accident, was suggested by Sir William Bowes, who wrote out his theory, in a letter to Sir John Stanhope, from Bradley, on September 2, 1600. Bowes had been English ambassador in Scotland, probably with the usual commission to side with the King's enemies, and especially (much as Elizabeth loathed her own Puritans) with the party of the Kirk. His coach had been used for the kidnapping of an English gentleman then with James, while the Governor of Berwick supplied a yacht, in case it seemed better to carry off the victim by sea (1599). Consequently Bowes was unpopular, and needed, and got, a guard of forty horsemen for his protection. He was no friend, as may be imagined, of the King.

Bowes had met Preston, whom James sent to Elizabeth with his version of the Gowrie affair. Bowes's theory of it all was this: James, the Master, 'and one other attending' (the man of the turret) were alone in a chamber of Gowrie House. Speech arose about the late Earl of Gowrie, Ruthven's father, whether by occasion of his portrait on the wall, or otherwise. 'The King angrily said he was a traitor, whereat the youth showing a grieved and expostulatory countenance, and haplie Scotlike words, the King, seeing himself alone and without weapon, cried Treason!' The Master placed his hand on James's mouth, and knelt to deprecate his anger, but Ramsay stabbed him as he knelt, and Gowrie was slain, Preston said, after Ramsay had made him drop his guard by crying that the King was murdered. The tale of the conspiracy was invented by James to cover the true state of the case. {96}

This Bowes only puts forth as a working hypothesis. It breaks down on the King's narrative to Lennox about Ruthven's captive and hoard. It breaks down on 'one other attending'—the man in the turret—whatever else he may have been, he was no harmless attendant. It breaks down on the locked door between the King, and Lennox and Mar, which Bowes omits. It is ruined by Gowrie's repeated false assurances that the King had ridden away, which Bowes ignores.

The third hypothesis, the via media, is impossible. There was a deliberate plot on one side or the other. To make the theory of Bowes quite clear, his letter is appended to this section. {97}


The most resolute sceptics as to the guilt of the Ruthvens were the Edinburgh preachers. They were in constant opposition to the King, and the young Gowrie was their favourite nobleman. As to what occurred when the news of the tragedy reached Edinburgh, early on July 6, we have the narrative of Mr. Robert Bruce, then the leader of the Presbyterians. His own version is printed in the first volume of the Bannatyne Club Miscellany, and is embodied, with modifications, and without acknowledgment (as references to such sources were usually omitted at that period), in Calderwood's History.

It is thus better to follow Mr. Bruce's own account, as far as it goes.

The preachers heard the 'bruit,' or rumour of the tragedy, by nine o'clock on the morning of August 6. By ten o'clock arrived a letter from James to the Privy Council: the preachers were called first 'before the Council of the town,' and the King's epistle was read to them. 'It bore that his Majesty was delivered out of a peril, and therefore that we should be commanded to go to our Kirks, convene our people, ring bells, and give God praises.' While the preachers were answering, the Privy Council sent for the Provost and some of the Town Council.

The preachers then went to deliberate in the East Kirk, and decided 'that we could not enter into the particular defence of' (the existence of?) 'the treason, seeing that the King was silent of the treason in his own letter, and the reports of courtiers varied among themselves.'

This is not easily intelligible. The letter from Falkland of which Nicholson gives an account on August 6, was exceedingly 'particular as to the treason.' It is my impression, based mainly on the Burgh Records quoted by Pitcairn, that the letter with full particulars cited by Nicholson, was written, more or less officially, by the notary, David Moysie, who was at Falkland, and that the King's letter was brief, only requiring thanksgiving to be offered. Yet Nicholson says that the letter with details (written by the King he seems to think), was meant for the preachers as well as for the Privy Council (cf. p. 38, note).

The preachers, in any case, were now brought before the Privy Council and desired, by Montrose, the Chancellor, to go to church, and thank God for the King's 'miraculous delivery from that vile treason.' They replied that 'they could not be certain of the treason,' but would speak of delivery 'from a great danger.' Or they would wait, and, when quite sure of the treason, would blaze it abroad.

'They' (the Council) 'said it should be sufficient to read his Majesty's letter.'

This appears to mean that the preachers would content the Lords by merely reading James's letter aloud to the public.

'We answered that we could not read his letter' (aloud to the people?) 'and doubt of the truth of it. It would be better to say generally, "if the report be true."'

The preachers would have contented the Lords by merely reading James's letter aloud to their congregations. But this they declined to do; they wished, in the pulpit, to evade the Royal letter, and merely to talk, conditionally, of the possible truth of the report, or 'bruit.' This appears to have been a verbal narrative brought by Graham of Balgonie, which seemed to vary from the long letter probably penned by Moysie. At this moment the Rev. David Lindsay, who had been at Falkland, and had heard James's story from his own mouth, arrived. He, therefore, was sent to tell the tale publicly, at the Cross. The Council reported to James that the six Edinburgh preachers 'would in no ways praise God for his delivery.' In fact, they would only do so in general terms.

On August 12, James took the preachers to task. Bruce explained that they could thank, and on Sunday had thanked God for the King's delivery, but could go no further into detail, 'in respect we had no certainty.' 'Had you not my letter?' asked the King. Bruce replied that the letter spoke only 'of a danger in general.' Yet the letter reported by Nicholson was 'full and particular,' but that letter the preachers seem to have regarded as unofficial. 'Could not my Council inform you of the particulars?' asked the King. The President (Fyvie, later Chancellor Dunfermline) said that they had assured the preachers of the certainty of the treason. On this Bruce replied that they had only a report, brought orally by Balgonie, and a letter by Moysie, an Edinburgh notary then at Falkland, and that these testimonies 'fought so together that no man could have any certainty.' The Secretary (Elphinstone, later Lord Balmerino) denied the discrepancies.

James now asked what was the preachers' present opinion? They had heard the King himself, the Council, and Mar. Bruce replied that, as a minister, he was not fully persuaded. Four of the preachers adhered to their scepticism. Two, Hewat and Robertson, now professed conviction. The other four were forbidden to preach, under pain of death, and forbidden to come within ten miles of Edinburgh. They offered terms, but these were refused. The reason of James's ferocity was that the devout regarded the preachers as the mouthpieces of God, and so, if they doubted his word, the King's character would, to the godly, seem no better than that of a mendacious murderer.

From a modern point of view, the ministers, if doubtful, had a perfect right to be silent, and one of them, Hall, justly objected that he ought to wait for the verdict in the civil trial of the dead Ruthvens. We shall meet this Hall, and Hewatt (one of the two ministers who professed belief), in very strange circumstances later (p. 217). Here it is enough to have explained the King's motives for severity.

In September the recalcitrants came before the King at Stirling. All professed to be convinced (one, after inquiries in Fife), except Bruce. We learn what happened next from a letter of his to his wife. He had heard from one who had been at Craigengelt's execution (August 23), that Craigengelt had then confessed that Henderson had told him how he was placed by Gowrie in the turret. {103} Bruce had sent to verify this. Moreover he would believe, if Henderson were hanged, and adhered to his deposition to the last: a pretty experiment! The Comptroller asked, 'Will you believe a condemned man better than the King and Council?' Mr. Bruce admitted that such was his theory of the Grammar of Assent. 'If Henderson die penitently I will trust him.' Later, as we shall see, this pleasing experiment was tried in another case, but, though the witness died penitently, and clinging to his final deposition, not one of the godly sceptics was convinced.

'But Henderson saved the King's life,' replied the Comptroller to Mr. Bruce.

'As to that I cannot tell,' said Mr. Bruce, and added that, if Henderson took the dagger from Ruthven, he deserved to die for not sheathing it in Ruthven's breast.

Henderson later, we know, withdrew his talk of his seizure of the dagger, which James had never admitted. James now said that he knew not what became of the dagger.

'Suppose,' said the Comptroller, 'Henderson goes back from that deposition?'

'Then his testimony is the worse,' said Mr. Bruce.

'Then it were better to keep him alive,' said the Comptroller; but Mr. Bruce insisted that Henderson would serve James best by dying penitently. James said that Bruce made him out a murderer. 'If I would have taken their lives, I had causes enough' (his meaning is unknown), 'I need not have hazarded myself so.' By the 'causes,' can James have meant Gowrie's attempts to entangle him in negotiations with the Pope? {104} These were alleged by Mr. Galloway, in a sermon preached on August 11, in the open air, before the King and the populace of Edinburgh (see infra, p. 128).

Mar wondered that Bruce would not trust men who (like himself) heard the King cry, and saw the hand at his throat. Mr. Bruce said that Mar might believe, 'as he were there to hear and see.'

He was left to inform himself, but Calderwood says, that the story about Craigengelt's dying confession was untrue. Bruce had frankly given the lie to the King and Mar, though he remarked that he had never heard Mar and Lennox tell the tale 'out of their own mouths.' Mar later (September 24) most solemnly assured Mr. Bruce by letter, that the treason, 'in respect of that I saw,' was a certain fact. This he professed 'before God in heaven.' Meanwhile Mr. Hall was restored to his Edinburgh pulpit, and Mr. Bruce, after a visit to Restalrig, a place close to Edinburgh and Leith, went into banishment. {105a} If he stayed with the Laird of Restalrig, he had, as will presently appear, a strange choice in friends (pp. 148-167).

A later letter of Bruce's now takes up the tale. In 1601, Bruce was in London, when Mar was there as James's envoy. They met, and Bruce said he was content to abide by the verdict in the Gowrie trial of November 1600. What he boggled at, henceforward, was a public apology for his disbelief, an acceptance, from the pulpit, of the King's veracity, as to the events. In London, Bruce had found that the Puritans, as to the guilt of Essex (which was flagrant), were in the same position as himself, regarding the guilt of Gowrie. {105b} But they bowed to the law, and so would he—'for the present.'

The Puritans in England would not preach that they were persuaded of the guilt of Essex, nor would Bruce preach his persuasion of the guilt of Gowrie, 'from my knowledge and from my persuasion.' He assured Mar 'that it was not possible for any man to be fully persuaded, or to take on their conscience, but so many as saw and heard.' However Bruce is self-contradictory. He would be persuaded, if Henderson swung for it, adhering to his statement. Such were Mr. Brace's theories of evidence. He added that he was not fully persuaded that there was any hell to go to, yet probably he scrupled not to preach 'tidings of damnation.' He wanted to be more certain of Gowrie's guilt, than he was that there is hell-fire. 'Spiteful taunts' followed, Mar's repartee to the argument about hell being obvious. Bruce must have asserted the existence of hell, from the pulpit: though not 'fully persuaded' of hell. So why not assert the King's innocence?

Bruce returned later to Scotland, and met the King in April 1602. Now, he said, according to Calderwood, that he was 'resolved,' that is, convinced. What convinced him? Mar's oath. 'How could he swear?' asked James; 'he neither saw nor heard'—that is, what passed between James, the man in the turret, and the Master. 'I cannot tell you how he could swear, but indeed he swore very deeply,' said Bruce, and reported the oath, which must have been a fine example. James took Bruce's preference of Mar's oath to his own word very calmly. Bruce was troubled about the exact state of affairs between James and the Master. 'Doubt ye of that?' said the King, 'then ye could not but count me a murderer.' 'It followeth not, if it please you, Sir,' said Mr. Robert, 'for ye might have had some secret cause.' {107a}

Strange ethics! A man may slay another, without incurring the guilt of murder, if he has 'a secret cause.' Bruce probably referred to the tattle about a love intrigue between Gowrie, or Ruthven, and the King's wife. Even now, James kept his temper. He offered his whole story to Bruce for cross-examination. 'Mr. Robert uttered his doubt where he found occasion. The King heard him gently, and with a constant countenance, which Mr. Robert admired.' But Mr. Robert would not preach his belief: would not apologise from the pulpit. 'I give it but a doubtsome trust,' he said.

Again, on June 24, 1602, James invited cross-examination. Bruce asked how he could possibly know the direction of his Majesty's intention when he ordered Ramsay to strike the Master. 'I will give you leave to pose me' (interrogate me), said James. {107b}

'Had you a purpose to slay my Lord?'—that is, Gowrie.

'As I shall answer to God, I knew not that my Lord was slain, till I saw him in his last agony, and was very sorry, yea, prayed in my heart for the same.'

'What say ye then concerning Mr. Alexander?'

'I grant I was art and part in Mr. Alexander's slaughter, for it was in my own defence.'

'Why brought you not him to justice, seeing you should have God before your eyes?'

'I had neither God nor the Devil, man, before my eyes, but my own defence.'

'Here the King began to fret,' and no wonder. He frankly said that 'he was one time minded to have spared Mr. Alexander, but being moved for the time, the motion' (passion) 'prevailed.' He swore, in answer to a question, that, in the morning, he loved the Master 'as his brother.'

Bruce was now convinced that James left Falkland innocent of evil purpose, but, as he was in a passion and revengeful, while struggling with the Master, 'he could not be innocent before God.'

Here we leave Mr. Bruce. He signed a declaration of belief in James's narrative; public apologies in the pulpit he would not make. He was banished to Inverness, and was often annoyed and 'put at,' James reckoning him a firebrand.

The result, on the showing of the severe and hostile Calderwood, is that, in Bruce's opinion, in June 1602, James was guiltless of a plot against the Ruthvens. The King's crime was, not that strangely complicated project of a double murder, to be inferred from the Ruthven apology, but words spoken in the heat of blood. Betrayed, captured, taunted, insulted, struggling with a subject whom he had treated kindly, James cried to Ramsay 'Strike low!' He knew not the nature and extent of the conspiracy against him, he knew not what knocking that was at the door of the chamber, and he told Ramsay to strike; we have no assurance that the wounds were deadly.

This is how the matter now appeared to Mr. Bruce. The King swore very freely to the truth of his tale, and that influenced Bruce, but the King's candour as to what passed in his own mind, when he bade Ramsay strike Ruthven, is more convincing, to a modern critic, than his oaths. For some reason, Bruce's real point, that he was satisfied of the King's innocence of a plot, but not satisfied as regards his yielding to passion when attacked, is ignored by the advocates of the Ruthvens. Mr. Barbe observes: 'What slight success there ever was remained on Bruce's side, for, in one conference, he drew from the King the confession that he might have saved Ruthven's life, and brought him to justice.' That confession shows unexpected candour in James, but does not in the slightest degree implicate him in a conspiracy, and of a conspiracy even the rigid Bruce now acquitted the King. Mr. Pitcairn, at first a strong King's man, in an appendix to his third volume credits Bruce with the best of the argument. This he does, illogically, because the King never ceased to persecute Bruce, whom he thought a firebrand. However wicked this conduct of James may have been, it in no way affects the argument as to his guilt in the conspiracy. Of that Mr. Bruce acquitted the King. Calderwood's words (vi. 156) are 'Mr. Robert, by reason of his oaths, thought him innocent of any purpose that day in the morning to slay them. Yet because he confessed he had not God or justice before his eyes, but was in a heat and mind to revenge, he could not be innocent before God, and had great cause to repent, and to crave mercy for Christ's sake.' The thing is perfectly clear. Bruce acquitted James of the infamous plot against the Ruthvens. {110} What, then, was the position of the Ruthvens, if the King was not the conspirator? Obviously they were guilty, whether James, at a given moment, was carried away by passion or not.


Calderwood has preserved for us the objections taken by sceptics to the King's narrative. {111} First, the improbability of a murderous conspiracy, by youths so full of promise and Presbyterianism as Gowrie and his brother. To Gowrie's previous performances we return later. The objection against a scheme of murder hardly applies to a plan for kidnapping a King who was severe against the Kirk.

The story of the pot of gold, and the King's desire to inspect it and the captive who bore it, personally, and the folly of thinking that one pot of gold could suffice to disturb the peace of the country, are next adversely criticised. We have already replied to the criticism (p. 40). The story was well adapted to entrap James VI.

The improbabilities of Ruthven's pleas for haste need not detain us: the King did not think them probable.

Next it was asked 'Why did James go alone upstairs with Ruthven?'

He may have had wine enough to beget valour, or, as he said, he may have believed that he was being followed by Erskine. The two reasons may well have combined.

'Why did not Gowrie provide better cheer, if forewarned?' (by Henderson?) it was asked.

To give the impression, we reply, that he was taken by surprise, and that the King came uninvited and unexpected.

'Why did Ruthven aim a dagger at James, and then hold parley?'

Because he wanted to frighten the King into being 'at his will.'

'How could Ruthven trust the King, with the armed man alone in the turret?'

What else could he do? He locked them in, and was, through the failure of the man, in a quandary which made clear reflection necessary—and impossible.

'It was strange that the man had not been trained in his task.'

If Oliphant is correctly reported, he had been trained, but 'fainted.'

'Why bind the King with a garter?'

In helpless pursuit of the forlorn idea of capturing him.

'Why execute the enterprise when the courtiers were passing the window?'

Ruthven could not have known that they were coming at that moment; it was Gowrie's ill-timed falsehoods, to the effect that the King had ridden away, which brought them there. Gowrie had not allowed for Henderson's failure.

'How could the King struggle successfully with the stalwart Master?'

He fought for his life, and Ruthven probably even then did not wish to injure him bodily.

'Why was not the Master made prisoner?'

James answered this question when 'posed' by Mr. Bruce. His blood was up, and he said 'Strike!'

'The Earl likewise might, after he was stricken, have been preserved alive.'

Perhaps—by miracle; he died instantly.

The discrepancies as to the dagger and the opening of the window we have already treated, also the locking and unlocking, or leaving unlocked, of the chamber door, giving on the dark staircase, after Ruthven's last hurried entrance (p. 69).

There follow arguments, to be later considered, about the relations between James and the Earl previous to the tragedy, and a statement, with no authority cited, that James had written to Gowrie's uncle, to meet him at Perth on August 5, implying that James had made up his mind to be there, and did not go on Ruthven's sudden invitation.

'The Earl and Cranstoun were alone with the four in the fatal chamber. The others who were wounded there went up after Gowrie's death.'

It may be so, but the bulk of the evidence is on the other side.

'It is reported' that Henderson was eating an egg in the kitchen, and went into the town when the fray arose.

It is also denied, on oath, by Gowrie's cook, who added that he was 'content to be hanged,' if it could be proved. {114}

The Ruthven apologist (MS.) says that Henderson was waiting on the Lords who dined in the hall, and was there when the King's servant brought the news that the King had ridden away.

'The Master's sword, after his death, was found rusted tight in his scabbard.'

The Master must have been a very untidy gallant. No authority is cited for the story.

The Murrays (who were well rewarded) were in Perth, 'whether of set purpose let the reader judge.'

By all means let the reader judge.

The King knew Henderson (so the anonymous Goodman of Pitmillie said), but did not recognise the man in the turret. It was reported that Patrick Galloway, the king's chaplain, induced Henderson to pretend to be the man in the turret.

As to the good man of Pitmillie, Calderwood did not even know his name. This is mere gossip.

Again, Calderwood, who offers these criticisms, does not ask why, of all concerned, Henderson was the only man that fled who had not been seen in connection with the fray and the tumult. If he was not the man of the turret, and if Andrew Ruthven, who also had ridden to Falkland, did not abscond, why did Henderson?

As to the man in the turret, if not a retainer of Ruthven, he was a minion of James, or there was no man at all. If there was no man at all, could James be so absurd as to invent him, on the off chance that somebody, anybody, would turn up, and claim to have been the man? That is, frankly, incredible. But if James managed to insert a man into the turret, he was not so silly as not to have his man ready to produce in evidence. Yet Henderson could not be produced, he had fled, and certainly had not come in by August 12, when he was proclaimed.

That James had introduced and suborned Henderson and that Henderson fled to give tone and colour to his narrative, is not among the most probable of conjectures. I do not find that this desperate hypothesis was put forward at the time. It could not be, for apologists averred (1) that Henderson was eating an egg in the kitchen: (2) that he was waiting on the gentlemen in the hall, at the moment when, by the desperate hypothesis, he was, by some machination of James, in the turret: (3) there is a third myth, a Perth tradition, that Henderson had been at Scone all day, and first heard the tragic news, when all was over, as, on his return, he crossed the bridge over Tay. As it is incredible that there was no man in the turret at all, and that James took the outside chance that somebody, anybody, would claim to be the man; the assailants of the King must offer a working hypothesis of this important actor in the drama. My own fancy can suggest none. Was he in four places at once, in the kitchen, in the hall, on the bridge, and in the turret? If he was in the kitchen, in the hall, or on the bridge, why did he instantly abscond? If James put him in the turret, why did he fly?

The King's word, I repeat, was the word that no man could rely on. But, among competing improbabilities, the story which was written on the night of August 5, and to which he adhered under Bruce's cross-examination, is infinitely the least improbable. The Master of Gray, an abominable character, not in Scotland when the events occurred, reported, not from Scotland, that Lennox had said that, if put on his oath, 'he could not say whether the practice proceeded from Gowrie or the King.' (Sept 30, 1600)

[Picture: Falkland Palace]

The Master of Gray wrote from Chillingham, on the English side of the Border, where he was playing the spy for Cecil. Often he played the double spy, for England and for Rome. Lennox may well have been puzzled, he may have said so, but the report rests on the evidence of one who did not hear his words, who wished to flatter the scepticism of James's English enemies, and whose character (though on one point he is unjustly accused) reeks with infamy.

That of James does not precisely 'smell sweet and blossom in the dust.' But if the question arises, whether a man of James's position, age, and temperament, or whether a young man, with the antecedents which we are about to describe, was the more likely to embark on a complicated and dangerous plot—in James's case involving two murders at inestimable personal risk—it is not unnatural to think that the young man is the more likely to 'have the wyte of it.'


Having criticised the contemporary criticism of the Gowrie affair, we must look back, and examine the nature of Gowrie's ancestral and personal relations with James before the day of calamity. There were grounds enough for hatred between the King and the Earl, whether such hatred existed or not, in a kind of hereditary feud, and in political differences. As against James's grandmother, Mary of Guise, the grandfather of Gowrie, Lord Ruthven, had early joined the Reformers, who opposed her in arms. Later, in 1566, it was Gowrie's grandfather who took the leading part in the murder of Riccio. He fled to England, and there died soon after his exploit, beholding, it was said, a vision of angels. His son, Gowrie's father (also one of the Riccio murderers), when Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven (June 1567) was in charge of her, but was removed, 'as he began to show great favour to her, and gave her intelligence.' {118} Mary herself, through the narrative of Nau, her secretary, declares that Ruthven (then a married man) persecuted her by his lust. He aided Lindsay in extorting her abdication at Loch Leven. Such was his record as regards Mary: James too had little reason to love him.

The early reign of James in Scotland was a series of Court revolutions, all of the same sort. James was always either, unwillingly, under nobles who were allies of Elizabeth, and who used the Kirk as their instrument, or under vicious favourites who delivered him from these influences. When Morton fell in 1581, the King was under D'Aubigny (Lennox), a false Protestant and secret Catholic intriguer, and Arran (Captain James Stewart), a free lance, and, in religion, an Indifferent. Lennox entangled James in relations with the Guises and Catholic Powers; Gowrie, and the Protestant nobles, being threatened by Arran and Lennox, captured James, in an insulting manner, at Gowrie's castle of Ruthven. He came as a guest, for hunting; he remained a prisoner. (1582.) The Kirk approved and triumphed: James waited and dissembled, while Gowrie was at the head of the Government. In June 1583, James, by a sudden flight to St. Andrews Castle, where his friends surrounded him, shook himself free of Gowrie, who, however, secured a pardon for his share in James's capture, in the 'Raid of Ruthven' of 1582. Lennox being dead, the masterful and unscrupulous Arran now again ruled the King, and a new Lennox came from France, the Duke of Lennox who was present at the tragedy of August 5, 1600.

The Lords who had lost power by James's escape to St. Andrews now conspired anew. Angus, Mar, and others were to march on Stirling, Gowrie was waiting at Dundee. (April 1584) Arran knew of the plot, and sent Colonel Stewart to arrest Gowrie. After holding his house against Stewart's men, the Earl was taken and carried to Edinburgh. The other Lords, his allies, failed and fled. Gowrie was brought to trial. He had a pardon for the Raid of Ruthven, he had done nothing ostensible in the recent rising, which followed his capture at Dundee. Nevertheless he was tried, condemned, executed, and forfeited. There exists a manuscript of the date, which, at least, shows what Gowrie's friends thought of the method by which his conviction was procured. Arran and Sir Robert Melville, it is said, visited him in prison, and advised him to make his peace with James. How was that to be done? Gowrie entreated for the kind offices of Melville and Arran. They advised him to write to the King confessing that he had been in several conspiracies against his person which he could reveal in a private interview. 'I should confess an untruth,' said Gowrie, 'and frame my own indictment.'

The letter, the others urged, being general, would move the King's curiosity: he would grant an interview, at which Gowrie might say that the letter was only an expedient to procure a chance of stating his own case.

Gowrie, naturally, rejected so perilous a practice.

'You must confess the foreknowledge of these things,' said Arran, 'or you must die.'

Gowrie replied that, if assured of his life, he would take the advice. Arran gave his word of honour that Gowrie should be safe. He wrote the letter, he received no answer, but was sent to Stirling. He was tried, nothing was proved against him, and Arran produced his letter before the Court. Gowrie was called, confessed to his handwriting, and told the tale of Arran's treachery, which he repeated to the people from the scaffold.

This is, briefly, the statement of a newsletter to England, written, as usual, against the Government, and in the Protestant interest. {121a} A manuscript in the British Museum gives a somewhat different version. {121b} One charge against Gowrie, we learn, was that of treasonable intercommuning with Hume of Godscroft, an envoy of the Earl of Angus, who, before Gowrie's arrest, was arranging a conspiracy. This charge was perfectly true. Godscroft, in his History of the Douglases (ii. 317-318), describes the circumstances, and mentions the very gallery whose door resisted Lennox and Mar on August 5, 1600. Godscroft rode from the Earl of Angus to Gowrie in his house at Perth. 'Looking very pitifully upon his gallery, where we were walking at that time, which he had but newly built and decored with pictures, he brake out into these words, having first fetched a deep sigh. "Cousin" says he, "is there no remedy? Et impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit? Barbarus has segetes?" Whereupon Godscroft was persuaded of his sincerity, and at his return persuaded the Earl of Angus thereof also.' So the plot went on, Gowrie pretending that he meant to leave the country, says his accomplice, Godscroft, while both the Court and the conspirators were uncertain as to his trimming intentions. He trimmed too long; he was taken, the plot exploded and failed. Gowrie was thus within the danger of the law, for treasonably concealing foreknowledge of the conspiracy.

According to the British Museum MS., Gowrie now told the jury that he was being accused on the strength of his own letter, treacherously extorted under promise of life, by Montrose, Doune, Maitland, Melville, Colonel Stewart, and the Captain of Dumbarton, not by Arran. In Gowrie's letter of confession, to the King, as printed by Spottiswoode, he does not mention Godscroft, but another intriguer, Erskine. However, in this letter he certainly confesses his concern with the conspiracy. But, says the MS., the nobles charged by Gowrie with having betrayed him under promise of life denied the accusations on oath. Gowrie himself, according to another copy of the MS., denied knowing Hume of Godscroft; if he did, he spoke untruly, teste Godscroft.

However matters really stood, the Earl's friends, at all events, believed that he had been most cruelly and shamefully betrayed to the death, and, as the King was now eighteen, they would not hold him guiltless.

These were not the only wrongs of the Ruthvens. While the power of Arran lasted (and it was, on the whole, welcome to James, though he had moments of revolt), the family of Ruthven was persecuted. The widow of Gowrie was a daughter (see Appendix A) of Henry Stewart, Lord Methven, who, as a young man, had married Margaret, sister of Henry VIII, widow of James IV, and divorced from the Earl of Angus. As this lady, our Gowrie's mother, knelt to implore the pity of James in the street after her Lord's death, Arran pushed her aside, and threw her down. He received the Earl's forfeited estate and castle of Dirleton, near North Berwick.

In October 1585, Arran fell, in his turn; Angus, Mar, and others drove him into retirement. James acquiesced; his relations with the house of Mar remained most friendly. The house of Ruthven was now restored to its lands and dignities, in 1586, the new Earl being James, who died in early youth. He was succeeded by his brother, the Gowrie of our tragedy, who was born about 1577. He had many sisters; the eldest, Mary, married the Earl of Atholl, a Stewart, in January 1580. Lady Gowrie was thus mother-in-law of the Earl of Atholl, who died at Gowrie House in August 1594. Her grand-daughter, Dorothea (daughter of Atholl and Mary Ruthven, sister of our Gowrie), in 1604 married that young Tullibardine who was in Perth at the tragedy of August 5, 1600. Lady Atholl is said to have opposed the marriage. Another sister of Gowrie, Sophia, married (before 1600, she was dead by that time) the Duke of Lennox who was at the slaughter of the Ruthvens. Another sister, Beatrix, was Maid of Honour to James's Queen, and later married Hume of Cowdenknowes; hence come the Earls of Home. Gowrie had two younger brothers, Patrick and William, who fled to England from his castle of Dirleton, the day after the tragedy, and were forfeited and persecuted by James; Patrick was long imprisoned in the Tower.

The new Earl, John, the victim of 1600, does not come into public notice till 1592, when he was elected Provost of Perth. He went to Edinburgh University; his governor was the respected Mr. Rollock. Here a curious fact occurs. On August 12, 1593, young Gowrie read his thesis for his Master's degree. Three weeks earlier, on July 24, the wild Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, had captured, in Holyrood, his King, who was half dressed and untrussed. James at the time was suspected of favouring the Catholic Earls of the North, Huntly, Errol, and a new unpresbyterian Angus. The King was on ill terms with the Kirk; England had secretly abetted Bothwell; the clan of Stewart, including Lennox, lent aid and countenance, _but Bothwell's _success was due to Gowrie's mother_, the widow of the decapitated Earl, and to his sister, Lady Atholl. Bothwell entered Lady Gowrie's house, adjoining the palace, spent the night there, stole into Holyrood by a passage-way left open by Lady Atholl, and appeared before the King, sword in hand, when his Majesty was half dressed. Meanwhile our Gowrie, reading for his thesis, may not have been uninterested in the plot of his mother and sister. This was, in a way, the second successful Ruthven plot to seize the King; the first was the Raid of Ruthven. The new success was not enduring. James shook off Bothwell in September 1593, and, in October, Gowrie's brother-in-law Atholl, with our Gowrie himself, entered into alliance with Bothwell against King James, and offered their services to Queen Elizabeth.

James moved out against Atholl, Gowrie, and the Master of Montrose, who were at Castle Doune, intending to join hands with Bothwell, and seize the King. But Bothwell found the plan impracticable: Atholl fled; Gowrie and the Master of Montrose were pursued and taken. No harm was done to them: their excuses were accepted, but young Gowrie and Atholl continued to conspire. In April, 1594, Atholl, signing for himself and Gowrie, and Bothwell, signing for his associates, wrote a manifesto to the Kirk. They were in arms, they said, for Protestant purposes, and wished commissioners from among the preachers to attend them, and watch their proceedings. {126} Bothwell then took action, he made a demonstration in arms against Edinburgh, but the forces of Atholl and Gowrie did not arrive and Bothwell retreated. Atholl was threatened for this affair, but pardoned by the King, and died in August.

In the same month Gowrie informed the Town Council of Perth that he was going to study abroad. They retained him in the position of Provost. He went, with his tutor, Mr. Rhynd, to Padua, an university where Protestantism was protected by the toleration of the Republic of Venice, and where there was an Anglo-Scottish 'Nation' among the students. In 'The Return from Parnassus,' a satirical play of 1601, we find Gullio, the admirer of Shakespeare, professing to have studied at Padua. Gowrie is said to have been elected Rector, but I cannot find his name in the lists. He does appear in the roll of Scottish scholars, some of them characterised (unlike the English scholars) by personal marks. Most have scars on the face or hand; Archibald Douglas has a scar on the brow from left to right. James Lindsay, of Gowrie's year (1596-1597), has also a scar on his brow. Next him is Andrew Keith, with a scar on his right hand, and then Dominus Ioannes Ruthuen, Scotus, cum signo albo in mento, 'with a white mark on his chin.' Then we have his luckless tutor, Mr. Rhynd, who was tortured, Scotus cum ledigine super facie. Robert Ker of Newbattle ('Kerrus de Heubattel') is another of Gowrie's college companions. All were students of law. Magic was not compulsory at Padua, though Gowrie was said to have studied that art. {127a}

Concerning Gowrie's behaviour at Padua but a single circumstance is known. Probably through one of his fellow-students, Douglas, Ker, Keith, Lindsay or another, the report reached Scotland that the young Earl had left in Padua 'a strange relique,' an emblematic figure emblazoned; and had made, on the subject, a singular remark. The emblematic figure represented 'a blackamoor reaching at a crown with a sword, in a stretched posture:' the remark of Gowrie, 'the Earl's own mot,' was to the effect that the emblem displayed, in umbra, or foreshadowed, what was to be done in facto. This emblem was secured at Padua, in 1609, by Sir Robert Douglas, who had heard of it in Scotland, and it was sent to King James. {127b} If such ideas were in Gowrie's mind, he showed no signs of them in an early correspondence with the King. In 1595, James wrote 'a most loving letter' to Gowrie; the Earl replied in a tone of gratitude. At the same time Gowrie wrote to a preacher in Perth, extolling the conduct of an English fanatic, who had thrown down and trampled on the Host, at Rome. He hoped, he said, when he returned to Scotland, 'to amend whatever is amiss for lack of my presence.' {128a} Nevertheless, on December 25, 1598, Nicholson informed Cecil that Gowrie had been converted to Catholicism. {128b} In the Venice despatches and Vatican transcripts I find no corroboration. Gowrie appears to have visited Rome; the Ruthven apologist declares that he was there 'in danger for his religion.' Galloway, on August 11, 1600, in presence of the King and the people of Edinburgh, vowed that Gowrie, since his return from Italy, had laboured to make James 'revolt from Religion, at least in inward sincerity, to entertain purpose with the Pope, and he himself promised to furnish intelligence.'

If so, Gowrie was, indeed, 'a deep dissimulate hypocrite.'

Galloway's informant must have been the King. If Gowrie did or said anything to colour the story, it may have been for the purpose of discovering, by pretending to approve of them, these intrigues with Rome, of which James was constantly being accused.

A new complexity is added here, by a list of Scottish Catholic nobles, ready to join an invading Spanish force, which the Earl of Bothwell handed in to Philip III. of Spain, at a date not absolutely certain. At a time conjectured at by Major Hume, as 1600, Bothwell laid before the Spanish ministry a scheme for an invasion of Scotland. He made another more elaborate proposal at a date which, to all seeming, was July 1601. In the appended list of Scottish Catholic nobles appear the names of the Earl of Gowrie, and of 'Baron Rastellerse,' that is, Logan of Restalrig. But, in 1601, there was no Earl of Gowrie; the title was extinct, the lands were forfeited, and Gowrie's natural heir, William Ruthven, his brother, was a poor student at Cambridge. Could Bothwell refer to him, who was no Catholic? Can he have handed in (in 1601) an earlier list of 1600, without deleting the name of the dead Gowrie? As to Gowrie's real creed, Bothwell must have known the truth, through Home, a reluctant convert to Presbyterianism, who went from Paris to Brussels to meet Bothwell, leaving Gowrie in Paris, just before Home and Gowrie openly, and, as it was said, Bothwell secretly, returned to Scotland in April 1600. Was the Gowrie conspiracy a Bothwellian plot? {129a}

We know little more about Gowrie, after his letters of 1595, till, on August 18, 1599, Colville reports to Cecil that the party of the Kirk (who were now without a leader among the greater nobles) intend to summon home the Earl. {129b} He is said to have stayed for three months at Geneva with Beza, the famous reformer, who was devoted to him. He was in Paris, in February and March 1600. The English ambassador, Neville, recommended Gowrie to Cecil, as 'a man of whom there may be exceeding good use made.' Elizabeth and Cecil were then on the worst terms with James. At Paris, Gowrie would meet Lord Home, who, as we have said and shall prove in a later connection, had an interview with the exiled Bothwell, still wandering, plotting and threatening descents on Scotland (p. 206).

On April 3, Gowrie was in London. {130a} He was very well received; 'a cabinet of plate,' it is said, was given to him by Elizabeth; what else passed we do not know. In May Gowrie returned to Scotland, and rode into Edinburgh among a cavalcade of his friends. According to Sir John Carey, writing to Cecil, from Berwick, on May 29, James displayed jealousy of Gowrie, 'giving him many jests and pretty taunts,' on his reception by Elizabeth, and 'marvelling that the ministers met him not.' {130b} Calderwood adds a rumour that James, talking of Gowrie's entry to Edinburgh, said, 'there were more with his father when he went to the scaffold.' Again, as the Earl leaned on the King's chair at breakfast, James talked of dogs and hawks, and made an allusion to the death of Riccio, in which Gowrie's father and grandfather took part.

These are rumours; it is certain that the King (June 20) gave Gowrie a year's respite from pursuit of his creditors, to whom he was in debt for moneys owed to him by the Crown, expenditure by the late Earl of Gowrie when in power (1583). {131a} It is also certain that Gowrie opposed the King's demands for money, in a convention of June 21. {131b} But so did Lord President Fyvie, who never ceased to be James's trusted minister, and later, Chancellor, under the title of Earl of Dunfermline. Calderwood reports that, after Gowrie's speech, Sir David Murray said, 'Yonder is an unhappy man; they are but seeking occasion of his death, which now he has given.' This is absurd: Fyvie and the Laird of Easter Wemyss opposed the King as stoutly, and no harm followed to them; Fyvie rising steadily (and he had opposed the King yet more sturdily before) to the highest official position.

Calderwood adds a silly tale of Dr. Herries. Beatrix Ruthven laughed at his lame leg; he looked in her palm, and predicted a great disaster. The same anecdote, with, of course, another subject, is told of Gowrie's own prediction that a certain man would come to be hanged, which was fulfilled. Gowrie had been at Perth, before the convention at Holyrood of June 21. To Perth he returned; thence, some time in July (about the 20th), {131c} he went to his castle of Strabran, in Atholl, to hunt. Whether his brother the Master remained with him continuously till the Earl's return to Perth on Saturday, August 2, I know not how to ascertain. If there is anything genuine in the plot-letters produced eight years later, the Master once or twice visited Edinburgh in July, but that may have been before going to Strabran.

Concerning the Master, a romantic story of unknown source, but certainly never alluded to in the surviving gossip of the day, was published, late in the eighteenth century, by Lord Hailes. 'A report is handed down that Lord Gowrie's brother received from the Queen a ribbon which she had got from the King, that Mr. Alexander went into the King's garden at Falkland on a sultry hot day, and lay down in a shade, and fell asleep. His breast being open, the King passed that way and discovered part of the ribbon about his neck below his cravat, upon which he made quick haste into the palace, which was observed by one of the Queen's ladies who passed the same way. She instantly took the ribbon from his neck, went a near way to the Queen's closet, where she found her Majesty at her toilet, whom she requested to lay the ribbon in a drawer.' James entered, and asked to be shown the ribbon. The Queen produced it, and James retired, muttering, 'Devil tak' me, but like is an ill mark.'

Legend does not say when, or in what year this occurred. But the fancy of authors has identified the Queen's lady with Beatrix Ruthven, and has added that the Master, in disgrace (though undetected), retired with Gowrie to Strabane, or Strabran. History has no concern with such fables. It is certain, however, or at least contemporary letters aver, that Queen Anne of Denmark was grieved and angered by the slaying of the Gowries. On October 21, 1600, Carey, writing to Cecil from Woodrington, mentions this, and the tattle to the effect that, as the Queen is about to have a child (Charles I.), 'she shall be kept as prisoner ever after.' Was the Master supposed to be father of the Queen's child? Carey goes on, 'There is a letter found with a bracelet in it, sent from the Queen to the Earl of Gowrie, to persuade him to leave his country life and come to Court, assuring him that he should enjoy any contents that Court could afford.' {133} Can some amorous promise underlie this, as in the case of Mr. Pickwick's letter to Mrs. Bardell, about the warming-pan? 'This letter the King hath,' says Carey. Was it with Gowrie, not the Master, that the Queen was in love? She was very fond of Beatrix Ruthven, and would disbelieve in the guilt of her brothers; hence these tears and that anger of the Queen.

But James also, says Calderwood, was as anxious as Carey declares that the Queen was, to bring Gowrie to Falkland. 'When the Earl was in Strabran, fifteen days before the fact, the King wrote sundry letters to the Earl, desiring him to come and hunt with him in the wood of Falkland; which letters were found in my Lord's pocket, at his death, as is reported, but were destroyed.' {134a}

So James was not jealous; both he and the Queen were inviting Gowrie to their country house, the Queen adding the gift of a bracelet. She may have worked it herself, like the bracelet which Queen Mary is said to have sent to Bothwell.

All this is the idlest gossip. But it is certain that, on one occasion, at the end of July, 'close letters' were sent from the Court at Edinburgh to Atholl and Gowrie; and, later, to Inchaffray and the Master, the first three are in Bothwell's list of Catholics ready to meet the Spanish invaders. The fact of the letters appears from the Treasurer's accounts, where the money paid to the boy who carried the letters is recorded, without dates of the days of the month. The boy got 33 shillings, Scots, for the journey from Edinburgh to the Earls of Gowrie and Atholl; 24 for the other two, which he carried from Falkland. Craigengelt, in his deposition, 'denies that during my Lord's being in Strabran, neither yet in Perth, after his coming from Strabran, he knew any man or page to come from Court to my Lord, or that he commanded to give them any meat or drink.' {134b}

No conclusion as to James's guilt can be drawn, either from the fact that he wrote to Atholl, Inchaffray, the Master, and Gowrie at the end of July, or from the circumstance that Craigengelt professed to know nothing about any messenger. James might write to ask the Earl to hunt, we cannot guess what he had to say, at the same time, to Atholl or Inchaffray or the Master. He may even have written about the affair of the Abbey of Scone, if it is true that the Master wished to get it from his brother. We really cannot infer that, as the Ruthvens would not come and be killed, when invited, at Falkland, James went to kill them at Perth. Even if he summoned the Master for August 5, intending to make it appear that the Master had asked him to come to Perth, the Master need not have arrived before seven in the morning, when the King went and hunted for four hours. What conceivable reason had the Master, if innocent, for leaving Perth at 4 A.M. and visiting his sovereign at seven in the morning?

As to the coming of the Gowries to Perth from Strabran or Strabane before the tragedy, we only know what Craigengelt stated. His language is not lucid.

'Depones that, my Lords being in Strabrand, Alexander Ruthven' (a kinsman) 'came from Dunkeld to my Lord. And that upon Friday (August 1) my Lord commanded Captain Ruthven to ride, and tell my Lady' (Gowrie's mother), 'that he was to come, and Captain Ruthven met my Lord at the ferry-boat, and rode back to Dunkeld with my Lord, where he' (Gowrie) 'having supped, returned to his bed at Trochene, the deponer being in his company.'

Where, at the end of July, was Lady Gowrie? Was she within a day's ride of her sons? Was she at Perth? We know that she was at Dirleton Castle, near North Berwick, on August 6. Had she left the neighbourhood of Perth between the 1st and 5th of August? Captain Ruthven seems to have ridden to Lady Gowrie, and back again to Dunkeld with Gowrie. If so (and I can make no other sense of it), she was in Perthshire on August 1, and went at once to Dirleton. Did she keep out of the way of the performances of August 5?

It is curious that no apologist for Gowrie, as far as I have observed, makes any remark on this perplexing affair of 'my Lady.' We know that she had once already set a successful trap for the King. He had not punished her; he took two of her daughters, Barbara and Beatrix, into his household; and restored to Gowrie his inheritance of the lands of Scone, which, as we know, had been held by his father. He had written a loving letter to Gowrie at Padua, after the young man had for many months been conspiring against him with his most dangerous enemy, the wild Earl of Bothwell.

On the morning of the fatal August 5, Gowrie went to sermon. What else he did, we learn from John Moncrieff, who was the Earl's cautioner, or guarantee, for a large sum due by him to one Robert Jolly. {137} He was also brother of Hew Moncrieff, who fled after having been with Gowrie in arms, against Herries, Ramsay, and Erskine. Both Moncrieffs, says John, were puzzled when they found that the Master had ridden from Perth so early in the morning. Gowrie, says Moncrieff, did not attend the Town Council meeting after church; he excused himself on account of private affairs. He also sent away George Hay who was with him on business when Henderson arrived from Falkland, saying that he had other engagements. For the same reason, he, at first, declined to do a piece of business with Moncrieff, who dined with him and two other gentlemen. 'He made him to misknow all things,' that is affected to take no notice, when Andrew Ruthven came in, and 'rounded to him' (whispered to him) about the King's approach. Then the Master entered, and Gowrie went out to meet the King.

The rest we know, as far as evidence exists.

[Picture: Queen Anne of Denmark]

We now have all the essential facts which rest on fairly good evidence, and we ask, did the Ruthvens lay a plot for the King, or did the King weave a web to catch the Ruthvens? Looking first at character and probable motives, we dismiss the gossip about the amorous Queen and the jealous King. The tatlers did not know whether to select Gowrie or the Master as the object of the Queen's passion, or whether to allege that she had a polyandrous affection for both at once. The letters of the age hint at no such amour till after the tragedy, when tales of the liaison of Anne of Denmark with the elder or younger Ruthven, or both, arose as a myth to account for the events. The Queen, no doubt, was deeply grieved in a womanly way for the sake of her two maidens, Beatrix and Barbara Ruthven. Her Majesty, also in a womanly way, had a running feud with Mar and the whole house of Erskine. To Mar, certainly one of the few men of honour as well as of rank in Scotland, James had entrusted his son, Prince Henry; the care of the heir to the Crown was a kind of hereditary charge of the Erskines. The Queen had already, in her resentment at not having the custody of her son, engaged in one dangerous plot against Mar; she made another quarrel on this point at the time (1603) when the King succeeded to the crown of England. Now Mar was present at the Gowrie tragedy, and his cousin, Sir Thomas Erskine, took part in the deeds. Hating the Erskines, devoted to the Ruthven ladies, and always feebly in opposition to her husband, the Queen, no doubt, paraded her grief, her scepticism, and her resentment. This was quite in keeping with her character, and this conduct lent colour to the myth that she loved Gowrie, or the Master, or both, par amours. The subject is good for a ballad or a novel, but history has nothing to make with the legend on which Mr. G. P. R. James based a romance, and Mr. Pinkerton a theory.

Leaving fable for fact, what motives had James for killing both the Ruthvens? He had dropped the hereditary feud, and had taken no measures against the young Earl to punish his conspiracies with Bothwell in 1593-1594. Of Gowrie, on his return to Scotland in May, he may have entertained some jealousy. The Earl had been for months in Paris, caressed by the English ambassador, and probably, as we have seen, in touch with the exiled and ceaselessly conspiring Bothwell. In London the Earl had been well received by Elizabeth, and by Lord Willoughby, who, a year earlier, as Governor of Berwick, had insulted James by kidnapping, close to Edinburgh, an English gentleman, Ashfield, on a visit to the King's Court. Guevara, a cousin of Lord Willoughby, lured Ashfield into the coach of the English envoy Bowes, and drove him to the frontier. Lord Willoughby had a swift yacht lying off Leith, in case it was thought better to abduct Ashfield by sea. This is an example of English insolence to the Scottish King—also of English kidnapping—and Lord Willoughby, the manager, had made friends with Gowrie in England.

Thus James, who was then on the worst terms, short of open war, with England, may have suspected and disliked the Earl, who had once already put himself at the service of Elizabeth, and might do so again. In the April of 1600, rumours of a conspiracy by Archibald Douglas, the infamous traitor; Douglas of Spot, one of Morton's brood, and John Colville—who, with Bothwell and, later, independently, had caught James, had tried to catch him, and proposed to Essex to catch him again,—were afloat. Colville was in Paris at the same time as Gowrie; Bothwell was reported to have come secretly to Scotland in April or May, and this combination of facts or rumours may have aroused the King's mistrust. Again, the Kirk was restive; the preachers, in need of a leader, were said by Colville to have summoned Gowrie home. {140a} Moreover there were persons about James—for example, Colonel Stewart—who had reason to dread the Earl's vengeance for his father. The Ruthven Apologist mentions this fact, and the predilection of the Kirk for Gowrie, among the motives for destroying him.

Once more there are hints, very vague, that, in 1593, Bothwell aimed at changing the dynasty. {140b} The fable that Gowrie was a maternal grandson of Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV, by Henry Stewart, Lord Methven, her third husband, and that Gowrie was thus a candidate for the succession to the English throne, perhaps also for the hand of Arabella Stuart, may conceivably have existed. (Compare Appendix A.) Again, Gowrie had sided with the burgesses and minor barons, as against the nobles, by refusing a grant of money to James, in the convention of June 1600, and James owed money to Gowrie, as he did to most people. But we have already seen that an exemption had been granted to Gowrie for a year from pursuit of creditors, as far, that is, as regarded his father's debts (80,000l. Scots), (June 20, 1600). The College of Justice refused to grant any new legal summonses of creditors against Gowrie, and suspended all that were extant.

Mr. Barbe accuses the King of 'utter and unblushing disregard for common truth and common honesty.' Be this as it may, the exemption granted to Gowrie was not regarded by his father's creditors as extending to his mother, after his dishonoured death. On November 1, 1600, Lady Gowrie implored Elphinstone, the Secretary, to bring her suit for relief before the King. The security for these debts was on her 'conjunct fee lands,' and creditors, because, I suppose, the Gowrie estates were about to be forfeited, pressed Lady Gowrie, who, of course, had no exemption. We know nothing as to the success of Lady Gowrie's petition, but we have seen that her daughters married very well. I presume that Gowrie, not his mother, had previously paid interest on the debts, 'he had already paid many sums of money.' James had already restored to Gowrie the valuable lands of Scone. {142}

However, taking things as the King's adversaries regard them, the cumulative effect of these several grudges (and of the mystery of Gowrie's Catholicism) would urge James to lay his very subtle plot. He would secretly call young Ruthven to Falkland by six in the morning of August 5, he would make it appear that Ruthven had invited him to Perth, he would lure the youth to a turret, managing to be locked in with him and an armed man; he would post Ramsay below the turret window, and warn him to run up the dark staircase at the King's cry of treason. By the locked door he would exclude Lennox and Mar, while his minions would first delay Gowrie's approach, by the narrow stairs, and then permit him to enter with only one companion, Cranstoun. He would cause a report of his own departure to be circulated, exactly at the right moment to bring Gowrie under the turret window, and within reach of his cries. This plot requires the minutest punctuality, everything must occur at the right moment, and all would have been defeated had Gowrie told the truth about the King's departure, or even asked 'Where is the King's horse?' Or Gowrie might have stood in the streets of Perth, and summoned his burgesses in arms. The King and the courtiers, with their dead man, would have been beleaguered, without provisions, in Gowrie's house. Was James the man, on the strength of the grudges which we have carefully enumerated, to risk himself, unarmed, in this situation? As to how he managed to have the door locked, so as to exclude the majority of his suite, who can conjecture? How, again, did he induce Gowrie to aver, and that after making inquiry, that he had ridden homewards?

I cannot believe that any sane man or monarch, from the motives specified, would or could have laid, and that successfully, the plot attributed to the King.

Turning to Gowrie, we find that his grudges against James may have been deep and many. If revengeful, he had the treacherous method of his father's conviction, and the insults to his mother, to punish. For a boy of seventeen he had already attempted a good deal, in 1593-1594. His mother had set him an example of King-catching, and it looks as if his mother had been near him in Perth, while he was at Strabane. If ambitious, and devoted to Elizabeth and England (as he had been), Gowrie had motives for a new Raid of Ruthven, the unceasing desire of the English Government. He might, if successful, head a new administration resting on the support of England and the Kirk. Such a change was due in the natural course of things. Or, quite the reverse, if a secret Catholic he might hand the King over to Bothwell.

Thus Gowrie may well have wished to revenge his father; his mother had once already helped to betray James to an attack of the most insulting nature; he himself was strong for the Kirk, over which James was playing the despot; or, he desired toleration for Catholics; he had been well received in England, where all such plots—their name was legion—had always been fostered; he was very young, and he risked everything. Only his method was new—that of strict secrecy. He had previously spoken to Mr. Cowper, minister of Perth, in a general way, about the failure of plots for lack of deep secrecy, and through the admission of too many confederates. Cowper told this to Spottiswoode, at Falkland. Mr. Rhynd, Gowrie's tutor, told Cowper and the Comptroller, 'unrequired' (not under torture, nor in answer to a question under examination), that Gowrie, when abroad, several times said that 'he was not a wise man that, having the execution of a high and dangerous purpose, communicated the same to any but himself.'

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