Andrew Lang.

A history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) online

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paid a visit to Bothwell at Brussels, and came back to Scotland
in April 18, incurring James's displeasure for "trysting with Both-
well." '' In Paris also was the desperate intriguer, John Colville.
To Neville, the English Ambassador at Paris, Gowrie seemed a
useful agent for Elizabeth (February 27, 1600). " He was well
affected to religion and her majesty " ; he was to be received with
honour and favour. " You will find him to be a man of whom
there may be exceeding good use made J' ^ Now, a very useful Scot, in
Cecil's and Elizabeth's opinion, was most undeniably a Scot who
would capture James's person.

By April Gowrie was in London. At the English court he
resided for over a month (April-May 1600) on the friendliest terms
with Elizabeth, and treated like a prince of the blood, says tradition.
Lie made the acquaintance of Lord Willoughby, governor of

Angry with James as to the succession, suspecting his intrigue
with Essex, aware of the dim traffickings between Scotland and
Rome (wildly exaggerated by Bothwell's ally, the spy Colville),
Elizabeth in May seized at Hull a consignment of muskets intended
for the Scottish king.^ On April 20, Gowrie being then in Eng-
land, Nicholson reported from Holyrood the king's dissatisfaction
with the peace between England and Spain, and rumours of a
conspiracy by Douglas of Spot, Colville, and Archibald Douglas.^**
James was especially " discontented " with Nicholson himself, and
his great desire was that a convention should grant him money for
warlike preparations,^^ perhaps to demonstrate in favour of Essex's
contemplated conspiracy.

Towards the middle of May Gowrie had returned to Scotland
amid great rejoicings of welcome. It is an obvious conjecture that


Robert Cecil, Elizabeth, and Willoughby, in England, with any
malcontents of the Scottish Kirk party, may, or rather must, have
pointed out to Gowrie the path already indicated to him by
religious prepossession, ambition, and revenge. True religion
required the aid of an enemy of idolatry, like Gowrie, against a
king who was trafficking with the Scarlet Woman that sitteth on
the Seven Hills, and " stramping " on the Kirk. We know that the
name of Ruthven and its allies were still hankering to avenge
the death of " Greysteil " that Gowrie executed in 1584; at least,
Colonel Stewart, who had taken part in his fall, showed a sudden
desire to be employed by Elizabeth in Ireland as soon as young
Gowrie came home. But the Earl seemed to be on the friendliest
terms with James, who liked learned talk with a young scholar home
from Italy.

We think of the king and his discourse, in Latin, with " Glen-
varlochides," Nigel Ohphant, in the " Fortunes of Nigel." But
Gowrie had been rather too well received by Elizabeth, with whom
James was so enraged. According to Carey, writing to Cecil
(May 29), the king gave Gowrie "many jests and pretty taunts"
about "the great conference held with the queen's majesty, and
that he had been offered some gold." The Earl said that he owed
her kindness to her affection for James, and that he " had gold
enough for himself." He had not ; for James owed him money
for his father's outlay when governor of Scotland, and Gowrie was
pressed by creditors. James gave him a year's grace as to his
father's creditors, and promised one day to pay him.^^ In banter
" the king marvelled that the ministers met him not " when he
entered Edinburgh ; and Calderwood reports other taunting or
tactless speeches — for example, as to Riccio's murder.^^

The sisters of Gowrie were maids of honour to the queen, and
Alexander Ruthven, his brother, made suit to be a gentleman of the
bedchamber, but his suit was not accepted. Tattle alleged alter-
nately that the queen was in love with the young Ruthven or with
Gowrie. It is needless to dwell on such idle gossip. By the end
of May Gowrie retired to his town house at Perth, a chateau with
a garden sloping to the Tay. Nicholson, reporting this fact,
announced impending storms which Gowrie might intend to avoid
(May 27).^*

A convention was to have been held in June, but the murder
of the Border Warden, Sir John Carmichael, by the Armstrongs,


caused it to be postponed for some days.^^ On June 29 Nicholson
reported the meeting of the convention, and the speech in which
the king demanded money, with a view to securing his succession
and " honourable entering to the crown of England after the death of
the queen." Nothing could have been more cruelly tactless, more
apt to anger Elizabeth ; and an arrangement with Essex was prob-
ably in the mind of the king. The Lord President, Seton, lately
one of the Octavians, a man of upright and resolute character,
skilled in finance, opposed the king's demands. It was insane for
a small, poor country like Scotland to hope to win by arms what
could only be gained by consent of the English people. This was
true ; but it also seems that if, on the death of Elizabeth, Protestant
England was for James, Catholic England for the Infanta, James
ought to be in a position to help his own faction. But the Scots
never would endure taxation for military purposes. They reckoned
their feudal levies potent enough, and while the king had no money
and no " waged men " they were always masters of the king. This
policy had caused many disasters in war, and many sanguinary
revolutions. Mary herself only acquired a small guard of mus-
keteers in consequence of the murder of Riccio and the danger to
her person.

James, as we saw, had lately admitted the barons, or lairds, to
Parliament. They and the burgess members were now as recalci-
trant about taxation as if they had been English knights of the
shires. They offered James their swords when they were needed,
and, on condition that he should never tax them again, about
p^4ooo, at most (^40,000 Scots). James refused, and demanded
100,000 crowns to be paid by 1000 persons. Gowrie replied in a
speech reported by Nicholson. James was dishonouring himself by
his demands, and his people by laying bare their poverty. James
angrily replied he could call a Parliament and disenfranchise the
lairds as easily as he had enfranchised them-^a pretty example of
the constitutional value of a Scottish Parliament. The laird of
Easter Wemyss retorted that they had paid for their seats, and
would have the seats conferred on them in 1587. The conven-
tion broke up, and Robert Cecil learned, from a cyphered and
anonymous despatch, that James " intends not to tarry upon her
majesty's death, but take time so soon as without peril he can."
This message was probably a piece of mere mischief-making.

The Government was bitterly in need of money. Nicholson again


and again refers to the poverty prevailing. The islands were (as is
shown later, in an account of Highland affairs) unusually turbulent.
The king had intended to conduct an expedition himself to take
order with Kintyre and Isla ; " but," writes Nicholson, " the ' rode '
to the isles is deferred on account ot the great scarcity in the
country" (July 22). At the same time James was gratified by the
recantation of his old enemy, John Colville, the spy and ally of
Bothwell. This man had either written a book against James's
legitimacy, or such a book had certainly been attributed to him.
For years he had been a spy half out of employment ; Cecil would
not pay. After 1598 he was abandoned by Essex. An exile in
France, this once earnest professor was now converted to
Catholicism. He wrote a recantation of the book attributed to
him against the king's legitimacy, and was reconciled to Archbishop
Eeaton in Paris. The recantation pleased the king ; but Colville
continued to spy for the English Ambassador in France, spied his
way to Rome, and begged of the Pope. He died, in deserved
poverty, not long afterwards. ^^

As we approach the Cowrie mystery, it may be observed that
Colville and other agents of his kind perpetually flattered Cecil and
the English ministers with promises to kidnap the king of Scot-
land. Such hopes are a regular element in their letters.

As to Colville, this needy, vindictive, and desperate man,
writing to Essex from Scotland on April 29, 15 98, makes the
following strange promise : " And for the service I mind to do, if
matters go to the worst, it shall be such, God willing, — if I lose
not my life in doing thereof, — as no other can do with a million of
gold, and yet I shall not exceed the bounds of humanity. But for
conscience' sake and worldly honesty I must first be absolved of
my natural allegiance." ^^ Colville has just been speaking evil of
James, and now he promises to do a desperate and treasonable deed,
" within the bounds of humanity " (that is, not involving murder), a
deed which only he can do. This means kidnapping the king.
He elsewhere drops a similar hint (October 20, 1598).^*^

We now draw near that fifth of August which James ever after-
wards kept as a public holiday in memory of his escape from the
Cowrie conspirators. Cowrie himself, with his brother, the Master,
was hunting in AthoU durin^ the latter part of July. His mother,
Lady Cowrie, was apparently at the town house of the family in
Perth.^® At the beginning of August the court moved from Holy-


rood to Falkland, a charming palace of the modern French chateau
order, unfortified, save for the strong round towers and the
gateways. In spite of time and restoration, Falkland is still,
perhaps, the best example of grace and comfort in a Scottish ro)'al
residence of great age. The park and woods were well suited for
sport, and in these woods, as we saw, Bothwell had once hoped to
trap the king along with his huntsmen.

It appears from the treasurer's accounts that, late in July,
letters were sent from the court, then at Edinburgh, to the
Earls of AthoU and Gowrie, and from Falkland to the Master of
Ruthven, and to Drummond, lay Abbot of Inchaffray. We know
nothing of the contents of these letters, which have been conjectured
about by writers on the mystery of the Gowrie conspiracy. We
learn, however, from an unpublished MS. that James had been
trying to induce Gowrie to resign the lands of Scone (of which James
had presented him with the rents for life) to his younger brother.-^
To this matter the letters may have referred ; nothing is known.
On one of the last days of July a kinsman of Gowrie, Alexander
Ruthven (the ancestor, in the female line, of the present house of
Ruthven), rode from Dunkeld to Gowrie's hunting lodge in Atholl
(Strabane). On Friday, August i, Gowrie sent Captain Ruthven from
Atholl to tell his mother that "he was to come," and the confused
language of his servant, Craigengelt, who deponed to this, makes it
probable that Lady Gowrie was then at Perth. If so, she left at once
for Gowrie's Castle of Dirleton, now a beautiful ruin near the sea hard
by North Berwick.^i To Dirleton — according to the contemporary
Vindication in MS., to Calderwood, and to Carey (writing to Cecil
from Berwick on August 11) — Gowrie himself intended to go on
August 5. Most of his men and all his provisions were there
already, says Carey ; but Gowrie never saw Dirleton again. -^

We now reach August 5, the day of the Gowrie tragedy. Some-
thing must first be said as to the evidence. It is vitiated, on the
king's side, by his theory that murder was intended against him by
the Ruthvens, whereas the plot, if plot there was, must have been
merely one out of scores of schemes for kidnapping the royal
person, and working a revolution in favour of England, the Kirk, or
Rome. Nothing was reckoned more constitutional. The evidence,
again, in the nature of the case, is mainly that of the king, and of
a mysterious personage, corroborated in part by James's retinue, and
by citizens of Perth and others, who were present. The opponents

VOL. II. 2 F


of James, contemporary or modern, discount this evidence, as a
rule, where it does not suit them. But the most important witnesses
declined, on the most essential points, to say things quite necessary
to the success of their cause, or even to stretch a point, where the
temptation was great and obvious. Again, the discrepancies
between the versions of the king, and of the other most important
witnesses, are so manifest, being publicly acknowledged by James
himself, that, on the theory of collusion, they could not have
occurred. The stories, if collusive, would have been brought into
harmony before they were laid before the world and a court of
justice. Of course, had this been done, opponents would have
called the very harmony suspicious. No two men can give
absolutely identical accounts of the same sudden, confused, and
startling occurrence, as daily experience proves.

Our earliest testimony as to the events of August 5 is Nicholson's
account of the letter written for the king to the chancellor and
others on the night of August 5. The substance of this letter was
orally narrated by the secretary to Nicholson at Edinburgh on the
morning of August 6. In such circumstances, where we have, first
a hasty letter, then an oral repetition of its tenor, and then that
tenor redescribed, absolute accuracy is impossible. But the account
is, essentially, that which James always gave.

We now turn to James's official version, a pamphlet sent by
Nicholson to Robert Cecil as early as September 3, 1600. This
version we can check by the depositions of witnesses. His majesty
says that he went out to hunt, in beautiful weather, between six and
seven in the morning. He and his suite were clad in green — the
king, as we know to have been his custom, wearing a hunting-horn,
and no sword. The Master of Ruthven accosted him before he
mounted. Why was Ruthven at Falkland so early ? That he was
there the lay Abbot of Inchaffray, Drummond, with many others,
declared ; the abbot asked him to breakfast, but Ruthven declined.
To James, apart, Ruthven told how, the night before, he had caught
a fellow with a pot of gold, and, unknown even to Cowrie, had shut
him up in a private room,* " and locked many doors behind him."
James, after saying that he had no claim to the gold, was induced
to suspect that it was foreign gold (as Ruthven implied) brought in
for seditious purposes. He, therefore, said that he would send a

The word used is '"house," often equivalent to "room" in Scots, and so
employed elsewhere by James.


warrant to Gowrie and the bailies of Perth to examine the fellow^
and take care of the money. Ruthven repHed that the money, in
that case, would be ill counted, and insisted that James should
follow him at once. The king characteristically preferred to hunt
first, and discuss afterwards. James rode after the hounds ;
Ruthven remained, and despatched one Andrew Henderson, a
retainer of his family, who was with him, to tell Gowrie that James
could not be expected for three hours at least. This James tells
from report ; he saw no companions with Ruthven. Now the Abbot
of Inchaffray saw only Andrew Ruthven with Alexander Ruthven
after James rode away from Alexander. We do not find, in fact, that
any witness deponed to seeing Andrew Henderson at Falkland.

Here we must, for a moment, desert the king's narrative.
The point — Did young Ruthven send Henderson from Falkland
to Lord Gowrie at Perth with the message that the king was
coming ? — is of central importance. If Henderson, leaving Falkland
about seven, reached Gowrie about ten, then the visit of the
king did not take Gowrie by surprise. He had time to order
luncheon. This he did not do ; he appeared later to be sur-
prised by the king's arrival. If he really was surprised, then he
had not laid a plot to bring James to his house. But if Henderson
did ride about half-past seven from Falkland with the news of
James's coming, as he swore, and if he reached Gowrie about ten
o'clock, then Gowrie's failure to prepare for a royal guest, who came
at one o'clock, was meant as part of his pretence that James had
arrived uninvited. The inference must be that Gowrie was engaged
in some disloyal enterprise. And there was good evidence from
gentlemen of honour that Henderson did reach the Earl about ten
o'clock, and the modern defenders of the Ruthvens have to allege
that Henderson had not been at Falkland at all, but had only
ridden two or three miles out of Perth on some trivial errand, and
returned. But the contemporary MS. Vindication of the Ruthvens
alleges that Henderson really was at Falkland with Ruthven, and
did carry the message about the king's arrival. Why, then, did he
arrive, not at ten, but after noon ? This the contemporary apologist
answers by omitting the king's long hunting of some four hours —
seven to eleven — and making Henderson arrive in Perth about half-
past twelve. The evidence that he came to Gowrie about ten is
excellent ; and the contemporary apologist of the Ruthvens had no
scruples whatever in admitting his presence at Falkland.


The whole question is, Had James summoned Ruthven to Falk-
land before seven in the morning, and then pretended that Ruthven
had invited him to Perth? Or, did Ruthven invite James to
Perth, and warn Cowrie, by Henderson, of his success? while
Gowrie pretended not to have received any such news from
Henderson. The Ruthven apologist (1600), by admitting that
Henderson brought the news, while falsifying the hour of his arrival,
raises a very strong surmise in favour of the second alternative —
Gowrie was bringing the king to Perth for no good, and no
avowable purpose.

Returning to the king's narrative, he goes on to say that, during
a check, he sent some one to find Ruthven. To Ruthven he
announced his intention to ride to Gowrie's house when the hunt
was over. James was thrown out by this delay, but followed, and
they killed about eleven o'clock. Ruthven would not let him
stay to see the deer broken up {la curee), or wait for a second
horse, which was brought after him at a gallop, or even to put on
his sword. Lennox and Mar did wait for their second mounts (the
hunt ended close to the stables), and followed, though Ruthven
wished James to prevent them. His action made James think
Ruthven but dubiously sane ; and he whispered his doubts to
Lennox, who, at the trial, corroborated the king's statement. Lennox
" did not like" the story of the pot of gold, and James bade him
keep near his person whenever he went alone with Ruthven. But
Ruthven now insisted, says James, that the king should be alone
with him at the first view of the gold. James rode on, much
bewildered " between trust and distrust," he says. Ruthven then
sent Andrew Ruthven to warn Gowrie, and himself quitted the king
at a mile from Perth, and rode forward to see his brother. Gowrie
left his dinner when Ruthven arrived, and met James with some
sixty men (his apologist says, with two only) on the Inch. The
king had to wait long for his dinner, the cook having to beg for
grouse here, and mutton there, and eke out with pastry.

Gowrie, as we saw, had given out before that he was going to
Dirleton that evening, and had sent his " provisions " thither. This,
of course, confirmed Ruthven's story that Gowrie knew nothing of
his ride to bring the king, and was wholly unprepared. James
was impatient for a view of the gold, but Ruthven begged him to
say nothing in Gowrie's presence. During the delay one of the
retinue. Sir Thomas Erskine, sent his servant to the town to buy


him a pair of green silk hose to dine in comfortably.^^ At last
James dined, Gowrie standing in attendance with Ruthven, in a room
off the hall, and often leaving the chamber. In the hall the suite
were met, dropping in at intervals. At first they were thirteen in
all. Their dinner came later than James's, and Gowrie entered the
hall, bidding them drink " the king's scoll," or pledge. They all
then rose, and expected James ; but Gowrie said, " His majesty was
gone up quietly some quiet errand," — so Lennox, I^Iar, and others
averred. As soon as Gowrie left the inner room for the hall, James
bade Ruthven bring Sir Thomas Erskine, but Ruthven implored
James to come alone with him. The pair walked through the end
of the hall, and this was the last that his suite saw ot the king till
James, very red, bellowed "treason" and "murder" out of a turret

Meanwhile, just after James and Ruthven passed across the hall,
Gowrie led Lennox and others, but not Mar, who visited the room
where the king dined, into the garden beside the Tay. Here they
ate cherries, while Ruthven took James upstairs through three or
four rooms en suite, locking each door behind them. Later,
we only hear of resistance from one locked door, though two, at
least, were locked — one from the gallery into the chamber, one
from the chamber into the turret. That a man so nervous as
James permitted this may be explained by the circumstance that he
had dined. The Rev. Patrick Galloway averred that the doors
"checkit to" with some kind of spring lock (sermon of August
ii).2* At all events locked one door was, for the king's retinue,
later, could not force a way in, though they broke a hole in the door.
No critic questions that fact. If it is hard to see why James let
Ruthven lock the doors, it is impossible to believe that he locked
himself in alone with Ruthven, or that the porter, or James's page,
Ramsay, had been bribed to do it, as has been suggested. But
locked the doors were.

Finally, the pair reached the turret, off a chamber off the gallery.
This turret had a door which Ruthven locked. If the long gallery
had a door, that was not locked, but locked was the door between
the gallery and this chamber, and locked now was the door between
the chamber and the turret. Therein was nothing but a man
(namely, Andrew Henderson, as was later proved), said by James to
have worn a dagger, secret coat-of-mail, and "plate-sleeves."
Ruthven now put on his hat, drew the man's dagger, held the point


to the king, and " avowed that the king behoved to be at his will,
and do as he list."

James, according to his tale, behaved with great coolness (as
when Bothwell captured him in Holyrood), bade Ruthven uncover,
and promised to be absolutely secret about the whole affair if it
went no further. Ruthven was now in a dilemma. There was no
use in killing James, and, with a witness present who certainly would
not help him to bind James, what could he do ? According to the
system of secrecy (which Gowrie is said to have applauded, shortly
before, in talk with the Rev, Mr Cowper, who told Spottiswoode),
Henderson had not been prepared for his part. A healthy High-
lander or Borderer, of the Gowrie clientage, would either have aided
Ruthven (in which case James would have been trussed like a
chicken), or would have boldly taken the king's part. Henderson
merely trembled and murmured. Ruthven now lost his head. He
made James swear that he would not cry out or open the window,
and he left the turret, locking the door behind him. He said that
he would consult Gowrie, but that he found to be impossible
probably ; Henderson thought he lurked outside the door.

Gowrie, we saw, when James went upstairs, took Lennox and
others into the garden. While they were there, and while James
was upstairs, one Mr Thomas Cranstoun, a retainer of Gowrie,
approached them, saying that James had mounted, and was riding
through the Inch.

Cranstoun (who was tortured, tried, and hanged) admitted that he
did bring this " report and bruit," ^^ but in good faith. From that
moment Gowrie was fully occupied and surrounded by people.
Ruthven either found this out when he left James locked up in the
turret, or, more probably, suspected that he could not consult Gowrie,
and merely loitered about, confused and irresolute. James, mean-
while, finding that the armed man, by his confession, knew not
wherefore he was there, bade him open the turret window, which he
had promised not to do with his own hand. The man, as James
told him, opened the wrong window, not the window giving on the
gateway. Gowrie, in the garden, on hearing Cranstoun's message
that the king had ridden off, called for his horse, which, as Crans-
toun told him, was at Scone, twO' miles away.

The arrangement is obvious. It was to be said that the king
had ridden homeward, his suite would follow, and be out of the
way, Gowrie would not be able to accompany them (as was his duty).


because his horse, unluckily, was at Scone, across the Tay, about

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 47 of 60)