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

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two miles off to the east. This was well planned ; but here the
system of secrecy again proved fatal. The porter, Christie, not
trained in his part, denied that James could have ridden out, he
himself had the key of the back gate in his pocket, or at his girdle.
Cowrie give the porter the lie, and said that he would ascertain the

Now, at this point Cowrie's conduct is wholly incompatible with
innocence. We give the facts in the words of Lennox : " I am
sure," said Cowrie, " that the king is forth ; nevertheless, stay, my
Lord Duke, and I shall go up and get your lordship the verity and
truth thereof" And the said Earl of Cowrie passed up, and incon-
tinent came down again into the close, and he affirmed to the
deponent " that the king was forth at the back gate, and away." ^^
Inchaffray and Moncrief corroborated. Nicholson's letter of August 6
tells the same tale. It is impossible to doubt the fact. Cowrie
went up the great staircase, and returned once more, assuring the
gentlemen that the king had ridden away. Whether he met the
Master (which is improbable), or not. Cowrie deliberately lied.
Except on a theory of wholesale perjury by Lennox and others,
it is certain that Cowrie, after pretending to go and inquire, falsely
alleged that James had left his house. For this he could have only
one motive, to get the royal suite to ride off and leave James alone
to his fate. The lords then went to the front gate, and thence into
the street, awaiting their horses, and talking over the matter. Had
Cowrie not led to their arrival on that side of the house, the cries
which James presently raised would not have been heard by his

While these things were happening downstairs young Ruthven
had again rushed into the turret ; probably he had not seen his
brother ; probably he had been deliberating on his desperate situa-
tion. He declared that James must die ; but, instead of stabbing
him, tried to bind his hands with a garter later found on the floor
of the room. James snatched away his left hand and leaped free,
making for the turret window. Ruthven seized and tried to gag him
with his hand, but the window was pushed up, and the gentlemen
outside heard the king yell "Treason !" and saw his face very red,
and a hand at his mouth. Lennox, Mar, and others at once ran
into the house by the main front entry, and up the chief staircase,
but could not force the door which the Master had locked.


Soon, as they battered at the door, they heard a noise of fighting

The cause was this : while Ruthven and James fought and wrestled
in and out of the turret and adjoining chamber, young John Ramsay,
a page, hearing James's cries as he stood about the stable door, ran
up a small narrow winding stair, not noticed by the others, which
led into the chamber giving on the turret, and was nearer him than
the main door and great staircase. Either Henderson opened or
unlocked the door, or Ramsay drove open the door, and caught a
glimpse of a figure (Henderson) by the door, but took no heed of
it, as he found Ruthven and the king struggling. Ruthven was still
trying to gag James with his hand ; James had " got Ruthven's head
in chancery." James shouted, " Strike low, he has a secret mail
doublet," and set his foot on the hawk's leash ; Ramsay cast
loose the king's hawk, which was on his wrist, and struck high at
Ruthven's face and neck. James later admitted that he might have
bidden Ramsay spare Ruthven, but, as he said, " Man, I had neither
God nor devil before my eyes, but my own defence." He thrust
the wounded Ruthven down the steep cork-screw staircase, while
Ramsay, from the turret window, bade Sir Thomas Erskine come
up. Erskine, like the others, had heard the king's cry from the
window, he ran towards the house, and meeting Gowrie outside,
some distance from the front door, called him " traitor," and tried
to seize him. "What is the matter?" asked Gowrie. A crowd of
his retainers separated Erskine from him, and then Erskine heard
Ramsay's call from the turret window. Dr Hugh Harries (a man
lame from a club-foot), and another man, Wilson, ran with Erskine
up the narrow stair, stabbing young Ruthven to death as they passed.
They found James safe ; but Gowrie, with some of his men, including
Cranstoun, was close on their heels. There were now in the larger
chamber, which had a door opening into the turret, the king, Ramsay,
Harries, Erskine, and a servant named Wilson. As James had no
sword, his friends locked him into the turret and stood on guard.
Calderwood says that only Gowrie and Cranstoun fought against the
king's four men ; on the other side, the king's party averred that at
least seven other men were with Gowrie. Several witnesses later
saw some of them bleeding; they fled and would not appear
when summoned. They were two Ruthvens, two Moncriefs, and
one Eviot.

The position of James was now alarming. Only the door of the


turret separated him from the chamber where his four friends fought
six or eight of the Gowrie party, while the locked door between this
room and the gallery rang with hammer-strokes, dealt by whom?
That this really was James's situation, alone, locked up, a crowd
hammering at one door, an unequal fight swaying to and fro in the
chamber from which but a door separated him, is absolutely certain.
Was James the man to put himself in such a perilous place on the
off-chance that his friends might have the better of Cowrie's ? The
friends of this hypothesis also maintain, inconsistently, that James
was an abject coward.

The hammers rang, the swords clashed in the chamber next the
turret where the king stood alone. In the melee several men were
wounded on both sides, but Ramsay at last ran Gowrie through the
body. Most writers aver that Gowrie, hearing an opponent cry,
" You have slain the king," dropped his points (he had twin
swords in one scabbard), and that Ramsay then lunged at him.^'^
Gowrie fell dead, his retainers fled ; Ramsay and the others let
James out of his turret, and with a hammer passed by the Lennox
party through a broken panel opened the locked door, at which
Mar and Lennox with their men had vainly battered. Even now,
according to Lennox, some of the Gowrie faction struck under the
door (from the staircase) with halberts, and wounded one of the
Murrays who was with Lennox and the king. On hearing Lennox's
voice these assailants ran, and the king with his party, kneeling on
the bloody floor where the dead Gowrie lay, offered their thanks to

To suppose that James wilfully put himself within reach of these
perils as part of a plot to murder the Gowries, is to show extreme
credulity. How things were probably planned is plain enough.
Henderson should have helped Ruthven to master and gag James ;
the royal suite should have ridden off after their king, said to have
made for Falkland, then James would have been carried, perhaps on
horseback, down the north side of Tay to Dundee, or across Fife to
Elie, and shipped for Uirleton. When the courtiers, not finding
trace of the king, rode back to Perth, the Ruthvens (with his majesty)
would be on their way, nominally to Dirleton, really perhaps to
Fastcastle. That so many men attended the king was what Ruthven,
according to James, had tried to prevent. Gowrie's nervous anxiety,
while he was with James alone in the small inner dining-room, is
easily explained ; the king was too well attended. But the Master


of Ruthven persevered, he could not desist, for he could not explain
away his story of the pot of gold. Henderson failed him, the rest
was despair and action without a plan. Thus construed, the whole
affair is intelligible ; otherwise it is not.

To the townsfolk one fact only was clear : their young provost
and his brother were slain. The town bells rang, rumours flew
about, the people gathered : men and women, shaking their fists at
the windows of the house, cried, " Come down, green coats, ye
have committed murder," and clamoured for revenge, James
spoke from the window, he called in the baihes, he showed the
dead and told the tale, the people were persuaded to return to their
houses, but the sun had fallen before James could ride through the
lingering rainy twilight back to Falkland. Next day, as we saw,
news from James arrived in Edinburgh. There were some who
said that Nicholson, the English resident, had been seen at Leith,
in the dawn of August 6, awaiting news from beyond the Firth of
Forth, a rumour which he indignantly denies. In Edinburgh the
preachers found that they could not conscientiously preach, as
desired, against treason, " seeing the king made no mention of
treason in his bill," and the reports of courtiers varied among them-
selves. David Lindsay, a preacher, arrived from Falkland, the
preaching was entrusted to him ; he harangued at the Cross, and
the guns were fired.

The brothers of the Ruthvens fled from Edinburgh to Dirleton,
and thence to Berwick. They were young boys, but James, who
raged against all that dangerous house, had sent to apprehend them.
At court, where Beatrix Ruthven was dear to the queen, there had
been lamenting, and the name of Anne of Denmark was mingled in
the suspicions and tattle of the gossips, with talk about a magical
amulet of Cowrie's which, probably, as we have said, he was foolish
enough to wear in a kind of "medicine-bag." Such things are
worn by gamblers unto this day. Lord Hailes proves that the
practice was very common, abroad, in Cowrie's time.

Meanwhile at Falkland efforts were being made to clear up the
plot. The unhappy Mr Cranstoun, Cowrie's equerry, a brother of
Cranstoun of Cranstoun, was wounded and could not fly. He
had been in France for more than ten years, and had returned with
Gowrie. On August 6 he was examined, no doubt under torture.
He had not seen Cowrie or Ruthven, he said, to interchange six
words with them, for a fortnight. They had been in AthoU, and


the mention of a fortnight looks as if they had gone thither about
July 20. Nothing could be got out of Cranstoun. On August 16,
Craigingelt, Gowrie's caterer or under- steward, was examined.
Nothing could be extracted from him as to a conspiracy. But he
had been unaware of Ruthven's early ride to Falkirk. Meeting the
Master, booted, on the stairs, when he returned, Craigingelt asked
him " where he had been ? " who answered, " An errand not far off."
This answer, obviously, was intended to disguise Ruthven's long
ride to bring James from Falkland to Perth. Craigingelt asked why
the king had come ? Ruthven replied, " Robert Abercromby, that
false knave, had brought the king there, to cause his majesty take
order for his debt." Ruthven, in this story, had only met the king
casually, when himself returning from " an errand not far off." As
to Robert Abercromby, it has been suggested that he was a creditor
of Gowrie for sums disbursed for the king, by the first Earl, executed
in 1584. We have seen that James, in June, had given Gowrie a
year's exemption from pursuit of creditors. Moreover, he appears
to have himself satisfied this Robert Abercromby, who was his
saddler. Under the treasurership of the first Earl of Gowrie, and
of his successor Sir Robert Melville, James, up to 1594, had owed
Abercromby more than ^^5000 Scots. But, in 1587, James had
promised Abercromby twelve monks' " portions " of the abbacy of
Cowper, these including the " portions " of dean and sub-prior.
This gift or payment (part payment probably) was ratified in the
Parliament of 1594.^^ If any of Gowrie's father's debt, really the
king's debt, to Abercromby, was unliquidated in 1600, still, Gowrie
had an exemption, and it was an impossible story of Ruthven's that
the king was acting as debt-collector. It seems of a piece with
Ruthven's "errand not far off." Craigingelt had been in arms during
the tumult. He, Cranstoun, and one Barron, also seen in arms, were
hanged. On August 20, Gowrie's tutor, Mr Rhynd, was tortured.
He spoke of Gowrie's talisman ; his other evidence was not impor-
tant, but he said that Andrew Ruthven told him, in Gowrie's
presence, that he, Henderson, and the Master, had been at Falk-
land. He had previously told the minister of Perth, Cowper, that
Gowrie was wont to argue on the necessity of secrecy in " high and
dangerous purposes." To Cowper, Gowrie had recently said the
same thing, a propos of a passage in a book, not identified, which
Cowper found him reading.

None of these men knew of any plot. The great object at Falk-


land was to find the man in the turret. Where was he ? and who
was he ? Ramsay, entering the turret, caught only a glimpse of a
man behind the king. After he wounded Ruthven the man had
vanished like a ghost. And where was Andrew Henderson ? Calder-
wood (who is not invariably correct) tells us that the turret man
was first advertised for as " a black grim man,'' a Mr Robert Oliphant,
M.A. But Oliphant had an alibi ; it is necessary to keep an
eye on this gentleman. Two or three other persons were suspected :
one was slain when trying to hide, and Calderwood says that
Galloway showed James the corpse, and said that there lay the man
of the turret. 29 The turret man had vanished, and Henderson had
disappeared. He had been seen returned to Gowrie House, booted,
from a ride, by two gentlemen named Hay, and by Mr John Mon-
crief, who were with Gowrie on the morning of August 5. To a
question of Moncrief's, Henderson had replied that he " had been
a mile or two above the town." Hitherto no man had any later
knowledge of Henderson. He was not seen in the brawl at the
house, or among the townsfolk. The Ruthven apologist declares
that he waited on the lords who dined in the hall ; Calderwood,
that he was seen eating an egg in the kitchen, and Perth tradition
avers that he was at Scone all day, and only heard of the tragedy as
he crossed the bridge on the way home to Perth. Meanwhile,
though Henderson had vanished like the man in the turret, nobody
knew why he had fled. He had done no harm. Even if he had
ridden to Falkland and back with the INIaster (which nobody could
prove) there was no harm in that. Andrew Ruthven had made the
same journeys, and there is no sign that he was molested. But
Henderson had fled, as had five gentlemen, friends or cousins of
the Ruthvens, who had been with Gowrie in the fight in the
chamber, and, later, had been conspicuous in the riot. On August 1 2
these men and Henderson were denounced for not appearing to
give evidence when summoned.^^ The others had reasons for
absconding, because they had been at sword strokes with the king's
friends, but what reason had Henderson ? Now, as two men had
disappeared, he of the turret who had good reason to be afraid, and
Henderson who had none, it was an obvious inference that Hen-
derson and the turret man were one and the same.

This fact became apparent even before Henderson was denounced
on August 12. On Sunday, August 11, James had entered Edin-
burgh in state, and, seated on a carpet at the Town Cross, had


heard his chaplain, Galloway, tell the story of the tragedy to the
people. Galloway gave the king's version, and ended by producing
a letter sent by Henderson from his place of hiding. Henderson
was factor, or chamberlain, of the lands of Scone, Galloway had been
minister of Perth, and knew Henderson well. The preacher
produced the letter, any one who knew Henderson's hand might
examine it. The extract read was to the effect that, early on
August 5, Gowrie sent Henderson to ride to Falkland with the
Master, and to bring his message. On Henderson's return Gowrie
bade him put on his secret coat of mail, and his plate sleeves, and
to wait for the Master, and do as the Master ordered him. Later,
the Master locked Henderson up in the turret. He now suspected
treason and betook himself to prayer. The Master led the king into
the turret, and, said Galloway, " the rest differs almost nothing from
what you have heard," that is from the king's narrative.^^

Between August 12 and August 20, Henderson delivered himself
up as a kind of king's evidence. On August 20 he was examined
at Falkland by the Council, James not being present. He adhered
to his tale about being locked up, armed, in the turret, and
corroborated James for the rest ; except that he said he wrested
the dagger from Ruthven's hand. He also declared that Ruthven
asked James to make a "promise," the nature of which Gowrie
would explain. It has been fancied that this promise referred to
Gowrie's debts. But it is not to be supposed that the Ruthvens
would attempt to extort such a promise by secluding the king in a
closet with an armed man. They would be guilty of treason to no
purpose, for no such extorted promise could be binding. Possibly
the word " promise " got into Henderson's memory from the
parallel passage in the king's narrative, where "promise of life " to
James is mentioned.^- Henderson, in fact, tried to disguise his own
poltroonery. James added his deposition to his own narrative,
printed at the end of August, with the warning that, if Henderson's
contained discrepancies, " they were uttered in his own behoof for
obtaining of his majesty's princely grace and favour." ^^

Before the trial, held by the Parliament in Edinburgh, in
November, for the forfeiture of the Ruthvens, Henderson was
examined before the Lords of the Articles. His evidence was much
to the same effect as before, but he omitted his wresting of the
dagger from Ruthven, and there were variations about opening the


On these points Hudson, who interrogated both the king and
Henderson, wrote sensibly to Cecil from Edinburgh, on October
1 9 : ^^ —

... I have had conference of this last acsyon, first v/^^ the king, at length, and
then w'^'^ Henderson, but my speache was first w*'' Henderson befoar the king
came over the waiter, betwixt whoame I fynde no difference but y* boath alegethe
takinge the dager frome Alexander Ruthven, w^*^ stiyf, on the one part, male
seame to agment honor, & on the other to move mersy by moar merit : it is plaen
yt the king only by God's help defendid his owin lyfif wel & that a longetyme, or
els he had lost it : it is not trew that Mr Alex, spok w^^ his brother when he went
out, nor that Henderson unlokt the door, but haste & neglect of Mr Alex, left it
opin, wherat Sr Jhon Ramsay entrid, and after hime Sr Tho. Ereskyn, Sr Hew
Haris & Wilsone. That it is not generally trustid is ot mallice, & preoccupassyon of
mens mynds by the minesters defidence at the first, /or this people are apt to beleve
the worst 6^ loath to depart frovte y'' fayth.

The other witnesses, Mar, Lennox, many of James's retinue,
friends of Gowrie, and burgesses of Perth, gave, before the Lords of
the Articles in November, testimony to all that they had observed.

Parliament condemned the Ruthvens, their dead bodies were
mutilated, their lands were forfeited, and shared among those who
had been with the king. Henderson was allowed to retain his
factorship, and received a pension.

Now Henderson's tale was not easily credible How could the
Gowries expect a man, armed, but unapprized of what was expected,
to aid in seizing the royal person ? The world thought either that
Henderson was suborned to tell his tale, there having been no man
in the turret at all ; or that the king somehow had him locked up in
the turret, or that he had really been initiated into the plot, but had
lost courage when confronted with his task. The first suggestion is
impossible. James would not, on the evening of the occurrences,
make his narrative turn on a non-existent man in the turret, and then
take the chance of finding a person ready to swear to be that man.
The second idea, that James could suborn a factor of Gowrie to be
locked up, armed, in a turret of Cowrie's own house, and that
unknown to the Earl and his brother, is absurd. But the third
theory, that Henderson had been initiated into the plot, had been
unable to reveal it or refuse to join it, and had played the weakling
at the crisis, is not improbable in itself Henderson, if approached
by Gowrie, would not dare to refuse to join his master, still less
would he risk torture by revealing a conspiracy which he could not


Here comes in Caldeiwood's Mr Robert Oliphant, who was
originally suspected of having been the man in the turret, but proved
an alibi. Though no historian has remarked the fact, Oliphant let
out that, both in Paris and in Scotland, Gowrie had asked him to
play the part of the man in the turret. Oliphant was a gentleman,
brother of Oliphant of Bauchiltoun. He tried to dissuade Gowrie
from the enterprise, but, failing here, withdrew from Perth before
the fatal day. This talk, held by Oliphant in a house in the
Canongate at the end of November or beginning of December,
leaked out, and came to the knowledge of the Privy Council, so
Oliphant " fled again." This we learn from Nicholson, writing on
December 5, 1600.^*^

On the same day the affair appears in the Acts of Caution (in
the Privy Council Register). Much later, in 1608, Oliphant was
arrested in England, and was in prison for nine months, but his
captor, a Captain Patrick Heron, did not appear against him, and
he was released.^'^ If Oliphant spoke truth, and is correctly reported,
it follows that Gowrie had the plot in his mind before his return
from France, and it is probable that Henderson had been taken
into the conspiracy, but had "fainted" (as Oliphant said) at the
critical moment. He then made his peace by his revelations.
The defenders of the Ruthvens do not explain why Henderson ran
away and hid if he had no part in the transaction.

The sceptics at the time, including Mr Robert Bruce, said that
they would believe Henderson's tale if he were hanged and
adhered to it on the scaffold. Had this occurred they would still
have disbelieved, and would have declared that Henderson was
bribed by promises of benefit to his wife and family. As a matter
of fact, Mr Bruce, after first cross-examining the king, believed that
he was innocent of any plot against the Ruthvens, but guilty of
passion in bidding Ramsay strike the Master, so Calderwood says
<vi. 156).

For the reasons already given, the writer believes that Gowrie, a
very young man, — familiar, probably, with romantic incidents of
Italian conspiracy,- — had really contrived a plot against the king.
If so, the nature of his intentions after securing James remains
obscure. The idea clearly was to bring the king, with only three
or four servants, to Gowrie House early in the day, when the people
were in church. His seclusion and capture would not then be very
difficult if Cowrie's retainers preferred the Earl to their king.


James heard of an English ship that hung off the coast, not com-
municating with the land, but intending, the king thought, to aid
Gowrie. He spoke of this to Nicholson (September 3).^^ Con-
jecture is vain, but the author's suspicions point towards Roger
Aston (who drops out of the correspondence for a year), and to Sir
John Guevara, Willoughby's cousin at Berwick, the kidnapper of
Ashfield, as allies of Gowrie. The link between Guevara and
Gowrie may have been that genial traitor, burglar, and pirate,
Logan of Restalrig, whose impregnable keep, Fastcastle, is perched
on a perpendicular sea-cliff between Berwick and Dirleton, On
this point the reader is referred to the new disclosures to be
found in Appendix B. The subject is too complex for dis-
cussion here, and we conclude that the theory of an accidental
brawl is untenable (for James was locked in, and Gowrie de-
liberately lied as to his departure), while James could not have
arranged for Gowrie to lie and so bring his retinue to the place
where his cries for aid were heard. Accident is impossible ; a plot
by James is impossible ; and we conclude that two very young men
devised a scheme on romantic lines, but blundered over the
enterprise. This is made more probable by the extraordinary tissue
of falsehoods contained in the hitherto unknown Vindication of the
Ruthvens in MS. It is throughout impudently mendacious, but
was all the case that its author could offer to Cecil through Carey.

Now began the trouble with the Edinburgh preachers, especially
Mr Robert Bruce. The arguments of James with these men, and
Bruce's replies, fill many pages of the friendly Calderwood. The
other preachers were suspended. Bruce was banished at the end

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 48 of 60)