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his Majesty, with all diligence and secresy, that his
Majesty might take order therewith, before any know
thereof, swearing and protesting tliat lie liad yet con-
cealed it from all men, yea from the earl his own
brother.' ^

There is a great deal added to this in the king's narra-
tive, so as to give the appearance of circumstantiality to
tlie story — a circumstantiality which would have opened
a wide and rich field for the exercise of skill in cross-
examination, and which cross-examination — and still
more the confronting with his Majesty of tlic^ all-important
witness Alexander Euthven, whose lips he had taken care
to seal in the silence of death — would have rendered the
story very different from what it now is, though some-
wliat less fit for the purposes of those who turn history
into ' lying romance.' For example, the king says,
* Whereupon his Majesty resolved that he would send back
with the said Maister Alexander a servant of his own,
witli a warrant to the Provost and Bailiffes of »Saint
Johnstoun, to receive both tlic fellow and tlie money at
Maister Alexander's hand, and, after they had examined
the fellow, to retain him and the treasure till his Majesty's
further pleasure was known.'

' Whereat,' continues the king's narrative, ' the said
Maister Alexander stirred marvellously ; affirming and
protesting that if either the lord, his brotlier, or the
Ikiliffesof the town, were put on the counsel thereof, his

> Ilailos. iii. .347, 348. Pitcairn, ii. -210.



Majesty -would get a very bad count made to him of that
treasure, swearing ^ that the great love and affection he
bare unto his Majesty had made him to prefer his
Majesty in this case both unto himself and his brother.
For tlie which service he humbly craved that recom-
pense, that his Majesty would take the pains once to ride
thither, that he might be the first seer thereof himself.'
The king's narrative further represents 'Maister Alex-
ander protesting that his Majesty woidd not find every
day such a choice of hunting as he had offered to
him, and that he feared that his Majesty's long delay
and slowness of resolution would breed leisure to the
fellow, who was lying bound, to cry or make such din
as would disappoint the secresy of that whole purpose,
and make both the fellow and the treasure to be

meddled with, before any word could come from his
Majesty.' 2

Now in the first place this statement is not only totally
at variance with the deposition of George Craigengelt,
taken on oath, that when lie inquired of Alexander
Euthven, the Master of Gowrie, ' What moved the king
to come so suddenly, uiilooked for ? ' tlie Master
answered that ' Robert Abircrumby, that false knave, had
brought the king there, to cause his Majesty take order
for his debt ; ' but it is also totally at variance with the
account given at first by the king himself of the cause of
his visit to Gowrie House on the 5th of Aug;ust. There

^ It will be observed that tbroughout this Discourse King James makes
Gowrie and his brother, who, as strict Presbyterians, were most unlikely to
do so, ' swear ' and * cry out with great oaths ' in the peculiar manner ia
which his 'sacred Majesty ' was in the habit of ' shotting his discourse.' So
little does the king keep up the dramatic probability of his drama.

» Hailes, iii. 340, .S-OO. Pitcairn, ii. 21 1.


is a letter^ in the English State Taper Office from
George Xicolson, Queen Elizabetli's ambassador in
Scotland, to Sir Robert Cecil, Secretary of State, written
on the Gth of August, the day after the slaughter of the
Ruthvens at Perth. This letter opens with the following
words : ' This day morning, at nine hours at that tide, the
king wrote to the Chancellor, Secretar}^ and others, and
to some of the Kirk ; and word came hither in this
manner, and the Lord Secretary told me, that yesterday
the Earl of Gowrie sent the Master^ his brother, iMr.
Alexander Iviven [Ruthven], to the king, hunting in Falk-
land Park ; showing the king that where for his adoies
[his business] he had much troubles to get treasure, his
brother the earl had found in an old tower, in his house
at St. Johnstoun's [Perth], a great treasure to help the
king's turn, which, he said, his brother would fain liave
the king go to see quietly that day.'

Such was the first edition of the king's account of the
cause of his going to Gowrie House on the 5th of August.
By the end of August it had assumed, as we have seen
at page 208, a totally different shape. The l^iir inference
is that neither of these accounts is true.

The part of Craigengelt's deposition that has been
given, besides its effect of an infirmative character on the
king's story, proves likewise how extremely unwelcome
as well as unexpected to the Ruthvens was the visit to
their house of the king with his train of attendants ; who,
with the example set before them by their royal master,

' Printed in Chalmev's Life of Kiiddiman, p. 443; and reprinted in Pit-
cairn, ii. .313-315.

' Nicolson writes it 'Mr.' In another letter of his, wliicli I shall have oc-
casion to refer to afterwards, he describes the wife of the Master of Angus as

tlie ' Mrs. of Angus.'

p i:


might be disposed to use Go^^Tie House as if it were an
inn, and to whom Swift's satire would have appeared no
satire at all, but serious advice.^

As Lord Hailes remarks, ' if the Earl of Gowrie meant
to destroy the king, he ought not to have entertained
him in a manner capable of creating suspicion.' ^ The
kincj indeed admits in his own ' Discourse ' or narrative
that ' the longsomeness of preparing the dinner, and
badness of tlie cheer, were excused upon the sudden
coming of his Majesty unlooked for tliere.' This was no
doubt the truth. If Go^vrie and his brother Alexander
had formed any plot to entrap the king into their power,
they would have acted very differently. They would
have acted as the chancellor Crichton and King James TL.
did, when the fonner inveigled one Earl of Douglas
into the Castle of EdinburMi and murdered him, and the
latter another Earl of Douglas into the Castle of
Stirling and murdered him. Observe the strength of
those places as compared with Gowrie House — not a
place of strength at all, though Mr. Buckle calls it a
castle.^ Moreover when the Earl of Douglas unwarily
accepted the king's invitation to visit him in Stirling
Castle, though the king at first received him kindly and
entertained him royally, the numerous and warlike
followers of Douglas were quartered in the town of
Stirling, and the earl himself was admitted alone into the
castle, situated upon a scarped rock, and only accessible
by one gate strongly defended. The very statement of
such facts, with the addition that on the present occasion

1 ' If your master lodgeth at inns, every dram of brandy extraordinary
that you drink raipcth his character.' — Sviffs Footman.
* Annals of Scotl.and, toI. iii. p. .358, note.
3 Buckle's History of Civilisation, vol. ii. p. 250.

.S77i; WALTER SCOTT. 213

the king's attendants, all admitted into the court-yard and
house, were more numerous than those of the earl, and
tliat the peo})le of tlie town of Perth took no part
whatever in the aflair till tliey heard the common bell
ring, which was done for protection of the king, not of the
liuthvens, by order of Andrew Ray,' one of the bailies of
Perth, about the time Alexander Ruthven was slain by
the king's servants, renders the supposition of any plot
by the Ruthvens against the king altogether absurd.
They were young, it is true, mere boys ; but they were
neitlier insane nor idiotic. And to have formed a plot, and
executed it in such a manner, would imply that they were
either the one or the other. They were neither. Unhappy
boys ! to perish by such a fate, and to leave behind them,
though i)erishing so young, a blackened memory !

quia nee fato, merita nee m»rte peribant;
Sed miseri ante diem.

In the king's ' Discourse ' are these words : ' His
Majesty declaring his suspicion plainly to the said Lord
Duke [of Lennox], that he thought him [Alexander
Ruthven] not well settled in his wits.'^ There is con-
siderable art in this insinuation. For if the Idug could
have established that Alexander Ruthven's wits had
become somewhat unsettled, his didiculty of givin<T a
colourable accoimt of the struggle that was admitted
to have taken place between himself and Ruthven would
have been considerably diminished. If he could have
shown that xilexander Ruthven was labouring under
some morbid mental delusion, the whole matter mi^Tht
have been made easy without having recourse to murder,
torture, and forged evidence. But this attempt did not

^ See his deposition. Pitcairn, ii. 186.
- Hailes, iii. 358. Pitcairn, ii. 213.


meet Avitli the smallest success, the Duke of Lennox
in his deposition representing liimself as answering that
' he knew nothing of him [Alexander Euthven] but an
honest discreet gentleman.' ^

The Idng says, in his ' Discourse,' ' His Majesty stayed
an hour after his coming to the said earl's lodging in
Saint Johnstoun before his dinner came in.' '^ The remark
which follows, and which has just been quoted, about the
' longsomeness of preparing ' his Majesty's dinner, natu-
rahy suggests the question, Why did not the king
employ tliis hour of waiting for his dinner in the exami-
nation of the man with the pot of gold, to see and
examine whom was his alleged object in coming to
Gowrie House? This mode of passing tlie time would
have materially diminished the ' longsomeness ' of which
he speaks ; and would besides have been attended with
the important advantage of conducting the examination
of the alleged prisoner with a cooler and clearer head
than his Majesty would be likely to have after dinner.
He had, indeed, as Nicolson informs us, already ' taken
a drink ' ^ after his hunting and before starting for Perth.
His Majesty was seldom long at any time without ' taking
a drink.' * It may, however, be inferred that he would
take a larger ' drink ' when he dined.

' Pitcaim, ii. 171. It is remarkable that a similar device for meeting the
difficulty of giving a probable account of the sudden death of Amy llobsart
seems to have occurred to Blount, Dudley's agent at Cunmor, who, wheu
the attendant told him that she * had heard her lady pray to God to deliver
her from desperation,' suggested that she might have had in her mind some
idea of self-destruction. But the attendant distinctly denied that there was
any ground for such a supposition. See the beginning of this essay.

■^ Ilailes, iii. 357, 3o8. I'itcairn, ii. 214.

3 Nicolson to Cecil, August G, 1(500. Pitcairn, ii. 313.

■* Of James's ruling passions two were strong Greek wine and hunting.
These he so blended together that he was always attended in his hunting by


Tlic framer of the ' Discourse ' seems to liave been
aware of this objection, and to liave attempted to meet it
thus: — 'During wliicli time;" liis Majesty enquired of
Maister Alexander wlien it was time for him to go to tliat
private house [room] about that matter wdiereof he liad
informed him ; who answered tliat all was sure enough,
but tliat there was no haste yet for an hour, till the king
had dined at leisure.'^ ]Mt since an importunate and
impatient curiosity about all matters containing anything
mysterious was a marked feature of this king's character,
lie was not likely to have been deterred from the
immediate examination of any such man with a treasure,
as he charged the dead Alexander Euthven with havimr
brought him to Terth for the special [)urj)use of

Mr. Tj'tler says that the king, when he was about to
leave the room where he had dined, ' bade Alexander
Ruthven call Sir Thomas Erskine, but he evaded the
messa2;e and Erskine never received it.^ In direct contra-
diction to this statement. Sir Thomas Erskine says in his
deposition : ' And at the first meeting, this deponer
said to his Majesty, ' I thought your Majesty would have
concredited more to me than to have commanded me to
await your Majesty at the door, if ye thought it not meet
to have taken me with you.' Whereupon his Majesty

a special officer, who was as much as possible at hand to fill the king's cup
when he called for it ; so that lie continued his devotion to the bottle in the
{glades of the forest of Falkland and in those of Enfield Chase. ' I have
heard my father say,' observes Roger Coke, * that being hunting with the
king, after the king had drunk of the wine, he also drank of it ; and though
he was young and of a healthful constitution, it so disordered his head, that
it spoiled liis pleasure, and disordered him for three days after.' — Iloger
Coke, Detection, vol. i. p. 78 : London, 1719.

' Hailes, iii. 358. Pitcairn, ii. 214.

» Tytler's History of Scotland, vol. vii. p. 431.


answered to the deponer, ' Alas ! tlie traitor deceived me
ill that as he did in tlie rest, for I commanded him
expressly to bring yon to me, which he promised to me
to do, and returned back as I thought to fetch you, but
he did nothinir but sliut the door.' ^

Now what is the obvious meaning of these words,
upon which Mr. Tytler has put the above construction,
a construction which evinces such a strani^e mode of
dealino; with evidence ? The obvious meaning*; is that
Sir Thomas Erskine accompanied the king and Alexander
Euthven to the door between the gallery and the gallery
chamber ; and therefore that Sir Thomas Erskine did
receive the king's message which Mr. Tytler takes upon
him to say he never received, and in consequence of
that message accompanied the king and Alexander
Euthven from the great hall up the great staircase,
through the great gallery, to the door of the gallery
chamber ; and that the king commanded him to wait at
the door wliich opened from the great gallery into the
gallery chamber. Tiie king's answer to Sir Thomas
Erskine's remark is indeed calculated by its evasive
character to throw some darkness over the point ; but
there is enouQ;h in it nevertheless to amount to an
admission that Sir Thomas Erskine had come as far as the
door of the gallery chamber. And if a shadow of doubt
remained, it is removed by other unexceptionable evi-
dence. In a letter dated September 22, 1602, and
quoted by Dr. Eobertson,'^ Nicolson, Queen Elizabeth's
amibassador, mentions the return of Gowrie's two younger
brothers into Scotland, and adds, ' The coming in of these

' I'itcaim, ii. 182.

^ History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. '212, note x. ; London, 1825.


two, and the Queen of Scots dealing with tliem, and
sending away and furuisliing Mrs. Beatrix [their sister]
with such information as Sir Thomas Erskiiie has given,
liath bred great suspicion in tlie king of Scots that they
come not in but upon some dangerous plot.' ^ In another
letter, January 1, IGOJ, Nicolson says that ' the king was
much disturbed because he had got notice that Mrs.
Beatrix lluthven was brought l)y the lady Paisley and Mrs.
of Angus, as one of their gentlewomen, into the court in
the evening, and stowed in a chamber prepared for
her by the queen's direction, where the queen had much
time and conference with her.' It is manifest from this
that Sir Thomas Erskine did wait some time at the door
of the gallery chamber, long enough to make his fortune,
thou(i-h the evidence shows that he was elsewhere when


the tunmlt arose.

The king's ' Discourse ' proceeds in these words : ' Thus
the king, accompanied only by the said Maister Alexander,
comes forth of the chamber,-^ passeth through the end of
the hall, Avhere tlie noblemen and his Majesty's servants
were sitting at their dinner, up a turnpecke,^ and through
three or four chambers, the said Maister Alexander ever
locking behind him every door as he passed. At the
last, his Majesty passing through three or four sundry
houses,* and all the doors locked behind him, his Majesty

' That the English ambassador meant by this term only some attempt to
obtain justice as regarded the forfeiture of their property, and not any de-
si'ni against the government, is proved by Nicolson's indignant denial in his
letter to Cecil before quoted of the rumour given out by, as he says, * some
false lying villains,' that the alleged plot, called the Gowrie Conspiracy, was
devised in England.

^ The dining-room where the king dined was adjoining to the great hall
at that end of it from which there was a door into the principal staii'caae.

^ A spiral stair, still called in Scotland a turnpike.

* Lord llailes says : ' This is probably a typographical error ; it ought to


entered into a little study, where he saw standing, with
a very abased countenance, not a bound man, but a free
man, with a dagger at his girdle/ But his Majesty had
no sooner entered into that httle study, and Maister
Alexander with him, but Maister Alexander locked to ^
the study door behind him ; and at that instant changing
his countenance, putting his hat on his head, and drawing
tlie dagger from that other man's girdle, held the point
of it to the king's breast, avowing now that the king
behoved to be in his will and used as he list ; swearing
many bloody oaths, that, if the king cried one word, or
opened a window to look out, that dagger should pre-
sently go to his heart ; affirming that he was sure that
how the king's conscience was l)urthened for murthering
his father.' ^

Sir Walter Scott has turned this passage into history
thus : — ' After the king had dmed, Alexander Euthven
pressed him to come with him to see the prisoner in
private ; and James, curious by nature, and sufficiently
indigent to be inquisitive after money, followed him from
one apartment to another, until Euthven led him into a
little turret, Avhere there stood — not a prisoner with a
pot of gold — but an armed man, prepared, as it seemed,
for some violent enterprise. The king started back ; but
Euthven snatched the dagger which the man wore, and
pointing it to James's breast, reminded him of his father

have been rooms ; ' p. 300, note. But ' house ' was formerly used in the
same sense as ' room.'

1 Ilailes, iii. 3G0. I'itcairn, ii. 214.

'^ This is sometimes printed ' locked too,' hut ' locked to ' is the correct
spelling, and is the Scotch for ' locked ' — the idea probabl)' being that of
fastening the door to the doorpost.

2 Hailes, iii. 361. Pitcairu, ii. 215.

filli WALTER SCOTT. 219

the Earl of Gowrie's deatli, and commanded liim upon
pain of death, to submit to his })leasure.'^

This narrative, thougli short, is so contrived as to
preserve nuicli of the mystification pervading the ^vllole
of th(j king's narrative, whicli it follows implicitly, with a
t(jtal disregard of any otlier evidence. But 'Mr. Patrick
Fraser Tytler, being a very inferior artist to Sir AValter
Scott, in attempting to improve on the mystification, has
somewhat damaged it by aiming at greater detail, which
Scott skilfully evaded by the vague expression ' followed
him from one apartment to another.'

Mr. Patrick Galloway, the king's chaplain, repeats the
king's statement from the pul[)it ; saying, in his sermon
preached before James at Glasgow on the last day of
August 1600, ' four doors all locked upon him.'^ And
Mr. Patrick Fraser Tytler has turned the king's statement,
fcdse as it is seen to be at once by anyone who looks at
the plan of Gowrie House, into history. For Mr. Tytler
does not give the statement as the king's, but as the
historian's. These are his words : ' James now followed
Euthven up a stair, and through a suite of various
chambers, all of them opening into each otlier, the
Master [Alexander Euthven] locking every door as they
passed.' ^

They passed from the room where the king dined (see
the plan of Gowrie House "* on the next page) through a

* Sir Walter Scott'd History of Scotlaud, vol. i. p. 334.

* Pitcairn, ii. 254.

^ Ty tier's History of Scotland, vol. vii. p. 431.

* This plan is copied from the plan of (Jowrie House iu Pitcairn 's Criminal
Trials, vol. ii. p. 14(3. But an important error in that plan is corrected. In
the plan, as given in Mr. Pitcairu's valuable work, the window in the turret
from which the king cried is represented as the window looking into the
court-yard, whereas it waa the window looking into the street called Spey-



















^ G I>

■Kr x* X


A. Family Apartments.
D. Dining Room, where

the King dined.
I. Door.
Y. Principal Staircase.

A. The Great (Jallery.
E. Family Apartments.
Y. I'rincipul Staircase.
T. Black Turnpike.

T. The Black Turnpike.
S. Window from which the
King cried.


T. The Black Turnpike.

H. The Great Hall com-
inunicatini? with the
Dining lioom and

C. Gallery Chamber.
F. Door.
X. Turret.
S. Window.


M. Earl of Mar and King's
Suite, the Earl of
GowTie iS:c.

K. Door.

0. Large Apartment.
G. Entrance Gate.
L. Outer Staircase.

O. Window.

G. Entrance Gate.

C. Gallery Chamber,
G. Entrance Gate.
0. Window.


part of the end of the great liall into tlie princi|)al stair-
case ; ascending which they passed througli the door
leading from the principal staircase into tlie great gallery,
which door it is proved they did not lock after them.
Traversing the great gallery, they passed through the door
at the other end of the great gallery into the room called
the gallery chamber, and from the gallery chaml^er they
passed by the door into the study in the turret. This
turret must be distinguished from the small turret on the
opposite side of the gallery chamber, which contained the
back stair, in the depositions called the black turnpike,
from its darkness, leading from the courtyard first to a
large apartment communicating by a door with the great
hall where the king's attendants dined ; and secondly to
the gallery chamber where the two brothers were killed.
The door between the great gallery and the gallery
chamber was locked ; and that is the only door which
was proved to have been locked. I think it was locked
by the king or Erskine, and not by Alexander Euthven,
who was probably as far as possible from having the
smallest inclination to be locked up anywhere in the
company of his ' most sacred ' Majesty. Some accounts
state that the key was afterwards produced, before the
bodies were searched, to admit Lennox and Mar. But I
have not met with any conclusive evidence of this ; and

gate in Mr. Pitcairn's plan, but called 'Hiegait ' [High Street] in the depo-
sitions. — See Pitcairn, vol. ii. p. 186. Mr. Pitcairn has also, by a manifest
petitio principii in his plan, undertaken to designate by the letters K. K. H.
the relative positions of the Idng, Iluthven, and Henderson on the entrance
of the two former into the turret ; and by Kj Ro -^^2 their relative situations
at the time the king cried for help. Piut, besides the mistake of placing the
second set of letters, viz. K^ Pj ^^ii ^^ ^^^^ wrong window, we know nothing
whatever about their relative situations, for tliis good reai>on, that the
principal witness was killed, and the statements of the two others cannot bo
relied on.

222 i:ssAYS oy historical truth.

tlie Duke of Lennox says in his deposition tliat the door
was broken with a hammer to give entry to himself and
the Earl of Mar. At the same time it is not asserted that
any keys were found upon lilexander Paithven after his

In the king's account of the ' little study ' into which,
he says, he was conducted by Alexander Euthven, there
is not one word about any picture of the Earl of Gowrie,
Alexander Euthven's father, on the wall, with or without
a curtain before it. But Mr. Tytler, determined, it would
seem, to redeem history from being, what Lord Macaulay
says ^ Lord Hailes made it — an old almanack — ^ though, if
truth be the object, an old almanack is better than a lying
romance, and to give his history a chance of being, what
Lord Macaulay also says, history properly written should
be, ' more in request at the circulating libraries than the

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 17 of 40)