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Essays on historical truth online

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last novel,' ^ has made a vain attempt to rival the fame of
the author of ' Old Mortality ' and ' Ivanhoe,' and has pro-
duced something which has neither the charm of romance
nor the truth of history. ' At last,' he says, ' they entered
the small round room already mentioned. On the wall
hung a picture with a curtain before it ; beside it stood
a man in armour ; and as the king started back in alarm,
Euthven locked the door, put on his hat, drew the dagger
from the side of the armed man, and, tearing the curtain
from the picture, showed the well-known features of the
Earl of Gowrie, his father. ' Whose face is that ? ' said
he, advancinsj the dasj^er with one hand to the king's
breast, and pointing with the other to the picture. ' Wlio
murdered my father? Is not thy conscience burdened

^ Essay on r>osweirs Life of Johnson.

2 Essay on Sir James Mackintosh's History of the Revolution.


witli liis innocent blood ? ' ^ It is needless to quote more
of this ' dramatic scene.' ' ^Ir. Tytler has not stated,'
says Mr. John Bruce, in a paper addressed to the Society
of Antiquaries in 1840,' whence the distinguishing features
of his narrative were derived ; but I believe I shall not
err in attributing them to an extract from Johnston's MS.
' History of Scotland,' printed by Mr. Pitcairn. Johnston
alone mentions the picture, and the other circumstances
in which Mr. Tytler's narrative differs from that of the
kins. But it is evident that Johnston's assertions are not
to be literally depended on.' 2

This Johnston is, no doubt, the same dramaturgist who
reports a conversation between two men, the Earl of
Gowrie and his brother, who were alone, and who were
bcth killed immediately after. Consequently neither
Johnston nor any other person could know what they

' Tytler, History of Scotland, ibid.

^ >Ir. Bruce adds: ' "Willi all respect for Mr. Tytler I am inclined to reject
the picture story altogether, and to accept the narrative of the king with such
qualifications,' &c. I agree with Mr. Bruce in rejecting the picture story
altogether, and not only that, but the whole of Mr. Tytler's 'dramatic
cllect ; ' and I entirely dissent from Mr. Bruce in accepting the narrative of
the king, for reasons which will be found fully set forth in these pages, in
which I think that I have also proved the Logan letters to be forgeries. In
the same paper Mr. Bruce has done good service to historical truth by giving
another example of Mr. Tytler's manner of writing what is called ' history.'
In reference to a speech attributed to the first Earl of Gowrie on the scaffold,
Mr. Bruce says : — ' The dramatic character given to it is a mere complica-
tion, an imaginary dn!ssing-up of some hearsay report of the statement made
by Gowrie on his trial. It is to be feared that many of our most piquant
historical narratives are of the same character.' Mr. Motley has shown,
however, that it is not impossible to give a dramatic character to a historical
narrative without infringing the bounds of historical evidence, and be says:
' That [ may not bo thought capable of abusing the reader's confidence by
inventing conversations, speeches, or letters, I would take this opportunity
ot stating that no personage in these pages is made to write or speak any
words save those which, on the best historical evidence, he is known to have
written or spoken.' — Ilistonj of the United Xethcrlands, preface, p. v. 1st
edition : London, .lolin Murray, 1860.


said. Mr. Tytler would appear to have adopted a mode
of proceeding in regard to Johnston similar to Hume's in
regard to Perinchief. Hume, in attempting to give a
sensational character to his narrative of the effect of the
execution of Charles I., has used almost the very words
of Perinchief. But he does not quote Perinchief, who is
even a worse authority than Johnston. For Johnston
must have been a man of some education, inasmuch as
his Latin is not much inferior to Buchanan's, and he has
stated fairly enough the reasons for which the Scottish
nobility preferred the Presbyterian form of church govern-

Mr. Patrick Galloway, in his sermon delivered at the
Cross of Edinburgh, in presence of King James, on
Monday, August 11, 1600, says, 'With a drawn dagger
in his hand.'^ Here he contradicts the king, who, as has
been just seen, says, ' With a dagger at his girdle.' But
Mr. Galloway also, as Lord Hailes has observed, presently
contradicts himself in the very same sermon, for he ap-
peals to a letter which he says he had received that day
from Andrew Henderson — a letter which contains an
outline of what Henderson afterwards asserted in his de-
positions, and has these words ; ' While I was sitting on
ymj knees^ Mr. Alexander came into the round [turret]
with the king.' ^ It is a little surprising that so sharp a
practitioner as Mr. Thomas Hamilton, the Lord Advocate,
should have allowed his Majesty's ' Discourse ' to go forth
with such contradictions patent on the very fiice of it ;
for it is to be supposed that the royal ' prentice of the

' See Johnston, Hist. Rer. Brit. Lib. i. p. 16, 1055.
2 Calderwood MS. vol. v. p. 395, cited by Lord Hailes, Annals, iii. 369,
note. The sermon will be found printed at length in Pitcairn, ii. 248-251.
^ Pitcairn, ii. 251. Ilailes, iii. '300, note.


muses ' would submit his ' Discourse 'to be ' settled ' l)y
his zealous Lord Advocate.

Calderwood mentions that after the sermon above re-
ferred to was ended, they sang the hundred and twenty-
fourth Psalm ; and makes the following remark : ' Mr.
Patrick Galloway's harangue did not persuade many,
partly because he was a flattering preacher, and partly
because others were named before Henderson to be the
armed man in the study ; to wit, Oliphant, Leslie, and
Younger, who was slain.' The two first having proved
their innocence of the charge. Younger, also one of the
earl's servants, was next accused, and his fate shows in a
remarkable manner under wdiat sort of a government
Scotland then was. Younger, when on his way to estab-
lish his innocence, was met and i)ut to death by a party
of the king's horse. When it was proved that Younger
was at Dundee during the whole of August 5, the phan-
tom of the study, the black grim man, of whom James
had given a very particular description in his first pro-
clamation, had to be personated by Andrew Henderson,
the Earl of Gowrie's chamberlain, steward, or factor for
his estate of Scone, wlio is described as ' a man of low
stature, ruddy countenance, and brown-bearded.' James,
moreover, at first declared point blank that Henderson
was not the man. Being asked ' by the good man of
Pitmillie, " Whether Henderson was the man," James
answered that " it was not he ; he [the king] knew that
smaick well enough." ' ^

' Pitcairn, ii. 251, note. It has boon said that the king's first prochuna-
tion described the man as a bhick grim man. 13ut Iviug James, who took
such pains to seize and destroy everything in the shape of a vindication of
the Ruthvens, -would be little likely to leave a copy of such a proclamation
in existence.



Among the depositions of the various witnesses piilj-
lislied by Mr. Pitcairn, there is a deposition of one
Wilhani Eobertson, a notary in Perth, which has a very
important bearing on this point, inasmuch as it goes far
to discredit the king's three principal witnesses, namely,
Henderson, Erskine, and Eamsay. The following is the
deposition of this William Robertson : —

' Wilham Eobertson, notary, deposed, he being there
but [without] any weapons, saw nor heard nothing but a
tumult. And being demanded anent [concerning] An-
drew Henderson, deposed, that after the king's majesty
had cried ' Treason ! ' and the tumult thereupon arising,
the said deponer was standing at the front gate with young
Tullybardin and his servants, who issuing in at the gate
to relieve the king, the deponer, a short space thereafter
followed in to the close ; the said laird's servants stand-
ing together there. Saw the Master of Gowrie, lying
dead, at the foot of the turnpike ; where, a short time
thereafter, he saw the said Andreiv Henderson come out
of the said turnpike, over the master's belly ; and he
inquiring at him, ' Chamberlain, Jesus ! what means this
matter ? ' Who made him no answer. And as the deponer
remembers, John Murray^ of Arbeny, and others whom the
said John can tell, was present there. Ignorat cetera.' ^

After this deposition there is the following minute : —

' The Examinatouris ordanis the clerk to writt, with all
dihgence, for the said John Murray.' What was the
result does not appear, for there is no deposition of this
John Murray before these ' Examinatouris.' But there

' Elsewhere callod 'Jnlin ^Nfiirrny nf Arbnny,' Pitraivn, ii. 180, nt tlio
bottom of which pa;.;<' IIuti' is tliis iioto : ' CouniiDiily failed Mfilcle .foline.'
•' ritfiiini, ii.107.


is a deposition by liim before the parliament, wliich con-
tains, however, as miglit he expected, no allusion to this
important point. It is, indeed, ratlier suprising that his
Majesty's Advocate should have permitted this deposition
of William Kobertson to remain on record — surprising, I
mean, to those who know how far that functionary did
not scruple to go in his dealing with evidence. For this
deposition of William Kobertson, strengthened by his open
appeal to the corroborative testimony of John Murray
and others, goes far to discredit as a witness Andrew
Henderson, on whom the king's statement relies chiefly
for its credibility, and who says in his deposition at
Falkland that as soon as John Ramsay entered and
attacked the Master, ' gave the Maister a stroke, he
passed forth at the door, and down the turnpike to his oicn
house.' Now, if the testimony of William Eobertson,
backed by that of John Murray (whom Eobertson calls
as a witness to the same fact, and the non-appearance of
whose deposition on that point is not to be taken as
inlirmative, but as confirmative, of Robertson's statement),
is to be believed, it may appear not only to discredit
Henderson, but Erskine and Ramsay as witnesses. And
whether or not there was a man in the study besides the
king and Alexander Ruthven, and whether or not that
man was Andrew Henderson, the king adopted Andi-ew
Henderson as the man and as his principal corroborative
witness ; therefore if it is shown that Andi'cw Henderson
cannot be believed upon his oath, it is shown at the same
time that the kincr's narrative cannot be believed.

The only evidence (a})art from Henderson's own asser-
tion) corroborating the king's stati'iiiouL respLH-ting the
presence of a man in the study besides the king and

Q 2


Alexander Eutliven is that of Sir John Paimsay, who at
the end of his desposition says : ^ ' And further says that
when this deponer [deponent] entered first within the
chamber, he saw ane man standing behind liis Majesty's
back, wliom he nowaj's knew ; nor remembers not wliat
apparelKng he had on ; but after that this deponer had
strucken Maister Alexander, he saw that man no more.' ^
Again, Sir Thomas Erskine, in his deposition says : ' And
as this deponer had passed up five steps of the turnpike
[spiral stair], he sees and meets with Mr. Alexander
Euthven, bloodied [bhidit] in two parts of his bod}^ viz.
in his face and in his neck : And incontinent this deponer
cries to Sir Hew Heres [Ilerries] and others that were
liim, ' Fy ! this is the traitor, strike him ! ' And incon-
tinent he was stricken by them and fell : and as he was
falling^, he turned his face and cried ' Alas ! I had no
wyte [blame] of it ! ' this deponer being standing above
him in the tm^npike. Tliereafter, this deponer passed to
the head of the turnpike, and entered within the chamber
at the end of the gallery, where the king and Sir John
Eamsay were alone ^ ' present.' ^

Now it will be observed, that if, as Eamsay asserted,
a man was standing behind the king when he entered, but
disappeared immediately after, and that man was Hen-
derson, a considerable difficulty arises to reconcile that
account wuth the deposition of William Eobertson, given
two pages back. Eamsay affirms that tlie man declared
ultimately by the king to be Henderson disappeared before
Erskine -came up, and Erskine affirms he saw no such

^ In this and other cases I have modernised the spelling, but made no
alteration whatever in any other respect.

2 Pitcaira's Criminal Trials, vol. ii. p. 184.

3 ' Thair -ullane present."' ^ Pitcairn, vol.ii. pp. 181, 182.


man. Moreover it appears, liom tlie words of Er.skine's
deposition, tliat the Itend of the lurn[)ike was at the
gallery chamber ; and thtit therefore the man could not
have remained unseen in a part of it above the door of
the gallery chamber. The deposition, therefore, of this
William Robertson — a witness at least as credible as either
liamsay, Ei'skine,or Henderson — contradicts their evidence
j)oint blank. There are many points of any matter in
in wliich any man's memory may flul or deceive him ;
but such a point as this fact of a man's going down a
certain stair, and stepping over the dead and still bleeding
body of his friend at the bottom, is not likely to be

It may, however, be contended that this evidence,
though it may at first siglit appear to be so, is not really
conclusive on this point. For this staircase, called in
the king's narrative a ' quiet and condemned turnpike,
only then left open for that purpose,' namely, for the Earl
of Gowrie and his servants assassinating the king, was in
truth — as Lord Hailes ^ has remarked, and as plainly
appears from the plan of GowTie House given in Pitcairn's
' Criminal Trials ' '^ — the back stair leading to the pi-incipal
apartments ; first, to a large apartment on the ground
floor, communicating by a door with the great hall ; and
then to the chamber on the second floor at the end of
the great gallery, called the gallery chamber, where the
two brothers were killed. Lord Ilailes, writinir about
the middle of the last century, says : ' This stair seems to
have been well known to many of the Avitnesses at the trial ;

' Annals, vol. iii. p. 3G0, note.

"^ Vol. ii. p. 146. A corrected copy of this plan accompanies these pages.
See page 220^ ' The Black Turnpilce.'


and indeed it could not but be well known ; for the
entry to it was from tlie court-yard, and the stair itself
was built in the manner of a tower ; it has since been
taken away, but sufficient vestiges of its situation still
remain, and the door from it into the gallery chamber
may be yet seen. It may very well have happened that
this stair was not commonly used ; but then the reason
must have been, that the principal apartment itself had
not been much used from the time of Gowrie's arrival in
Scotland.' ^

Now it is to be observed that Andrew Henderson might
have left the gallery chamber immediately after John
Eamsay entered it, and, instead of issuing from the door
at the bottom of it into the court-yard, might have passed
through the door by which it communicated with the
great apartment adjoining the great hall, and after re-
maining there a short time, might have come out of the
black turnpike, stepping over the Master's body lying at
the foot of it, according to the deposition above quoted
of William Eobertson. Or he might have been all the
time in the apartment adjoining the great hall, and never
have come from, because he had never been in, the
gallery chamber at all.

But the first supposition is negatived by Henderson's
own statement in his deposition at Falkland, in which he
says ' he stood in the chamber untill he did see John

■ * Hailes's Annals of Scotland, vol. iii. p. 3G0, note. Lord Ilailes adds : —
* See the evidence of Henderson at the trial ; see also what is said by Robert
Christie, Alexander Blair, and John Murray.' Eobert Christie describes the
great or principal staircase as ' the great turnpike,' John Murray as ' the
broad turnpike,' and Christie describes the other or small staircase as 'the
•auld [old] turnpike,' Alexander Blair as 'the little turnpike,' and Kobert
Brown as ' the little black turnpike.'— iViScfttV-w, ii. 187, 188, 180, 190,


Eamsay give the Master a stroke, and tliereafter privily
conveyed liimself down tlie turnpike to his own house.' ^
These last three words Henderson lias omitted in his
second deposition, when he says : ' And as he saw him
[Ramsay] myentane witli the whinger [attack Ruthven
with his dagger], this deponer passed fortli at tlie said
door and passed down the turnpike.' Ikit he then adds :
' And as the deponer passed through the close and came
to the front gate, the deponer saw the Earl of Gowrie
standing before the gate, accompanied witli divers persons
of whom he remembers none ; but remembers well that
the earl had this deponer's steel bonnet on his head and
two swords di-awn in his hand. And immediately there-
after the deponer passed to his own lodging, where he
remained till the king passed forth of the town.' ^

There is a second deposition of this William Robertson,
notary, made at the trial, in which he says that, ' Being
within the close, he saw the Lord Gowrie standing in the
close, accompanied with seven or eight persons, of whom
he knew none ; the said earl having a steel bonnet on his
liead, and a drawn sword in each hand.' ^ Now this
statement fixes the point of time at which Robertson saw
the Master of Gowrie lying dead at the foot of the turn-
pike, and Henderson step over his body, as being previous
to the point of time at which the earl ascended the turn-
pike, and therefore, so far, agrees with Henderson's
statement that, as he passed out, he saw the Earl of
Gowrie at the gate. But the other difficulty remains, for,
besides Henderson's distinct statement in his first deposi-
tion, that he passed down the turnpike to his own house,

» Ilailey, iii. 392. ^ Titcairn, ii. 179.

5 Ihid. ii. 190.


the obvious meaning of the expression in tlie second
deposition, taken with the addition 'that as he passed
through the close,' &c., is, that he passed down the turn-
pike, and at once passed into the court-yard.

This may seem a small matter ; but in a case like this
it is only from small evidentiary facts that indications of
the truth respecting the principal fact, that is — the fact to
be proved — can be obtained. And, though the evidence
above adduced amounts to no more than this, that the
king's principal witnesses on an essential point are contra-
dicted by another witness who appeals to other witnesses
that might easily have been produced, this contradiction
amounts to a not unimportant evidentiary fact against the
credibility of the king's witnesses. If Henderson passed
out of the gallery chamber, and out of the black turnpike
at the time deposed to by William Eobertson, he must
have been seen by Sir Thomas Erskine, who says he saw
only the king and Sir John Eamsay ; and he must have
left the gallery chamber, if he was in it and left it at all,
at a different point of time from that deposed to by
himself and Eamsay.

If Any further proof were needed of the falsehood of
James's statement respecting Henderson, it is afforded by
the fact already mentioned, that the Summons of Treason
issued in August includes the name of 'Andrew Hen-
derson, chamberlain of Scone.' If the king's story had
been true, and Henderson had really helped to save the
king's life, his name would not have appeared in August
in the list of traitors, from which list it disappeared in

The account given of Henderson's subsequent appear-
ance by Spottiswood, which account is confirmed by


Lord Scone,^ that 'he looked ever ufter ihut time as one
lialf-distracted,' "-^ seems to i)ohit to some strong feeling of
remorse for the part lie had been foreed to act in tlie ruin
of the house of his loi'd, ^vho appears to have Ijeen gene-
rally beloved and esteemed by his dependants. It may
be added that one main reason for the invention of this
piece of macliinery in the drama was to arm Alexander
Kuthven with a dagger by making him snatch the man's
dafTfjer to threaten the king with ; it being well ascer-
tained that he had no dagger on his own person, and that
his sword was rusted in the sheath, and had never been
drawn. It would have been absurd, even in that age, to
have attempted to charge a man thus virtually unarmed

^ Sir David Murray of Go?pertie was one of those courtiers of James who
shared among- them the pi under of the Earl of Gowrie, and was created
Lord Scone. And this was but one of the half-dozen peerages granted by-
King James in gratitude, according to Scott's and Tytler's version of the
story, for his preservation from the Gowrie Conspiracy. This Lord Scone,
in a letter to King James, printed by Mr. Pitcairn from the original in the
Advocates' Library, says of Henderson : 'lie was never wise, and he has lost
a good part of the wit which he had ; for it appears he is not his own man.'
IHtcairn, ii. 322, 323. Henderson had also prospered in consequence of the
hard swearing he had performed in his Majesty's service, and figured, at the
date of the letter cited (1G08), with a territorial addition to his name, as
^ Andre Henderson of Latoun, chamberlain of Scone,' like the well-known
'Gilbert Glossin, Esquire, late writer in Kipplelringan, now Laird of Ellan-
gowan.' The letters printed by Mr. Pitcairn from Henderson and Lord
Scone to King James indicate that his ' most sacred' Majesty was by many
persons called * the Murtherer,' and Henderson * ane mansworn knave.' Lord
Scone's enemies at court, it appears, also- gave out that Lord Scone ' had
sent Andrew Henderson to beg something from his Majesty that he [Lord
Scone] could not make suit [of] for himself; and whatever his Majesty had
granted to Henderson, Henderson had transacted with Lord Scone for the
same, and Lord Scone would get the same to himself.'— David Lord Scone
to King James VI. ; ntcaini, ii. 322. Did they go so far as to insinuate
that his lordship got Scone in this way ? If Henderson had managed to get
Scone for himself, the parallel between him and Glossin would have been

* Spottiswood, b. vi. p. 401, cited by Lord IIiulos, Annals, vol. iii. p. 3G5,


with so daring a project as that of cither kiUing a king or
making him a prisoner. The armed phantom was there-
fore a necessary piece of machinery in this most tragical

The king's narrative assigns the death of the Earl of
Gowrie, condemned in 1585, as the reason for Alexander
Eiithven's alleged attack upon the king in the study,
and represents Alexander Euthven as ' affirming that he
was sure that now the king's conscience was burthened for
murtherino- his father.' ^

The lameness of this reason is at once apparent.
Wilham, Earl of Gowrie, the father of Alexander Euthven,
was condemned and forfeited by the faction of the Earl of
Arran in 1585, and his children were restored by the
power of another faction in the following year. In both
cases the king was only an instrument in the hands of his
nobles. He therefore neither deserved ill ^ on that account
at the hands of the Euthvens as he represents Alexander
Euthven as saying, nor well ^ as he represents himself as
saying. There is not the least ground for believing that
if the Euthvens had formed a plot to overturn the govern-
ment, this would have been the moving cause. And the
assigning of such a cause does not add to the credibility
of a story otherwise sufficiently incredible.

The king's narrative then asserts tliat Alexander
Euthven went out to bring in the earl his brother, leaving
the kins in charge of the man who had stood all the
while ' trembling.' * The king's chaplains and bishops
attempted to invest this incredible story with the garb of

1 ritcairn, ii. 215. ITailes, iii. 301. ^ jii^i

3 Ilailes, iii. 302. ritcairn, ii. 215. ^ Ilailes, iii. 305. Pitcaini, ii. 21G.


a miracle. ' Tlic Lord stayed the dagger, tliat lie durst
not strike with it,' ^ says Mr. Patrick Galloway, in his
sermon preached at Glasgow before his Majesty the last
day of August IGOO. And Bislicp Williams, in his
funeral sermon on the death of King James, makes the
following strange remarks : ' Not a particular of his life

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 18 of 40)