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Essays on historical truth online

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but was a mystery of the divine Providence, to keep and
preserve those admirable parts for the settling and uniting
of some great empire. Why did Gowrie's man, prepared
to kill him, tremble in his presence, and begin to adore
him ? ' I will add Lord Hailes's observation on this
passage. ' Thus does the bishop relate the conduct of
Henderson ; and, which is remarkable, he produces the
account published by authority in proof of this imaginary
adoration. These words were uttered from the chair of
truth ! ' ''

The king's narrative thus continues : — ' All the time of
the said Maister Alexander's menacing his Majesty, he was
ever trembling, requesting him for God's sake, and with
many other attestations, not to meddle with his Majesty,
nor to do him any harm. But because Maister Alex-
ander had, before his going forth, made the king swear
he should not cry, nor open any window, his Majesty

' Pitcairn, ii. 253.

2 Ilailes, iii. 3G5, note. The seiinon from which the above quotation is
made, preached at Kino; James's funeral by Williams, Bishop of Lincoln and
Lord Keeper, is a curiosity in hoc jrenere orationis. * Solomon,' says the
bishop, ' -was learned above all princes of the East. So was Kin"- James
above all the princes in the universal world. Solomon was a writer in prose
and verse. So, in a very pure and exquisite manner, was our sweet sovereign
King- James. Solomon was the greatest patron we ever read of to cliurch
and churchmen ; and yet no greater (lot the house of Aaron now confess)
than King James. Solomon beautified very much his capital city with
buildings and water-works. So did King James.' Tiie bishop calls the
' minion' Bucldngham 'that disciple of his whom he so loved in particular.'
— Rushivorth, vol. i. pp. IGO, IGl.


commancied the said fellow to open the window, on his
riglit hand, which he readily did.' ^ So that, according to
this story, ' the fellow,' that is, Henderson, according to
the ultimate arrangement, saved the king's life. Why,
then, was Henderson, as has been shown, included in the
Summons of Treason that was issued against those servants
and friends of the Earl of Gowrie who had drawn their
swords and used them, though very ineffectually, in
Gowrie's defence ? This is a question that would naturally
have been put in the cross-examination to which the
king's testimony must have been subjected to render it of
the slightest value as evidence.

Dr. Eobertson has pointed out several contradictions at
this part of the story between the king's statement and
Henderson's. 1. According to the king, while Euthven
held the dagger at his breast, ' the fellow in the study
stood quaking and trembling ; ' while Henderson says
that he himself wrested the dagger out of Euthven's hand.

2. The king asserts that Henderson opened the window
during Eudiven's absence. Henderson deposes that he
was only attempting to open it when Euthven returned.

3. According to the king, the fellow in the study stood
during the strugo-le inactive and trembling behind
the king's back. Henderson affirms that he snatched
away the garter with which Euthven attempted to bind
the king ; that he pulled back Euthven's hand while he
was attempting to stop the king's mouth, and that he
opened the window. 4. By the king's account Euthven
left him in the study and went away in order to meet
with his brother, and the earl came up the stairs for the
same purpose. Henderson deposes that when Euthven

» TLiilt'P, ili. .'iO.-), '?,m. Pitcairn, ii. 21G.


left tlie king, ' he believes he did not pass from tlie
door.' ^

' While liis Majesty was in this dangerous estate, and
none of his own servants m)Y train kno^ving where he
was, and as his Majesty's train was arising in the hall from
their diimer, the Earl of Gowrie being present witli tliem,
one of the Earl of Gowrie's servants comes hastily in,
assuring the earl his master that his Majesty was horsed,
and away through the Inch ; which the earl reporting to
the noblemen and the rest of his Majesty's train that was
there present, they all rushed out together at the gate in
great haste ; and some of his Majesty's servants enquiring
of the porter when his Majesty went forth ? the porter
affirmed that the king Avas not yet gone forth. Where-
upon the earl looked very angerly upon him, and said he
was but a liar : yet turning him to the duke, and to the
Earl of Mar, said he should presently get them sure word
where his Majesty was ; and with that ran through the
close, and up the stairs. But his purpose indeed was to
speak with his brother, as appeared very well by the cir-
cumstance of time, his brother having at that same instant
left the king in the little study, and ran down the stairs
in great haste. Immediately after the earl cometh back.' ^

On this Lord Ilailes remarks, ' This supposition [namely
that the earl's purpose was to speak with his brother]
seems to be contradicted by the account itself, which
subjoins these words, " Immediately aftei\ the earl cometh
hack ; " it is also inconsistent with the evidence at the
trial; for I. Henderson says expressly that " Mr. Alexander

' Robertson's History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 270, note, 4tli edition, 8vo.
London, 17GI. ^

'^ Ilailofl, iii. 3GG, 3G7. riteairn, ii. 21G.


passed yiotfrom the door., as he believes." 2. The Duke of
Lennox says that " the Earl of Gowrie passed up, and incon-
tinent came down again to the close." He therefore had
neither thne nor opportunity for conferring with his bro-
ther. Besides, he could not possibly have known the
precise moment at which his brother was to leave the
closet. Indeed this part of the narrative little agrees with
its general tenor, which purposes to show that Alexander
Euthven and Henderson were instantly to have murdered
the kino;.' i

On the w^ords ' ran down the stairs in great haste '
Lord Hailes has the following note : — This is strange :
had he run down the little stair [see the plan of Gowrie
House], he could not have met liis brother, but he must
have met the king's attendants in the close ; if he ran
down the principal stair, this circumstance could not be
known to tlie king or Henderson, because the principal
stair was at a distance from them. I think Alexander
did not run down any stair at all.'^

The only accomit deserving of credit respecting the
story of the rumour that the king had ridden off (for
there is reason to distrust the deposition of Christie the
earl's porter, though proof of his treachery to his master
cannot be obtained), is the deposition of Thomas
Cranstoun, made ' upon his death-bed.' ^ This deposition
— which, as well as that of George Craigengelt, has been
printed by Mr. Pitcairn from the original, preserved
among the Warrants of Parliament, in the General
Ptegister House at Edinburgh, and had probably not been
seen by Lord Hailes— proves that the; rumour or bruit in

MI:iilrf.=, ill. nOD, notn. ' Ih i d \\\. ?,Cu , noia.

3 Pitcaiin's Criiiuual Trial?, vol. ii. p. 15G.


question, of wliicli sucli use has been made by modern
writers against the Earl of Gowric, was eitlier a mistake
on the part of some of the servants, or an act of
treacliery on the part of some one for the pur[)ose of
injuring the Earl of Gowrie. The royal narrative, it will
be observed, represents Gowrie as calling the porter ' a
liar.' This of course the king could not have heard him-
self, and inserts it upon the authority of Christie, the
porter himself, who in his deposition says, ' The Earl of
Gowrie, looking -vvith an angry countenance, said, " Thou
leid ! He is forth at the back yett [gate], and through the
Inch ;" ' ^ and of Andrew Eay, one of the bailies of Perth,
who says in his deposition, ' The Earl of Gowrie said to
the porter, "Ye lie, knave ! He is forth." '^ Now the
Duke of Lennox, who was present, and who, being the
Earl of Gowrie's brother-in-law, may be supposed to
have been less inclined to blacken his memory than the
bailie and the porter, uses in his deposition these words : —
' And this deponer enquired at the porter, ' if the king
was forth ? ' who answered, that ' he was assured that his
Majesty was not come forth of the place.' Then the Earl
of Gowrie said, ' I am sure he is forth ; always [at all
events] stay, my lord duke, and I shall go up and get
your lordship the verity and certainty thereof.' ^

» Pitcairn, ii. 187.

' Pitcairn, ii. 18G. The Earl of Gowrie may liave used this expression,
■which was not so uncommon in persons of rank in the 17th century as it is
now. Charles I. not only used the phrase * 'tis a lie ' in speaking', as he did
when a part of a paper from the houses of parliament was read to him ; but
he used it in writing, as when Secretary Nicholas wrote to the king that he
had been assured that letters sent to the king miscarried afterwards and
were seen, the king made this postille, ' It is a ley.' — Append, to Evelyn's
Mem. p. 51. And see Brodie's History of the British Empire, vol. iii.
p. ?>2'^, and note.

=» Pitcairn, ii. 173.


If it could be proved that the Earl of Gowrie made a
deliberate and systematic attempt ' to rid himself of the
kind's attendants,' as some modern writers have ex-
pressed it, ' by falsely informing them that the king was
gone by a back way,' that circumstance would undoubt-
edly give support to the allegation of a plot having been
formed against the king by the Earl of Gowrie. The
king and his advisers were so well aware of this, that less
than a week after, namelj^, on August 11, Mr. Patrick
Galloway, in his sermon at the cross of Edinburgh in
presence of the king, said, ' They had appointed this for
their watchword, " The king is gone to the Inch ! " ' Mr.
Galloway makes the failure of this device for getting rid
of the king's attendants the fourth of what he in this
sermon calls the five miracles which were wi^ought on that
occasion for King James's preservation.

All that has been proved is, that Thomas Cranstoun
heard a rumour or bruit, by whomsoever raised,''^ which
he thought it his duty to communicate immediately to his
lord ; and that Gowrie, as was natural, gave credit to
him, an old and tried friend ^ and servant, rather than to
his porter, who had been in his service only five weeks,

^ Pitcairn, ii, 250.

^ The ' giving out ' of this bruit is made one of the principal charges in
the indictment (dittay in Scots law) against Thomas Cranstoun. Pitcairn,
ii. 150. Cranstoun solemnly declared, as a dying man, that he did not * give
out,' but ' heard,' this bruit or rumour.

^ Thomas Cranstoun, though according to the custom of that age through-
out Europe, only a ' servitour ' to the Earl of Gowrie, was a brother of Sir
John Cranstoun of Cranstoun. I'epys relates how, in Queen Elizabeth's
time, one young nobleman would wait with a trencher at the back of another
till he came of age : witnessed in my young lord of Kent, who waited upon
my lord of Bedford at table, when a letter came to Lord Bedford that the
earldom of Kent was fallen to his servant the young lord ; so he rose from
table and made him sit down in his place, and took a lower himself, for so
he was by place to sit.' — Pepyss Diary, vol. i. p. 109, 4to. edition, 1S25.


and Avhoin lie might have some reasons unknown to us
for distrusting. Nevertheless Sir Walter Scott relates
this incident in a manner calculated to prejudge the
wliole question, and to convey the impression that Gowric
had formed a deliberate plan to get rid of the king's atten-
dants. ' The attendants of James,' says Sir Walter Scott,
' had begun to wonder at his absence, when they were
suddenly informed by a servant of the Earl of Gowrie
that the king had mounted his horse, and had set out on
his return to Falkland. The noblemen and attendants
rushed into the court-yard of the mansion, and called for
their horses, the Earl of Gowrie at the same time hurry-
ing them away. Here the porter interfered, and said
the king could not have left the house, since he had not
passed the gate, of which he had the keys. Gowrie,
on the other hand, called the man a liar, and insisted that
the king had departed.' ^ The story has been repeated
by other writers in terms still more positive.

But, in truth, the very circumstance which at first sight
seems to tell against the Earl of Gowrie — the assertion
namely, that he used the expression to his porter, ' You
lie, knave ! ' — proves that if the Earl of Gowrie had formed
such a plot, and went about to execute it without the
thorough co-operation of his porter, he must have either
lost his w^its or have been ' brained ' like Caliban or
Trinculo. This consideration alone shows in what
measure writers of history have applied the plainest and
most obvious rules of common sense to the study of this

The king's narrative thus proceeds : —

' History of Scotland, contiiiiied in Tales of a Grandfather. ]5y Sir Walter
Scott, ]}art. vol. i. p. 334 : Ediubiirt,4i, 184G.



' Maister Alexander very speedily returned, and, at his
incoming to his Majesty, casting his hands abroad in a
desperate manner, said he could not mend it, his Majesty
behoved to die : and with that offered a garter to bind
his Majesty's hands, with swearing he behoved to be
bound. His Majesty, at that word of binding, said he
was born a free king and should die a free king.
Whereupon he, griping his Majesty by the wrist of the
hand, to have bound him, his Majesty relieved himself
suddenly of his grips : whereupon, as he put his right
hand to his sword, his Majesty with his right hand seized
upon both his hand and his sword, and with his left hand
clasped him by the throat, hke as he with his left hand
clasped the king by the throat, with two or three of his
fingers in his Majesty's mouth, to have stayed him from
crying.' '

Now it is easy to verify the truth of this statement.
Let anyone try whether it is possible at the same time,
icith the same hand, to clasp another person by the throat,
and put three, or even two, of the fingers of that hand in
that other person's mouth. Sir John Eamsay, who is the
only witness on this point (for Henderson's testimony I
have shown to be unworthy of credit), says in his deposi-
tion : ' And having dung up [forced open] the door,^ he
sees his Majesty and Maister Alexander Euthven striving
and struggling together, his Majesty having Maister Alex-
ander's head under his arm, and Maister Alexander, being
almost on his knees, had his hand upon his Majesty's face

1 Hailes, iii. 308. Pitcairn, ii. 210.

^ Henderson says that he opened the door for Ramsay. Hailes, iii. 392.
Pitcairn, ii. 178. But this is only another proof added to many that Hen-
derson was lying.


and mouth.' ^ This shows tliat even liero liis Majesty was
not telhng tlie truth. It lias been leuiarkcd by phUo-
sophers that the greatest of bars speak truth a hundred ^
times for once tliat tliey utter falsehood ; and that this
arises from tliat law of human nature which has estab-
lished the connection between events and words. When
man grows up in average conformity with the laws of
nature, this connection grows up with him into one of the
strongest associations of the human mind. But when a
man's mind has grown u[) in a very artificial and cor-
rupted atmosphere, this association between events and
words will be much weakened though not entirely de-
stroyed. Thus, in a story told by a witness whose
testimony is subjected to very disturbing forces, ' you will
scarce ever find the whole of it false : some parts of it at
any rate will be kept within the pale of truth, were it
only to give credit, or escape the danger of giving dis-
credit, to the rest.' ^

Accordingly, when an artificial statement has to be drawn
up for the purpose of keeping out of sight the real facts
of any somewhat strange transaction, the manufiicturer of
the statement will be apt to mix up some of the real
facts, which he thinks will not injure or obstruct the
object he has in view, with the fictitious statements, or,
as Bentham calls them, false facts, by which he intends to
accomplish his object. It is therefore probable that the
king's statement was true thus far ; namely, that a

> Pitcairn, ii, \m.

* James Mill (Analysis of the Tinman Mind, vol. i. p. 298) says * a thou-
sand times ;' but I think Bentham (thimfjh not a metaphysician to be com-
pared to Mill in analytical power) is nearer the truth when he eays 'a
hundred times.' (Ptationale of .Judicial Evidence, vol. ii. p. Go.) 'Ten
times ' would be nearer the trutli than eitlier ' a thousand ' or ' a hundred.'

' Bentham's Rationale of Judicial Evidence, vol. ii. pp. 65, 66.

K 2


Struggle took place between him and Alexander Euthven,
and that Euthven, on being attacked by James, and the
dangerous consequences of his resistance, though purely in
self-defence, to a king, one of those sacred persons whom
the opinion of that particular age 'hedged with a divinity,'
rushing upon his mind, may have endeavoured to prevent
the king from calling his attendants while in a state of angry
excitement. The position in which he was found by Eamsay,
on his knees before James with his hand extended to James's
mouth, as if to stop him from crying out, leads to this
inference. But even here King James could not tell the
simple truth. lie represents Euthven as seizing him by
the throat, which is not only inconsistent with his own
statement, as has been shown, but is directly contradicted
by Eamsay 's deposition. It is manifest that if the struggle
on the part of Euthven had not been a purely defensive
one, he, a young man of at least ordinary strength and
courage, could have found no difficulty in dealing with a
person of such a feeble body and such consummate
cowardice as King James. And yet an idolater of
Scottish kingship, in the person of this degenerate descen-
dant of Eobert Bruce, has gone so far as to say, in reference
to this afiair, that James's ' timidity of temper was not uni-
form ; ' and that ' there were moments of his life, and
those critical, in which he showed the spirit of his
ancestors.' The same writer, in the same romance (' The
Fortunes of Nigel '), has transformed the page Eamsay —
created at first Sir John Eamsay, and afterwards Viscount
Haddington and Earl of Hcjlderness, who stabbed Alex-
ander Euthven and his brother the Earl of Gowrie — into
that ' good old peer,' the Earl of Huntinglen, whom he re-
represents as having ' struck his dagger into the traitor


Euthven,' for tlie reason tliat it was high time to do so
' when kings w^ere crying treason and murder with the
s Teech of a half-throttled hen.' Such is the historical
justice of historical romance.^

The king — whether his cowardice or his cruelty w^as at
the moment uppermost is immaterial — cried, according to
his own version, out at the window' that they were mur-
thering him there. '•^ Sir Thomas Erskine says in his deposi-
tion that he ' heard his Majesty cry forth of the window of
the round [turret], " Fy ! Help ! I am betresit ! They are
murdressing me ! " ' ^ The Abbot of Incheaffray deposes
that ' as they were standing upon the High street, they
heard a cry and a voice ; and the Duke [of Lennox] first
declared " I am assured yon is his Majesty's voice, be
where he will himself." And immediately thereafter this
deponer saw his Majesty looking forth at a window of
the round, wanting his hat, and his face red, crying " Fy !
Help, my lord of Mar ! Treason ! treason ! I am nnir-
dered." ' *

As it is quite proved, and even admitted by the king
himself in his conference with Mr. Robert Bruce, that
there was not a shadow of necessity for killing Alexander
Euthven, and that he might have been easily secured and
brought to trial on whatever charge the king might think
fit to produce against him, the king's narrative would

' Sir Walter Scott has taken so little trouble to make himself acquainted
with the proved facts of this case, that in one of the notes to The Fortunes
of Nigel he says : * The credit of liavinpr rescued James I. from the dagger
of Alexander Ruthven is here lictitiou:<ly ascribed to an imaginary Lord
Iluntinglen. In reality the preserver was John IJauisay.' Now it had been
distinctly proved, long before Scott wrote this, that Alexander Ruthven had
no weapon but a sword, which was never drawn.

« Hailes, iii. 3G8. Rilcairn, ii. 210.

' ritcairn, ii. 181. * Titcairn, ii. 180.


fain make it appear that lie was killed by Eamsay in the
heat of action, without the king's order. The words of
that narrative are : ' His Majesty, with struggling and
wrestling with the said Maister Alexander, had brought
him perforce out of that study, the door whereof, for
haste, he had left open at his last in-coming, and his
Majesty, having gotten (with long struggling) the said
Maister Alexander's head under his arm, and himself on
his knees, his Majesty drove him back perforce hard to the
door of the same turnpike.' The act of slaughter is then
thus told : — ' Sir John Eamsay enters in into the chamber,
and finds his Majesty and Maister Alexander struggling
in that form, as is before said ; and after he had twice or
thrice stricken Maister Alexander with his dagger, his
Majesty immediately thereafter took the said Maister
Alexander by the shoidders and shot him down the
stair.' ^ Now Eamsay, in his deposition, says — 'And his
Majesty, seeing the deponer, said, " Fy ! strik him laich,
becaus he has ane pyne dowlit upon him ! " ' 2 Thus
Euthven was slain by the express order of the king.
' Laich ' is low ; and ' pyne dowlit ' is a secret doublet, or
chain shirt of mail. Lord Hailes gives the words ' Fy,
strike him high ; ' ^ and Eamsay, though in his deposition
he gives the word 'laich' as that used by the king, appears
to have understood it in the sense given by Lord Hailes,
for Sir Thomas Erskine, in his deposition already cited,
says he ' sees and meets with Mr. Alexander Euthven,
bludit [bloodied or bleeding] in two parts of Ms body,
viz. ill his face and in his neck.'* Another circumstance

1 Ilailep, iii. ?,m, 370. ritcaini; ii. 216, 217. ^ pitcairn, ii. 183.

2 Hailes, iii. 370, note. * Pitcairn, ii. 182.


to be observed here is this. The Kings narrative says
that Eam:>ay struck Alexander Eiithven witli liis dagger,'
and a page or two back the same narrative had stated that
the king's train were ' all without any kind of armour
except swords, no not so much as daggers or whingers'
Yet Ramsay himself says, in his deposition, that ' he drew
liis whinger, wherewitli he strak the said Maister Alex-
ander.' ^ As the king does not pretend that the phantom
man in the study took any part against him, but that
what httle he did was on his side ; as liamsay was twenty-
three years of age, strong, active, and skilled in tlie use of
his weapons ; as therefore there were two to one against
Alexander Euthven, a lad of nineteen, who had no
weapons but a sword which he never attempted to draw,
it is manifest that James's own self-defence did not demand
the slaughter of Alexander Euthven. On this point, in his
conference with Mr. Eobert Bruce, he contradicts himself
in the same breath.''^ First he says he was compelled to
destroy Alexander Euthven in his own defence ; and im-
mediately after lets out tliat he was once minded to have
spared him. Therefore his killing him was not a necessary
act of self-defence. And therefore, though his death des-
troyed the principal direct evidence of the true cause of
the struo-o-lc between the kino- and Alexander Euthven, it
became one of the links of that chain ^ of circumstantial

* Pitcairn, ii. 183. "^ See the conference in Pitcairn, ii. 308.

^ A number of facts, each of which adds to the probative force of the whole,
constitute what is called in common language a chain of circumstantial evi-
dence. This is the sense in which the word is used in the text. 13ut the
metaphor of a chain is in this sense not correct. For though each link of an
iron chain may be essential to render the chain of a length available for certain
necessary purposes, each link added to the length by no means adds to the
strength of the chain. "Whereas, in the sense in which the phrase ' chain cf


evidence of adamantine strength wliicli coils round and

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 19 of 40)