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Essays on historical truth online

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round this case, and furnishes in such strength and
abundance that evidence of deUnquency which arises from
the destruction, the suppression, and the fabrication of

In tliis case the Discourse of King James, and a small
portion of the deposition of Sir Thomas Erskine, may be
classed under the head of direct evidence. The depo-
sition of Henderson would also come under that head ;
but, as has been shown, it cannot be regarded as entitled
to credit. The most valuable direct evidence would have
been the testimony of Alexander Euthven. If the king
had secured him alive, and subjected him to a trial, he
would only have done what any man acting in the
interests of truth and justice would have done. But as

evidence ' is used above, each link is supposed to be independent of every other
link, and therefore to add its individual contribution to the aggregate strength
of the whole. This, however, is contrary to the necessary conditions of a
material chain. A more correct metaphor would be tliat used by Dr. Reid,
namely, ' a rope made up of many filaments twisted together. The rope has
strength more than sufficient to bear the stress laid upon it, though no one
of the filaments of which it is composed would be sufficient for that pur-
pose.' — Reiils Essay on the Intellectual Poicers, chap. iii. Bentham has, by
the use of another metaphor, where weight is the leading idea, thus forcibly
expressed the effect of circumstantial evidence. ' Not to speak of greater
numbers, even two articles of circumstantial evidence, though each taken by
itself weigh but as a feather, when joined together will be found pressing
on the delinquent with the weight of a mill-stone.' — BentJumis Rationale
of Jndiciul Evidence, vol. iii. p. 242. Bentham has used the phrase ' chain of
evidence ' in a sense strictly analogous to the material archetype from which
the metaphor is taken, namely, to designate a series of facts, each of which
stands in the relation of an evidentiaiy fact, with respect to that which
stands next to it in the series. Thus : if A be evidentiary of B, B of C, and
C of D, then A, B, C, and D constitute a chain of evidence in this sense.
Bentham also styles the latter the sclf-injinnative ; the former, namely the
rope made up of many filaments, which is indicated in the text, the self-
corrohorative chain, thereby expressing the distinction between the two op-
posite kinds of evidentiary chains. — See Bentham''s Rationale of Judicial
Evidence, vol. iii. p. 223, note.

sill WALTER SCOTT. 240

the king, instead of doing tliat, li;id tliouglit fit to order
his attendants to kill him, his death by the king's order
becomes an article of circumstantial evidence against the
king ahnost as strong as any testimony he could have
given in a court of justice, as a hving witness. If the
king's story and Henderson's story were true, wliat liad
the king to fear from xVluxauder Euthven's hving testi-
mony ? Absolutely nothing. Suppose that Alexander
Ruthven denied the truth of the statements of the king
and Henderson ; provided the king and Henderson told
the simple truth, they would have had no cause to shrink
from any investigation, or to dread such denial. ' The
touchstone by which falsehood is detected is inconsistency.
In a true narrative inconsistencies are impossible ; for of
any two, or any number of real facts, to say that any one
can be inconsistent with any other, is a contradiction in
terms.' ^ Therefore, there being two witnesses to these
statements against Alexander Euthvcn, if these statements
had formed a true and correct narrative, inconsistencies
would have been impossible ; and there would have been
no need either of the slaughter of Ruthven, of the torture
of Eynd, of the subornation of Henderson, of the torture
of Sprot, or of the fabrication of the letters ascribed to
Logan. But the result of all these labours of King James,
assisted by his Lord Advocate and all his ablest privy
councillors, forms a most instructive commentary on the
following remarks of Benthan-i. ' Falsehoods, to escape
detection, must be clear of inconsistency ; of inconsistency
as well with respect to each other, as with respect to all
known and indisputable truths. But to invent a number
of falsehoods, which shall not only at the moment, but ou

^ Bentham's Rationale of Judicial Evidence, vol. v. p. 712.


all future occasions, stand clear of every such inconsistency,
is in any case a task of extreme difficulty.' ^ Bentbain
then proceeds to state the increase of the difficulty, rising,
it may be said, to impossibility under the check of cross-
examination, which, however, was wanting in this case.
' By the force of that check,' he says, ' the number of
such facts which a man shall be called ui)on to invent, to
invent at the moment, on pain of seeing the expected fruit
of his labours gone, and punishment ready to fall upon
his head instead of it, is without limit ; and, in the exer-
cise thus given to it, the faculty of invention must at
every step be accompanied and supported by the faculty
of judgment, and that at a pitch of perfection such as the
strongest mind can never feel itself assured of rising to.' ^
No one, who examines the evidence carefully, can come
to the conclusion that the Earl of Gowrie had foimed
any plot wdiatever against the king. Neither is there
any evidence whatever that the king had formed any
plot against the Earl of Gowrie. The only established
facts, out of wdiicli such a tissue of fiction has been
woven, are these. It is certain that the king and
Alexander Euthven were together in the study in tlie
turret, and that something occurred which led to a per-
sonal struggle between them. It is also certain that
Alexander Euthven acted in this struggle solely on the
defensive. The cause which led to this struggle can
never now be known with certainty. The only persons
who could tell it were the king and Alexander Euthven.
The king told a story which not only is contradicted on
some important points by tlie luan he produced as a
witness, but contradicts itself on some points, in others

1 Bentham's Kationale of Judicial Evidence, vol. v. p. 712. "^ Hid.

.S77.' WALTFJ; SCOTT. 251

poiitradicts otlier iiccoiiiit.s of the same inalter previously
"iveii by the king. Tlie king's story, tlierofore, cannot be
beUeved further, tlian as proving that there was some
stronfj- reason Avhy lie desired the truth t(j be kept con-
cealed. As to what that reason was, I will not here offer
any opinion. But though he took care that Alexander
Euthven should have no opportunity of giving his version
of the alhiir, Alexander Ixuthven did speak before he
died, as he fell unresisting under the repeated blows of
the cowardly assassins who were not ashamed to stab a
youth already bleeding from two dangerous wounds.
He spoke only six words, but those words have the
weight that belongs to the words of a dying man. Sir
Thomas Erskine says, in his deposition, that he ' cried
"Fy ! This is the traitor! strike him ;"' and that 'he was
stricken by them and M\ ; and as he was falling he
turned his face and cried, " Alas ! I had na wyte of it !'" ^
That is, ' Alas ! I had no blame of it ! ' King James's
advocates have sought to make this refer to his having
been led to engage in the 'conspiracy' by his brother.'^
Eut when it is proved that there was no conspiracy,
another meaning must be sought for those dying words,
and they had a meaning, be assured ; and that meaning
undoubtedly is, that in the quarrel with the king, he
(Alexander Piuthvcn) was blameless. The account of

^ Pitcairn, ii. 182. On this Lord Ilailes has the following note :—' Wvte
is blame, airUi. Wyte or wite is old Anglo-Saxon ; at least it is used by
King Alfred in the preface to his paraphrase or imitation of Boethius De
Consolaiione Philusophuc — ' him ne wite gif, &c.' ' not blame him if, &c.' —
Hailed, iii. 371, note. It is observable that 'gif '—'if '—is modern Scotch
as well as ' wite.'

2 Thus 11. Johnston, Rer. Brit. Ilistor. lib. viii. p. 2Go has actually added to
the six words proved to have been uttered by Alexander lluthven, wliii-li he
translates thus : * Edito gemitu proclamavit w in culpa nun fuisse,'' the follow-
ing: Kiui(rnun,siidq)onie,sedfratt'rnisconcitidusillecchrisfncinoyiseimpliciat.''

252 JESSAYS oy iiisr optical trutii.

Nicolson the English ambassador, akeady mentioned, of
certain information given by Sir Thomas Erskine to the
queen of Scotland, and the account of La Boderie, the
French ambassador in England, which will be given
subsequently, furnish corroborative evidence of the truth
of Alexander Euthven's dying words.

In order to support the theory of a conspiracy on the
part of the Euthvens, an equality of numbers was to be
made out in the short conflict betweeen the Earl of
Gowrie's party and the king's party. Galloway has
transformed the seven of the king's narrative into eight,
which would, with the earl, make the odds nine to four.
Sir Walter Scott makes it eight to four. The following
is his narrative. ' This danger [that is the alleged danger
to King; James from the alleaed danger of Alexander
Euthven] ' was scarcely over, when the Earl of Gowrie
entered the outer chamber, with a drawn sword in each
hand, followed by seven attendants, demanding vengeance
for the death of his brother. The king's followers, only
four in number, thrust James, for the safety of his person,
back into the turret closet, and shut the door ; and then
engaged in a conflict, which was the more desperate that
they fought four to eight, and Herries was a lame and
disabled man. But Sir John Eamsay having run the
Earl of Gowrie through the heart, he dropped dead with-
out speaking a word, and his servants fled. The doors
of the great staircase were now opened to the nobles, who
were endeavouring to force their way to the king's
assistance.' ^

It is true that Herries had a club-foot, which would
impede his motions in fencing, but it did not interfere

^ History of Scotland; vol. i. p. 335.


with his stabbing Alexander Euthven, ah'eady danger-
ously wounded and defenceless — a deed worthy (jf knight-
hood from King James. The veracious Mr. Oalhjway's
two ' lads ' were Sir John liamsay and George Wilson, the
former aged twenty-three, the latter twenty-four, as ap-
pears from their depositions.' It is not easy to ascertain
with perfect ])recision the lunnber of followers who were
with the earl in the room. The depositions all go to show
tliat the earl was completely unprepared not merely for
any oiTensive attack, but even for any defence of himself,
when the king's cry Irom the window raised the sudden
tumult. He was standinir in the street near his own
gate with some of the king's attendants, and immediately
on hearing the king's voice James Erskine laid hands upon
him, and Sir Thomas Erskine, tlie brother of James
Erskine, seized him by the throat, and said to him,
' Traitor, this is thy deed!' to which the earl answered,
' What is the matter? I know nothini!: ! ' Some of the
earl's servants, seeing their lord assailed in this manner,
interfered ; but they only parted the earl and the two
Erskines, whereas, had, tliere been a plot on the part of
the earl, tliey would have slain them on the spot for such
an outrageous act, as well as for their lord's defence.
The earl then proceeded about half a bowshot along the
street towards Glenorchy's house, drew forth his two
swords, which he wore in one scabbard according to a cus-
torn then prevalent in Italy, and cried, ' I will either be
at my own house or die by the way.'^ Besides that the
Earl of Gowrie had no offensive weapons but the swords

1 Pitcairn, ii. 182, 189.

' See the depositions of the Ahbot of Lundoiis [Lindores] and of Sir
Thomas Erskine, Pitcairn, ii. 181 j and of Tiiomas Cranstoun, Pitcairn, ii.
150, 157.


above ineiitioiied, he had no defensive armour whatever ;
so that one of his servants, as he entered his own gate,
put a steel bonnet upon his head.^ According to the
deposition of Christie the porter, the Earl of Gowrie then,
accompanied by Thomas Cranstoun, Alexander and Harry
Euthven, Patrick Eviott and Hew Moncreiflf, passed up
the ' auld ' turnpike." Alexander Blair again deposes that
he ' saw Alexander and Harry Euthven and Hew
MoncreifF come dow^n the little ^ turnpike, where they and
my lord liad ascended ; tlie said three persons having
drawn swords in tlieir liands : but he saw not Patrick
Eviott there.' ^ Thomas Burrell, burgess of Perth, de-
poses, ' That the time of the fray, entering within the
close [courtyard], he saw standing in the close, with drawn,
swords in their hands, Alexander and Harry Euthven,
and Hew MoncreifF, bleeding in his face. And at that
same time this deponer saw Maister Thomas Cranstoun
come dow^n the black turnpike ; and he took forth of his
hand his sw^ord, and heard Alexander Euthven cry for
' Fire and powder ; ' and saw not Patrick Eviott there.'
Alexander Peblis, burgess of Perth, of the age of tliirty
years, married, deposes, that, ' being witliin his own
house, foiranent [opposite] the Earl of Gowrie's lodging, ^
howsoon his mother heard the common bell ring, she
locked the door and held him in all the time : and saw at

' Deposition of Alexander Peblis, Pitcairn, ii. 101. * Pitcairn, ii. 188,

^ These words 'little ' and ' auld ' [old] are other names for what is else-
where called the ' Black ' turnpike.

* Pitcairn, ii. 188. ^ Ihid. ii. 190.

^ 'Lodginfr' was then a term of greater dignity than it is at present.
Thus Wentworth writes to Laud, in 16.3.3, that the royal prerogative maybe
set above the common law, ' without borrowing any help forth of the king's
lodgings.' — Sta ford's Ldtcrs and Dispatches, vol. i. p. 173,


that time tlic Earl of Gowrie enter in at the yett [gate],
Avitli two drawn swords, one in eaeli hand; and a lackey
])ut a steel bonnet on liis licad. And a certain space
thereafter, the deponer saw Hew MonciiefT come forth of
the j)lace with a bloody head, and Patrick Eviott's man,
likewise bleeding. And also saw Patrick Eviott come
forth of the yett [entrance-gate of the conrtyard] ; but
remembers not if he had a sword in his hand. And saw
Alexander Euthven also come forth, with a sword drawn
in his hand.'^ William Ptynd, flesher [butcher] in
Perth, in his deposition before the magistrates of Perth,
depones that ' hearing the common bell, he came with a
sword, entered in at the front gate and up the black
turnpike, where he saw Hew MoncreifT with a Jedwart-
staff, Patrick Eviot^ and his man with drawn swords : '^
and in his deposition before the parliament he deposes
that ' he saw Patrick Eviott and Hew MoncreifT, both
bleeding, having drawn swords iu tlieir hands.' ^ David
Eynd, deacon, deposed ' he came with his armour to the
lodging, at the sound of the bell ; and seeing others pass
up the black turnpike, he followed up ; where he saw
Hew MoncreifT striking; in under the chamber door with
a Jedwart-stalT, and would not be stayed by the deponer.
Saw Patrick Lamb, sawster [sawyer], on his shoulder,
but [Avithout] any help, bring in a rough spar, fairnent
the foir [fore] gate of the lodging. Heard Alexander
Euthven cry, ' Fy ; bring powder ! ' ^

1 ritcairn, ii. 191.

^ Tliis name is in other places, as has been seen, spelt with two t's. In
tlie account booke of tlio Lord \\v^\\ Treasurer of Scotland it is spelt with
one t. See Pitcaim, ii. 240, 241.

3 ritcairn, ii. lOG. " Ibid, ii, 189, * Ibid. ii. 19G.

256 ussjys ox historical truth.

The rough spar and the powder were for the purpose
of forcing open tlie door leadnig from the black turnpike
into the gallery chamber, and saving, if possible, the life
of the Earl of Gowrie. For it would appear that when
the Earl of Gowrie fell, being run through the body by
Eamsay, his followers lost heart and gave way so far as to
enable those in the chamber to shut them out and secure
the door, the fallen Earl of Gowrie being left in the
power of his enemies — those whom he had so lately been
exerting himself to entertain as guests. Now though, as
has been seen, there is some variation, if not actual dis-
crepancy, in the depositions, those who accompanied the
earl up the black turnpike and into the gallery chamber
cannot have exceeded six in number, namely Thomas
Cranstoun, Henry and Alexander Euthven, Hew Mon-
creiff, and Patrick Eviott and his man. This is the maxi-
mum number that could have been there. Different
depositions speak to four of them being seen bleeding,
namely Cranstoun, MoncreifT, Eviott and his man. Those
four, therefore, we may conclude to have been there. As
to the six being there, there is not conclusive evidence.
None of those actually engaged in the fray speak as to the

Thomas Cranstoun, in his deposition, says that 'My
lord [the Earl of Gowrie] bade, " Up the stair ! " And
he, passing forward at my lord's command, no ways
knowing who followed [that is, who followed after the
Earl of GowTie, whom Cranstoun immediately preceded],
my lord came to a chamber, where he saw Sir Thomas
Erskine, Doctor Herries, and John Eamsay, standing with
drawn swords.' ^ He does not say that he saw the king,

' Pitcairn, ii. 156.


who by this time was sliut up in the study by his attend-
ants to be out of harm's way, and therefore was incapable
of speaking as to the number of Gowrie's servants wlio
accompanied liini into the cliamber : and, as will be seen,
neither of his own witnesses whose depositions are pre-
served, Erskine and Kamsay, say a word about the number.
Sir Thomas Erskine, in his deposition, says : ' Sliortly
thereafter Sir Hew llerries [tlie doctor, as well as John
Eamsay, had been knighted between tlie time of the
murder and the time of taking this deposition] followed
this deponer into the chamber, and George Wilson,
servant to James Erskine ; and immediately thereafter
Maister Thomas Cranstoun, with his sword drawn in his
hand, entered within the said cliamber ; and the Earl of
Gowrie followed him within the same chamber, with a
drawn sword in each of his hands, and a steel bonnet on
his head ; who struck at this deponer and his colleagues,
a certain space. Likewise they defended themselves and
struck again. And that same time the said de})oner was
hurt in the right hand by Maister Thomas Cranstoun
[this is the only evidence of any of the king's attendants
being wounded, though the king's narrative asserts that
* Sir Thomas Erskine, Sir Hew Herries, and Sir John
Eamsay, were all three very sore hurt and wounded].
' And this deponer heard my Lord of Gowrie speak some
words at his entry, but understands them not, And last,
Sir John Eamsay gave the Earl of Go\vi'ie a dead stroke :
and then the earl leant him to his sword ; and the de-
poner saw a man hold him up, vrhom he knew not : and
how soon the earl fell to the ground, Maister Thomas
Cranstoun, and the rest who accompanied him departed,
and passed down the turnpike. And the de})oner re-



members that at that time there was more persons in the
chamber with the Earl of Gowrie by [besides] Mr.
Thomas Cranstoim ; but ls:new none of them ; except, he
beheves, that a bUick [dark-complexioned] man that was
there in company within the chamber was Hew Moncreiff,
brother to the laird of MoncriefT; but the deponer knows
not well whether or not it was Hew Moncreiff.' ^

As to all this Sir John Eamsay ' depones conform to
Sir Thomas Erskine in all points.' ^

If there had been seven persons with the Earl of
Gowrie, I think Erskine and Ramsay would have been
ready enougli to corroborate the assertion of the king's
narrative. But though this point cannot be ascertained
exactly, the whole number of armed servants on each
side can be ascertained. Eynd, the earl's pedagogue, says
in his deposition, ' That, to his opinion, the king's whole
company was within a dozen of men.' ^ Those who
tortured and examined Eynd would not have let out any
estimate whicli made against their object. Therefore this
estimate may be considered as within rather than beyond
the fact. We may therefore conclude that we are within
the actual number rather than beyond it if we place the
number of the king's company at eleven men. We can
ascertain to a man the number of the Earl of Gowrie's
servants and friends who were active in attempting, not to
carry out a plot which never existed, but to defend or avenge
their lord and his brother Alexander. They were Thomas
Cranstoun, George Craigengelt, John Macduff, Walter
C]'uikshank, Hew Moncreiff, Patrick Eviot and his man,
Henry and Alexander Euthven of Freeland — nine in

1 ritcah-n, ii. 182. = Ihkl. ii. 184.

3 Ilailes, iii. :387. ritcaini, ii. 221.


all.^ As to the citizens of Peitli, tliougli several, as lias
LcL'u seen, came at the sound ul' the bell, which was rung
by order of Bailie Eay, in order, as Eay expressly says in
his deposition, 'That all men might como in haste to his
Majesty's relief ; - the same person at the same time says
that, ' perceiving his Majesty in extreme and great danger,
he ran with all i)Os.sible dilij^ence throufdi the streets,
crying loudly " Fy ! Treason ! Treason against the king !
For God's sake, all honest men haste and relieve the
king ! " ' ^ It is, moreover, proved by some of the deposi-
tions that the citizens camemider an impression that they
were called to help both the king and their provost. Thus
' Gilbert Eichardson deposed, at the sound of the bell, he
came forenent the lodging, passed up the black turnpike,
where he saw . . . l^ruce, son to William Bruce, w^ith a
drawn sword, crying in under the door, " My lord duke,
for God's sake tell me how the king's grace is ? " And
the deponer cried over the window, " Come up and help
the king and the provost." ' * ' James Bower, notary,
deposed, at the sound of the bell, he came there, in his
armour, not knowing what the matter was. Cried up to
the Earl of Mar, "How the king's Majesty did?" AVho
answered, " Ilis Majesty was well." And thereafter asked,
" How the Provost, my lord, did ? " Who answered
likewise, " Well." Desired therefore that his lordship
would be so good as to let him see their faces, that he
might depart. Who answered, " I may be a messenger

' Andrew Iluthven, the cousin who accompanied Alexander lluthven that
morning to Falkland, does not appear to liave taken any part beyond wliat is
indicated in the deposition of Michael Baxter, who says tliat ' at the desire of
Andrew Ihithven he helped to bear up the Master [Alexander Buthven],
being dead, to the north chamber, in the lodging on the other side of the
close [court-yard].'— JV^c«iVH, ii. 197.

=* I'itcairn, ii. 186. » Ibid. * Ibid. ii. 11)0.

s 2


to you." Desired him therefore to depart home ; who
obeyed and departed.' ^

It may be also conchided, from the account given of
the fight in the gallery chamber by witnesses engaged in
it on opposite sides, namely, Cranstoim and Erskine, that
Eamsay was a better swordsman than either the Earl of
Gowrie himself, witli all his Italian education, or any of
his followers ; and that the other three, Erskine, Herries
(notwithstanding liis clubfoot), and Wilson, were at least
equal, if not superior, swordsmen to any of Gowrie's
attendants. Under all the circumstances of the case, and
even if Gowrie House had been the ' castle ' into which
Mr. Buckle has metamorphosed it, will any person ca-
pable of forming a passably correct conclusion from facts,
beheve that any sane man would have ' entrapped into
his castle in order to murder him ' a man with a retinue
superior to his own retinue both in number and in skill
in the use of their weapons ?

The reader may now judge how far the long string of
spontaneous uninterrogated testimony constituting this
' Discourse,' put forth by a man who was at once witness
and judge in his own cause, and intended to be direct
evidence against the Earl of Gowrie and his brother,
amounts to circumstantial evidence against himself, the
spontaneous uninterrogated witness.

It will be convenient to give here a short summary of
what appears to be established by the evidence given in
the preceding pages.

In the first place the result of the evidence shows that
there was no conspiracy or plot of any kind on the part of
the Euthvens. In the second place there is no evidence

■ Pilcairu, ii. 107.

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 20 of 40)