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of any plot on the part of tlie king. As has been said,
the only direct evidence respecting the cause of the
struggle between the king and Alexander Ruthven is the
testimony of the king, and a small part of the deposition
of Sir Thomas Erskine, where he lets out tliat, having
been stationed by the king at the door of tlie gallery
chamber, he knew more than any one else except the
parties engaged of what took place between the king and
Alexander Euthven, I have shown that tliough the
king's testimony is direct evidence, it is the evidence of a
witness who cannot be rehed on. The same remark ap-
plies to the whole of the evidence of Andrew Henderson.

The only established facts are, that King James and
Alexander Ruthven were in a room together without
witnesses ; that Alexander Ruthven had no offensive
arms but a sword, wliich was found to be rusted in the
scabbard ; that a struggle somehow took place between
him and the king ; that the king instead of having him
secured (which he could easily have done, having
a superioi;; force of armed servants close by), and brought
to trial for the attempt which he alleged had been made
against his Hfe or his liberty, ordered him to be slain, it
may be said, in cold blood, for he offered no resistance.
Now there was no reason whatever why the man with the
superior force of armed servants should not have secured
the other man, and brought him to trial for any offence he
had to charge him with. But it suited his purpose best
to have the man killed on the spot, and then to have the
telling all his own way of a story known thoroughly only
to himself and the dead, who could tell no tales.

When the account of this afiair given by the kin^^-'s
authority was first made public, it was generally received


by King James's own subjects with total disbelief. The
clergy for some time refused to obey the order issued to
them to read from their pulpits his ' Discourse of the
Unnatural and Vile Conspiracy.' At length the king,
chiefly by threats, prevailed on all of them with one or
two exceptions, to profess that they were convinced of the
truth of the royal statement. The principal exception
was Mr. Eobert Bruce of Kinnaird, a younger son of the
family of Airtli in Stirlingshire, and one of the ministers
of Edinburgh. This Eobert Bruce, a man worthy of the
name he bore and also a worthy ancestor of James Bruce
the Abyssinian traveller, could be brought no farther by
all the king's persuasions (and he made James furious by
asking him why he did not take the Euthvens alive and
bring them to a public trial, since it could not be denied
that that might easily have been done) than to declare
that he respected his Majesty's account of the transaction,
but could not say that he himself was persuaded of the
truth of it. The high reputation of Bruce for integrity and
ability rendered his example extremely dangerous, but at
the same time rendered it dangerous to employ any very
summary and violent measures with him, such as would
without scruple have been, and were used, with men more
obscure. The king, after trying in vain all his power of
persuasion in various conferences with him, at last deprived
him of his benefice, and banished him the kingdom.^

Eather more than half a century before the time wher.
the events above related took place, the practice c
trying persons for high treason even after death hac
been introduced in Scotland from the Eoman law. The
time at which this practice was adopted by the Scots,

' I'itcairn's Criminal Trials, vol. ii. p. 236, et seq. Spottiswood, p. 4G1, et neq.


1540,^ niaik.s Llic progress of dcspotisin in Europe during
the sixteenth century. For it should be observed that
it was only in its later stages, when tyranny had made
great strides towards perfection, that the Roman law
authorized this practice, which, in its worst form, was
copied by the modern Gei'man and other European
tyrants.^ Even under the tyranny of Tiberius and Xero
the Eoman law was not so ; if the person accused died
before judgment, his property descended to liis heirs.
The reader of Tacitus need not be reminded of the
numerous examples, in those dreadful times of which
Tacitus writes, of persons preventing judgment by a
voluntiuy death in order that tlieir children or heirs
might not be deprived of their property ; and in that
case the emperor had to pay his blood-hounds who had
hunted the victim to death, out of his privy purse, ^scias,
as opposed to cerarium^ the public treasury.^ By so much
was the condition of Scotland luider this Stuart worse
than the condition of Eome under Tiberius and Xero.

In accordance with this law the form of a trial was
gone through before the Scottish parliament. The dead

' Uobertson's History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 209, note, London, 182o.

* See Julii Pacii Analys. Instit. Lib. iv. tit. 18, § 3. Though the English
kings were precluded by the English law from this mode of acquisition, their
rapacity sought to effect the same object by excessive cruelty. ' It was pro-
bably,' say8 Mr. Amos, ' with a view to secure forfeitures, that the punish-
ment of the peine forte et dure was made so excruciating.' Note at pp. 374,
875 of The Great Oyer of Poisoning : the Trial of the Earl of Somerset. In
the same note Mr. Amos mentions tlie case of a man who suffered himst-lf to
be pressed to death in order to preserve his estate for his child, which would
have been forfeited had he pleaded and been convicted. The same case is
given in Christian's note (4 Bl. Com. 32.5). In which note it is also stated
that ' in the legal history of England there are numerous instances of persons
who have liad resolution and patience to undergo so terrible a death in order
to benefit their heirs by preventing a forfeiture of their estates, which would
have been the consequence of a conviction by a verdict.

^ Sec particularly Tacit. Ann. iv. 30.


bodies of the two brotliers ^ were produced before the
parHament that met at Edinburgh on November 1.^ An
indictment for high treason was preferred against them.
Witnesses were examined, from whose depositions various
extracts have been given in the preceding pages. The king,
indeed, who was the material witness, was not examined.
Some writers have of late insisted much on the small
power of the Scottish kings ; and it is indeed true that as
long as the Scottish nobility continued to possess warlike
habits and warlike vassals, they could sometimes singly,
like the old Douglases, and always when combined, set
their kin^s at defiance. But there were various forces
at work at this time to weaken the power of the nobihty
and strengthen that of the king. Their own habits and
those of their dependents had become much less warlike
in the course of the preceding century. The near
prospect, moreover, of a vast accession of power to their
king by his succession to the throne of England operated
both in the way of fear and of hope. Added to all
which considerations was the immediate plunder of the
large and valuable estates of the Gowrie family. The
result was that by the sentence of the parliament the
estates and honours of the Gowrie family were declared
forfeited ; the punishment of traitors was inflicted on the
dead bodies of the earl and his brother. On the same
day on which the Earl of Gowrie, and all his family,

^ Among the extracts from the Records of the Privy Council of Scotland
given by Mr. Pitcairn, there is an order to the magistrates of Perth to keep
the bodies of the Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander unburied. —
Pitcairn, ii. 233.

^ ' Oct. 30. The coi-pses of the Earl of Gowrie and his brother were trans-
ported to Edinburgh to the parliament to be holden the first of November ;
and were ferfaulted the 11th of November.' — Extract from Fleming's
Chronicle, MS. Advocates' Library. Pitcairn, ii. 247. Thus it was the
* corpses ' that were 'ferfaulted,'


including liis fatlier's brotlier, were ' ferfaulted,' namely,
November 15, ' being the riding-day of Parliament,' Sir
Thomas Erskine received a charter of the third part of
the lordship of Dirleton, John Eamsay and Ilew Herries
were knighted, and Sir Thomas Erskine's man^ was made
gentleman.''^ On October 9 a proclamation was issued,
charging all those of the name of Euthven to pass out of
the country ; in special, Alexander, father's brother to
the said earl, and the said earl's two surviving brothers.^
The king also commanded August 5 to be kept as a
solemn day, with preaching and prayer and thanksgiving,
for his preservation from the treason of Gowrie and his
brother and their accomplices.* In addition to all this,
as if the punishment hitherto in use did not express
sufficient detestation of the crimes of the Earl of Gowrie
and his brother Alexander Euthven, the parliament
enacted that the surname of Euthven should be abolished.

There is some extremely significant evidence to be
gathered from the records of the proceedings of this
parliament in the matter of the Earl of Gowrie and his
brother. In the folio edition of 1816 of the acts of the
parliament of Scotland, which contains in full all the acts
not before printed, the acts relating to tlie Gowrie case,
of the parliament held at Edinburgh in November IGOO,
are in all eight in number, besides the ' Doom of Parlia-
ment' against the two brothers which precedes the acts.
The acts stand in the following order.

1. Act anent the dishereising and inhabilitie of the
brothers and posterity of the Earl of Gowrie.

^ This seems a mistake for Sir Thomas Erskine's brother's man, George

' Robert Uirrel's Diary, cited Pitcairn, ii. 246.

=» Ihid. ibid. ' * Ibid. ibid.


2. Act abolishing the surname of Rnthvcn. Tliis pro-
ceeding, as Dr. Eobcrtson has remarked, was mipre-
dented at that time in Scottish history ; an important cir-
ciniistance, to which I sliall have to refer hereafter.

3. The fifth da}^ of August appointed for a solemn
thanksoivino;s in all time comins;.

4. Act of annexation of aforesaid lands to the crown.
But the ' exceptand ' [excepting] clauses of this act are
very important. Large grants are made thereout in the
first place to Sir Thomas Erskine. Then grants of a
somewhat smaller extent are made to Sir Hew Herries, to
Mr. Patrick Galloway, and to several others. Sir John
Ramsay's services are not rewarded in this act, but by a
separate act which stands the eighth in number, and is
intituled ' Act in favour of Sir John Eamsay.' An enfeft-
ment of the lands of East Barnes, not out of the Gowrie
estates, is made to Eamsay.

The acts fifth and seventh are acts in favour of Sir
Thomas Erskine and Sir Hew Herries respectively.

A question may here arise. Alexander Euthven was
killed by Sir John Eamsay, Sir Hew Herries, and George
Wilson, the servant of James Erskine, the brother of Sir
Thomas Erskine. The Earl of Gowrie was killed by
Eamsay alone. Whj^, then, did Sir Thomas Erskine's
share of reward occupy so prominent a place ? The
answer is, that Sir Thomas Erskine, like Somerset, Avas
possessed of one of those costly secrets which King James
had the fortune to be concerned in. It was in the dex-
terity with which James managed to preserve his dan-
gerous secrets that he evinced that ability for compassing
his ends before mentioned. The intrinsic ability of a
man to be rewarded went for nothing with King James.


Tliougli Bacon was a very great man, and tliis Er^^kine a
very small man; and thougli Bacon was as ready a>i
Erskine could be to blacken his name and damn himsell
in the king's service, what were Bacon's rewards compared
to Erskine's ? When James succeeded to the throne of
Enoland, Sir Walter llaleigh was removed from tliq
captainship of the Guards, and that ofTice was conferred
on Sir Thomas Erskine, who was also created an earl and
a knight of the Garter, and received large grants of land
in addition to the third part of the lordship of Dirleton,
which had belonged to the Earl of Gowrie. Sir John
Eamsay was also created Viscount Haddington, and su]3-
sequently Earl of Holderness, We have seen what were
the facts regarding the slaughter of the Earl of Gowrie
and his brother. Any one who wishes to see an instruc-
tive commentary on Burke's Letter to a Noble Lord on the
attacks made upon him and his pension in the House of
Lords by the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale,
may read the titles ' Erskine, Earl of Kellie,' and ' Eamsay,
Viscount of Haddington,' in Douglas's Peerage of Scot-

It appears that William Eutliven, the brother wIk
was next in age to the two Euthvens murdered in tlu
manner described, and who would but for the forfeiture
have become Earl of GoAvrie, made his escape to the con-
tinent at the time when his younger brother Patrick ^ was

' An iiiterepting account of Patrick Eutliven, drawn up by Mr. .Tolin
Bruce from the family papers relating to the liuthvens, of Colonel Cowell
Stepney, M.P., a representative of the last male descendant of the Gowrie
family, will be found in the Archadopia, vol. xxxiv. pp. 190-224. Patrick
Ruthven remained a prisoner in the Tower for near twenty years. !Mrs.
Hutchinson, who was the daughter of Sir Allen Apsley, Lieutenant of th'
Tower, in the Fragment of Autobiography, prefixed to her Memoirs of tbi.
life of her husband, Colonel Hutchinson, says : — ' Sir "Walter Ealeigh and

268 i:ssAys on historical truth.

thrown into the Tower by King James, and sought refuge
in France. At all events he was in France in the begin-
ning of the year 1608. For, though historical inquirers
have been able to learn nothing further respecting him
than that he lived beyond sea, I have met with traces of
him, which appear to me to have a not unimportant bear-
ing on this subject. These traces occur in the correspon-
dence between M. de la Boderie, the French ambassador
in England in 160|, and the French Secretary of State.
In a dispatch dated February 3, 160|, from the French
Secretary of State to the French ambassador in England,
there is the following passage : ' You will have the copy
of a petition presented to the king by the Earl of Gowrie,
to two points of which, namely to give him some main-
tenance in this court, or to give him the means of going
to serve some other prince, his majesty will not listen, but
would rather aid him in getting him restored to his pro-
perty, if the good offices of his Majesty in that behalf
witli the King of England would be well received ; you
will sound gently thereupon, and inform us of the result ;
for otherwise his Majesty will not engage in the business.'^
■ To this communication, which shows that the King of
France, Henry IV., took an interest in the unfortunate
family, incompatible with a belief in the treasonable con-
Mr. Ruthin [Patrick Rutliven, perhaps called Rutheu or Ruthin because
the name nf Ruthven had been abolished in Scotland by Act of Parliament]
being prisoners in the Tower, and addicting themselves to chemistry, my
motlier suifered them to make their rare ex])f liments at her cost, partly to
comfort and divert the poor prisoners, and partly to gain the knowledge of
their experiments, and the medicines to help such poor people as were not able
to seek physicians. By these means she acquired a great deal of skill, which
was very profitable to many all her life.'

' Ambassades de M. de la Boderie, en Angleterre, sous le regne de Henri IV
et la miuorite de Louis XIII, depuis les ana es IGOC jusqu'en 1611, 5 torn.
1750, torn. iii. p. 68


spiracy with wliich they were charged, the French am-
bassador, in a dispatch dated London, Febuary 14, ICO^,
made the following significant reply : — ' As to the matter
of the Earl of Gowrie [du Conite de Gouray], wliose
petition you have sent me, the king has not only done very
well in refusing the two first parts, but I am by no means
of opinion that he should engage in the other. Chi
offende non per dona ; and if ever prince was of that
humour, this is so. It would make him furious ^ only to
speak of it to him ; and besides that we should gain
nothing thereby, because all the estates of the said earl
have been given to several lords, all of whom it would be
necessary to displease and render disaffected in order to
satisfy him. His condition is truly deplorable ; but I see
no remedy for it, at least on our part.' ^

But although the French ambassador judged it alto-
gether inexpedient to sound the king himself on this
subject, it is extremely probable that King James might
hear something of the proposition of the French king.
For La Boderie was on good terms with Eamsay, then
Viscount Haddington, whom he several times mentions in
his dispatches as one of James's courtiers who were more
favourable to the French than the Spanish interest.

^ Ce serait le faire cabrer.

* Ambassades de M. de la Boderie, torn. iii. p. 108. In another dispatch
(27 Feb. 100|) La Boderie, after mentioning the enormous sums -which
King .Tames had bestowed on Sir John Ramsay, uses tliese remarkable ex-
pressions : — ' 1 do not doubt that in these extraordinary favours wliich he has
received from the king his master, there may have been a little artifice ; for
as the action for which the king advanced him and the subject of it are a
little aromatic and told dillerent ways, there is an appearance that bv these
public demonstrations the said king attempts to confirm the belief respecting
it which he has sought to give ; but I know not if that will be sufficient to
prevent qu'il n'en demeure une grande note a sa maison au jugemeut de la
posterite.' — Ihid. torn. iii. p. 130.


There is therefore strong ground for the conclusion that
the interest taken in the Gowrie family l^y Henry IV. of
France forced upon James the conviction that it was
necessary to make some attempts to produce a stronger
beUef of tlie truth of his story about what he called ' the
imnatural and vile Conspiracy attempted by John Earl of
Gowrie and his brother against his Majesty's person.'
The result was an attempt by King James and his confi-
dential minister in Scotland, Sir George Home, who had
been active eight years before in having Eynd ' extremely
booted,' and who for his services as a minister obsequious
to his master and oppresive to his master's subjects, had
l^een created Earl of Dunbar, to ' make the story of the
Gowrie Conspiracy hang more handsomely together, by
having another unfortunate wretch ' extremely booted.'
These words ' hang more handsomely together,' which are
very significant as showing the general opinion at that
time in England, and even in James's court, respecting the
story, occur in the following passage of a contemporary
letter : ' The king is somewhat pleased with a late acci-
dent, where one Sprot being to be executed for some
other matter, confessed somewhat touching Cowrie's con-
spiracy that makes it hang more handsomely together.^
This matter of Sprot, which was by no means an accident,
confirms, as I will show, not the truth, but the falsehood,
of the king's story ; which, if it did not ' hang handsomely
together,' before, hangs still less handsomely together now.
But I will first give Sir Walter Scott's version of this matter
of Sprot, which is, as will be seen, quite in accordance with
his treatment of the rest of the tragedy of Gowrie House.

1 John Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton, London, Nov. 11, 1608. MS.
State Paper Ollice.


Sir Walter Scott says : — ' Nine [eight] years after the
affair, some hglit was thrown upon the transaction by one
Sprot, a notary-public, who, out of mere curiosity, had
possessed himself (jf certain letters, said lo have been
written to the Earl of Gowrie by Robert Logan of
Eestalrig, a scheming, turbulent, and profligate man. In
these papers allusion was repeatedly made to the death of
Gowrie's father, to the revenge which was meditated, and
to the execution of some great and perilous enterprise.
I^astly, there was intimation that the Ruthvens were to
bring a prisoner by sea to Logan's fortress of Fastcastle, a
very strong and inaccessible tower, overhanging the sea,
on the coast of Berwickshire.' ^ As Sir Walter Scott had
received the education of a lawyer and may therefore be
supposed to have had some knowledge of the principles of
evidence, the only explanation that occurs of his writing
thus respecting these letters is, that he had never read
them. But Sir Walter even takes credit for making a
point in favour of tlie king which had been before over-
looked. He says : ' I mu<t not conclude this story without
observing that Logan's bones were brouiiht into a court
of justice, for the purpose of being tried after death, and
that he was declared guilty, and a sentence of forfeiture
pronounced against him. But it has not been noticed
that Logan, a dissolute and extravagant man, w^as deprived
of great part of his estate before his death, and that the
king, therefore, could have no lucrative object hifollowing
out this ancient and barbarous form of process.' ^ Sir
Walter has been particidarly unfortunate in the raising of
this point, as w^ill appear from what follows.

' Sir "Walter Scott's History of Scotland, vol. i. pp. 330, 3:'57 : Edinburgb,
2 Ibid.


It is, ill the first place, to be observed that Robert
Logan, laird of Eestalrig, who is described by all who
mention him as a man of extremely profligate character
and dissolute life, ^ was a man about as likely to have
been selected as a confidential friend by the Earl of
Gowrie and his brother as Judge Jefferys would have
been to be so selected by Sir Matthew Hale, or Bucking-
ham, Lauderdale, and Clifford by Lord Eussell and
Algernon Sydney. This Logan died in the month of
July 1606 ; and the state in which he left his property
at the time of his death will afford very curious evidence
respecting the reasons which induced the Earl of Dunbar,
prime minister, and Lord Balmerinoch, Secretary of State,
for Scotland, to select Logan of Eestalrig as a candidate
for the honour of having participated with the Euthvens
in what they dominated ' the Gowrie Conspiracy.' It
appears that both these persons, Dunbar and Balmerinoch,
had engaged in money transactions to a great amount
with Logan, and were deeply indebted to his estate.
' From the record of the Great Seal it appears,' says Mr.
Mark Napier, 'that in the year 1605 Logan's estate of
Eestalrig had passed into the hands of Balmerinoch by
purchase. But the price had not been paid ; and when
the laird of Eestalrig died the Secretary was in his debt
no less than eighteen thousand marks, a large sum in
those days. This is proved by the register of confirmed
testaments, where Logan's is recorded ; and by the same
it appears that the Earl of Dunbar was also Logan's
debtor to the amount of fifteen thousand marks.' ^

^ * Ane godless drunkin deboschit man in his tyme.' Wodrow MSS. in
the Advocates' Library, cited Pitcaim's Criminal Trials, vol. ii. p. 275.

2 See Mr. Mark Napier's very valuable note in the Bannatyne Club edition
of Spottiswood's History, vol. iii. p. 280. Mr. Napier adds : — ' To that mosL


It furtlier appears, by extracts from the Eegister of tlie
Privy Seal, also furnished to Mr. Mark Napier by Mr.
David Laing, that George earl of Dunbar obtained from
the king ' the gift of the escheit and ferfaultour of tlie
sowme of fyftene thousand markis Scotis money,'
remaining unpaid by him to the late Robert Logan of
Eestlarig for completing the sum of thirty-eight thousand
marks agreed on for the lands of Flemyngtoun. At the
same time appears another grant to Alexander Home of
Eenton, the Earl of Dunbar's cousin-german, of certain
leases and tithes that had belonged to the late Eol^ert
Logan of Eestalrig. It has been said to be dangerous to
speculate about motives, but there were here motives o-
considerable force for the selection of the dead Logan of
Eestalrig to perform the principal part in the afterpiece
to the Gowrie House tragedy that was now to be brought
upon the stage.

For the accomplishment of their own and their royal
master's purpose this prime minister Dunbar, and tliis
secretary of state Balmerinoch, fixed upon a certain notary
of the name of George Sprot. This Sprot was, like Logan,
a man of bad character, being known as a fraudulent

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 21 of 40)