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An old Scottish lady, four generations ago, used to
say, 'It is a great comfort to think that, at the Day
of Judgment, we shall know the whole truth about the
Gowrie Conspiracy at last.' Since the author, as a
child, read ' The Tales of a Grandfather,' and shared
King Jamie's disappointment when there was no pot
of gold, but an armed man, in the turret, he had sup-
posed that we do know all about the Gowrie Con-
spiracy, that it was a plot to capture the King, carry
him to Fastcastle, and ' see how the country would
take it,' as in the case of the Gunpowder Plot. But
just as Father Gerard has tried to show that the Gun-
powder aSair may have been Cecil's plot, so modern
historians doubt whether the Gowrie mystery was
not a conspiracy by King James himself. Mr. Hume
Brown appears rather to lean to this opinion, in
the second volume of his ' History of Scotland,' and
Dr. Masson, in his valuable edition of the ' Eegister of
the Privy Council,' is also dubious. Mr. Louis Barbe,
in his ' Tragedy of Gowrie House,' holds a brief against
the King. Thus I have been tempted to study this


' auld misterie ' afresh, and have convinced myself
that suc;h historians as Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Frazer
Tytler, and Mr. Hill Burton were not wrong ; the
plot was not the King's conspiracy, but the desperate
venture of two very young men. The precise object
remains obscure in detail, but the purpose was probably
to see how a deeply discontented Kirk and country
' would take it.'

In working at this fascinatingly mysterious puzzle,
I have made use of manuscript materials hitherto
uncited. The most curious of these, the examina-
tions and documents of the ' country writer,' Sprot,
had been l3riefly summarised in Sir William Fraser's
'Memorials of the Earls of Haddington.' My attention
was drawn to this source by the Eev. John Anderson,
of the General Eegister House, who aided Sir
William Fraser in the compilation of his book. The
Earl of Haddington generously permitted me to have
copies made of the documents, which Lady Cecily
Baillie-Hamilton was kind enouoh to search for and
rediscover in an enormous mass of documents be-
queathed by the learned first Earl.

On readino- the Calendars of the Hatfield MSS.
I had observed that several letters by the possible
conspirator, Logan of Eestalrig, were in the posses-
sion of the Marquis of Salisbur}^ who was good
enough to permit photographs of some specimens to
be taken. These were compared, by Mr. Anderson,
with the alleged plot-letters of Logan at Edinburgh ;
while photographs of the plot-letters were compared


with Logan's authentic letters at Hatfield, by Mr.
Gunton, to whose acuteness and energy I owe the
greatest gratitude. The results of the comparison
settle the riddle of three centuries.

The other hitherto unused manuscripts are in
no more recondite place than the Eecord Office in
London, and I do not know how they managed to
escape the notice of previous writers on the subject.
To Dr. Masson's 'Eegister of the Privy Council' I
am indebted for the sequel of the curious adventure
of Mr. Eobert Oliphant, whose part in the mystery,
hitherto overlooked, is decisive, if we accept the
evidence — a point on which the reader must form his
own opinion. For copies made at the Record Office
I have to thank the care and accuracy of Miss E. M.

To Mr. Anderson's learning and zest in this
' longest and sorest chase ' (as King James called his
hunt on the morning of the fatal August 5) I am
under the deepest obligations. The allurements of a
romantic conclusion have never tempted him to leave
the strait path of historical impartiality.

I have also to thank Mr. Henry Paton for his
careful copies of the Haddington MSS., extracts from
the Treasurer's accounts, and other researches.

For permission to reproduce the picture of Fast-
castle by the Eev. Mr. Thomson of Duddingston, I
have to thank the kindness of Mrs. Blackwood-Porter.
The painting, probably of about 1820, when compared


with the photograph of to-day, shows the destruction
wrought by wind and weather in the old fortaUce.

My obligations to Sir James Balfour Paul (Lyon
King of Arms) for information on points of Heraldry
ought to be gratefully acknowledged.

Since this book was written, the author has had
an opportunity to read an Apology for the Euthvens
by the late Andrew Bisset. This treatise is apt to
escape observation : it is entitled ' Sir Walter Scott,'
and occupies pp. 172-303 in 'Essays on Historical
Truth,' long out of print. ^ On many points Mr. Bisset
agreed with Mr. Barbe in his 'Tragedy of Gowrie
House,' and my replies to Mr. Barbe serve for his
predecessor. But Mr. Bisset found no evidence that
the King had formed a plot against Gowrie. By a
modification of the contemporary conjecture of Sir
William Bowes he suggested that a brawl between
the King and the Master of Euthven occurred in the
turret, occasioned by an atrocious insult ofiered to
the Master by the King. This hypothesis, for various
reasons, does not deserve discussion. Mr. Bisset ap-
peared to attribute the Sprot papers to the combined
authorship of the King and Sir Thomas Hamilton :
which our new materials disprove. A critic who,
like Mr. Bisset, accused the King of poisoning Prince
Henry, and many other persons, was not an unpreju-
diced historian.

^ Longmans, Green, & Co., 1871.



Introduction vii

I. The Mystery and the Evidence .... 1

II. The Slaughter of the Ruthvens 11

III. The King's Own Narrative 35

IV. The King's Narrative. II 55

V. Henderson's Narrative 60

VI. The Strange Case of Mr. Robert Oliphant . . 71

VII. The Contemporary Ruthven Vindication ... 80

VIII. The Theory of an Accidental Brawl . . . . 94

IX. Contemporary Clerical Criticism .... 99

X. Popular Criticism of the Day ... . . Ill

XI. The King and the Ruthvens 118

XII. Logan of Restalrig . . .... 148

XIII. The Secrets of Sprot 168

XIV. The Laird and the Notary 182

XV. The Final Confessions of the Notary . . . 201

XVI. What is Letter IV ? 232

XVII. Inferences as to the Casket Letters . . . 240




A. Thk Frontispiece 245

B. The Contemporary Ruthven Vindication . . . 252

C. Five Letters forged by Sprot, as from Logan . 257

Index 265


Gowrie's Coat of Arms Frontispiece

James VI fo face i). 4

From the picture painted bu Paul Van Sorner (1621) «oir in the
National Portrait Gallerv

Queen Anne ,. 133

From a painting by Paul Van Somer in Queen Anne's liooni,
St. James's Palace

Falkland Palace „ 33

From a Photograph by J. Valentinp & Sons, Dundee

Dirleton Castle „ 82

Froi7i a Photograph by J. Valentine & Sons, Dundee

Falkland Palace : the Courtyard . . . . ., 116

From a Photograph by J. Valentine tt Sons, Dimdee

Restalrig House „ 150

From a Photograph by W. J. Hay, Edinburgh

Eestalrig Village „ 150

From a Photograph by W. J. Hay, Edinburgh

Fastcastle {circ. 1820) ,, 154

From a picture by the Rev. Mr. Thomson, of Dudilingston, in the
possession of Mrs. lilackicood-Porter


Fastcastle to face x>- 176

From a Photograph by ./. Valentine .t Sota, Dundee

Fastcastle „ 192

From a Photograph bii J. Valnntine & Sons, Ound>;e

Handwriting of Logan {January 1585-6) ... „ 196

Hand of Logan as forged by Sprot (second page

of Letter IV) ,,202

Handwriting of Sprot {Julij 5, 1608) .... „ 210


Situation and Topography of Gowrie House . . . p- 15

Interior of Gowrie House ,,17

The Gallery Chamber and the Turret, Gowrie House . „ 59





There are enigmas In the annals of most peoples ;
riddles put by the Sphinx of the Past to the curious
of the new generations. These questions do not
greatly concern the scientific historian, who is busy
with constitution-making, statistics, progress, degene-
ration, in short with human evolution. These hiijh
matters, these streams of tendency, form the staple of
history, but the problems of personal character and
action still interest some inquiring minds. Among
these enigmas nearly the most obscure, ' The Gowrie
Conspiracy,' is our topic.

This affair is one of the haunting mysteries of
the past, one of the problems that nobody has solved.
The events occurred in 1600, but the interest which
they excited was so keen that belief in the guilt or
innocence of the two noble brothers who perished in
an August afternoon, was a party shibboleth in the
Wars of the Saints against the Malignants, the strife



of Cavaliers and Eoundheads. The problem has ever
since attracted the curious, as do the enigma of
Perkin Warbeck, the true character of Eichard III,
the real face behind ' The Iron Mask,' the identity of
the False Pucelle, and the innocence or guilt of Mary-

In certain respects the Gowrie mystery is neces-
sarily less attractive than that of ' the fairest and
most pitiless Queen on earth.' There is no woman in
the story. The world, of course, when the Euthvens
died, at once acted on the maxim, cherchez la feinnie.
The woman in the case, men said, was the beautiful
Queen, Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI. That
fair and frivolous dame, ' very very woman,' cer-
tainly did her best, by her behaviour, to encourage
the belief that she was the cause of these sorrows.
Even so, when the Bonny Earl Moray — the tallest
and most beautiful man in Scotland — died like a lion
dragged down by wolves, the people sang :

He was a brave gallant,

And he rode at the ring,
And the Bonny Earl Moray,

He might have been the King.

He was a brave gallant,

And he rode at the glove,
And the Bonny Earl Moray

He was the Queen's love.

On one side was a beautiful Queen mated with
James YI, a pedant and a clown. On the other
side were, first the Bonny Earl, then the Earl of


Gowrie, both young, brave, handsome, both suddenly
slain by the King's friends : none knew why. The
opinion of the godly, of the Kirk, of the people, and
even of politicians, leaped to the erroneous conclusion
that the young men perished, like Konigsmarck,
because they were beautiful and beloved, and be-
cause the Queen was fair and kind, and the King
was ugly, treacherous, and jealous. The rumour also
ran, at least in tradition, that Gowrie ' might have
been the King,' an idea examined in Appendix A.
Here then was an explanation of the slaying of
the Euthvens on the lines dear to romance. The
humorous King Jamie (who, if he was not always
sensible, at least treated his flighty wife with abun-
dance of sense) had to play the part of King Mark
of Cornwall to Gowrie's Sir Tristram. For this
theory, we shall show, no evidence exists, and, in
'looking for the woman,' fancy found two men.
The Queen was alternately said to love Gowrie,
and to love his brother, the Master of Euthven, a
lad of nineteen — if she did not love both at once.
It is curious that the affair did not give rise to
ballads ; if it did, none has reached us.

In truth there was no woman in the case, and
this of course makes the mystery much less excit-
ing than that of Mary Stuart, for whom so many
swords and pens have been drawn. The interest
of character and of love is deficient. Of Gowrie's
character, and even of his religion, apart from his
learning and fascination, we really know almost

B 2


nothing. Did he cherish that strongest and most sacred
of passions, revenge ; had he brooded over it in Italy,
where revenge was subtler and craftier than in Scot-
land ? Did this passion blend with the vein of fanati-
cism in his nature ? Had he been biding his time,
and dreaming, over sea, boyish dreams of vengeance
and ambition ? All this appears not improbable, and
would, if true, explain all ; but evidence is defective.
Had Gowrie really cherished the legacy of revenge
for a father slain, and a mother insulted ; had he
studied the subtleties of Italian crime, pondered over
an Italian plot till it seemed feasible, and communi-
cated his vision to the boy brother whom he found
at home — the mystery would be transparent.

As to King James, we know him weU. The babe
' wronged in his mother's womb ; ' threatened by
conspirators before his birth ; terrified by a harsh
tutor as a child ; bullied ; preached at ; captured ;
insulted ; ruled now by debauched favourites, now
by godly ruffians ; James naturally grew up a dis-
sembler, and betrayed his father's murderer with a
kiss. He was frightened into deceit : he could be
cruel ; he became, as far as he might, a tyrant. But,
though not the abject coward of tradition, James
(as he himself observed) was never the man to risk
his life in a doubtful brawl, on the chance that his
enemies might perish while he escaped. For him a
treachery of that kind, an afiair of sword and dagger
fio-hts on staircases and in turrets and chambers,
in the midst of a town of doubtful loyalty, had

• U ,tJ^,^,&.i^rfU./iJi -J,

(fr//ir.J VI.


certainly no attractions. Moreover, he liad a sense
of humour. This has been the opinion of our best
historians, Scott, Mr. Tytler, and Mr. Hill Burton;
but enthusiastic writers have always espoused the
cause of the victims, the Euthvens, so young, brave,
handsome ; so untimely slain, as it were on their own
hearthstone. Other authors, such as Dr. Masson in
our own day, and Mr. S. E. Gardiner, have abstained
from a verdict, or have attempted the via media ;
have leaned to the idea that the Euthvens died
in an accidental brawl, caused by a nervous and
motiveless fit of terror on the part of the King.
Thus the question is unsettled, the problem is un-
solved. Why did the jolly hunt at Falkland, in the
bright August morning, end in the sanguinary scufile in
the town house at Perth ; the deaths of the Euthvens ;
the tumult in the town ; the King's homeward ride
through the dark and dripping twilight ; the laying
of the dead brothers side by side, while the old
family servant weeps above their bodies ; and the
wailing of the Queen and her ladies in Falkland
Palace, when the torches guide the cavalcade into the
palace court, and the strange tale of slaughter is
variously told, ' the reports so fighting together that
no man could have any certainty ' ? Where lay the
actual truth ?

This problem, with which the following pages are
concerned, is much darker and more complex than
that of the guilty ' Casket Letters ' attributed to Mary.
Queen of Scots. The Queen did write these, in the


madness of a criminal passion ; or she wrote parts
of them, the rest being garbled or forged. In either
case, her motives, and the motives of the possible
forgers, are distinct, and are human. The Queen
was in love with one man, and hated another to the
death ; or her enemies desired to prove that these
were her moods. Absolute certainty escapes us, but,
either way, motives and purposes are intelligible.

Not so with the Gowrie mystery. The King,
Mary's son, after hunting for four hours, rides to
visit Lord Gowrie, a neighbour. After luncheon, that
nobleman and his brother are slain, in their own house,
by the King's attendants. The King gives his version
of the events instantly ; he never varies from it in
any essential point, but the story is almost incredible.
On the other hand, the slain men cannot speak, and
only one of them, if both were innocent, could have
told what occurred. But one of their apologists, at
the time, produced a version of the events which is,
beyond all doubt, boldly mendacious. It was easy
to criticise and ridicule the King's version ; but the
opposite version, hitherto unknown to historians,
destroys itself by its conspicuous falsehoods. In the
nature of the case, as will appear, no story accounting
for such wild events could be easily credible, so extra-
ordinary, motiveless, and inexplicable do the circum-
stances appear. If we try the theory that the King
wove a plot, we are met by the fact that his plot could
not have succeeded without the voluntary and vehe-
ment collaboration of one of his victims, a thing that


no man could have reckoned on. If we adopt the
idea that the victims had laid a trap for the King, we
have only a vague surmise as to its aim, purpose, and
method. The later light which seemed to fall on the
affair, as we shall see, only darkens what was already
obscure. The inconceivable iniquity of the Govern-
ment, at a later date, reflects such discredit on all
concerned on their side, that we might naturally,
though illogically, be inclined to believe that, from
the first, the King was the conspirator. But that,
we shall find, was almost, or quite, a physical im-

Despite these embroilments, I am, in this case, able
to reach a conclusion satisfactory to myself, a thing
which, in the affair of the Casket Letters and Queen
Mary, I was unable to do.^ There is no doubt, in my
own mind, that the Earl of Gowrie and his brother
laid a trap for King James, and fell into the pit which
they had digged.

To what precise end they had plotted to seize the
King's person, what they meant to do with him when
they had got him, must remain matter of conjecture.
But that they intended to seize him, I have no doubt
at all.

These pages, on so old and vexed a problem,
would not have been written, had I not been fortu-
nate enough to obtain many unpublished manuscript
materials. Some of these at least clear up the
secondary enigma of the sequel of the problem of

^ See The Mystery of Mary Stuart. Longmans, 1901.


1600. DifTerent readers will probably draw difTerent
conclusions from some of the other documents, but
perhaps nobody will doubt that they throw strange
new lights on Scottish manners and morals.

The scheme adopted here is somewhat like that
of Mr. Browning's poem, ' The Eing and the Book.'
The personages tell their own stories of the same set
of events, in which they were more or less intimately
concerned. This inevitably entails some repetition,
but I am unable to find any plan less open to

It must, of course, be kept in mind that all the
evidence is of a suspicious nature. The King, if he
were the conspirator, or even if innocent, had to
clear himself; and, frankly, his Majesty's word was
not to be relied upon. However, he alone was
cross-examined, by an acute and hostile catechist, and
that upon oath, though not in a court of justice. The
evidence of his retinue, and of some other persons
present, was also taken on oath, three months after
the events, before a Parliamentary Committee, ' The
Lords of the Articles.' We shall see that, nine years
later, a similar Committee was deceived shamelessly
by the King's Government, he himself being absent
in England. But the nature of the evidence, in the
second case, was entirely different : it did not rest
on the sworn testimony of a number of nobles,
gentlemen, and citizens, but on a question of hand-
writing, comparatio literarum, as in the case of the
Casket Letters. That the witnesses in 1600 did not


perjure themselves, in the trial which followed on
the slaughter of the Ruthvens, is what I have to
argue. Next, we have the evidence, taken under
torture, of three of the slain Earl's retainers, three
weeks after the events. No such testimony is now
reckoned of value, but it will be shown that the
statements made by the tortured men only com-
promise the Earl and his brother incidentally, and in
a manner probably not perceived by the deponents
themselves. They denied all knowledge of a plot,
disclaimed belief in a plot by the Earl, and let out
what was suspicious in a casual way, without
observing the import of their own remarks.

Finally, we have the evidence of the only living
man, except the King, who was present at the central
point of the occurrences. That this man was a most
false and evasive character, that he was doubtless
amenable to bribes, that he was richly rewarded, I
freely admit. But I think it can be made probable,
by evidence hitherto overlooked, that he really was
present on the crucial occasion, and that, with all
allowances for his character and position, his testi-
mony fits into the facts, while, if it be discarded,
no hypothesis can account for him, and his part in
the adventure. In short, the King's tale, almost
incredible as it appears, contains the only explanation
which is not demonstrably impossible. To this con-
clusion, let me repeat, I am drawn by no sentiment
for that unsentimental Prince, 'gentle King Jamie.'
He was not the man to tell the truth, ' if he could


think of anything better.' JSut, where other corro-
boration is impossible, by the nature of the circum-
stances, facts corroborate the King's narrative. His
version ' colligates ' them ; though extravagant they
become not incoherent. No other hypothesis pro-
duces coherency : each guess breaks down on de-
monstrated facts.




In the month of August 1600 his Majesty the King
of Scotland, James, sixth of that name, stood in more
than common need of the recreation of the chase.
Tilings had been going contrary to his pleasure in all
directions. ' His dearest sister,' Queen Elizabeth (as
he pathetically said), seemed likely ' to continue as
long as Sun or Moon,' and was in the worst of humours.
Her minister, Cecil, was apparently more ill disposed
towards the Scottish King than usual, while the
minister's rival, the Earl of Essex, had been suggest-
mg to James plans for a military demonstration on
the Border. Money was even more than normally
scarce ; the Highlands were more than common unruly ;
stories of new conspiracies against the King's liberty
were flying about ; and, above all, a Convention of the
Estates had just refused, in June, to make a large
grant of money to his Majesty. It was also irritating
that an old and trusted servant. Colonel Stewart,
wished to quit the country, and take English service
against the Irish rebels. This gentleman, sixteen
years before, had been instrumental in the arrest and
execution of the Earl of Gowrie ; the new young Earl,


son of the late peer, had just returned from the Con-
tinent to Scotland, and Colonel Stewart was afraid
that Gowrie might wish to avenge his father. There-
fore he desired to take service in Ireland.

With all these frets, the King needed the refresh-
ment of hunting the buck in his park of Falkland.
He ordered his own hunting costume ; it was
delivered early in August, and (which is singular)
was paid for instantly. Green English cloth was
the basis of his apparel, and five ounces of silver
decorated his second-best ' socks.' His boots had
velvet tops, embroidered ; his best ' socks ' were
adorned with heavy gold embroidery ; he even
bought a new horse. His gentlemen, John Eamsay,
John Murray, George Murray, and John Auchmuty,
were attired, at the Eoyal expense, in coats of green
cloth, like the King.^

Thus equipped, the Eoyal party rose early on the
morning of Tuesday, August 5, left the pleasant
house of Falkland, with its strong round towers that
had lately protected James from an attack by his
cousin, wild Frank Stewart, the Earl of Bothwell ; and
rode to the stables in the park ; ' the weather,' says his
Majesty, 'being wonderful pleasant and seasonable.' ^
' All the jolly hunt was there ; ' ' Tell True ' and the
other hounds were yelping at the limits of their
leashes ; the Duke of Lennox and the Earl of Mar,

' Extracted from the Treasurer's Accounts, July, August, 1600. MS.
^ The King's Narrative, Pitcairn's Criminal Trials of Scotland,
ii. 210.


friends of James from his youth, and honourable
men, were the chief nobles in the crowd ; wherein
were two or three of the loyal family of Erskine,

Online LibraryAndrew LangJames VI and the Gowrie mystery → online text (page 1 of 24)