The Gowrie Conspiracy

Clan Ruthven

The Ruthven traditionally trace their origin back to the viking chief Sweyn, and in particular his son Thor, who is regarded as the clans ancient founder. The name Ruthven most likely comes from the clans early association with the lands in Perthshire which were known as Ruadhainn, and lay just north of Loch Rannoch. This new area was believed to be named after the viking settlement of Roedven– which roughly translates into Ruthven in English from Gaelic.

During the reign of James III in the 15th century, the leader of the family clan, William Ruthven was made into a Lord by royal order. This creating the title of Lord Ruthven, which was to be passed down the forthcoming generations. The clan were not around for very long but were very notable in Scottish history. William Ruthven (the second Lord) was one of the leaders at the Battle of Flooden, in which he died in. While the 3rd Lord of Ruthven was Patrick Ruthven- the same Patrick Ruthven that is regarded as the murdered of Mary Queen of Scots much disliked Italian secretary David Rizzio.

Patrick Ruthven was eventually beheaded due to his participation in a planned kidnapping of the young King James VI. At this point he had become the Earl of Gowrie, and had joined the council of regency- where he had attempted (not the only one) to kidnap the king and execute authority on the country on his behalf. John Ruthven would be next to hold the family seat, and the accusations of witchcraft on the new Earl of Gowrie by James VI, would lead to the clans demise- in what would be known as the Gowrie Conspiracy.

An Interesting Invitation

It was August, in the year 1600 (exact). King James VI was on a Falkland hunting trip and was preparing to leave the horse stable at his Falkland residence. The King was accompanied by a Royal entourage, known as a Retinue, as he looks ahead to a morning of hunting. As they are about to set off, a man on a horse approaches them- that man is named Alexander Ruthven, Master of Ruthven. An interesting invitation is coming the way of the King.

Alexander Ruthven was 19 years old and lived at Gowrie House in Perth with 22 year old brother John, who was now the Earl of Gowrie. The Ruthven brothers wished to invite the King to their house to interrogate a prisoner of theirs. The captive is a foreign national, who was caught in the possession of large amounts of money wondering about the Ruthvens Perth lands. At this time is was not uncommon for foreigners to sneak into the country with resources, it was predominantly to support religious uprisings and minority movements in the country.

The young Master of Ruthven is now looking to speak to the king with regards to the prisoner. The master and the King were said to have a discussion lasting around 15 minutes. Following the discussion the King announced to his retinue that they would be having lunch with the Ruthven Brothers at Gowrie House, notably not mentioning the real reason he was visiting.

A Royal Disaster

The group first continued with their morning of hunting near Falkland House and it was around noon before the Daemonologie chief, along with the royal retinue (and Alexander Ruthven), visited the house as arranged. It is widely recognised that Alexander Ruthven rides back to his house accompanied with the King, which would suggest that he joined the royal retinue on their morning of hunting.

Upon arrival at Gowrie House, the King is taken by surprise at the untidy manner of the home and that lunch had not been prepared. This clearly would suggest that the Earl was not expecting the King, and would appear to contradict stories of the master sending a messenger back to the house to inform his older brother of the plans. It could also be used to dispute the suggestion that they had invited the King in the first place, as surely the brothers would have had communicated about the invitation and thus would have had their house in better order.

James VI, his retinue, and the Ruthven brothers enjoy a very late lunch before the group splits into two. Alexander takes the royal retinue into the parlour for drinks, while John and the King head upstairs to attend to the prisoner. Unbeknown to the King, however, was that the Ruthven brothers had actually been plotting to kill him– and his time had apparently come. Trouble was brewing.

The Daemonologie author is led into a small attic-like room where he is confronted by a man in heavy armour (believed to be a servant of the Ruthvens). As the Royal one turned towards John he was taken by surprise at being faced with the sharp end of a dagger. An argument ensues, before the Earl retreats back downstairs to converse with his brother. What they were arguing about remains a mystery.

Following this discussion between the brothers, the royal retinue were informed that the King had departed by horse, back into the town. They initially departed the house, but gathered outside and quickly noticed that the kings horse was still there. Meanwhile in the room, and the master returned with rope and began an attempt to bind the kings hands together. The King made a fight of it however and, after a wrestle, reached a window and was able to cry treason. The Kings royal retinue soon arrived at the room and began breaking down the door, before a huge battle ensued. The fight ended with the deaths of the Ruthven brothers. The King was not injured.

Royal Propaganda

Many believe it was all fabricated- Royal Propaganda. The King had simply led a personal assault on the Gowrie House, it was suggested. If we look into the situation there is many inconsistencies and strange points in the story, that are not in harmony with other parts.

The first odd circumstance would be that it is widely recognised that the Ruthven Brothers had not prepared their home, that it was untidy– highly unusual if you were expecting a visit from the King. Alexander Ruthven had apparently sent a messenger back to his house, to inform his brother that the meeting was happening, but no messenger ever came forward to verify this. The lunch that James VI and his royal retinue were expecting had not been prepared in any way, and was subsequently delayed by two hours- and its unlikely the King would have stayed.

Secondly, its difficult to believe that the brothers would continue with their plan after seeing that the King had arrived with around 20-25 people. Its also questionable that James’s entourage would leave without his word (coming from his mouth). The Kings behaviour in the aftermath also clearly suggests he despised the brothers, and he has a history of murdering his enemies. The name Ruthven seemed to take up particular annoyance with his Majesty aswell, to the point where he had the name (and any titles associated with it) abolished following the deaths. This was restored by Oliver Cromwell in 1658 following the request of one of the brothers decedents. Despite this the famous Gowrie House remains known as Huntingtower Castle.

Finally, a motive. The witchhunter was said to owe large amounts of money to the Ruthven brothers. You would think, as the king, he would be embarrassed about owing large amounts of money to people. It can be common aswell for the creditor, particularly in those days, to take upon themselves a degree of authority on the debtor- something which no doubt would have infuriated James VI.

One way or another, the Gowrie Conspirators achieved their objective- it was the end of Clan Ruthven.

The former home of the Clan Ruthven, Huntingtower Castle

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