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GOWRIE, Earl of, a title (attainted in 1600) in the peerage of Scotland, conferred in 1581 on William, fourth Lord Ruthven of Dirleton (see RUTHVEN, Lord), second but eldest surviving son of the third Lord Ruthven, the principal actor in the murder of Rizzio. In that transaction he was also engaged, and in consequence fled to England with his father, after whose death he obtained the queen’s pardon, through the intercession of the earl of Morton. He joined the association against the earl of Bothwell, in 1567, and on the surrender of the queen to the confederated lords at Carberry Hill on the 15th June of that year, he and Lord Lindsay conducted her in disguise, the following night, to Lochleven castle. He is stated to have been one of the nobles who, by menaces, forced the hapless Mary, on the 24th July following, to sign a resignation of the crown, but he does not appear to have been present on the occasion. He was, however, conjoined with Lord Lindsay n the commission extorted from her, empowering them in her name to renounce the government. Throckmorton, the English ambassador in Scotland, writing to Queen Elizabeth on the 14th July, says: “The Lord Ruthven is employed in another commission, because he began to show great favour to the queen, and to give her intelligence.” He supported the regent Moray at the battle of Langside, and in June of the same year he did farther service to the king’s party, by preventing the earl of Huntly with a thousand foot from the north, from joining the earls of Argyle and Arran; and these noblemen, who favoured the queen were, in consequence, obliged to disband their forces. On the 13th June, 1571, his lordship was made treasurer for life. In 1577 he joined the other lords against his former friend, the earl of Morton, and on 24th March 1578 he was sworn a member of the king’s privy council. On 12th June of the same year he appears as commissioner for the city of Perth, then called St. Johnstone, of which town, as his father and grandfather had been, he was also provost. The same year he was appointed lieutenant of the borders in place of the earl of Angus, and on 25th November nominated one of the extraordinary lords of session. He became the bitter enemy of the regent Morton, on account of the latter taking the part of Andrew, Lord Oliphant, in certain legal proceedings arising out of the mutual slaughter of each other’s followers, while at deadly feud, on 1st November 1580. Lord Ruthven was tried and acquitted. Lord Oliphant’s trial is not recorded. In the following year Lord Ruthven was one of the chief of the nobility who brought Morton to the scaffold. ON 23d August 1581, he was created earl of Gowrie, and obtained a considerable part of the lands belonging to the monastery of Scone. [Douglas’ Peerage, vol. I. P. 602.] He was the principal of the confederated nobles engaged in the “Raid of Ruthven,” 23d August 1582, the alleged object of which was the defence of the religion and liberties of the kingdom, but in reality to procure the dismissal of the king’s favourites, the duke of Lennox and Stewart, earl of Arran, and to obtain possession of the king’s person. James had been enjoying the sports of the field in Athol, when he was invited by the earl of Gowrie to Ruthven castle, now called Huntingtower, in the parish of Tippermuir, Perthshire. The morning after his arrival, the associated lords appeared in his apartment, and presented a remonstrance against Lennox and Arran, when finding himself a prisoner, the king, after threatening and entreating them by turns, at last burst into tears. The master of Glammis, one of the confederates, fiercely exclaimed to his companions, some of whom were relenting, “No matter for his tears; better children weep than bearded men!” James was first removed to Perth and afterwards to Edinburgh, most sedulously guarded by Gowrie and the noblemen concerned in the enterprise; but in the following May he effected his escape from them at St. Andrews. A new privy council was immediately appointed, and the king published a declaration, in which he stated, that though duly sensible of the treasonable attempt upon his person at Ruthven castle, he was willing to forgive all past offences, if the actors in that exploit would crave pardon in due time, and not be guilty of any farther treason against him. Through the advice of Sir James Melville the earl of Gowrie was pardoned by the king, who soon visited him again at the castle of Ruthven, where, after being royally entertained by his lordship, the latter fell down upon his knees, and most humbly professed his sorrow for his share in retaining his majesty in that unhappy house at his last being there. His pardon under the great seal is dated 23d December 1583. Arran, however, soon after regained his ascendency in the king’s favour, when a convention of the estates was held, at which those concerned in the Raid of Ruthven were declared to be traitors, and the earl, notwithstanding his pardon, was ordered to leave Scotland and proceed to France. He now, unfortunately for himself, entered into a correspondence with his former associates, especially with the earl of Mar and the master of Glammis, who had both retired to Ireland, with the view of concerting a second enterprise for securing the person of the king. It was arranged that Mar and Glammis with their adherents should return from Ireland, and after being joined by the earls of Gowrie and Angus, were to make themselves masters of Stirling castle. To deceive the court he proceeded to Dundee, and pretended to be making preparations for his voyage to France. The time limited for his final departure was the last day of March 1584, but he contrived, under various pretexts, to delay sailing will the 16th of April, only two days before the day fixed for the intended surprise of Stirling castle, when he was unexpectedly apprehended, by Captain William Stewart of the royal guard, in the house of one William Drummond, a burgess of Dundee. He made considerable resistance, and attempted to defend the house in which he lodged, but Stewart procured some pieces of ordnance from the vessels in the harbour, and the earl was compelled to surrender. He was conveyed by sea to Leith, and committed a prisoner in Edinburgh. Hopes being held out to him that he might save his life by revealing the plans of the conspirators, he emitted a confession under his own hand, which is preserved in Spottiswood’s History (page 331). He was subsequently, by the king’s order, removed to Stirling, where he wrote a letter on the 30th of the same month to the king, earnestly entreating an interview in order to reveal a secret, “which,” he said, “might have endangered the life and estate of your mother and yourself, if I had not stayed and impeded the same, the revealing whereof may avail your majesty more than the lives and livings of five hundred such as myself.” The interview was refused, and the earl was brought to trial for high treason on the 4th of May. To the charges exhibited against him he urged a variety of objections, which were all overruled. He was found guilty, and beheaded between eight and nine o’clock the same evening. His titles and estates were at the same time declared to be forfeited. He made a long speech on the scaffold, in which he maintained that all his actions were intended for the benefit of the king, concluding with expressing the same regret which many great men have done in similar cases, “that if he had served God as faithfully as he wished to have done the king, he would not have come to that end.” Archbishop Spottiswood describes him as “a man wise, but said to have been too curious, and to have consulted with wizards touching the state of things in future times.” [Spottiswood’s History, p. 332.]

      By his countess, Dorothea Stewart, second daughter of Henry Lord Methven, he had, with seven daughters, five sons. James, the eldest son, was second earl; and John, the second son, third and last earl of Gowrie. Alexander, the third son, was killed with his brother, the third earl, in what is called “the Gowrie conspiracy,” against King James at Gowrie House, Perth, 5th August, 1600, afterwards referred to. William, the fourth son, retired to the continent, and distinguished himself by his knowledge in chemistry. Patrick, the youngest son, an eminent physician, was confined for many years in the Tower of London, whence he was not released till 1619. The eldest daughter, Lady Margaret Ruthven, married James, fourth earl of Montrose, and was the mother of the great marquis of Montrose. All his other daughters married titled persons, three of them noblemen, except the youngest, Lady Dorothea, who became the wife of James Wemyss of Pittencrieff in Fife. An extraordinary exploit of one of the first earl’s daughters, probably the youngest, is recorded in Pennant’s tour through Scotland. She was courted by a young gentleman, wh was held by her parents to be of inferior rank, and whose addresses were, therefore, not encouraged by her family. When a visitor at Ruthven castle, which then had two towers, he was lodged in the opposite one to that of the young lady. One night when the lovers were together in his apartment, some prying domestic acquainted her mother with the circumstance. The countess hastened to surprise them, and the young lady, hearing her footsteps, ran to the top of the leads, and took the desperate leap of nine feet four inches over a chasm of 60 feet. Alighting in safety on the battlements of the other tower, she crept into her own bed, where her astonished mother found her, and was immediately convinced of the injustice of the suspicions entertained of her. Next night the young lady eloped with her lover, and was married. The place between the two towers was ever after known as “the Maiden’s Leap.” After the earl’s execution his countess was left destitute, and could obtain no favour from the court. At the meeting of parliament on 22d August following, the king and lords went on foot to the Tolbooth, and when they were going up the High Street, the countess of Gowrie went down on her knees, crying to the king for grace to her and her poor ‘bairns,’ who never had offended his majesty. The favourite Arran would not suffer her to come near, but thrust her down, and hurt her back and her hand. She fainted on the spot, and lay on the street till they were in the Tolbooth, when she was taken into a house. “This,” says Calderwood, “was the reward she received for saving Arran’s life at the Raid of Ruthven.”

      James, the second earl, was restored to his titles and estates in 1586, and died in 1588, in his 14th year. Although so young, he held the office of provost of Perth.

      His next brother, John, third earl and sixth Lord Ruthven, succeeded when about eleven years old. He was educated at the grammar school of Perth, and carefully instructed in the doctrines of the protestant religion. While attending the university of Edinburgh, he was elected, though a minor like his brother, provost of Perth. In August 1594, he went to the continent to prosecute his studies, and on his departure the town council of Perth, as a testimony of their respect for the Ruthven family, bound themselves and their successors in office by a written obligation, to choose him annually as their provost during his absence. He was away nearly six years, and returned to Perth on 20th May 1600, being then in the 22d year of his age. He was killed in his own house on 5th August following, with his brother, the Hon. Alexander Ruthven, in an alleged treasonable attempt on the person of the king; for an account of which the reader is referred to the life of James the Sixth. The mystery connected with their fate has never yet been unravelled, and in all probability never will. All the evidence respecting what is historically known by the name of the “Gowrie Conspiracy,” will be found in Pitcairn’s ‘Criminal Trials of Scotland,’ where the subject is ably investigated; but all the inquiries that have been made into the circumstances of the transaction leave an impression unfavourable to James, which no special pleading has yet been able to remove. The great accomplishments of the two brothers, thus untimely slain, their popular manners, generous disposition, and religious character, rendered their countrymen slow to believe their guilt, and no motive could be imputed to them for perpetrating such a crime, as an attempt to assassinate their sovereign, but that of a desire to avenge on the king the execution of their father. The presbyterian clergy, in particular, entertained doubts of their treason, and the great Robert Bruce, minister of Edinburgh, was exiled from Scotland for refusing to offer up thanks in his pulpit for the king’s deliverance. James himself showed a suspicious anxiety to fasten the crime of treason on their memory. In 1600 appeared ‘A Discourse of the unnatural conspiracy attempted against his majesty’s person at St. Johnstone,’ on the 5th of August that year, which is reputed to be the king’s own account of the matter. He volunteered to give the city of Perth, where the Ruthven family were held in the highest estimation, a charter of confirmation of rights and privileges, besides entering his name on the guildry book as a burgess of the town. The conduct pursued towards the two unfortunate young men after death showed a marked hostility to their name and house. Douglas states, (vol. I. P. 602) that their dead bodies were removed to Edinburgh, and an indictment of high treason preferred against them. After the examination of witnesses, parliament, on 15th November of the same year, pronounced sentence, declaring them guilty of treason, and decerning their name, memory, and dignity to be extinguished; their arms to be cancelled; their whole estate forfeited and annexed to the crown; their bodies to be drawn, hanged, and quartered at the cross of Edinburgh; the name of Ruthven to be abolished; and their posterity and surviving brothers to be incapable of succeeding to, or of holding any offices, honours or possessions. The fifth day of August, the day of the king’s miraculous escape, was also ordered to be held annually as a day of public thanksgiving; but, besides its never being very popular, it was soon superseded b y the more memorable event of the Gunpowder Plot.

Papers relating to William, First Earl of Gowrie
And Patrick Ruthven, his fifth and last surviving son by John Bruce (1867) (pdf)

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