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August 5th 1600

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The Gowrie Conspiracy

“When they found occation that hes Majestie’s haill nobillis and courtiers wer gone furthe, the twa brether desyrit his Majesty to goe and sie yair cabinet. Hes Majesty, a blist soul, thinking no evil went wt yame, qr they enterit in gripis wt him wt dageris to have slain him. But……he cryit ouir ane window ‘Treasone, treasone’. In the meine tyme the foirsaid twa brether had ane man standing behind the tapestrie in armes with ane twa handed sword in his hand quha wes ordeinit, giff yair sould come any helpe, he sould keip the dore till the murder could be done. Bot it pleasit God yat he wes maid powerless and could not steir out of this place qr he stuid. In the meine tyme hes Majesty and the twa brether are at the wrestling. Thomas Erskine and John Ramsay hes Majestie’s page of honour for the tyme came running up to the cabinet and at the last the twa brether conspyreris baith wer stikit and the Lord preservit the holy innocent Prince.” 

This touching description of the attempted murder of the “holy innocent Prince”  by the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, the Master of Ruthven relies entirely on the information of King James 6th himself. It is in effect the official version of events and was received with much scepticism by many people in Scotland and further afield.

There was said to be a hereditary feud between James and the Ruthven family. Lord Ruthven was implicated in the murder of Riccio and was therefore an enemy of James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

The Earl of Gowrie was later hung for his part in the Ruthven Raid. A case might therefore just be made for saying that the Earl of Gowrie and his brother wished to exact family revenge against the king but it appears inherently improbable. The Earl was only twenty-two, his brother younger. They could have no hope of murdering the King and remaining alive themselves for there were no other noblemen implicated in the affair. James, for his part, was known to be mean, vindictive, grasping and a proven liar. In addition, he owed the Earl a debt of £80,000 which was then conveniently cancelled and the family lands were confiscated to the Crown. The scepticism which greeted James’ story of the affair seems more than justified.

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