The Gowrie Conspiracy.

 The Gowrie Conspiracy is one of the mysteries of the reign of King James VI. The 2nd Earl of Gowrie had been involved in the Ruthven Raid, and had caused the boy King James to burst into tears when he blocked his way from leaving the room they were in. The Earl was subsequently executed on 2 May 1584.  His son, John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie, was a popular provost of Dundee in 1593 who had spent some months abroad in Geneva where he had met the Divine, Theodore Beza. In August 1600 the King and a large retinue came to Gowrie`s home in Perth, saying that he had been invited there by the Earl`s brother, Alexander. For reasons never fully or satisfactorily disclosed, a scuffle took place in which the brothers were both killed. King James alleged that they had tried to assassinate him and they had been killed in the attempt. The circumstances were widely debated and refuted much to James` annoyance and he  exhibited extreme spite if anyone questioned the matter.


 An alternative twist to the tale is that James had assembled some friends at Falkland Palace to go hunting on 5 August 1600 and had been approached by Alexander Ruthven, the younger brother of the3rd Earl of Gowrie. Ruthven told the king that he had come across a man, possibly a papal agent or Jesuit spy, burying a pitcher of gold coins in a field outside Perth and invited the king to come and see the man and claim the gold for the Crown. On arriving at the Castle and seeing the stranger Ruthven allegedly drew a dagger and made to stab the king in revenge for having executed his father. The kings cries for help were heard and a gentleman called John Ramsay stabbed Ruthven in the neck; and, when the Earl of Gowrie came into the room, Ramsay also killed him. Ramsay was later knighted and made Earl of Holderness. In a peculiar turn of events some 350 residents of Perth were interrogated and some tortured; and, at the end of August the bodies of the brothers Ruthven were given a trial before Parliament. The corpses were pronounced guilty of treason then hanged, drawn and quartered. Bizarre though this was there may have been reason in it as the conviction for treason would formally render the estates of the deceased forfeit to the Crown.

Curiously ministers were required to give thanks for his deliverance and they were required to declare their belief of the King`s story. On his return to Edinburgh on Monday 11 August 1600 James with some nobles went to the Mercat Cross where his chaplain, Patrick Galloway, preached a sermon whereby he tried to convince the hearers that the Earl and his brother had conspired to kill the King. James, himself, rose and spoke against the brothers and later caused a narrative of the affair to be published. Despite these efforts the public and ministers did not believe James. The public remembered the earlier execution of the Earl`s father and they recalled also that the Gowries were staunch Protestants and friends of Elizabeth I. But they were also the undoubted enemies of the popish lords who surrounded the young King at that time.

 James remained angry at the comments of disbelief and he summoned ministers before him who were generally cowed into accepting the official version of events. One who did not acquiesce was Robert Bruce who was brought before the King but declined “to stain the glory of his ministry” by being a hypocrite and acknowledging the guilt of Gowrie. For his stand Bruce was banned from preaching and banished to France. McCrie in Sketches cites the Life of Melville and this exchange between the king and Bruce :

 The King acknowledged to Mr Bruce that he ordered Alexander Ruthven to be struck. “ I grant” said he, “ that I am art and part in Master Alexander`s slaughter, but it was in my own defence “. “Why brought ye not to justice ?” said Bruce: “ you should have had God before your eyes.” “ I had neither God nor the devil before my eyes, man!” said the king, interrupting him, “ but my own defence."

 The events do, however, tidy up the revenge scenario as the Gowrie family had been involved in the murder of David Rizzio; had been involved in the death of Lord Darnley; had been the harsh captors of Mary Queen of Scots -  all were now extinguished.

It is ironic that James` personal motto was “Beati Pacifici“ - Blessed are the Peacemakers.

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