William Ruthven was born in 1541, at Ruthven Castle in Perthshire, Scotland.

In 1582 William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie was Lord High Treasurer of Scotland and because of the Scottish court’s excessive spending was owed 48,000.00 pounds.

He also wanted to end Esme Stewart’s influence over the Protestant King James VI of Scotland. It was believed Stewart, who had been made Lord Lenox in 1581 supported the dethroned Mary, Queen of Scots, and was maybe a Catholic spy.

On 22nd August 1582, William Ruthven and other Protestants Lairds decided to abduct the sixteen-year-old James, and rule in his place. Therefore, ridding the court of its Catholic leanings and bringing its extravagance under control.

“The Ruthven or Gowrie Regime”, ruled Scotland for eleven months. During this time James was kept under guard and moved from place to place. He was made to sign a proclamation, ‘that he would rule free & ban Lord Lenox’, who then fled to France. Esme Stewart, Lord Lenox died in France the following year.

King James managed to free himself while in St. Andrews. James regained his throne and most of the conspirators were then caught & exiled.

William Ruthven, considered head of the plot, although, found guilty of ‘treason’ was pardoned. However, because he continued to revolt, against the crown, he was finally imprisoned and executed in May 1584.

All his lands were forfeited. But in 1586 his son, James, became 2nd Earl of Gowrie. He unfortunately died shortly afterwards at the young age of eleven and his brother John, aged nine became the 3rd Earl of Gowrie.

At the beginning of August 1600, a minister called on, Gowrie House, the Ruthven town house, in Perth, and was startled to find John reading, ” De Conjurationibus Adversus Principes” – (A Collection of Conspiracies made against Princes). John declared, ‘they had all failed because you should never take anyone into your confidence when plotting such an act’. The Minister told him to fill his mind with other things and leave treason alone.

Sixteen years had passed since his father’s beheading. John was now twenty-three years old. Full of revenge, he had been conspiring with Queen Elizabeth I, of England. He wanted the militant Presbyterians to rise up and keep the Catholic religion & Mary, Queen of Scots from returning to Scotland.

As King James was preparing to ride out from Falkirk Palace, on 5th August 1600, Alexander Ruthven, John’s younger brother, strode up to him. He claimed his brother had detained a man carrying ‘a pot full of gold’.

James should question him – as surely the gold should belong to the King ? James was at first doubtful, but then agreed, to go, after the hunt was over. So, accompanied by a dozen of his men King James rode the fourteen miles to Gowrie House, later that afternoon.

After a small meal James told his men to relax, and he followed Alexander up the stairs to the top room of the turret. Once there, Alexander locked the door and pulled back a curtain, to reveal his servant and a picture of his father, William. James believed now he was to be murdered, but Alexander told him not to go to the window, and all would be well. James was left  in the servant’s safe-keeping.

Meanwhile, downstairs John had told the king’s men that James had leftso they rushed out to follow. When they got to the gate the guard informed them that no-one had passed through. Motioning towards the rear gate, the servant held out the key and said it had never been opened today. The king’s men quickly retraced their steps back to the house.

Up in the turret room, Alexander’s servant denied he knew anything of the plot and allowed James to fling open the window. Just as his men were returning, he yelled ‘treason’. On hearing this they rushed for the stairs, but were hindered by the bolted door. Alexander had got back to James and they could now hear the scuffle of his hands being tied, through the wooden door.

John Ramsay, James’ servant had seen another staircase, and had raced up. The door at the top was not closed and drawing his dagger, he lunged at Alexander injuring him. More men followed, drew their swords and killed him. As John approached the steps and saw his brother’s body, he charged in. He was killed too.

On 7th August the Privy Council of Scotland found John and Alexander Ruthven guilty of High Treason so their bodies were preserved, and not allowed to be buried.

It took until November 15, 1600 before their bodies were hung and quartered. Their heads displayed at Edinburgh, their arms and legs were dispersed throughout Perth.

Ruthven Castle was confiscated and renamed Huntingtower Castle. Titles were stripped from the Ruthven family.

The two younger Ruthven brothers, William & Patrick fled to England. When Elizabeth died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland was heir to the throne of England.

When he became King James II of England, William Ruthven sailed to America. He lived out his life in a Scottish community there, changed his name to Ruffin and was called Earl of Gowrie until he died.

Patrick was caught in England and spent nineteen years in the Tower of London.

(Maybe if John had not read, ‘A Collection of Conspiracies made against Princes’)

And he had confided in Alexander’s servant, then he would not have let James near a window,

if he had also confided in his own servant on the gate, King James’ men would have ridden off into the night     





Leave a reply


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


©2021 The Scots of Barra

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?