William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie
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William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie

William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, 4th Lord of Ruthven (c. 1541 – May 1584) was a Scottish peer known for devising the Raid of Ruthven.

Life and career

William Ruthven was born in 1541 in Ruthven Castle, Perthshire, Scotland, the son of Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven.[1] On 23 August 1581, he was named Earl of Gowrie by James VI of Scotland.[2]

He and his father had both been involved in the murder of David Rizzio in 1566; and both took an active part on the side of the Kirk in the constant intrigues and factions among the Scottish nobility of the period. William had been the custodian of Mary, Queen of Scots, during her imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle, where, according to the queen, he had pestered her with amorous attentions.[3]

In 1582 Ruthven devised and undertook the Raid of Ruthven--a plot to seize the fifteen-year-old James VI during the king's visit to his home at Huntingtower Castle. Ruthven remained at the head of the government for several months during the detention.[3] Ruthven continued to plot against the king, and was the last-known custodian of the silver casket that contained the Casket Letters; letters said to have been written by Mary, Queen of Scots, implicating her in the murder of her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.[4]

In May 1584 Ruthven was detained, tried, and beheaded at Stirling Castle because of his leading involvement in the Raid of Ruthven and all of his honors were forfeited. Following his execution, his lands were divided among the king's favourites,[1] but the honours were restored to his son James in 1586.[3]

His widow, Dorothea Stewart came to the opening of Parliament on 22 August 1584 and kneeled on the Royal Mile crying to the king for grace for her children. James Stewart, Earl of Arran pushed her away, and she fainted and was left on the street.[5]

A letter produced in the posthumous trial of Robert Logan of Restalrig in 1609 referred to William Ruthven as Greysteil, a character in a popular poem of his time noted for his strength and sinister powers, enthralled to a powerful woman.[6]

Marriage and children

William Ruthven was married to Dorothea Stewart, the oldest daughter of Henry Stewart, 1st Lord Methven and Janet Stewart, daughter of John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Atholl.

Scots Peerage lists 14 children of William and Janet, ten daughters and four sons:

Another source, Paterson's History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton lists another daughter named Elizabeth, explicitly called "Elizabeth (Not Isabel)":

  • Elizabeth Ruthven (died 1617), second wife of Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudon (died 1622).[10]

John and Alexander were killed on 5 August 1600 as the main characters in The Gowrie Conspiracy, a failed attempt to kidnap or murder James VI.


  1. ^ a b "William Ruthven (c. 1541 - 1584)". geni.com. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1385082/Ruthven-family
  3. ^ a b c McNeill 1911, p. 301.
  4. ^ Bowes Correspondence(Surtees Society, 1842), pp. 236-7, Robert Bowes to Francis Cunningham, 8 November 1582.
  5. ^ David Calderwood, History of the Kirk of Scotland, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1843), pp. 197-8
  6. ^ Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. iv, p. 422.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Paul, James Balfour (1904). The Scots Peerage. Edinburgh : D. Douglas.
  8. ^ Davies, J.D. (2010). Blood of Kings. England: Ian Allan Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 9780711035263.
  9. ^ Scotland, National Archives of. "NAS Catalogue - catalogue record". catalogue.nrscotland.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018.
  10. ^ James Paterson (1866). History of the counties of Ayr and Wigton: Cunninghame, vol. 3 part 2. Edinburgh. pp. 548-9.


External links

Peerage of Scotland
New creation Earl of Gowrie
Succeeded by
James Ruthven
Preceded by
Patrick Ruthven
Lord Ruthven

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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