The Gowrie House Affair: and the assassin’s knife

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The Gowrie House Affair: and the assassin’s knife

Gowrie House, near Perth /

Gowrie House, near Perth /

Breaking News:  August 1600

(News agency reports)

“Astonishing news is coming in from the city of Perth. The reports are confused, and confusing, but it appears that the young Earl of Gowrie, who has only recently returned from studying in Padua, had invited King James VI of Scotland to his home, Gowrie House. Most reports coincide in their opinion that the invitation to the young King actually came from Alexander, the Master of Ruthven (a Scottish title referring to younger sons of Earls), at the suggestion of his ambitious older brother.

“The Earl’s father was the man who had kidnapped the King 18 years before, when he was a small boy, and the Earl’s grandfather Lord Ruthven had been one of the conspirators who murdered the Queen’s secretary David Riccio in the presence of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was actually pregnant with the future King.

“All reports agree that the young Earl of Gowrie had intended to kidnap James VI – using his handsome brother Alexander as bait. It is common knowledge that James, apart from being married, moves openly in court gay circles. The plot was for Alexander to go upstairs to a ‘secret’ room with the King – at his suggestion – and there overpower him. His brother the Earl would then spirit the King away to an island at Dirleton, where he would be kept prisoner until he could be forced to abdicate. This plot is already being referred to in the press as ‘The Gowrie House Affair’.

“It seems that everything went wrong. The plot was foiled by King James’ page, another handsome young man called John Ramsay. It is impossible, given the circumstances, to provide a public explanation of why the King had gone upstairs with Alexander, locking the gallery door after them.

“Reports suggest what actually happened, when Ramsay, worried that the King his chief (and probably lover) had been upstairs behind locked doors for most of the afternoon following luncheon. Apparently Ramsay had been nervous during the meal, and especially so during the long afternoon. When a cry for help was heard Ramsay (who had obviously been keeping a jealous eye open) ran fast up a previously unnoted turnpike stairway which led to another door, unlocked, to the upstairs chamber. Ramsay found the King in a struggle with Alexander, whose head the King was holding down. The King shouted ‘strike him low, for he wears a secret pyne (mail) doublet!’ The question being asked by reporters is how did the King know about the mail doublet if he had not after luncheon removed it himself for his own reasons? We shall never know.

“Ramsay drew his own extremely dangerous hunting knife and mortally wounded the young Master of Ruthven, Alexander, who fell bleeding copiously. The Earl of Gowrie, hearing all the noise, advanced along a gallery with two swords drawn in the Italian manner, but Ramsay killed him too, when he dropped both points on seeing his younger brother dead.

(NOTE)  This is a true story told in the manner of the modern Press. Of the personalities involved, it is interesting to note that King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England as well, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The page John Ramsay was instantly rewarded by the King, with money and a knighthood. In 1606 he was further ennobled as Viscount Haddington. It is also interesting to learn that the dagger used by Ramsay to kill both the Gowrie brothers was the same weapon that had been used by the assassin Ravaillac to murder King Henry IV of France in his carriage on Friday, 14th May, 1610. There were at least two other men in the royal carriage at the fatal moment, the Dukes of Montbaron and Épernon, but they failed to stop Ravaillac.

Ramsay must have sold the weapon (Ravaillac said at his trial that he had ‘stolen’ the knife in a tavern). Ramsay’s upward ascent in society continued, as one of the greatest favourites of the King, when he became the English Earl of Holdernesse in 1620. Ramsay’s case is a rare one, because most royal favourites overreach themselves and end up disgraced or dead, or both. The Earl of Holdernesse died in his bed at a great age, taking with him most of the secrets and facts of the ‘Gowrie House Affair’. Ravaillac was caught by the Paris mob, but not before a large group of armed and mounted men wearing the livery of Orléans had clattered in to the Place. They might have been sent to rescue the killer. But then they rode away. Ravaillac died a horrible death, his heart being removed from his living body. Four horses were then roped to his arms and legs, and whipped up. They failed to descuartistarle however, as he was of robust constitution.

Postscript: Ravaillac despite horrible tortures insisted that he had acted entirely alone without accomplices, but the aristocrat in whose arms Henry IV died in the carriage was the Duke of Épernon, leader of a Catholic political party. Now Ravaillac had had a sexual affair with this Duke, proved by witnesses during the trial; another witness said that he had overheard the Duke and ‘a great lady of the Court’ discussing problems connected with the assassination of the King.


By | 2012-01-24T11:08:45+00:00 January 24th, 2012|English History, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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