The king in the north

Do you remember that gruesome massacre scene in Game of Thrones when Jamie, the sixth of his name, who would one day rule from the stone throne was out hunting. He is lured to go almost alone to Castle Ruthven, by two young brothers, Earl Gowrie and Alexander Ruthven. They were planning to assassinate him in revenge for the cruel Jamie beheading their father. Jamie gets locked in a tower and is just about to die a horrible death only to be saved when John Ramsay finds a secret way in. The brothers are then killed in a bloody sword fight down the stairs and across the yard by the king’s retainers and the king is saved.

Well, you are probably struggling to recall that bit of Game of Thrones.

Here’s why.

It is because it happened in that other multi-part blockbuster series — known as ‘real life’.

On this day (well, not counting the dates in between getting skewed by the shift from Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1752 — “give us back our 11 days!”) on August 5 1600, all that stuff happened to Jamie, James VI of Scotland — later James I of England, aka the King James of King James’ bible fame.

castle James

James VI of Scotland and first of his name in England: nice shoes

Here’s a bit of background. Firstly Castle Ruthven was a bit more metropolitan than I’ve described it. It was the Gowrie’s townhouse in the ancient Scottish city of Perth and known as Ruthven House. Nevertheless it was pretty defensible unless you turned up with a few cannon and a large army.

castle ruthven

Where King James was imprisoned: Ruthven House

James had been there before — again under duress. A bunch of ultra-Protestants had kidnapped the boy king for ten months in the 1580s and allegedly humiliated him and made him cry, it is reported. The conspirators including Gowrie the father were angered by the influence of Europe on the young king. Queen Elizabeth of England was herself having Euro-issues with the Spanish in the shape of an invasion and was more than happy to see James locked up.

But as in the Game of Thrones, fate turns and now in 1600, Elizabeth is old. The Spaniards are defeated and vindictive James is in the ascendant.

The king had a reputation for liking money. He spent it faster than it came in. So when the Ruthven boy Alexander turned up at the hunt and asked for a quiet word with the king it was to tell him some news that Ruthven knew would interest the old Scot.

Back in 1588 weather and the English had defeated the Spanish Armada. The Spanish fleet was forced for safety’s sake to sail  north, up and around the top of Scotland, before heading for home. One of them, the treasure ship Florencia was said to have been sunk in Tobermory Bay. What Ruthven whispered to the king was that they had captured a peasant in possession of a large amount of Spanish gold from that treasure. This interested the king enough to fall into the trap.

Persuaded to come back to Ruthven House with just a few men, he was led alone up to a turret, with the Earl of Gowrie locking two doors behind them. Instead of meeting a man with gold, he met Gowrie’s armed accomplice, a servant. Gowrie held the servant’s knife to the king’s throat. Stupidly he left the king alone with the servant to go back downstairs to get his younger brother so that they both could take part in the revenge.

The few king’s men were about to leave after Alexander Ruthven had spread the story that the king had ridden off, but then they heard the shout of ‘treason’ from the tower and saw the king. They ran to help but the locked doors barred their way. That was until John Ramsay (yes I know, Game of Thrones) found another way in.

But that’s one side of the story. It’s known as the Gowrie mystery as much as it’s the Gowrie Conspiracy for some say that bad king James planned the killing all along and made up the story that he was lured to the Ruthvens. The evidence points to the fact that he wanted to wipe out the dynasty — and pursued two other Ruthvens who had nothing to do with the alleged crime. It was also said that he owed the Ruthvens a substantial amount of money, and unlike the Lannisters, this Jamie did not pay his debts. So sensitive was the king about this later that he ordered his version to be preached in churches while prosecuting and persecuting any that would repeat the contrary version.

And just for good measure, to make sure that the Crown, ie Jamie, got all the Ruthven land, he had the corpses put on trial for treason — and as you can imagine, the boys did not put up much of a defence.

And you thought Game of Thrones was bloody and far-fetched?

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