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August 23rd 1600

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Victims of the Gowrie Conspiracy

The so-called Gowrie Conspiracy certainly resulted in the deaths of the Earl of Gowrie and his younger brother, but whether there was an actual conspiracy against the King is very much more problematical.

There was a deliberate and sustained attack on the character of the Earl of Gowrie after his death. Preaching in Edinburgh, the minister Patrick Galloway could say, “As to that man Gowrie, let none think that by this traitorous fact of his, that our religion has received ane blot; for ane of our religion was he not but a deep dissimulat hypocrite! Ane profound Atheist! Ane incarnall Devil in the coat of an Angel! As is maist evident baith by this traitorous fact, whilk we have received by his familiars” . There was the allegation that Gowrie, when in Italy, had audiences with the Pope and “made covenant and bands with him”  to persuade the King to return to the Catholic faith.

After his death, a small paper book was found in his pocket allegedly scribbled over with necromantic signs and figures. Much effort was made to demonstrate from this that Gowrie was a sorcerer and a necromancer.

To obtain further information, Mr William Rhynd, who acted as the Earl’s tutor while he was abroad, was examined. His evidence not coming up to expectations, torture was applied without much success. George Nicholson writing to Lord Cecil in England. “Mr William Rhynd, the pedagogue, hath been extremely booted, but confesseth nothing of that matter against the Earl or his brother.” 

There was still no evidence of a conspiracy to murder the King though three of the Earl’s companions were arraigned on a charge of attempting to defend the Earl and his brother when they were attacked by the King's servants. The three men, Thomas Cranstoun, probably the Earl’s secretary, George Craigingelt, a family servant and John Macduff, the Baron Officer of Strathbraan where the Gowries held land and a castle at Trochrie, were all charged.

“Albeit the said John Baron heard, saw and knew of his Majesty’s peril, nowise moved therewith……to make him any relief, but on the contrary pressing to assist the said treasonable attempt against his Majesty, ran forth to the High Street, where the deceased Earl was for the time and declared to him that his deceased brother was slain; and thereby incensed the said Earl to draw his swords and ran to his lodgings where his Majesty was for the time and invaded his Majesty’s servants, and pursuing them for their slaughter, dang them in divers parts of their bodies; and insisted in the treasonable execution of his conspiracy, to the very death……”  and “did what in you lay to stir up all men to assist the deceased Earl in his said conspiracy.” 

This is a somewhat different version of events to that given by Andrew Melville, perhaps more probable and giving the King a less heroic role.

John Macduff and his two companions were found guilty and hanged at the Mercat Cross in Perth on August 23rd, but as a contemporary wrote, “they confessed nothing which might smell of any conspiracy.” 

If no evidence for a conspiracy ever came to light it was not for want of trying. Some three hundred and fifty five innocent citizens of Perth were examined in the aftermath of the murders.

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