From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

Sir Hugh Herries, Knight - 12th October 1600



These three names have been grouped together here because they are linked indissolubly in connection with the great historical event designated the "Gowrie Conspiracy;" and it was, doubtless, their concern in that affair which induced the Town Council Dundee to grant them the freedom the Burgh. The story this strange transaction has been so frequently related that it is only necessary to give the merest outline it here.

JOHN RUTHVEN, third EARL OF GOWRIE, it is alleged, was desirous obtaining possession the KING'S person, for some sinister purpose, and he and his brother, ALEXANDER RUTHVEN, persuaded the KING to visit the EARL'S house, at Perth, which city COWRIE was then Provost, on 5th August, 1600. In the train the Monarch there were the three noblemen whose names are entered on the Burgess Roll SIR THOMAS ERSKINE of Gogar, SIR JOHN RAMSAY, page to the KING, and SIR HUGH HERRIES, the KING'S physician. Shortly after the arrival KING JAMES at Gowrie House, whilst secluded in a turret chamber, he was attacked by ALEXANDER RUTHVEN, who threatened to take his life. "At the moment young RAMSAY, the page, happened to be hurrying to the stable for his horse, and heard the KING crying, from the window of GOWRIE's. house, 'Treason! Murder!' The Royal attendants, who had rushed up the principal staircase to, his assistance, found the doors locked; but RAMSAY, fortunately, entered the room by a back stair, and perceiving ALEXANDER RUTHVEN struggling with the KING, drew his dagger, and plunged it twice into ALEXANDER's body, and then threw him downstairs, where he was met by SIR THOMAS ERSKINE, and HUGH HERRIES the KING's physician, who despatched him, and went up to the KING.

Just then the EARL OF GOWRIE rushed into the apartment, followed by six of his attendants, completely armed, but was met by RAMSAY, ERSKINE, and HERRIES, and, after a mortal struggle, was slain" It has been averred that the whole story of GOWRIE'S treason was without foundation, and that the pusillanimity of the KING had made him imagine danger to his life when none was intended; but if JAMES did fabricate the charge at the time, he adhered to it with consistency throughout his life, and appointed the anniversary of the alleged attack upon him as a day of special thanksgiving. From a curious entry in the Register of the Privy Council for 19th February, 1601 (Vol. VI., p. 212), it appears that the KING regarded RAMSAY, ERSKINE, and HERRIES, "the thrie gentilmen quha, nixt to, GOD, wer the authoris of his Majestie's preservatioun quhen his Hienes' persone wes sa cruellie persewit be that traitour GOWRIE and aucht or nylie of his tressonable associattis all in armes." In accordance with the barbarous custom of the time, the dead bodies of the EARL OF GOWRIE, and his brother, ALEXANDER RUTHVEN, were brought to trial at Edinburgh, convicted of treason, and their honours and estates declared forfeited to the Crown.

SIR THOMAS ERSKINE of Gogar was the fourth son of SIR ALEXANDER ERSKINE, Governor of Edinburgh Castle and Vice Chamberlain of Scotland. He was therefore nephew of the REGENT MAR, and cousin of the EARL OF MAR who was admitted a Burgess of Dundee on 15th April, 1.589 page 69). His mother, MAGDALEN LIVINGSTONE, daughter of LORD LIVINGSTONE, was married, after his father's decease, to JOHN SCRYMGEOUR of Glaister and Dudhope, Constable of Dundee. In 1603 he was created BARON OF DIRLETON, and on 18th May, 1606, he was raised to the dignity of VISCOUNT FENTOUN by Royal Letters Patent, being the first nobleman in Scotland who bore the title of Viscount. On 12th March, 1619, he was created EARL OF KELLIE, and at his death, on 12th June, 1639, he was succeeded by his grandson. His present representative is WALTER HENRY ERSKINE, eleventh EARL OF MAR and thirteenth EARL OF KELLIE.

SIR JOHN RAMSAY was the brother of GEORGE, first LORD RAMSAY of Dalhousie. His services to the KING in the Gowrie affair were rewarded by knighthood, and he had then the barony of Eastbarns, county Haddington, conferred upon him by the KING. On 11th June, 1606, he was created VISCOUNT HADDINGTON and LORD RAMSAY of Barns, and had a special addition to his heraldic bearings commemorative of his share in the preservation of the KING at Gowrie House. He went to London with his Royal Master in 1603, and was made EARL OF HOLDERNESS in 1621. By special direction, he and his heirs were entitled to bear the Sword of State before the KING on the Gowrie anniversary, when the Monarch went in procession to return thanks for his deliverance. He was twice married, but had no issue, and his titles became extinct at his death, in February, 1625.

These three noblemen were entered on the Burgess Roll of Dundee on 12th October five weeks after the strange incident at Gowrie House. For a long period before that date, as has been shown, the Burgh was entirely in sympathy with the RUTHVEN party; and there can be little doubt that the names of these nobles were placed on the Roll to prove to the KING that Dundee entirely disowned the lawless violence of the EARL OF GOWRIE and his associates, despite their intimate connection with the Burgh.


Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives