James VI & I: Life Story

Chapter 6 : The Ruthven Raid

James had begun the policy which was to continue for his whole life of appearing to agree with all sides and then finally doing what he had always intended. He listened to the Spanish and French envoys, took into consideration the pros and cons of extending the scheme of rapprochement to enforcing his and his mother’s claims to the throne of England by invasion and eventually decided that his best course of action was to maintain his adherence to the Protestant Church and win the English throne via a positive relationship with Elizabeth.

As he entered his adolescence, James began to deviate somewhat from the behaviour expected of the godly Calvinist Prince. Unlike his mother’s cousin, Edward VI, who as king from the age of nine, became more and more devoted to his Protestant religion and concentrated much of his energy on religious matters, James began to take a more relaxed approach, sometimes missing services and spending more time in his favourite occupations of hunting and hawking. Unlike previous generations of royal princes, there does not seem to have been much of a military element to James’s education although he enjoyed the sport of ‘running at the ring’ – a game of skill in which the rider had to approach at full speed the target of a ring suspended from a crossbeam and thrust a lance through it.

With James’s lack of interest in the idea of joint sovereignty with Mary, and his growing maturity and desire to look at every possible angle of the situation, his relationship with Lennox began to cool. At the same time Lennox and his friend Arran quarrelled. According to Sir James Melville, Lennox was a good and well-meaning man, given poor advice and betrayed by self-seeking friends who envied his position with the King. He was also the subject of plots by those who wished to take power into their own hands. Stedall, in his book ‘The Survival of the Crown’ sees Lennox as a master plotter, whose complex machinations led to his own undoing.

In time-honoured fashion, the unhappy Scots nobles decided that kidnapping the King would be the answer to their problems. They therefore took advantage of a hunting trip that James was making, whilst Lennox and Arran were both away from court. Melville recounts that he received a visitor, who wished to remain nameless, who warned him that there was a plot to kidnap the King. Melville, not entirely believing the story, went to Lennox at Dalkeith where the Duke was holding a justice in Ayre. Melville recommended that Lennox should ride immediately to the King side, but Lennox, not knowing that one of the conspirators was the Earl of Gowrie, sent a message to the Earl, presumably thinking that that would be the best way to protect the King.

Instead, in a variation to the original plot now required because Lennox had been warned, the next day, 22 nd of August 1582, Gowrie intercepted the King’s hunting party and invited him to visit Gowrie’s Castle of Ruthven.

James apparently suspected something was amiss but as he only had a small party he was not able to resist. He took the decision to go to Ruthven, believing that he could escape easily the next day under pretext of another hunting trip. Meanwhile, Lennox had sent a message to Arran to come as quickly as possible, whilst he himself rode as fast as he could towards James. Being informed that James had already been captured, Lennox took refuge in Dumbarton. James himself was carried off to Stirling and Arran was also captured.

Throughout the autumn of 1582, James was so closely guarded it was impossible for Lennox to affect any kind of rescue. Queen Elizabeth and Charles XII of France both gave the impression of being shocked at this kidnap of an anointed monarch and sent messages of support.

James, either playing a longer game or terrified of his captors, assured the foreign ambassadors that he was perfectly content with his advisers and he concurred with their opinion that their actions had been of service to himself and to the country. He sent similar messages to the General Assembly. The Lords then prevailed upon James, with scarcely veiled threats, to dismiss Lennox.

At length Lennox realised that there was no prospect of him being united with his friend and he returned to France as commanded. James had been compelled to write to Lennox in angry terms, accusing him of disloyalty and inconstancy. In response Lennox wrote to James assuring him of his fidelity and obedience and that it was James whom ‘alone in this world [his] heart [was] resolved to serve.’

Lennox died in early 1583, declaring his constancy to the Protestant Church and requesting that his heart be sent to James.