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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Shakespeare and the Gowrie Conspiracy


On 5 August 1600, King James of Scotland survived an assassination attempt.

It would come to be known as the "Gowrie Conspiracy" or the "Gowrie House Affair."





It is impossible to determine what actually happened that day, but King James claimed he was out hunting near Perth, when he met Alexander Ruthven, who claimed he was keeping a wealthy foreigner in Gowrie House.

King James, with several of his men, went with Alexander to investigate this story. At Gowrie House, they had dinner with Alexander's brother, the Earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven. 

After dinner, without his men knowing where he had gone, King James went upstairs with Alexander, and was held captive by force.

His men were told that the king had left without them, but before they departed the Gowrie House, they saw King James from a window above, and he cried "treason!"

His men attempted to rescue King James, and in the process they killed Alexander and his brother, the Earl.

King James survived the event, but faced scrutiny, as many people doubted his version of the events.


King James as an adult



What if King James went to the house uninvited with the intention of killing the Ruthvens?

What if King James was invited to the house as he claimed, but a fight broke out and resulted in murder?

What if King James, known to have male favourites, was having a romantic liaison with Alexander that went horribly wrong?

What if King James and the Ruthvens met to discuss the money he owed them, and instead of paying his debt, King James murdered them instead?

What if King James was worried that the Ruthvens had a better claim to inherit the English throne than he did, and he murdered them to clear his path to becoming King James of England?

Perhaps the biggest question in my mind is why did King James go to Gowrie House at all?

The Gowries were his greatest enemies. The Earl's father had once kidnapped King James when he was a boy, 18 years earlier.


King James as a boy


 His grandfather had murdered David Riccio in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was pregnant with her son, King James.

If he wanted to murder them, he could have just sent men to do the job without him.

We may never know the truth of the Gowrie Conspiracy.

But King James used it to his political advantage. He had Scotland light bonfires and celebrate his deliverance from Gowrie House, in the years after.

Once he became King of England and Scotland, he brought Gowrie Day to England.

Of course, it was not the last time King James's life was threatened.

After the Gunpowder Plot, Gowrie Day served as inspiration for Bonfire Night.

For William Shakespeare, the events of the Gowrie Conspiracy would probably have been as mysterious as they are today.

He would probably have heard all the theories and conjecture, either defending King James or suspecting him of something nefarious.

The mystery must have driven Shakespeare mad, and I think he would have been curious enough to know the truth, that he would have tried to tease it out of the king.

Shakespeare was probably the only man, of all the people who met and knew King James personally, who could have gotten the truth out of him.

I can't prove it, but I think Shakespeare came the closest to knowing what really happened on 5 August 1600, and what he learned was the source of a play he wrote, which was later banned and has disappeared from history.


Cheers,


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