5th of August

St Memmius or Menge, first bishop and apostle of Chalons-sur-Marne, end of 3d century. St Afra and her companions, martyrs, 304. The Dedication of St Mary ad Nives, about 435.


Died. – Xerxes I., king of Persia, murdered by Artabanus 465 B.C.; Louis III. of France, 882 A.D.; John, Earl of Gowrie, slain at Perth, 1600.



It is little known that the 5th of August was once observed as a holiday, exactly in the same manner as the 5th of November, and for a cause of the same nature. On that day, in the year 1600, King James, then ruling Scotland alone, narrowly escaped death at the hands of two conspirators of his own people – the Earl of Gowrie, and his brother Alexander Ruthven. It was a strange confused affair, which the death of the two conspirators prevented from being thoroughly cleared up; and there have not been wanting individuals, both at the time and since, to doubt the reality of the alleged design against the king. It is, however, not difficult for an unprejudiced person to accept the conspiracy as real, and to comprehend even its scope and drift.

The king, on that August morning, was mounting his horse at Falkland, to go out a-hunting – his almost daily practice – when Alexander Ruthven, who was a youth barely twenty, came up and entered into private conversation with him. The young man told a wild-looking story, about a vagrant Highlander who knew of a secret treasure, and who might be conversed with at Gowrie House, in Perth. The king’s curiosity and love of money were excited, and he agreed to go to Perth after the hunt. He then rode from the field in company with Ruthven, followed by some of his courtiers, to one of whom (the Duke of Lennox) he imparted the object in view. It appears that Lennox did not like the expedition, and he told the king so; but the king, nevertheless, proceeded, only asking the duke to have an eye upon Alexander Ruthven, to keep close, and be ready to give assistance, if needful.


The king and his followers, about a dozen in number, came to Gowrie House in time for the early dinner of that age, and, after the meal was concluded, he allowed himself to be conducted by Alexander Ruthven through a series of chambers, the doors of which the young man locked behind him, till they came to a small turret closet, connected with an upper room at the end of the house, where James found, instead of the man with ‘the pose’ he had expected, one completely armed, a servant of the earl. Ruthven now clapped his hat upon his head, and snatching a dagger from the armed man, said to the king: ‘Sir, ye maun be my prisoner! Remember on my father’s deid [death]!’ alluding to the execution of his father for a similar treason to this, sixteen years before. the king remonstrated, shewing that he, as a minor at the time, was not concerned in his father’s death, and had of his own accord restored the family to its rank and estates; and he asked meekly of the young man what he aimed at by his present proceedings. Ruthven said he would bring his brother to tell w3hat they wanted: meanwhile the king must promise to stay quietly there till he returned. During his brief absence, the king induced the armed man to open one of the windows, looking to the neighbouring street; and while the man was proceeding to open the other, which looked to the courtyard below, Ruthven rushed in, crying there was no remede, and attempted to bind the king’s hands with a garter. A struggle ensued, in which the armed servant gave the king some useful help, and James was just able to get near the window, and call out ‘Treason!’ It appeared from the deposition of the servant, that he had been placed there by his master, without any attempt to prepare him for the part he was to play, or to ascertain if he could be depended upon. In point of fact, the sight of the king and of Alexander Ruthven’s acts filled him with terror. He opened the door, and let in Sir John Ramsay, one of the royal attendants, who immediately relieved his struggling master by stabbing Ruthven, and thrusting him down the stair. As the conspirator descended, wounded and bleeding, he was met by two or three others of the king’s attendants coming up upon the alarm, and by them was despatched, saying as he fell: ‘Alas! I had not the wyte [blame] of it!’

Immediately after the king left the dining-room, an officer or friend of the Earl of Gowrie had raised a sudden report among the royal attendants, that their master was gone home – was by this time past the Mid Inch (an adjacent public green) – so that they all rushed forth to follow him. The porter, on being asked by some of them if the king had gone forth, denied it; but the earl called him liar, and insisted that his highness had departed. It was while they were hurrying to mount and follow, that the king was heard to cry ‘treason!’ from the turret-window. The earl now drew his sword, and, summoning his retinue, about eighty in number, to follow him, he entered the house, and appeared in the room where his brother had just received his first wound. The four gentlemen of the royal train, having first thrust the king for his safety into the little closet, encountered the earl and the seven attendants who entered with him, and in brief space Gowrie was pierced through the heart by Ramsay, and his servants sent wounded and discomfited down stairs. Soon after, the Earl of Mar and some other friends of the king, who had been trying for some time to force an entrance by the locked-up gallery, came in, and then James knelt down on the bloody floor, with his friends about him, and returned thanks to God for his deliverance.

It was a wild and hardly intelligible scene. Gowrie and his brother were accomplished young men, in good favour at court, and popular in Perth; they had the best prospects for their future life; it seemed unaccountable that, without giving any previous hint of such a design, they should have plunged suddenly into a murderous conspiracy against their sovereign, and yet been so ill provided with the means of carrying it out successfully. Yet the facts were clear and palpable, that the king had been enticed, first to their own town of Perth, and then into a remote part of their house, and there murderously assaulted. evidence afterwards came out, to shew that they had been led to frame a plan for the seizure of the royal person, though whether for the sake of the influence they could thereby exercise in the government, or with father’s death, cannot be ascertained. It also appeared that, at Padua University, whence they were only of late returned, they had studied necromancy, which they continued to practise in Scotland. It seems not unlikely that they were partly incited by some response, paltering with them in a double sense, which they conceived they had obtained to some ambitious question. Their attainder – nay, the attainder of the whole family – followed. The people generally rejoiced in the king’s deliverance, and his popularity was manifestly increased by the dangers he had passed. Yet a few of the clergy professed to entertain doubts about the transaction; and one of eminence, named Robert Bruce, underwent a banishment of thirty years rather than give these up. His spirit has reappeared in a few modern writers, of the kind who habitually feel a preference for the side of a question which has least to say for itself. That a king, constitutionally devoid of physical courage, should have gone with only a hunting-horn hanging from his neck, and a handful of attendants in the guise of the chase, to attack the like of a powerful noble in his own house, and in the midst of armed retainers and an attached burgal populace; that he should have adventured solitarily into a retired part of his intended victim’s house, to effect this object, while none of his courtiers knew where he was or what he was going to do; meets an easy faith with this party; while in the fact of Alexander Ruthven coming to conduct the king to Perth, in the glaring attempt of the earl, by false reports and lies, to send away the royal train from his house; were armed, while the king was not; and in the clear evidence which the armed man of the turret-chamber gave in support of the king’s statements; they can see no manner of force. Minds of this kind are governed by prejudices, and not by the love of truth, and it is vain to reason with them.


On this Day in Other Sources.


On [the] 5th of August this same year [1213], Adam, Abbot of Melrose, was elected Bishop of Caithness; and was consecrated in the following year, by William [de] Malveisin, [Arch]bishop of St. Andrews.

– Historical Works, pp.19-38.


It was, perhaps, some time before the province was reduced sufficiently to bear the experiment of another tithe-gathering bishop. At least, we hear of none intermediate between John (who is supposed to have died of the effects of his mutilation) and Adam, who was elected Bishop of Caithness on the [5th] of August 1213, and consecrated by the Bishop of St. Andrews on the day of St. Mamertus.

– Sketches, pp.70-85.


[Piero] Strozzi, [brother to Leone] Prior of Capua, is this year sent by the French King with 16 galleys to Scotland; he arrives at St. Andrews, and enters the town, in spite of all the opposition [those] of the castle could make. The Regent, [James, Earl of Arran, Lord Hamilton,] now blocks up the castle both by sea and land; and shortly thereafter has it rendered to him, on condition to have their lives saved, if so it should please the French King; so that on the 5th day of August [1547], the castle being rendered, the [brother to the] Prior of Capua ships himself, and with him 15 prisoners for France, with the best of all the moveables of the castle.

– Historical Works, pp.275-340.


The 5th day of August, this year [1599], the King’s majesty escaped the treacherous and bloody hands of John [Ruthven], Earl of Gowrie, and of his brother Alexander, who had invited him to Perth to see a great treasure they had found; they were both killed by John Ramsay, one of his majesty’s pages, and Thomas Erskine, and the innocent King preserved.

This year, his majesty commanded the 5th day of August, [forever] hereafter to be kept as a holy day, with preaching and prayer, and [thanksgiving] for his majesty’s preservation from the treason of Gowrie, his brother and accomplices.

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.


The most remarkable event was the mysterious Gowrie Conspiracy (August 5, 1600).* The young Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander Ruthven, sons of the Gowrie who suffered in 1584, appeared to have formed a plan to entrap the king, and by the possession of his person, to work out some project for placing themselves at the head of affairs. James was induced to visit their house at Perth by a tempting story about a man who knew of a concealed treasure. After dinner, he was conducted by Alexander Ruthven into a solitary room at the end of a long gallery and put into the hands of an armed man. At the same time a false alarm was given to his attendants that he had left the house and was riding homeward. While they were hurrying to their horses in the courtyard, the king had a struggle with Ruthven, who first attempted to bind, and then to poniard him. With great difficulty, and not without the exercise of considerable presence of mind, he succeeded in giving an alarm to his attendants; one of whom, named John Ramsay, rushed to his rescue, and slew the two brothers on the spot.

Aug. 5. – In the midst of a time unmarked by great events, great excitement was caused by the attempt of the Earl of Gowrie and his brother upon the king’s liberty of life, at Perth. James Melville notes that ‘a little before or hard about the day of this accident, the sea at an instant, about low-water, debordit and ran up aboon the sea-mark, higher nor at any stream-tide, athort all the coast-side of Fife, and at an instant reteired again to almaist low-water, to the great admiration of all, and skaith done to some.’

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

*  While Balfour’s ‘Historical Works’ is great for accounts of incidents and events, the dates and years could be erroneous on occasion, leaving other sources to give a slightly more reliable placing of events in history.


On the 5th of [August, 1602], [Sir Robert Ker] had a like grant of the town of Kelso. These and the other estates of the monastery, except the patronage of twenty of the churches belonging to it, which he gave up to the king in 1639, are still enjoyed by his descendant, the Duke of Roxburgh.

– Scotland Illustrated, pp.101-104.


The king pursued his progress by Glasgow, Paisley, Hamilton, and Dumfries, passing across the Border to Carlisle on the 5th of August [1617], amidst the general regrets of his subjects. It was remarkable how much peace and good feeling prevailed amongst the people during the royal visit.

– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.


The year 1706, before the assembling of the last Parliament, in the old hall, was peculiarly favourable to any attempt for the then exiled House of Stuart to regain the throne; for the proposed union with England had inflamed to a perilous degree the passions and the patriotism of the nation. [On 5th] August the equivalent money sent to Scotland as a blind to the people for their full participation in the taxes and old national debt of England, was pompously brought to Edinburgh in twelve great waggons, and conveyed to the Castle, escorted by a regiment of Scottish cavalry, as Defoe tells us, amid the railing, the reproaches, and the deep curses of the people, who then thought of nothing but war, and viewed the so-called equivalent as the price of their Scottish fame, liberty, and honour.

In their anathemas, we are told that they spared not the very horses which drew the waggons, and on the return of the latter from the fortress their fury could no longer be restrained, and, unopposed by the sympathising troops, they dashed the vehicles to pieces, and assailed the drivers with volleys of stones, by which many of them were severely injured.

“It was soon discovered, after all,” says Dr. Chambers, “that only £100,000 of the money was specie, the rest being in Exchequer bills, which the Bank of England had ignorantly supposed to be welcome in all parts of Her Majesty’s dominions. This gave rise to new clamours. It was said the English had tricked them by sending paper instead of money. Bills, payable 400 miles off, and which if lost or burned would be irrecoverable, were a pretty price for the obligation Scotland had come under to pay English taxes.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.157-166.

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