Clan Ruthven

Clan Ruthven
Clan Ruthven
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Ruthven.svg
Motto: Died schaw (Deeds show)

Earl of Gowrie arms.svg
Grey Ruthven
The 2nd Earl of Gowrie
Historic seat Huntingtower Castle

The Clan Ruthven is a Lowland Scottish clan.




The family traces its descent from Thor, who settled in Scotland during the reign of David I of Scotland. Thor was, by tradition son of Sweyn the Viking chief, who was the founder of the Clan Ruthven. The name Ruthven comes from the lands north of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire. In Gaelic these lands are called Ruadhainn. This name may be further related to its Viking roots, since there is an island on an inland fiord in Norway, called 'Roedven' (inland from the town of "Molde). The island has a stave church from around 1200 and the area has long had links to Scotland. The name of the island derives from the main farm on the island and refers to a river outlet from a ravine or gorge. The local pronunciation of the name of the island approximates with the Scottish pronunciation of "Ruthven" ("Rivven"). In 1488, Sir William Ruthven, 1st Lord Ruthven was created Lord Ruthven by summons to Parliament.

16th century

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars Sir William Ruthven, 1st Lord Ruthven's eldest son William was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, and so the title passed to his grandson: William Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven served as am Extraordinary Lord of Session and Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, and had three sons.

Lord Patrick Ruthven (c. 1520–1566) was provost of Perth (1553–66) and Protestant privy councillor to Mary, Queen of Scots. He helped arrange her marriage to Lord Darnley (1565) and led the plot to murder her secretary, David Rizzio in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, after which he fled to England. His son William Ruthven (1541?–1584) also took part in the plot against Rizzio and became lord high treasurer (1571). He was the chief conspirator in the “Raid of Ruthven” that in 1582 captured the boy king James VI (later James I of England), after which Ruthven was pardoned but later beheaded for treason. His son John Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie (1577?–1600), continued the family tradition of intrigue by offering to serve Queen Elizabeth I, then leading the opposition to James VI. In the so-called Gowrie conspiracy, Ruthven was killed in Gowrie House in Perth, possibly in an abortive attempt to take James VI prisoner.

Murder of David Rizzio

Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven is celebrated as the principal perpetrator of the murder of David Rizzio, the Italian secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots. Patrick fled to England and died in 1566 after masterminding the murder of the queen's secretary.

Ruthven Raid

Patrick Ruthven's son, who was created the Earl of Gowrie, headed the conspirators who seized King James VI of Scotland and took over the government in his name. For this action, later to be known as the "Ruthven Raid" or Raid of Ruthven, he was beheaded.

William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie also participated in the Rizzio murder. In 1582 he devised the plot to seize King James VI, known as the Raid of Ruthven. All his honours were forfeited when he was attainted and executed in May, 1584.

The earldom of Gowrie passed to his brother: James Ruthven, 2nd Earl of Gowrie (conflicting references in the 1911 Britannica claim he was named William also). He died young in 1586 and the title passed to his youngest brother:

John Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie. John is alleged to have been part of a plot to kidnap James VI of Scotland. He was killed by the king's attendants in 1600 and the earldom of Gowrie went extinct until 1945.

William Ruthven, 4th Lord Ruthven left a son: Alexander Ruthven (d. 1599), the founder of the family of Ruthven of Freeland. His grandson was Sir Thomas Ruthven, 1st Lord Ruthven of Freeland (d. 1673).

Gowrie Conspiracy

The reputation of the Ruthvens as assassins was strengthened by a mysterious affair which became known as the "Gowrie Conspiracy" in 1600. John and Alexander Ruthven were killed in Gowrie House during an alleged attempt on the person of James VI. The Ruthven brothers were declared by Parliament to be traitors, although there was no evidence of what, if anything, they had planned to do. Following the Gowrie conspiracy the Ruthven name was decreed out of existence. The family coat of arms was publicly debased, their estates forfeited and the title of Gowrie was outlawed.

Thirty Years' War and Civil War

Patrick Ruthven, 1st Earl of Brentford (c. 1573–1651) was a collateral descendant of Sir William Ruthven, 1st Lord Ruthven. He fought and negotiated on behalf of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, King of Sweden during the Thirty Years' War.

Patrick Ruthven, 1st Earl of Brentford also fought on behalf of King Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Sir Thomas Ruthven, 1st Lord Ruthven of Freeland (d. 1673), on whom Charles II of England bestowed the title of Lord Ruthven of Freeland in 1651. His son was David Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven of Freeland.

18th to 20th century

  • David Ruthven, 2nd Lord Ruthven of Freeland died unmarried in April, 1701. The title of Baroness Ruthven was assumed by his sister:
  • Jean (d. 1722), although according to some authorities the peerage had become extinct. It was, however, assumed in 1722 by:
  • Isobel (d. 1732), wife of James Johnson, who took the name of Ruthven on succeeding to the family estates; and their son:
  • James Ruthven (d. 1783), took the title and was allowed to vote at the elections of Scots representative peers. In 1853 the barony again descended to a female:
  • Mary Elizabeth Thornton (c. 1784–1864), the wife of Walter Hore (d. 1878). She and her husband took the name of Hore-Ruthven, and their grandson:
  • Walter James Hore-Ruthven (b. 1838), became the 8th baron in 1864. His second son:
  • Alexander Hore-Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie (1872–1955), through meritorious service (including as Governor-General of Australia) regained the family title (first as Baron Gowrie, 1934, and then as Earl of Gowrie, 1944).

Clan Chief

Clan Chief: Grey Ruthven The 2nd Earl of Gowrie, Viscount Ruthven of Canberra, of Dirleton, Baron Ruthven of Gowrie, Baron Gowrie of Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia and of Dirleton, East Lothian and Chief of the Name and Arms of Ruthen.[1]

Castles and Palace

See also


  • The Ruthven Correspondence, edited with introduction by William D. Macray (1868)
  • J. H. Round, "The Barony of Ruthven of Freeland", in Joseph Foster's Collectanea Genealogica (1881–85)
  • Robert Douglas of Glenbervie, The Peerage of Scotland (new edition by James Balfour Paul).

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