Ruthven rĭv´ən, ro͞oth´vən [key], Scottish noble family, believed to trace its ancestry to Thor, a Saxon or Dane, who settled in Scotland in the reign of David I. The name is derived from lands in Perthshire held by the family.
Patrick Ruthven, 1520?–1566, was a firm supporter of Protestant doctrines. A privy councillor to Mary Queen of Scots, he took a leading part in the murder (1566) of David Rizzio and wrote a memoir of the affair, which still exists in manuscript in the British Museum. He fled to England, where he died shortly after. Associated with him in the murder was his son, 3d lord of Ruthven, William Ruthven, 1541?–1584. He also fled to England and remained there until pardoned (1567). He was head of the group of nobles who planned and carried out in 1582 what came to be known as the raid of Ruthven, in which they seized the young King James VI (later James I of England) and brought about the dismissal of Esmé Stuart, 1st duke of Lennox. Although pardoned in 1583, Gowrie began plotting again. He was tried for high treason and beheaded. Two of his sons, 4th lord of Ruthven and 1st earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven, 1578?–1600, and 6th lord of Ruthven and 3d earl of Gowrie, Alexander Ruthven, 1580?–1600, were involved in the mysterious Gowrie conspiracy of 1600. The two brothers were murdered at their estates in Perth by the retinue of James VI, with the king in attendance. None of the various explanations offered after the murders were widely believed, though the likeliest explanation is that the events evolved out of an unsuccessful attempt by the Ruthvens to seize the king. James VI later annexed their estates to the crown. Descended in collateral line was Patrick Ruthven, 1573?–1651, who won distinction in the service of Gustavus II of Sweden. Later he supported the cause of Charles I in Scotland and England, eventually serving as general in chief of the royalist forces (1643–44).
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