A tale of two families | The Place of Ruthven | The rise and fall of the Ruthvens
A tale of two families
Huntingtower Castle was a lordly residence for 300 years, from the 15th to the 18th century. It is associated with two noble families: the Ruthvens (later earls of Gowrie) and, following their downfall in 1600, the Murrays (earls of Tullibardine and later dukes of Atholl). Prior to 1600, Huntingtower was known as the Place of Ruthven.
Huntingtower has hosted some famous visitors, and been associated with some dramatic events. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1565, during her honeymoon with Lord Darnley. In 1582, Mary’s son, James VI, was held here against his will by the 1st Earl of Gowrie, in a famous episode known as the ‘Ruthven Raid’. With the downfall of the 3rd Earl in 1600, in an equally bizarre episode called the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’, the Ruthvens were disinherited and their forfeited castle was renamed Huntingtower.
The Place of Ruthven
Huntingtower appears today as a single building, but it was not always so. Before the late 17th century, when the Murrays attempted to make the medieval castle look more like a regular country mansion, the Place of Ruthven comprised two substantial tower houses standing less than 3m apart. This arrangement was highly unusual, and how it came about is one of Huntingtower’s enduring mysteries. Other buildings, including a great hall, stood beside the tower houses around a courtyard. All were enclosed within a substantial stone defensive wall.
Despite alterations in the later 17th century, Huntingtower retains real treasures from its medieval past. These include one of the oldest painted ceilings surviving in Scotland, and exquisite fragments of wall frescoes.
The rise and fall of the Ruthvens
The Ruthvens settled in Perthshire in the late 12th century. Precisely where the family lived for the next 250 years is a mystery. The oldest part of the present castle dates from the 15th century. In 1480 the two sons of William, 1st Lord Ruthven, were each granted letters of legitimation. This may explain the building of two tower houses so close together – one for each son.
In 1581 the 4th Lord Ruthven was made Earl of Gowrie by James VI. In the following year, the Place of Ruthven was the setting for a celebrated coup d’état known as the ‘Ruthven Raid’, during which the young king was held against his will for 10 months. The king forgave his earl, but in 1600, following the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ – another threat to James’s power by the 3rd Earl – the king had the earl executed and his family forfeited. The Place of Ruthven was granted to the Murrays of Tullibardine and renamed Huntingtower.