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Rutven Castle drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H. Le Keux. Source: The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1852). Note the people in nineteenth-century costume in the center forground and the homel;y touch of what seems to be sheets drying on a clothes line. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

This dusky, half-ruined stronghold presents its broad front on the right-hand side of the road leading from Perth by Crieff towards the Highlands. Many perceptible efforts to adapt its huge proportions to the accommodation of occupants of a humble class, serve, with other indications, at once to show the traveller that the place where monarchs were entertained or imprisoned now affords shelter to the obscure artisan. The building, consisting of two old square towers, united by a partially embattled screen, has nothing to distinguish it from other Scottish fortalices of the fifteenth or sixteenth century; but the traveller along a road diversified by few other objects of interest, may beguile his impatience to reach the neighbouring mountain barrier, by gazing on the broad dark mass, and reflecting on the remarkable passages of history that have been performed within its walls, and the contrast which its present destiny suggests to its conspicuous connexion with the most turbulent period of our national annals.

It was within the walls of this old fortress, then known by the name of Ruthven Castle, that, in August 1582, James VI., a youth of sixteen years old, was residing with Lord Ruthven, who had induced the King to visit him in his hunting-seat, and join him in his rural sports. One morning, when the young monarch arose, he found the castle surrounded by a thousand men; while the Earls of Mar and Gowrie broke into his presence with the rude discourtesy offered in those wild times by the strong to the weak, whether they were princes or peasants. When he attempted to escape, the Master of Glammis fiercely interposed; and when the helpless youth, never very firm of nerve, burst into tears, the Master used the memorable expression, "Better bairns greet than bearded men." Such was the abrupt revolution, known as the "Raid of Ruthven." What other dark plots have been developed within these walls, history has in vain toiled to discover. It was the abode of those Ruthvens who fell in the Gowrie conspiracy; and now that the old house in Perth, the scene of actual violence, has been destroyed, the Huntingtower and Fastcastle possess an interest, as the only remaining edifices which sheltered the organisers of this mysterious plot.

It was beneath the walls of this castle that in 1644 Montrose gained one of his most remarkable victories. His Irish army had ravaged Argyleshire, and, joined by his Highland followers, passed northwards to meet their general, whom they found disguised as a Highland gilly, with one attendant. Lord Elcho, who with his Presbyterian troops occupied Perth, marched forward with six thousand men ; but being raw, untried levies, they were dispersed immediately by that impetuous rush, on which it was the practice of the mountaineers to peril the fortunes of the day.

Pennant has preserved a tradition of a totally different character from these incidents of conspiracy and warfare, connected with the gap between the inner corner of the broad square tower, and the bastion lower down springing from the building between the two towers, called "the maiden's leap." A daughter of the house of Ruthven had received the advances of a youth whose pretensions were not encouraged by her parents; one night she had visited his chamber, and her mother, informed of the fact, was taking up a position on the stair to cut off her retreat. "The young lady's ears were quick; she heard the footsteps of the old countess — ran to the top of the leads — and took the desperate leap of nine feet four inches, over a chasm of sixty feet ; and, luckily lighting on the battlements of the other tower, crept into her own bed, where her astonished mother found her, and, of course, apologised for her unjust suspicion. The fair daughter did not choose to repeat the leap, but, the next night, eloped and was married" (Tour in Scotland, III, 110).

Another anecdote in relation to this castle, not so well known, introducing us to a spectre of very eccentric habits, is preserved in that great repertory of providences and supernatural events, the Analecta of the Rev. Robert Wodrow. In the year 1698, the Rev. William Leslie, chaplain of the Earl of Tullybardine, was residing alone in the castle.

Being all alone in his chamber, which was on the top of the tower, while he was close at his book, reading with the candle-light, and the fire in the chimney giving a good light likewise, about twelve o'clock of night, when all the servants were in their bed, and far from him, without reach of cry, there came something and chopped at his door. Mr Leslie says, 'Come in ;' upon which it lifted the sneck and opened the door and came in; and when he saw it, it was ane apparition of ane little old man, about the height of the table, with a feaiful ugly face, as if he had been all brunt, which spake to him thus, — 'Mr William, you bade me come in, and I am come in,' which, to be sure, did not a little affright him ; but yet he had the liberty and boldness to say, ' In the name of the Lord — whence?' It said, 'From hell.' 'Why art thou come here to disturb and affright me'? It said, 'I am come to warn the nation to repent.' He replies, 'God never uses to send such messengers upon such an errand.' It says, 'This will render them the more inexcusable!" Presently, there being a good number of Irish bibles standing all in a row upon a high shelf in the room, which my lord was designing to distribute among his highland servants and tenants, it scrambled up the wall with unaccountable nimbleness, and threw them all down upon the floor, and scattering them through the room. Then, there being a block standing in the chamber, on which one of the gentlemen used to dress my lord's wigs, it lifted it up, and came towards Mr Leslie with it, holding it above his head, saying, — 'If, Mr William, I had a commission or permission, I wad brain you with this.' And so it vanished. [Analecta I, 112]

This was a sufficiently startling occurrence, and those who believe in it will not be at all astonished to hear that, "as the poor clergyman recovered out of one swoon, he fell presently into another; and in this condition he lay till to-morrow morning, at which time he was found almost dead."

R. W. B.


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 19 October 2018