Portrait of a young James VI of Scotland and James I of England

In 1581, Esmé Stewart was created Earl of Lennox.

He was in support of Queen Mary and acknowledged Catholic concerns at a time when the Reformation was well established in Scotland. The Presbyterians believed Lennox to be an agent for the Counter-Reformation and a Catholic spy.

Although both the King and Lennox had declared themselves for the Reformation, rulings made and appointments given by James, particularly those overturning General Assembly proceedings, had the Presbyterians convinced he was being influenced by Lennox.

William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, was the head of Scotland’s militant Presbyterians. Such was their fear of Lennox being near the King they staged a coup. While the King was hunting in Atholl in August 1582, he was abducted by Gowrie and imprisoned in his House of Ruthven until, the next morning, he signed a document proclaiming himself to be quite free and that Lennox was to be banished from Scotland.

Gowrie led a new government which gave the Presbyterians ruling powers, all the while keeping James their captive. Lennox, who had moved back to France, died in 1583.

Then in June that year the young King escaped from his imprisonment. Gowrie was charged with treason and had his head cut off.