The Lord Ruthven, pronounced incidentally with a silent 'th' as 'riven', is a title in the Peerage of Scotland, and not to be confused with the quite different title of Baron Ruthven in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. (For which see the note below.)

The Lord Ruthven also happens to be the name of a character who appears in The Vampyre by John Polidori, the very first vampire story to appear in the English language, originally published in the April 1819 edition of the New Monthly Magazine. (And so predates the appearance of Bram Stoker's Dracula which appeared in 1872.) Polidori’s Lord Ruthven was an upper class vampire who preyed on his fellow aristocrats and he very much based on the poet Lord Byron of "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" infamy. He chose the name 'Lord Ruthven' simply because Caroline Lamb (one of Byron's many former lovers) had used that same title to disguise her own portrait of Byron in her novel Glenarvon.

Somewhat disappointingly the historical Lords Ruthven appear to have been mercifully clear of any trace of vampirism, although there was a family tradition of dabbling in magic, divination and the like.

The Ruthvens of Ruthven

Tradition asserts that the Ruthven family were descended from a certain Thor. This Thor has been variously identified as; the Thor who founded the church of Ednam on the banks of the Tweed during the reign of king Edgar in the late tenth century; the Thorlongus of the Merse or 'Thor the tall' who fled northern England sometime around the year 1070 after the Norman Conquest and was given refuge by Malcolm III Canmore; or indeed the Thor, Lord of Crawford who appeared in Scotland around the year 1130 during the reign of David I. The exact relationship between these various individuals has yet to be established and their connection (if any) with the family that later drew its name from the district of Ruthven in Perthshire is largely a matter of conjecture.

Neverthless there was indeed a family of Ruthven, the first of whom to reach prominence was William Ruthven, created a Lord of Parliament as the Lord Ruthven in 1488. His eldest son William was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513, and consequently it was his grandson William who succeeded him in the title on his death in 1528. William, 2nd Lord became an extraordinary Lord of Session and held the office of Keeper of the Privy Seal and married Janet Halyburton, eldest daughter and co-heiress of Patrick Halyburton, 6th Lord Dirletoun, a match which further enriched the family and allowed his son to inherit the title of Lord Dirletoun as well as that of Ruthven. More importantly the 2nd Lord was one of the first members of the Scottish nobility to adopt the Protestant faith; his successors remained resolutely Protestant which coloured their approach to the key issues of Scottish politics. Thus his son Patrick, 3rd Lord who succeeded in December 1552 was a zealous supporter of the Protestant cause, and one of the Lords of the Congregation who challenged the authority of Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland during the long minority of her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. With the return of the younger Mary to claim her throne in 1561 Patrick became one of the more avid supporters of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and led the armed gang that murdered David Rizzio on the 9th March 1566. He fled to England to escape punishment for this crime where he died on the 13th June 1566.

He was succeeded as 4th Lord by his son William, who had been present with his father at the murder of Rizzio, and joined him in exile in England. William managed to be pardoned for this offence thanks to the efforts of the Earl of Morton on his behalf, although this did little to change William's attitude towards her as he later took a prominent role in the decision to force her abdication and fought against her at the battle of Langside in 1568.

In 1581 the 4th Lord was created Earl of Gowrie as a reward for the role he played in the downfall of the Earl of Morton. William later instigated the Raid of Ruthven, an ultimately unsuccesful attempt to kidnap the young James VI and take control of the government, for which offence he was eventually attainted and executed as a traitor on the 4th May 1584. William's eldest son James was restored in 1586, only to die in 1588 and was succeeded by his younger brother John as the 3rd Earl and and 6th Lord Ruthven. John's alleged involvement in a plot to assasinate James VI known as the Gowrie Conspiracy left him and his younger brother and heir Alexander Ruthven dead on the 5th August 1600 after which he was postumously attainted for treason.

There remained two further sons of the 1st Earl named William and Patrick who fled Scotland and sought refuge in England. Naturally England's status as a secure haven changed somewhat in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. William Ruthven promptly disapppeared abroad, whilst Patrick Ruthven was arrested and placed in the Tower of London. He remained there until his release nineteen years later in 1622, and later died in poverty in the King's Bench prison on the 24th May 1652. This Patrick appears to have styled himself as the 'Lord Ruthven', as indeed did his son also named Patrick. Of this younger Patrick Ruthven little is known. He is recorded as having petitioned Oliver Cromwell in 1656, and was certainly still alive in 1667 but appears to have died without issue, bringing to end this particular line of the Ruthven family.

The Ruthvens of Ettrick and Freeland

Whereas the main branch of the Ruthven family eventually died out in the seventeenth century thanks, in no little part, to then enmity of James VI, there were other branches of the family who survived and eventually prospered and were later to obtain their own versions of the title of Lord Ruthven.

Firstly there was another Patrick Ruthven who was a descendant of a younger son of the 1st Lord Ruthven. This Patrick fought for Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years' War and Charles I during the English Civil War. For these latter services he was created Lord Ruthven of Ettrick in 1639, Earl of Forth in 1642 and Earl of Brentford in 1644. He died at Dundee on the 2nd February 1651, leaving no sons and rendering his titles extinct.

Secondly there was a Thomas Ruthven who was a grandson of the 2nd Lord Ruthven, who served Member of Parliament for Perthshire at various periods between 1639 and 1650. Notwithstanding the fact that Thomas was of the opposite opinion to cousin Patrick, he was granted the title of Lord Ruthven of Freeland by Charles II on the 28th May 1651, "probably to induce a change of heart". This Thomas died on the 6th May 1671 and the title passed to his son David who subsequently died unmarried in April 1701. The 2nd Lord had previously decided on the 26th October 1674 entail his estates on his three sisters and their issue, with precedence to the youngest sister Jean, although by the time of his death, both his eldest sister Anne had already died without issue in 1689, the next Eizabeth had also died in 1647.

Thus Jean Ruthven inherited her brother's estates and most certainly claimed to be Lady Ruthven of Freeland in her own right and eventually died unmarried in April 1722. The estates passed, in accordance with the entail, into the hands of Jean Ruthven's niece Isabel, whose mother Elizabeth, had married her cousin, Francis Ruthven, 1st Baronet of Redcastle. Like her aunt, Isabel also proclaimed herself to be the Lady Ruthven of Freeland in her own right and even received an invitation to the coronation of George II in 1727 in that capacity.

Johnstone and Hore-Ruthven

In any event Isabel married a James Johnstone or Johnson of Graitney, who promptly who took the name of Ruthven on succeeding to the family estates. Their son, James Ruthven similarly claimed the title after his mother's death on the 23rd June 1732; given that the authorities permitted him to vote at the elections of Scots representative peers, it must be presumed that his claim was regarded as valid at the time. His son the 6th Lord and also named James was captain in the 12th Foot, married a daughter of the 6th Earl of Leven and died on the 27th December 1789, whilst his son and successor, James the 7th Lord was a major in the 90th Foot who died on the 27th July 1853 without surviving issue. Thus the title passed to his only surviving sister and heir, Mary Elizabeth Thornton Ruthven, who had married a Walter Hore, and both she and her husband took the name of Hore-Ruthven.

Their grandson, Walter James Hore-Ruthven duly became the 9th Lord in 1864. He became a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Rifle Brigade and served in the Crimea, India and Abyssinia, and even re-joined Rifle Brigade at the outbreak of World War I at the grand old age of seventy-six. The 9th Lord died on the 28 February 1921, and the title passed to his son Walter Patrick. The 10th Lord had a similarly distunguished military career as his father serving in both the Boer War, were he was mentioned in despatches three times, and again on World War I, when he merited seven mentions. He died on 16 April 1956 at the age of eighty-five leaving three daughters, the eldest of whom Bridget Helen, claimed the title in accordance with the Scottish rules of inheritance.

Between the years 1918 and 1947 Bridget Helen had been married to George Josslyn Howard, 11th Earl of Carlisle, and at her death on the 17th April 1982 the title passed to their son Charles James who had previously succeeded his father as the Earl of Carlisle in 1963. The title of Lord Ruthven is thus now united with that of the Earl of Carlisle, and is currently held by George William Howard, 13th Earl of Carlisle. However, given the fact that the title Lord Ruthven is subject to a quite different rules of inheritance it seems inevitable that some future Earl of Carlisle will fail to produce a son, and that the titles will seperate once more.

The validity of the title

According to some authorities the title of Lord Ruthven of Freeland became extinct for want of an heir-male in 1701, although others have insisted the exact contrary. Part of the problem is that the actual patent of creation is said to have been destroyed during a fire at Freeland House on the 14th March 1750, and there is no other record of its contents. It has since been suggested that it conferred a power of nomination (subsequently exercised by the 2nd Lord Ruthven) and permitted inheritance by female heirs; although this is only by inference from subsequent events.

Therefore has always been some uncertainty as to whether the title of Lord Ruthven was validly transmitted to Jean Ruthven and her successors in 1701 and indeed in 1882 the existence of the title was officially denied in evidence given before a Select Committee. The question was eventually resolved in 1919 when the 9th Lord Ruthven was created the Baron Ruthven of Gowrie and the letters patent bestowing that title expressly recognised the grantee as holder of the 1651 title.

Some confusion has also been created by the fact that the Johnstone/Ruthven holders of the title appear to have discounted one of the preceding female holders of the title and thus the James Ruthven (1789-1853) described here as the 7th Lord, is frequently described as being the 6th Lord or Baron (sic) Ruthven and indeed is described as such by the National Portrait Gallery.

The Baron Ruthven

The 8th Lord Ruthven was also created the Baron Ruthven of Gowrie on the 28th October 1919, which title, being limited to heirs-male could not pass to Bridget, the daughter of his eldest son Walter Patrick, but was rather inherited by Alexander Patrick, the grandson of his younger son Alexander Gore, who had been created the Earl of Gowrie in 1945.



Creation of 1488 Title forfeit in 1584, restored in 1586 Claimants
  • Patrick Ruthven, 'Lord Ruthven' (1600-1652)
  • Patrick Ruthven, 'Lord Ruthven' (1652-?1667?)
Creation of 1639 as Lord Ruthven of Ettrick Creation of 1651 as Lord Ruthven of Freeland




  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for RUTHVEN
  • The entry for CARLISLE from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 106th Edition
  • The Ruthvens of Gowrie from The Great Historic Families of Scotland, by James Taylor (1887) reproduced at
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at
  • Stirnet Genealogy at
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at
  • For the fictional 'Lord Ruthven' see Lord Ruthven By Derek Ruthven

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