Lord Gowrie, politician, poet and figurehead of the arts who served under Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher – obituary

By the 16th century, the Ruthven were a wealthy and politically powerful family who for over 100 years owned much of eastern Scotland. Patrick, Lord Ruthven, was the man who stabbed David Rizzio, the favorite of Mary Queen of Scots; a cousin, Beatrix Ruthven, was the last woman to be burnt as a witch in Scotland.

The family fell in 1600, when the young Earl of Gowrie (from an earlier creation) and his brother, the ruler of Ruthven, were murdered by servants of King James VI at House of Ruthven (now Huntingtower), near Perth – supposedly because they had tried to kill the king. Their lands are then dispersed.

Grey’s grandfather, Brigadier-General Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, VC, had been made a peer as Baron Gowrie of Canberra, in 1935, after touring as Governor of South Australia. Subsequently, in 1945, after eight years as Governor General of Australia, he was promoted to Earl of Gowrie.

In 1942, when Gray was three years old, his father died in an Italian hospital in North Africa from injuries received while leading a commando raid in Tripoli, where he was attached to the Special Air Service Brigade. Gray grew up mainly in Ireland, Dublin, Donegal and Co Kildare.

When his grandfather obtained the title of earl in 1945, Gray became Viscount Ruthven of Canberra. The new Earl was Lieutenant Governor of Windsor Castle, and when his seven-year-old grandson met Queen Mary, the boy said: “We’ll have some good jokes together when I come to Windsor Castle. “

“I wonder what jokes he was thinking? The queen asked Grey’s mother suspiciously; but she sent the boy a postcard of her wearing her crown. For a while, Gray lived with his grandparents in Windsor, with his nanny and a servant called Mr. Mustard.

He succeeded his grandfather in 1955 – and in 1956 his great-uncle as Baron Ruthven, of Gowrie (est. 1919) – while studying at Eton. There he was an avid actor and obtained favorable press reviews for his performance, in 1956, in The Death of Danton – “Lord Gowrie’s saturnine presidency of the Tribunal stood out among the minor roles.”


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