In July 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. However, many Scottish Catholics firmly believed that Mary was the rightful queen of both Scotland and England with Elizabeth I being considered illegitimate by Mary’s supporters. A period of discontent and rebellion would begin as various plots were hatched to restore Mary to the thrones, many of which included foreign military intervention from Catholic countries across the continent.
Even following the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, the plotting to overthrow Protestant rule of both England and Scotland continued. The Spanish Armada attempted to conquer England in 1588, and the alleged ‘Spanish blanks plot’ of 1592 was another attempt to invite Spanish forces to Scottish and English shores to bolster a Counter-Reformation. It is this plot which would lead to the downfall of David Graham.
David Graham, 6th Laird of Fintry, was a Scottish Catholic and supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, during her lifetime. He formed part of a group of people who hoped to re-establish Catholicism in Scotland with the help of foreign armies. In 1576, he was only permitted to travel outside the country if David Lindsay and Thomas Fothringham of Powrie, "stood surety that he would do "nothing prejudicial in the realm during his absence" and "would not return without express licence." However, during his travels, he did consort with supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots - including the Archbishop of St Andrews, James Bethune – earning himself the title "the obstinate Papist young Fintrie..." from William Bowes, English ambassador to Scotland. [Mudie & Walker, 1964]
Between 1581 and 1585 Graham created an album amicorum, literally a ‘book of friends’, to record meetings with acquaintances whilst travelling in Europe. The coats of arms and mottoes of foreign noblemen recorded in this manuscript volume, to be offered in our forthcoming Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs auction on 11 October, attests to David Graham's travels and the connections he formed. One page bears the slogan Initium Sapientiaw Timor Domini and states that the entry was written in Paris. Another inscription is signed Ingolstadt. Graham returned to Scotland in 1583.
As the 1580s progressed, plans were formed for the King of Spain to invade England and Scotland, with the aim of re-establishing the Catholic faith. Mundie & Walker write: "After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588, a fresh plan was devised for a Spanish landing in Scotland...The leader of this conspiracy...was Huntly, and Graham of Fintry was one of the Spaniards' principal contacts in Scotland."
For his part in the plot, Graham was banished to the continent, however he did not obey this order and continued his rebellion. This led to Graham's family seat, Mains Castle, being taken by the Constable of Dundee in 1589. Graham recovered the castle in 1590, but continued to conspire against the king, producing anti-Protestant propaganda, leading to the loss of his "movable property" and "all of the income" from his estates in 1591. Although the king gave Graham the opportunity to leave Scotland at this point, Graham declined.
Graham's downfall came in 1592, with the arrest of a George Ker, who was trying to leave the country. He was discovered with several incriminating letters addressed to the Duke of Parma and "eight papers, blank, except for the phrase "De vostre majestie tres humble et tres obesant serviteur and a signature..." An inquisition, accompanied by torture, showed that the blanks were to be filled up...to the effect that their signitories "should raise a power of horsemen and meet the Spanish armies at their landing...and convey them to England by all the forces they could procure upon the King of Spain's charges."" [Mudie & Walker, 1964]
One of the signatories, David Foster, was an alias of David Graham. Graham was arrested, tried and beheaded at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on 15th February 1593. However, despite this grisly end, Graham’s Album Amicorum survived to give some insight into a young Scottish Catholic’s travels around the Continent. Further examination could reveal a lot: exactly who did Graham meet, and what could their influence have been on Graham’s future fate?