Spreul – Torture and conviction by a special Act of

Spreul was
again brought before the Privy Council on Wednesday 17
November and again he refused to subscribe to previous
answers. He was sent back to his cell while the hangman
was summoned and the  instruments of torture made
ready. Returning to the Council chamber where the Duke of
York was in attendance, Spreul was  threatened and
the charges read.  This time, despite protestations
at it`s illegality, the hangman  put his leg into the
boot and inserted the wedges. At every question the
hangman gave four or five blows to the wedges and drove
them down into the boot. Spreul gave nothing, not even
yielding to the pain. Such was the anger at him that the
hangman was ordered to get another type of boot ( probably
with a metal casing)  with which there was no
success. In temper, Dalziel accused the hangman of being
which he was bade to do it himself ( Dalziel declined). At
this juncture Spreul related the tale of how martyrs at
the stake would pray in apparent ecstacy as the flames
consumed them; he likewise felt no pain because God was
with him. Frustrated in their design the Council remitted
him to prison under close guard and ordered that he was
not to be given help or a doctor to be called. In his cell
Spreul was able to dress his crushed leg with cloth soaked
in warm wine, which brought some relief.

Spreul`s wife was refused permission to see him or provide
any material comforts such as food or clean clothes; he
was then taken and imprisoned in the infamous 
Edinburgh Tolbooth. Here, amongst the planted spies and
informers, Spreul was closeted with a spy named Green.
This man was soon cosseting two Covenanters who had been
brought in, and making a great show of his opposition to
prelacy. Spreul was suspicious and turned the tables on
Green, talking him into betraying himself and perhaps
saving two lives. It was March 1681 when the Lord Advocate
himself – Sir George “Bluidy” Mackenzie, indicted Spreul
before the High Court of Justiciary. On this occasion he
was charged with treason and rebellion for alleged
accession to Bothwell Brig. 

The act of
announcing his indictment must have been both amusing and
of great levity to a man who had suffered as much as John
Spreul. He describes how three Lyon Heralds and three
Messengers at arms, clothed in their official robes,
approached with sound of trumpet. They paused at the
entrance to the hall and proclaimed themselves; then again
at the entrance to his cell. Spreul took his indictment
and kissed it, then invited the officials to sit while he
read two verses of Psalm xci, and verses 9-12 of
Revelations xiv. He asked that the Messengers take back to
Mackenzie and the Duke of York the message that the facts
of the Psalm preserved him from fear and despondency at
the blast of their trumpets.

In what had
now become a repetitive process, Spreul was called before
the Lords Justiciary several times – on 2 March, on 6 June
and then 13 June before sufficient witnesses were obtained
to swear against him. These Spreul rejected as illegal and
paid informers, and throwing down a dollar to the clerk of
the Court, took instruments ( a legal declaration) against
the illegal proceedings,  There was much tedious
debate and cross questioning of witnesses, some of whom
had been threatened with torture if they did not prove
Spreul`s guilt. It slowly began to dawn
on the Court that nothing could be proven and Spreul`s
lawyers demanded he be set at liberty. Mackenzie then
produced an Act of the Privy Council that had been
prepared beforehand in the event of acquittal, by which
Spreul was charged with attending conventicles, ordered to
be  fined five hundred pounds sterling ( a huge sum
in those days) and imprisoned until paid. The following
day he was escorted by a troop of dragoons to North
Berwick and the Bass Rock prison.

Spreul on the Bass Rock.