John Spreul of Glasgow, Apothecary. Intercommuned fugitive, horned, tortured, improperly convicted, prisoner on the Bass Rock for over six years, who refused to be freed.

The story of John Spreul (the younger) is remarkable. He was one of the better off  Presbyterian tradesmen who was targeted by a greedy government and its officials, keen to seize all that he possessed. They came up against a man of  great conscience, intelligence, and astuteness who used the law against them and frustrated their objectives time and time again, despite severe maltreatment, torture and imprisonment. After many years of persecuting him  the government finally gave up and  ordered his cell door to be left open  so that Spreul could please himself whether he stayed in prison or not.

John Spreul, the elder, was a prosperous merchant in Paisley and a staunch Presbyterian. During the time of Cromwell`s Commonwealth he had been an adherent to the rights of King Charles II and had refused to take the oath of loyalty (called the Tender) to the Commonwealth as he considered it inconsistent with the Covenants which he had earlier sworn. Despite this modicum of loyalty he was nevertheless labelled as a malcontent and fined five hundred merks when Charles II was restored in 1660.   This he assumed to be because he refused to conform to prelacy and listen to the curates. It was believed that the Earl of Dundonald was his main persecutor (a man who had taken the `Tender` but became a Privy Councillor - so much for loyalty and conscience). John Spreul was subsequently pursued and was forced into hiding for several years.

Into this staunch Covenanting family was born a son, John (the younger) who was brought up of the same principles. A marked man by reputation alone, he was seized by dragoons under the command of General Dalziel of the Binns from his father`s shop in Paisley. It was alleged that he was  at the battle of Rullion Green ( November 1666) or had been intending to join them. He was threatened and bullied, as was the custom, but revealed nothing and was eventually released. John returned to his profession, which was an apothecary. In that profession he had gained a very good reputation  and was often sought after when the needs of a surgeon arose, including military officers and even Privy Councillors. But even these influential contacts did not prevent him being summoned before a Justiciary Court in Glasgow during 1677. He and a friend, William Napier, who had also been summoned, went to inquire of Lord Ross the reasons for the summons. At worst, they thought, it would be for not hearing the curates and nonconformity. However, they learned that those who compeared to the summons were expected to be harshly treated ( probably as an example to others) so he and others did not attend. The consequence was that they were declared rebels and intercommuned - all persons were prohibited to talk to him, or to offer aid or assistance of any kind, even food and drink. Those who did attend court were jailed in Edinburgh and heavily fined.

John Spreul was obliged to leave home and became a fugitive, spending much time travelling abroad on business trips. When in Scotland he resided quietly at Cartsdyke near Glasgow  where he had a fishery business - curing herrings. As it happened he was in Ireland when the battle of Drumclog took place and was still there when Archbishop James Sharp was assassinated. His absence abroad would later safe his life. Returning from Dublin he learnt of the events and that the Covenanters were in arms intent on deposing King Charles II. He did not feel, in all conscience, that he could support such an extreme aim, neither did he have much faith in the leaders at the time who were riven by disputes. This also meant that he was not in arms at Bothwell Brig, although  his brother, James, and two cousins were.

Tarred with the same brush and anyway still a fugitive, John Spreul was put to the horn and forefaulted, meaning that all he owned, land, goods and gear, could be seized. The villain of the piece then emerged - the Earl of Dundonald, who coveted Spreul`s property. Dundonald and a magistrate went to Glasgow and turned Spreul`s wife and family out of their house without anything whatsoever; locked the shop and secured all the windows and doors with chains. However, the greedy Earl had overlooked the cellar which contained a considerable quantity of valuable goods imported from the continent. For this Spreul was grateful and was able  to call in debts owed him, sell the hidden store and gather sufficient to enable him to go to Holland and seek a house for his family. He returned to Edinburgh soon after to collect his family when his luck ran out.

Spreul was lodging with a Sarah Campbell, in the Cowgate, Edinburgh when on the night of 2 November 1680 he was seized in his bed by a Major Johnstone.  It occurred during one of the many house to house searches that were made at that time for the leader of the Cameronians, or Society People,  - James Renwick. Spreul was taken before Dalziel who was in the Canongate, and was threatened and bullied but refused to be terrorised and told him he was a freeborn British subject and demanded an open trial. Getting nowhere with his questioning Dalziel ordered that Spreul be taken to the guard house in the Abbey Yard. He was thrown into a room with a Janet [ Marion ] Harvey  who had been subject of unwanted attention by the prison guards, and threatened with being raped. Their officer had attempted an assault on her but she had managed to fend him off. Thankfully the arrival of Spreul helped to cool passions.

In an adjacent room were two Covenanting ministers Mr Alexander Skene and Mr Archibald Stewart who, along with Spreul, were taken before the Privy Council the next morning. He was separately interrogated and at some considerable length, mainly about acquaintance with Donald Cargill, his opinion of the Sanquhar Declaration and the assassination of Archbishop Sharp.  Following the questioning they were ordered to be imprisoned but on the way to their former cells they suddenly returned to the Council chamber. This was so that they could subscribe (sign) their earlier answers before the Lords Justiciary - this would have made their statements legal documents and likely confessions. Aware of the trick John Spreul refused to sign and was threatened with torture by the boot.

On Monday 15 November 1680 Spreul was again brought before the Privy Council where he was named with others to be tortured to force answers to three questions : by what means and reason is the murdering principle ( of government officers and servant)  taught and carried on;  who were accessories to murder and those to be murdered; and about `Lord St. Andrew`s death`.  Spreul refused to answer the questions and was promptly threatened again, but gained a respite by declaring to the Lord President the comment of St Augustine about torture:

"Torture it may well terrify, it will not teach, and when men are only terrified and not taught, it makes the government seem, yea to be, wicked and tyrannical."

John Spreul - Torture and conviction by special Act of Council

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