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An Account Of The Life And Sufferings Of Mr William Lithgow A Native Of Scotland

This gentleman was descended from a good family, and having a natural
propensity for travelling, he rambled, when very young, over the
northern and western islands; after which he visited France, Germany,
Switzerland and Spain. He set out on his travels in the month of March,
1609, and the first place he went to was Paris, where he stayed for some
time. He then prosecuted his travels through Germany and other parts,
and at length arrived at Malaga, in Spain, the seat of all his

During his residence here, he contracted with the master of a French
ship for his passage to Alexandria, but was prevented from going by the
following circumstances. In the evening of the 17th of October, 1620,
the English fleet, at that time on a cruise against the Algerine rovers,
came to anchor before Malaga, which threw the people of the town into
the greatest consternation, as they imagined them to be Turks. The
morning, however, discovered the mistake, and the governor of Malaga,
perceiving the cross of England in their colours, went on board Sir
Robert Mansell's ship, who commanded on that expedition, and after
staying some time returned, and silenced the fears of the people.

The next day many persons from on board the fleet came ashore. Among
these were several well known by Mr. Lithgow, who, after reciprocal
compliments, spent some days together in festivity and the amusements of
the town. They then invited Mr. Lithgow to go on board, and pay his
respects to the admiral. He accordingly accepted the invitation, was
kindly received by him, and detained till the next day when the fleet
sailed. The admiral would willingly have taken Mr. Lithgow with him to
Algiers; but having contracted for his passage to Alexandria, and his
baggage, &c. being in the town, he could not accept the offer.

As soon as Mr. Lithgow got on shore, he proceeded towards his lodgings
by a private way, (being to embark the same night for Alexandria) when,
in passing through a narrow uninhabited street, he found himself
suddenly surrounded by nine sergeants, or officers, who threw a black
cloak over him, and forcibly conducted him to the governor's house.
After some little time the governor appeared when Mr. Lithgow earnestly
begged he might be informed of the cause of such violent treatment. The
governor only answered by shaking his head, and gave orders that the
prisoner should be strictly watched till he (the governor) returned from
his devotions; directing at the same time, that the captain of the town,
the alcade major, and town notary, should be summoned to appear at his
examination, and that all this should he done with the greatest secrecy,
to prevent the knowledge thereof reaching the ears of the English
merchants then residing in the town.

These orders were strictly discharged, and on the governor's return, he,
with the officers, having seated themselves, Mr. Lithgow was brought
before them for examination. The governor began by asking several
questions, namely, of what country he was, whither bound, and how long
he had been in Spain. The prisoner, after answering these and other
questions, was conducted to a closet, where, in a short space of time,
he was visited by the town-captain, who inquired whether he had ever
been at Seville, or was lately come from thence; and patting his cheeks
with an air of friendship conjured him to tell the truth: "For (said he)
your very countenance shows there is some hidden matter in your mind,
which prudence should direct you to disclose." Finding himself, however,
unable to extort anything from the prisoner, he left him, and reported
the same to the governor and the other officers; on which Mr. Lithgow
was again brought before them, a general accusation was laid against
him, and he was compelled to swear that he would give true answers to
such questions as should be asked him.

The governor proceeded to inquire the quality of the English commander,
and the prisoner's opinion what were the motives that prevented his
accepting an invitation from him to come on shore. He demanded,
likewise, the names of the English captains in the squadron, and what
knowledge he had of the embarkation, or preparation for it before his
departure from England. The answers given to the several questions asked
were set down in writing by the notary; but the junto seemed surprised
at his denying any knowledge of the fitting out of the fleet,
particularly the governor, who said he lied that he was a traitor and a
spy, and came directly from England to favour and assist the designs
that were projected against Spain, and that he had been for that purpose
nine months in Seville, in order to procure intelligence of the time the
Spanish navy was expected from the Indies. They exclaimed against his
familiarity with the officers of the fleet, and many other English
gentlemen, between whom, they said, unusual civilities had passed, but
all these transactions had been carefully noticed.

Besides, to sum up the whole, and put the truth past all doubt, they
said, he came from a council of war, held that morning on board the
admiral's ship, in order to put in execution the orders assigned him.
They upbraided him with being accessary to the burning of the island of
St. Thomas, in the West Indies. "Wherefore, (said they) these
Lutherans, and sons of the devil, ought to have no credit given to what
they say or swear."

In vain did Mr. Lithgow, endeavour to obviate every accusation laid
against him, and to obtain belief from his prejudiced judges. He begged
permission to send for his cloak-bag, which contained his papers, and
might serve to show his innocence. This request they complied with,
thinking it would discover some things of which they were ignorant. The
cloak-bag was accordingly brought, and being opened, among other things,
was found a license from king James the First, under the sign manuel,
setting forth the bearer's intention to travel into Egypt; which was
treated by the haughty Spaniards with great contempt. The other papers
consisted of passports, testimonials, &c. of persons of quality. All
these credentials, however, seemed rather to confirm than abate the
suspicions of these prejudiced judges, who, after seizing all the
prisoner's papers, ordered him again to withdraw.

In the mean time a consultation was held to fix the place where the
prisoner should be confined. The alcade, or chief judge, was for putting
him into the town prison; but this was objected to, particularly by the
corregidor, who said, in Spanish, "In order to prevent the knowledge of
his confinement from reaching his countrymen, I will take the matter on
myself, and be answerable for the consequences;" upon which it was
agreed, that he should be confined in the governor's house with the
greatest secrecy.

This matter being determined, one of the sergeants went to Mr. Lithgow,
and begged his money, with liberty to search him. As it was needless to
make any resistance, the prisoner quietly complied, when the sergeant
(after rifling his pockets of eleven ducatoons) stripped him to his
shirt; and searching his breeches he found, enclosed in the waistband,
two canvass bags, containing one hundred and thirty-seven pieces of
gold. The sergeant immediately took the money to the corregidor, who,
after having told it over, ordered him to clothe the prisoner, and shut
him up close till after supper.

About midnight, the sergeant and two Turkish slaves released Mr. Lithgow
from his then confinement, but it was to introduce him to one much more
horrible. They conducted him through several passages, to a chamber in a
remote part of the palace, towards the garden, where they loaded him
with irons, and extended his legs by means of an iron bar above a yard
long, the weight of which was so great that he could neither stand nor
sit, but was obliged to lie continually on his back. They left him in
this condition for some time, when they returned with a refreshment of
food, consisting of a pound of boiled mutton and a loaf, together with a
small quantity of wine; which was not only the first, but the best and
last of the kind, during his confinement in this place. After delivering
these articles, the sergeant locked the door, and left Mr. Lithgow to
his own private contemplations.

The next day he received a visit from the governor, who promised him his
liberty, with many other advantages, if he would confess being a spy;
but on his protesting that he was entirely innocent, the governor left
him in a rage, saying, He should see him no more till farther torments
constrained him to confess, commanding the keeper, to whose care he was
committed, that he should permit no person whatever to have access to,
or commune with him; that his sustenance should not exceed three ounces
of musty bread, and a pint of water every second day; that he shall be
allowed neither bed, pillow, nor coverlid. "Close up (said he) this
window in his room with lime and stone, stop up the holes of the door
with double mats: let him have nothing that bears any likeness to
comfort." These, and several other orders of the like severity, were
given to render it impossible for his condition to be known to those of
the English nation.

In this wretched and melancholy state did poor Lithgow continue without
seeing any person for several days, in which time the governor received
an answer to a letter he had written, relative to the prisoner from
Madrid; and, pursuant to the instructions given him, began to put in
practice the cruelties devised, which they hastened, because Christmas
holy-days approached, it being then the forty-seventh day since his

About two o'clock in the morning, he heard the noise of a coach in the
street, and some time after heard the opening of the prison doors, not
having had any sleep for two nights; hunger, pain, and melancholy
reflections having prevented him from taking any repose.

Soon after the prison doors were opened, the nine sergeants, who had
first seized him, entered the place where he lay, and without uttering a
word, conducted him in his irons through the house into the street,
where a coach waited, and into which they laid him at the bottom on his
back, not being able to sit. Two of the sergeants rode with him, and the
rest walked by the coach side, but all observed the most profound
silence. They drove him to a vinepress house, about a league from the
town, to which place a rack had been privately conveyed before; and here
they shut him up for that night.

At day-break the next morning, arrived the governor and the alcade, into
whose presence Mr. Lithgow was immediately brought to undergo another
examination. The prisoner desired he might have an interpreter, which
was allowed to strangers by the laws of that country, but this was
refused, nor would they permit him to appeal to Madrid, the superior
court of judicature. After a long examination, which lasted from morning
till night, there appeared in all his answers so exact a conformity with
what he had before said, that they declared he had learned them by
heart, there not being the least prevarication. They, however, pressed
him again to make a full discovery; that is, to accuse himself of crimes
never committed, the governor adding, "You are still in my power; I can
set you free if you comply, if not, I must deliver you to the alcade."
Mr. Lithgow still persisting in his innocence, the governor ordered the
notary to draw up a warrant for delivering him to the alcade to be

In consequence of this he was conducted by the sergeants to the end of a
stone gallery, where the rack was placed. The encarouador or
executioner, immediately struck off his irons, which put him to very
great pains, the bolts being so close riveted, that the sledge hammer
tore away half an inch of his heel, in forcing off the bolt; the anguish
of which, together with his weak condition, (not having the least
sustenance for three days) occasioned him to groan bitterly; upon which
the merciless alcade said, "Villain, traitor, this is but the earnest of
what you shall endure."

When his irons were off he fell on his knees, uttering a short prayer,
that God would be pleased to enable him to be steadfast, and undergo
courageously the grievous trial he had to encounter. The alcade and
notary having placed themselves in chairs, he was stripped naked, and
fixed upon the rack, the office of these gentlemen being to be witness
of, and set down the confessions and tortures endured by the delinquent.

It is impossible to describe all the various tortures inflicted upon
him. Suffice it to say, that he lay on the rack for above five hours,
during which time he received above sixty different tortures of the most
hellish nature; and had they continued them a few minutes longer, he
must have inevitably perished.

These cruel persecutors being satisfied for the present, the prisoner
was taken from the rack, and his irons being again put on, he was
conducted to his former dungeon, having received no other nourishment
than a little warm wine, which was given him rather to prevent his
dying, and reserve him for future punishments, than from any principle
of charity or compassion.

As a confirmation of this, orders were given for a coach to pass every
morning before day by the prison, that the noise made by it might give
fresh terrors and alarms to the unhappy prisoner, and deprive him of all
possibility of obtaining the least repose.

He continued in this horrid situation, almost starved for want of the
common necessaries to preserve his wretched existence, till Christmas
day, when he received some relief from Mariane, waiting-woman to the
governor's lady. This woman having obtained leave to visit him, carried
with her some refreshments, consisting of honey, sugar, raisins, and
other articles: and so affected was she at beholding his situation, that
she wept bitterly, and at her departure expressed the greatest concern
at not being able to give him further assistance.

In this loathsome prison was poor Mr. Lithgow kept till he was almost
devoured by vermin. They crawled about his beard, lips, eye-brows, &c.
so that he could scarce open his eyes; and his mortification was
increased by not having the use of his hands or legs to defend himself,
from his being so miserably maimed by the tortures. So cruel was the
governor, that he even ordered the vermin to be swept on him twice in
every eight days. He, however obtained some little mitigation of this
part of his punishment, from the humanity of a Turkish slave that
attended him, who, when he could do it with safety, destroyed the
vermin, and contributed every refreshment to him that laid in his power.

From this slave Mr. Lithgow at length received information which gave
him little hopes of ever being released, but, on the contrary, that he
should finish his life under new tortures. The substance of this
information was, that an English seminary priest, and a Scotch cooper,
had been for some time employed by the governor to translate from the
English into the Spanish language, all his books and observations; and
that it was commonly said in the governor's house, that he was an arch

This information greatly alarmed him, and he began, not without reason,
to fear that they would soon finish him, more especially as they could
neither by torture or any other means, bring him to vary from what he
had all along said at his different examinations.

Two days after he had received the above information, the governor, an
inquisitor, and a canonical priest, accompanied by two Jesuits, entered
his dungeon, and being seated, after several idle questions, the
inquisitor asked Mr. Lithgow if he was a Roman catholic, and
acknowledged the pope's supremacy? He answered, that he neither was the
one or did the other; adding, that he was surprised at being asked such
questions, since it was expressly stipulated by the articles of peace
between England and Spain, that none of the English subjects should be
liable to the inquisition, or any way molested by them on account of
diversity in religion, &c. In the bitterness of his soul he made use of
some warm expressions not suited to his circumstances: "As you have
almost murdered me (said he) for pretended treason, so now you intend to
make a martyr of me for my religion." He also expostulated with the
governor on the ill return he made to the king of England, (whose
subject he was) for the princely humanity exercised towards the
Spaniards in 1588, when their armada was shipwrecked on the Scotch
coast, and thousands of the Spaniards found relief, who must otherwise
have miserably perished.

The governor admitted the truth of what Mr. Lithgow said, but replied
with a haughty air, that the king, who then only ruled Scotland, was
actuated more by fear than love, and therefore did not deserve any
thanks. One of the Jesuits said, there was no faith to be kept with
heretics. The inquisitor then rising, addressed himself to Mr Lithgow in
the following words: "You have been taken up as a spy, accused of
treachery, and tortured, as we acknowledge, innocently: (which appears
by the account lately received from Madrid of the intentions of the
English) yet it was the divine power that brought those judgments upon
you, for presumptuously treating the blessed miracle of Loretto with
ridicule, and expressing yourself in your writings irreverently of his
holiness, the great agent and Christ's vicar upon earth; therefore you
are justly fallen into our hands by their special appointment: thy
books and papers are miraculously translated by the assistance of
Providence influencing thy own countrymen."

This trumpery being ended, they gave the prisoner eight days to consider
and resolve whether he would become a convert to their religion; during
which time the inquisitor told him he, with other religious orders,
would attend, to give him such assistance thereto as he might want. One
of the Jesuits said, (first making the sign of the cross upon his
breast) "My son, behold, you deserve to be burnt alive; but by the grace
of our lady of Loretto, whom you have blasphemed, we will both save your
soul and body."

In the morning, the inquisitor with three other ecclesiastics returned,
when the former asked the prisoner what difficulties he had on his
conscience that retarded his conversion; to which he answered, "he had
not any doubts in his mind, being confident in the promises of Christ,
and assuredly believing his revealed will signified in the gospels, as
professed in the reformed catholic church, being confirmed by grace, and
having infallible assurance thereby of the christian faith." To these
words the inquisitor replied, "Thou art no christian, but an absurd
heretic, and without conversion a member of perdition." The prisoner
then told him, it was not consistent with the nature and essence of
religion and charity to convince by opprobrious speeches, racks, and
torments, but by arguments deduced from the scriptures; and that all
other methods would with him be totally ineffectual.

The inquisitor was so enraged at the replies made by the prisoner, that
he struck him on the face, used many abusive speeches, and attempted to
stab him, which he had certainly done had he not been prevented by the
Jesuits: and from this time he never again visited the prisoner.

The next day the two Jesuits returned, and putting on a very grave
supercilious air, the superior asked him, what resolution he had taken?
To which Mr. Lithgow replied, that he was already resolved, unless he
could show substantial reasons to make him alter his opinion. The
superior, after a pedantic display of their seven sacraments, the
intercession of saints, transubstantiation, &c. boasted greatly of their
church, her antiquity, universality, and uniformity; all which Mr.
Lithgow denied: "For (said he) the profession of the faith I hold hath
been ever since the first days of the apostles, and Christ had ever his
own church (however obscure) in the greatest time of your darkness."

The Jesuits, finding their arguments had not the desired effect, that
torments could not shake his constancy, nor even the fear of the cruel
sentence he had reason to expect would be pronounced and executed on
him, after severe menaces, left him. On the eighth day after being the
last of their inquisition, when sentence is pronounced, they returned
again, but quite altered both in their words and behaviour after
repeating much of the same kind of arguments as before, they with
seeming tears in their eyes, pretended they were sorry from their heart
he must be obliged to undergo a terrible death, but above all, for the
loss of his most precious soul; and falling on their knees, cried out,
"Convert, convert, O dear brother, for our blessed lady's sake convert!"
To which he answered, "I fear neither death nor fire, being prepared for

The first effects Mr. Lithgow felt of the determination of this bloody
tribunal was, a sentence to receive that night eleven different
tortures, and if he did not die in the execution of them, (which might
be reasonably expected from the maimed and disjointed condition he was
in) he was, after Easter holy-days, to be carried to Grenada, and there
burnt to ashes. The first part of this sentence was executed with great
barbarity that night; and it pleased God to give him strength both of
body and mind, to stand fast to the truth, and to survive the horrid
punishments inflicted on him.

After these barbarians had glutted themselves for the present, with
exercising on the unhappy prisoner the most distinguished cruelties,
they again put irons on, and conveyed him to his former dungeon. The
next morning he received some little comfort from the Turkish slave
before mentioned, who secretly brought him, in his shirt sleeve, some
raisins and figs, which he licked up in the best manner his strength
would permit with his tongue. It was to this slave Mr. Lithgow
attributed his surviving so long in such a wretched situation; for he
found means to convey some of these fruits to him twice every week. It
is very extraordinary, and worthy of note, that this poor slave, bred up
from his infancy, according to the maxims of his prophet and parents, in
the greatest detestation of christians, should be so affected at the
miserable situation of Mr. Lithgow, that he fell ill, and continued so
for upwards of forty days. During this period Mr. Lithgow was attended
by a negro woman, a slave, who found means to furnish him with
refreshments still more amply than the Turk, being conversant in the
house and family. She brought him every day some victuals, and with it
some wine in a bottle.

The time was now so far elapsed, and the horrid situation so truly
loathsome, that Mr. Lithgow waited with anxious expectation for the day,
which, by putting an end to his life, would also end his torments. But
his melancholy expectations were, by the interposition of Providence,
happily rendered abortive, and his deliverance obtained from the
following circumstances.

It happened that a Spanish gentleman of quality came from Grenada to
Malaga, who being invited to an entertainment by the governor, he
informed him of what had befallen Mr. Lithgow from the time of his being
apprehended as a spy, and described the various sufferings he had
endured. He likewise told him, that after it was known the prisoner was
innocent, it gave him great concern. That on this account he would
gladly have released him, restored his money and papers, and made some
atonement for the injuries he had received but that, upon an inspection
into his writings, several were found of a very blasphemous nature,
highly reflecting on their religion. That on his refusing to abjure
these heretical opinions, he was turned over to the inquisition, by whom
he was finally condemned.

While the governor was relating this tragical tale, a Flemish youth
(servant to the Spanish gentleman) who waited at the table, was struck
with amazement and pity at the sufferings of the stranger described. On
his return to his master's lodgings he began to revolve in his mind what
he had heard, which made such an impression on him that he could not
rest in his bed. In the short slumbers he had, his imagination painted
to him the person described, on the rack, and burning in the fire. In
this anxiety he passed the night; and when the morning came, without
disclosing his intentions to any person whatever, he went into the town,
and enquired for an English factor. He was directed to the house of a
Mr. Wild, to whom he related the whole of what he had heard pass, the
preceding evening, between his master and the governor; but could not
tell Mr. Lithgow's name. Mr. Wild, however, conjectured it was him, by
the servant's remembering the circumstance of his being a traveller, and
his having had some acquaintance with him.

On the departure of the Flemish servant, Mr. Wild immediately sent for
the other English factors, to whom he related all the particulars
relative to their unfortunate countryman. After a short consultation it
was agreed, that an information of the whole affair should be sent, by
express, to Sir Walter Aston, the English ambassador to the king of
Spain, then at Madrid. This was accordingly done, and the ambassador
having presented a memorial to the king and council of Spain, he
obtained an order for Mr. Lithgow's enlargement, and his delivery to the
English factory. This order was directed to the governor of Malaga; and
was received with great dislike and surprise by the whole assembly of
the bloody inquisition.

Mr. Lithgow was released from his confinement on the eve of Easter
Sunday, when he was carried from his dungeon on the back of the slave
who had attended him, to the house of one Mr. Bosbich, where all proper
comforts were given him. It fortunately happened, that there was at this
time a squadron of English ships in the road, commanded by Sir Richard
Hawkins, who being informed of the past sufferings and present situation
of Mr. Lithgow, came the next day ashore, with a proper guard, and
received him from the merchants. He was instantly carried in blankets on
board the Vanguard, and three days after was removed to another ship, by
direction of the general Sir Robert Mansel, who ordered that he should
have proper care taken of him. The factory presented him with clothes,
and all necessary provisions, besides which they gave him 200 reals in
silver; and Sir Richard Hawkins sent him two double pistoles.

Before his departure from the Spanish coast, Sir Richard Hawkins
demanded the delivery of his papers, money, books, &c. but could not
obtain any satisfactory answer on that head.

We cannot help making a pause here to reflect, how manifestly Providence
interfered in behalf of this poor man, when he was just on the brink of
destruction; for by his sentence, from which there was no appeal, he
would have been taken, in a few days, to Grenada, and burnt to ashes:
and that a poor ordinary servant, who had not the least knowledge of
him, nor was any ways interested in his preservation, should risk the
displeasure of his master, and hazard his own life, to disclose a thing
of so momentous and perilous a nature, to a strange gentleman, on whose
secrecy depended his own existence. By such secondary means does
Providence frequently interfere in behalf of the virtuous and oppressed;
of which this is a most distinguished example.

After lying twelve days in the road, the ship weighed anchor, and in
about two months arrived safe at Deptford. The next morning, Mr. Lithgow
was carried on a feather bed to Theobalds, in Hertfordshire, where at
that time was the king and royal family. His majesty happened to be that
day engaged in hunting, but on his return in the evening, Mr. Lithgow
was presented to him, and related the particulars of his sufferings, and
his happy delivery. The king was so affected at the narrative, that he
expressed the deepest concern, and gave orders that he should be sent to
Bath, and his wants properly supplied from his royal munificence. By
these means, under God, after some time, Mr. Lithgow was restored, from
the most wretched spectacle, to a great share of health and strength;
but he lost the use of his left arm, and several of the smaller bones
were so crushed and broken, as to be ever after rendered useless.

Notwithstanding every effort was used, Mr. Lithgow could never obtain
any part of his money or effects, though his majesty and the ministers
of state, interested themselves in his behalf. Gondamore, the Spanish
ambassador, indeed, promised that all his effects should be restored,
with the addition of L1000 English money, as some atonement for the
tortures he had undergone, which last was to be paid him by the governor
of Malaga. These engagements, however, were but mere promises; and
though the king was a kind of guarantee for the well performance of
them, the cunning Spaniard found means to elude the same. He had,
indeed, too great a share of influence in the English council during the
time of that pacific reign, when England suffered herself to be bullied
into slavish compliance by most of the states and kings in Europe.

Next: Croly On The Inquisition

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