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,

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.