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July 25th 1685

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Torturing William

The religious troubles of the 18th century produced a full quota of heroism and bigotry. It was a time too when great strides were made in the more subtle forms of torture.

A case in point is that of William Spence, minister of Glendevon. Though an opponent of Episcopalianism he managed to remain in his charge till 1678 when he gave the Presbytery of Auchterarder a “Testimony against the evils of these times.” 

It was both comprehensive and extreme and led in due course to his excommunication by “the pretended Bishop and Synod of Dunblane.”  Spence then joined the Duke of Argyll as his private secretary and made his way with him to Holland.

He came back to Scotland on the death of Charles 2nd and was captured during the abortive revolution led by Argyll. He was committed to prison, and it being assumed that he would possess secrets regarding Argyll’s accomplices, he was put to the torture. “He endured the boot with a patience and fortitude which astonished his persecutors, but revealed nothing.”  It was then “recommended to General Dalziel to cause such of his Majesty’s forces as shall be found most trusty, to watch him by turns and not suffer him to sleep by night or by day and for that end to use all effectual means for keeping him still awake.” 

This treatment was also unsuccessful. Finally, on August 14th they applied the latest form of torture, the thumbkins (or thumbscrews) and broken by the intolerable pain, Spence agreed to decipher the letters that were found with him.

He survived, and after the Revolution the General Assembly declared his deposition and excommunication null and void.

He finally died in 1691 aged eighty.

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