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A history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) online

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(l) that Sprot really suffered as a forger of an every-day kind ; (2) that he was
induced, by promise of reward to his wife and family, and as he had to die in
any case, to make a false confession, on the scaffold, of the Gowrie Conspiracy.
Calderwood therefore suppresses the statement of his MS. authority that Sprot
denied this promise of reward, on the scaffold. This denial is not elsewhere stated
in the official descriptions. But the earlier part of the account in Calderwood's
MS. authority is also absent from the official versions. Tliat part Calderwood
accepts, and reproduces as his own ; what does not suit him, in the same MS.
authority, Calderwood burkes and contradicts. Moreover, not a word, in the
Haddington MSS. (which are private and candid), hints that Sprot was arrested
for, or examined on, or condemned for, general crimes of forgery. He was
arrested with pseudo-Logan papers actually in his " pocquet," and his examina-


tions turned on no other point. So much for Calderwood. Mr Barbe, in his
"Tragedy of Gowrie House"' (125-131), accepts both the MS. in the Advocates'
Library and Calderwood's account of "promise of benefit" to Sprot's family,
without observing that Calderwood cites the MS. where it suits him, and ignores
and contradicts it — always without quoting his sources — where it does not suit
him. The official statements about Sprot's evidence are falsified and garbled, but
Calderwood's version, when analysed, is not irreproachable. But, of course, he is
not to be censured severely. It was then unusual to cite authorities, and he may
have thought that his information was better than that of his author. At last,
on July 5, and in subsequent examinations, Sprot averred that the letters in
possession of the Council were impostures, but that Logan's share in the plot, and
his own guilty foreknowledge, were actual facts.

The only letters in the case hitherto known to history are five ; the originals
were found by Mr Pitcairn, in the Warrants of Parliament, and were published
by him in the second volume of his ' Criminal Trials in Scotland.' They were also
copied into the record of the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament of November
1609. Of these five letters, dating from between July 18 and the last of July
1600, Nos. i., iii., and v. are, to one or more unknown persons, addressed as
"Right Honourable Sir." One(ii. )is to James or "Laird" Bower, a retainer
of Logan. One (iv.), dated July 29, 1600, is to the Earl of Gowrie. These
letters indicate frankly that Logan and his correspondents are engaged in high
treason. Failure means death, forfeiture, and extirpation of the names of the
associates. The scheme, whatever its details, is based (according to the letters))
on an incident which occurred, or a romance which was in circulation, at Padua,
where Gowrie had been a scholar (1595-1598?). These five letters have been
accepted as authentic beyond doubt by Mr Hill Burton and Mr Tytler, though
Mr iNIark Napier and others proved that they were in the highest degree
suspicious. The confessions of Sprot, in the Haddington MSS., allege that
Letters ii., iii., and v. are forgeries, while i. is doulitful, and only iv. (Logan to
Gowrie, July 29, 1600) is admitted by him as genuine, and as his model for the
fraudulent imitations. That even one letter was admitted to be genuine, Calder-
wood did not know. If accepted. Letter iv. suffices to establish the guilt both of
Gowrie and Logan, but, as we have it, letter iv. is a forgery, whether the
substance be copied from a real letter by Logan or not.

The reason why Sprot forged the three certainly fraudulent letters, and a
number of others never publicly produced, was a purpose of extortion. After
1600, Logan of Restalrig sold all his estates, although the records of "hornings"
for debt, in the " Register of the Privy Council," never show that he was pressed by
creditors. Already, in 1596, he had sold his estate of Lower Gogar. This-
haste to get rid of landed property after 1600 must have aroused the suspicion
that Logan feared forfeiture, in consequence of some treasonable enterprise ; and
that, probably, the Gowrie afiair. Logan was of ancient family ; he was of royal
descent ; his lands were Restalrig, near Leith, Flemingtoun (with a house,
Gunnisgreen, near Eyemouth), and Fastcastle, a fortress of great strength, on a
perpendicular cliff of the Berwickshire coast, above the northern sea. The
possession of this impregnable fortalice, in a region still roadless, made Logan a
useful ally in a conspiracy. His life had been passed in conspiracies. A half-
brother of Lord Hume, a cousin of the Master of Gray, and of the Ogilvys and
Sinclairs, a friend of the famiiy of Cowrie's Mr Thomas Cranstoun, Logan
belonged to the clique of Archibald Douglas, and the other Whittingham Douglases,
the Laird of Spot, John Colville, Ninian Chirnside, and all the southern partisans


of the adventurous Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell. In 1586 Logan was one
of the packed jury which shamefully acquitted Archibald Douglas of a part in
Darnley's murder. In 1 592- 1 594, when Bothwell was chasing the King like a
partridge on the mountains, Logan was his abettor, probably harboured him at
Fastcastle, and was denounced rebel for his pains. When Bothwell joined the
Catholics, and deserted the Kirk, Logan did not abandon the renegade, but
associated with and harboured George Ker (of the Spanish Blanks), and the
Jesuit, Father Andrew Clerk. In 1599 he was charged not to yield Fastcastle
to the King's rebels or enemies, and in 1599 Cecil was inquiring of Lord
Willoughby, at Berwick, as to his character and position. Logan had been a
pirate ; a Queen's man in the castle during the last agony of Mary's party ; an
associate of Cowrie's after the raid of Ruthven ; a spy of Walsingham's(i5S6-i5S7) ;
an accomplice of all the perfidious Douglases of Spot and Whittingham, and
Mowbrays of Barnbogle ; and, as we saw, an ally of Bothwell when Bothwell
was an ally of Atholl, and of the Cowrie of the Cowrie tragedy. He was also
li^ with Lord Willoughby and Sir John Guevara at Berwick, the kidnappers of
Richard Ashfield (1599).

With this record, it may be judged whether Logan was an unlikely man to be a
conspirator. He was a neighbour to Cowrie's castle at Dirleton, close to the sea,
near North Berwick, and within a short sail of Fastcastle. The lands of Dirleton
(according to Sprot) were to be Logan's if the conspiracy succeeded. When we
remember that, in April 1600, Nicholson had announced to Cecil that a plot by
Archibald Douglas, the Laird of Spot, and John Colville was in hand ; when we
add that Colville and Cowrie were both in Paris in the early spring of 1600,
while Bothwell was reported to have arrived secretly and to be skulking in
Scotland, it may be granted that Logan was apt to be concerned in whatever
enterprises of a treasonable nature were on foot. The Cowrie conspiracy failed ;
Logan sold his lands (this is certain), and went partners with Lord Willoughby in
a ship, wherein, Sprot says, he meant to sail to "the Indies." By 1605 Logan
had sold all and was a landless man. Lord Balmerino and Lord Dunbar, the
purchasers of his estates, owed him 33,000 marks on the price. In September
1605 Logan went to London to try to get his money, in which he failed. He
then visited France, returned in 1606, to find Bower, his trusted old servant, dead ;
and he died himself in Edinburgh in July 1606. His elder children, by his first
and second marriages, refused to "give up the inventory" of his estate. His heir
was a girl, of about four or five years of age, born of his last marriage, and the
main part of her property was the money owed to her by Dunbar and by
Balmerino, v^^ho, in 160S, fell from power, and was a dying prisoner.

In these circumstances, the propriety of robbing the orphan was conspicuous to
all. Sprot not only destroyed the acknowledgments of debt to Logan's heiress
by one Heddilstane and by Ninian Chirnside (Logan's most intimate friend, and
a trusted retainer of Bothwell), but he forged the Logan plot letters, ii. , iii., v.,
and perhaps i., and a number of other compromising papers and letters, in an
imitation of Logan's hand. These forgeries Sprot sold to Heddilstane, Ninian
Chirnside, the Goodman of Rentoun (Home), and others. They were to exhibit the
forged documents as genuine to Logan's executors, and so terrify them into forgiving
the debts owed by Logan's surviving friends to his daughter. The whole of the
dead Logan's possessions would be forfeited if his connection with the Cowrie plot
came to light, and thus the forged papers were much coveted by Logan's friends
and debtors, and were a source of revenue to Sprot. This branch of the notary's
business was, of course, destroyed by his arrest in April 1608. In July, Dunbar,


says Calderwood, following his MS. authority, came to Scotland, "and caused
take the said George Sprot out of ward, and cure his legs, bruised with the boots."
Sprot now, on July 5 and later, confessed that the plot was a genuine plot, that
Logan was engaged in it, that he himself had guilty foreknowledge, announced
that he knew he must die, and deserved to die, but maintained that the plot-
letters and other compromising papers, then before the Privy Council, were all
forgeries. His own words are, " I confess to my own shame and God's glory, I
formed and framed them all to the true meaning and purpose of the letter that
Bower let me see " (Cowrie's first letter, merely asking for an interview with
Logan), "to make the matter the more clear by these arguments and circum-
stances, for the cause I shewed to the Lords," that is, for purposes of extortion.
The letter of Gowrie had been shown by Bower to Sprot "with a direction that
he got from the Laird to come to him in haste for to ride in his commission to the
Earl of Gowrie concerning the lands of Dirleton" (Logan's reward), "which
direction to Bower is among the rest of the letters produced." Thus, on July 5,
Sprot confessed that Cowrie's harmless first letter to Logan was his source, but he
obviously includes what he says he knew of Logan's hope of getting the lands of

The letter about them (ii.) Sprot almost certainly forged, on oral information
from Bower. But, as certainly, Sprot, in the recorded confessions, never
mentions Letter iv., from Logan to Gowrie, till August 10. Under examina-
tion, Sprot cited the first letter of Gowrie to Logan (July 6, 1600), in which
Gowrie says that Logan understands his purposes, and asks for an interview.
Sprot cited various witnesses to corroborate some of his statements, but they
all, very naturally, refused to corroborate, and Chirnside, with others, was long
"warded" in prison. So far, the Privy Council had no valid evidence before
it ; only rumour, Sprot's word, contested and often demonstrably false, and the
letters and papers which were confessed forgeries. On August 9 Sprot was told
that he must die, and that he should see the faces of the Lords no more. He
repeated that his confessions, since July 5, were true, and, in his own hand, sub-
scribed the record of his confession "in the presence of God and his messengers,
auditors hereof." The messengers of God were the Bishop of Ross, with the
King's preacher, Mr Galloway, and Messrs Hall and Hewat, ministers of Edin-
burgh. Sprot was to see the Lords no more, hut he must have sent to let them
know that he had more to divulge. On the loth of August the Lords and ministers
visited him again, and, after a prayer made by Mr Galloway, he was asked,
" Where is that letter which Restalrig zvrote to the Earl of Gowrie, whereupon the
said George Sprot 7vrote and formed the missives produced?" This must refer to
some unrecorded statement just made by Sprot, for this letter, the now confessed
model of Sprot's forgeries, has never hitherto been mentioned. In his written
confession of July 5, he said that he forged the papers "to the true meaning and
purpose of the letter that Bower let me see," meaning either Cowrie's first and not
compromising letter, or Logan's letter to Bower, or both (No. ii.). Never
before August 10 has Sprot mentioned a letter of Logan to Gowrie, as
known to him, or as his model. That letter is a new feature in the case, and,
on August 10, was not in possession of the Council.

Sprot was asked point-blank, after ]\Ir Galloway's prayer, where the letter was
now. He first gave an account of how he found it, unfinished, behind a bench and
the wall, at Fastcastle. He must have meant Gunnisgreen, for the letter bears
that date, unless, as Logan (in Letter iv. ) says that he wrote it " on two sundry idle
days," he began it at Fastcastle, and finished it, and, at the end, dated it, from


Gunnisgreen. But Gunnisgreen was quite close to Eyemouth, where Sprot lived,
and he is unlikely to have been at Fastcastle. Sprot went on to say that, months
after the conspiracy, Logan bade Bower, who kept all his papers, find and bring him
this letter, which had been returned by Gowrie, through Bower, according to
their method of correspondence. Bower, who could not read, asked Sprot to help
him to find the letter. Sprot found it, told Bower that he could not find it, and
carried it off till on this Letter iv. , as a model, he forged all the rest. Now this is
so far true : any reader of Letters iii., v., and a torn letter in the Haddington MSS.
must see that they are all mere copies of Letter iv. Except in what personally
applies to Gowrie, Letters iii., v., and the torn letter say nothing that is not in
Letter iv. The case of Letter i. is dubious, for reasons too minute to be dis-
cussed here. Sprot now quoted Letter iv. (Logan to Gowrie), from memory,
recognisably, but not correctly. Asked if he was at last speaking the truth, as a
man under the very shadow of death, Sprot vowed to God that he was. Again
required to say where the letter now was, he said that "he believes it is in his
kist" (chest), sealed ("closed"), "and folded in a piece of paper." Search must have
been instantly made at Eyemouth for this letter, which was probably in a secret
compartment of Sprot's "kist." On August il, at a certain hour, the Council
had neither the letter nor a copy of it, for Sprot now recollected, almost correctly,
a- passage which he thought was in a postscript. This he would not have done
had the letter, or a copy of it, been access\ble, for really, the passage is in the body
of the Letter iv. Sprot was to die, and did die on August 12. At a certain hour
on August II the letter had not yet arrived, for, by racking his memory, he
recovered, though incorrectly, more of its contents. But before he was hanged,
Sprot endorsed, in his own ordinary hand, a copy in his "course" or cuiTent
hand, of Letter iv., and another of Letter i. Now Lord Cromarty, writing in
1713, at the age of eighty-three, tells us that the Sheriff-depute was instructed to
search for this letter (iv. ), that he found it, and that he gave it to Sir Thomas
Hamilton. The copy, endorsed by Sprot, a copy not before the Council at a
certain hour of August il, was doubtless found with the alleged original (in
Logan's hand or an imitation of it) of Letter iv. This endorsed copy is still in
the papers left by Sir Thomas Hamilton.

Thus Letter iv., unlike the rest, is alleged by Sprot to be genuine, and the
model (as it undeniably is) of his forgeries. In my opinion, Letter iv. is, at least
in substance, genuine, and it suffices ^to prove Logan's acquiescence in Cowrie's
plot. The reader who is in doubt may read the letters and form his own opinion.
It does not follow, if the substance of Letter iv. be genuine, that the handwriting
is Logan's. It is certainly not Logan's, but the hand of Sprot, counterfeiting that of
the Laird of Restalrig. Sprot's confession of August 10 is that, after surreptitiously
reading the first part of Logan's unfinished letter to Gowrie, and after, later, seeing
Cowrie's first harmless letter, he put two and two together, and conceived suspicions.
He later stole Logan's letter to Gowrie (iv.), " which letter he retained //// he framed
three new letters upon it." He may have then returned the genuine Letter iv. to
Bower, as if he had found it in a new search among the papers, after he had
copied it, in a forgery of Logan's hand. That copy may be our Letter iv. , genuine
in substance, but not in handwriting. This theory would account for the firmness
of the writing, the slip in spelling " protection," and so on. The sul^stance of the
letter, from internal evidence, I believe to be Logan's, but this is a matter of

On August 12 Sprot was hanged, after confessing his guilt from every corner
of the scaffold, and singing a psalm. This dying confession of his own, of


Logan's, and of Gowrie's guilt (in which nothing about the letters is reported) was
trying to Presbyterian sceptics. They were wont to say that they would believe
in a dying confession. But it did not suit them to believe in Sprot's, and Calder-
wood treated the case in the way we have explained.

But Archbishop vSpottiswoode, who was present at 'S^-^xo'Ci public trial on August
12, and at his death, believed him to be an hysterical self-accuser.'^ The man
never showed the letter, says Spottiswoode. He did, but Spottiswoode was kept
in the dark. Government, in the indictment of Sprot, and in a tract officially
published (both are in Pitcairn), said not a word about any letters being produced.
They garbled and falsified the facts, they cited Gowrie's first letter (never found
at all), and Logan's letter to Gowrie (iv. ), as quoted by Sprot /w;« memory.

In June 1609, the dead body of Logan was tried, before the Lords of the
Articles, for treason. The Lords, who were sceptical at first, convicted the dead
man. They were converted to a belief in his guilt, when the prosecution pro-
duced the Five Letters, of which Sprot had confessed that three, or perhaps four,
were forgeries, Letter iv. alone being genuine. Seven honourable witnesses, who
knew Logan well, produced real letters of his, and compared them with the Five
Letters, in which no difference of handwriting or of spelling could be detected.
The case is precisely similar to the Hampton Court comparison of Queen Mary's
letters with the Casket Letters. By virtue of this conviction Logan's heirs lost
all their inheritance, and Lord Dunbar was not obliged to pay the 18,000 marks
which he owed to Logan's estate. All the documents of the trials, as officially
piiblished, are in Pitcairn, vol. ii. pp. 256-293. On these transactions, so long
concealed, it is needless to offer any cummentary.

As to the guilt of Logan with Gcwrie, ths evidence of Sprot is tainted, and not
fit, in daily life, to go to a jrry. After July 5 he lied variously to conceal his
possession of our Letter iv. He coafersed to it when death was absolutely certain.
Vet that long-concealed letter, as it stands, is pronounced by experts to be as
much a forgery as the others. How is the conduct of Sprot to be explained ?
He confessed to the plot, and to his guilty knowledge, which carried his doom.
Government was sure to hang him, not so much for the crime, as to present a
dying confession to the godly sceptics. But why did Sprot admit that he had forged
the letters? If he had any faint hope of life, his chance lay in giving the Govern-
ment documentary evidence. This he refused. And why did he keep back
Letter iv. till death was absolutely certain? Why did he then give it up, and
aver that it was genuine, whereas modern experts condemn it with the rest ? A
study of the Haddington MSS. leads me to the opinion that Logan was really in
the plot, and the internal evidence, the contents of Letter iv., confirm that belief.
But all this is opinion, not knowledge.

1 A brief abstract is given in Sir William Frazer's Memorials of the Earls of
Haddington, vol. i. 1889.
" Calderwood, vi. p. 779, bis (779 is printed twice by error).
3 Spottiswoode, iii. pp. 199-200.






Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 60 of 60)