Scottish Trials—Earl of Mar—Lady Glammis—William Barton— Witches of Auldearn—Their Rites and Charms—Their Transformation into Hares—Satan's Severity towards them— Their Crimes—Sir George Mackenzie's^ Opinion of Witchcraft —Instances of Confessions made by the Accused, in despair, and to avoid future annoyance and persecution—Examination by Pricking—The Mode of Judicial Procedure against M' itches, and Nature of the Evidence admissible, opened a door to Accusers, and left the Accused no chance of escape—The Superstition of the Scottish Clergy in King James VI.'s time led them, like their Sovereign, to encourage Witch-prosecutions— Case of Bessie Graham—Supposed Conspiracy to Shipwreck James in his Voyage to Denmark—Meetings of the Witches, and Rites performed to accomplish their purpose—Trial of Margaret Barclay in 1618—Case of Major Weir—Sir John Clerk among the first who declined acting as Commissioner on the Trial of a Witch—Paisley and Pittenweem Witches—A Prosecution in Caithness prevented by the interference of the King's Advocate in 1718—The Last Sentence of Death for Witchcraft pronounced in Scotland in 1722—Remains of the Witch Superstition—Case of supposed Witchcraft, related from the Author's own knowledge, which took place so late as 1800.
FOR many years the Scottish nation had been remarkable for a credulous belief in witchcraft, and repeated examples were supplied by the annals of sanguinary executions on this sad accusation. Our acquaintance with the slender foundation on which Boetius and Buchanan reared the early part of their histories, may greatly incline us to doubt whether a king named Duffus ever reigned in Scotland ; and, still more, whether he died by the agency of a gang of witches who inflicted torments upon an image made in his name for the sake of compassing his death. In the tale of Macbeth, which is another early instance of Demonology in Scottish history, the weird-sisters, who were the original prophetesses, appeared to the usurper in a dream, and are described as vola, or sibyls, rather than as witches, though Shakspeare has stamped the latter character indelibly upon them.
One of the earliest real cases of importance founded upon witchcraft was, like those of the Duchess of Gloucester, and others in the sister country, mingled with an accusation of a political nature, which, rather than the sorcery, brought the culprits to their fate. The Earl of Mar, brother of James III. of Scotland, fell under the king's suspicion for consulting with witches and sorcerers how to shorten the king's days. On such a charge, very inexplicitly stated, the unhappy Mar was bled to death in his own lodgings, without either trial or conviction; immediately after which catastrophe, twelve women of obscure rank, and three or four wizards, or warlocks as they were termed, were burnt at Edinburgh, to give a colour to the Earl's guilt.
In the year 1537, a noble matron fell a victim to a similar charge. This was Janet Douglas, Lady Glam-mis, who, with her son, her second husband, and several others, stood accused of attempting James's life by poison, with a view to the restoration of the Douglas family, of which Lady Glammis's brother, the Earl of Angus, was the head. She died much pitied by the people, who seem to have thought the articles against her forged for the purpose of taking her life ; her kindred, and very name, being so obnoxious to the King.
Previous to this lady's execution, there would appear to have been but few prosecuted to death on the score of witchcraft, although the want of the Justiciary records of that period leaves us in uncertainty. But in the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, when such charges grew general over Europe, cases of the kind occurred very often in Scotland ; and, as we have already noticed, were sometimes of a peculiar character. There is, indeed, a certain monotony in most tales of the kind. The vassals are usually induced to sell themselves at a small price to the Author of Ill, who, having commonly to do with women, drives a very hard bargain. On the contrary, when he was pleased to enact the female on a similar occasion, he brought his gallant, one William Barton, a fortune of no less than fifteen pounds ; which, even supposing it to have been the Scottish denomination of coin, was a very liberal endowment compared with his niggardly conduct towards the fair sex on such an occasion. Neither did he pass false coin on this occasion ; but, on the contrary, generously gave Barton a merk to keep the fifteen pounds whole. In observing on Satan's conduct in this matter, Master George Sinclair observes, that it is fortunate the Enemy is but seldom permitted to bribe so high (as£, 15 Scots), for, were this the case, he might find few men or women capable of resisting his munificence. I look upon this as one of the most severe reflections on our forefathers' poverty which is extant.
In many of the Scottish witches' trials, as to the description of Satan's Domdaniel, and the Sabbath which he there celebrates, the northern superstition agrees with that of England. But some of the confessions depart from the monotony of repetition, and add some more fanciful circumstances than occur in the general case. Isobel Gowdie's confession, already mentioned, is extremely minute, and some part of it at least may be quoted, as there are other passages not very edifying. The witches of Auldearn, according to this penitent, were so numerous that they were told off into squads, or covines, as they were termed, to each of which were appointed two officers. One of these was called the Maiden of the Covine, and was usually, like Tam o' Shanter's Nannie, a girl of personal attractions, whom Satan placed beside himself, and treated with a particular attention, which greatly provoked the spite of the old hags, who felt themselves insulted by the preference.* When assembled, they dug up graves, and possessed themselves of the carcasses, (of un-christened infants in particular,) whose joints and members they used in their magic unguents and salves. When they desired to secure for their own use the crop of some neighbour, they made a pretence of ploughing it with a yoke of paddocks. These foul creatures drew the plough, which was held by the devil himself. The plough harness and soams were of quicken grass, the sock and coulter were made out of a riglen's horn, and the covine attended on the operation, praying the devil to transfer to them the fruit of the ground so traversed, and leave the proprietors nothing but thistles and briers. The witches' sports, with their elfin archery, I have already noticed, (pages 161, 162.) They entered the house of the Earl of Murray himself, and such other mansions as were not fenced against them by vigil and prayer, and feasted on the provisions they found there.