From this on we shall endeavour to deal with the subject as far as possible in chronological order. It is perhaps not generally known that at one time an Irish See narrowly escaped (to its misfortune, be it said) having a magician as its Chief Shepherd. In 1223 the Archbishopric of Cashel became vacant, upon which the Capitular Body elected as their Archbishop the then Bishop of Cork, to whom the temporalities were restored in the following year. But some little time prior to this the Pope had set aside the election and " provided" a nominee of his own, one Master M. Scot, to fill the vacancy : he however declined the proffered dignity on the ground that he was ignorant of the Irish language. This papal candidate was none other than the famous Michael Scot, reputed a wizard of such potency that—
" When in Salamanca's cave Him listed his magic wand to wave The bells would ring in Notre Dame".
Scot had studied successively at Oxford and Paris (where he acquired the title of " mathematicus") ; he then passed to Bologna, thence to Palermo, and subsequently continued his studies at Toledo, His refusal of the See of Cashel was an intellectual loss to the Irish Church, for he was so widely renowned for his varied and extensive learning that he was credited with supernatural powers; a number of legends grew up around his name which hid his real merit, and transformed the man of science into a magician. In the Border country traditions of his magical power are common. Boccaccio alludes to " a great master in necromancy, called Michael Scot," while Dante places him in the eighth circle of Hell.
" The next, who is so slender in the flanks, Was Michael Scot, who of a verity Of magical illusions knew the game."1
Another man to whom magical powers were attributed solely on account of his learning was Gerald, the fourth Earl of Desmond,2 styled the Poet, who died rather mysteriously in 1398. The Four Masters in their Annals describe him as " a nobleman of wonderful bounty, mirth, cheerfulness of conversation, charitable in his deeds, easy of access, a witty and ingenious composer of Irish poetry, a learned and profound chronicler." No legends are extant of his magical deeds.
King James I of Scotland, whose severities against his nobles had aroused their bitter resentment, was barbarously assassinated at Perth in 1437 by some of their supporters, who were aided and abetted by the aged Duke of Atholl. From a contemporary account of this we learn that the monarch's fate was predicted to him by an Irish prophetess or witch ; had he given ear to her message he might have escaped with his life. We modernise the somewhat difficult spelling, but retain the quaint language of the original. "The king, suddenly advised, made a solemn feast of the Christmas at Perth, which is clept Saint John's Town, which is from Edinburgh on the other side of the Scottish sea, the which is vulgarly clept the water of Lethe. In the midst of the way there arose a woman of Ireland, that clept herself as a soothsayer. The which anon as she saw the king she cried with loud voice, saying thus : ' My lord king, and you pass this water you shall never turn again alive.' The king hearing this was astonied of her words ; for but a little before he had read in a prophecy that in the self same year the king of Scots should be slain : and therewithal the king, as he rode, cleped to him one of his knights, and gave him in commandment to turn again to speak with that woman, and ask of her what she would, and what thing she meant with her loud crying. And she began, and told him as ye have heard of the King of Scots if he passed that water. As now the king asked her, how she knew that. And she said, that Huthart told her so. ' Sire,' quoth he, ' men may " calant " ye take no heed of yon woman's words, for she is but a drunken fool, and wot not what she saith ' ; and so with his folk passed the water clept the Scottish sea, towards Saint John's town." The narrator states some dreams ominous of James's murder, and afterwards proceeds thus : " Both afore supper, and long after into quarter of the night, in the which the Earl of Atholl (Athetelles) and Robert Steward were about the king, where they were occupied at the playing of the chess, at the tables, in reading of romances, in singing and piping, in harping, and in other honest solaces of great pleasance and disport. Therewith came the said woman of Ireland, that clept herself a divineress, and entered the king's court, till that she came straight to the king's chamber-door, where she stood, and abode because that it was shut. And fast she knocked, till at the last the usher opened the door, marvelling of that woman's being there that time of night, and asking her what she would. ' Let me in, sir,' quoth she, ' for I have somewhat to say, and to tell unto the king; for I am the same woman that not long ago desired to have spoken with him at the Leith, when he should pass the Scottish sea.' The usher went in and told him of this woman. ' Yea,' quoth the king, ' let her come tomorrow ' ; because that he was occupied with such disports at that time him let not to hear her as then. The usher came again to the chamber-door to the said woman, and there he told her that the king was busy in playing, and bid her come soon again upon the morrow. ' Well,' said the woman, ' it shall repent you all that ye will not let me speak now with the king.' Thereat the usher laughed, and held her but a fool, charging her to go her way, and therewithal she went thence." Her informant " Huthart" was evidently a familiar spirit who was in attendance on her.1
1 Dict. Nat. Biog., Seymour, op. cit., p. 18. 8 O'Daly, History of the Geraldines.
1 Sharpe, History of Witchcraft in Scotland, p. 30.
Considering the barrenness of Irish records on the subject of sorcery and witchcraft it affords us no small satisfaction to find the following statement in the Statute Rolls of the Parliament1 for the year 1447. It consists of a most indignantly-worded remonstrance from the Lords and Commons, which was drawn forth by the fact that some highly-placed personage had been accused of practising sorcery with the intent to do grievous harm to his enemy. When making it the remonstrants appear to have forgotten, or perhaps, like Members of Parliament in other ages, found it convenient to forget for the nonce the Kyteler incident of the previous century. Of the particular case here alluded to unfortunately no details are given, nor is any clue for obtaining them afforded us. The remonstrance runs as follows : " Also at the prayer of John, Archbishop of Armagh (and others). That whereas by the subtle malice and malicious suits of certain persons slandering a man of rank this land was entirely slandered, and still is in such slanderous matters as never were known in this land before, as in ruining or destroying any man by sorcery or necromancy, the which they think and believe impossible to be performed in art—It is ordained and agreed by authority of this present parliament, with the entire assent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons of said parliament, that our lord the king be certified of the truth in this matter, in avoidance of the slander of this land in common, asserting that no such art was attempted at any time in this land, known or rumoured among the people, nor any opinion had or entertained of the same by the lay men in this land until now." It seems likely that the accusation was prompted by personal enmity, and was groundless in fact ; but the annals of witchcraft show that such an indictment could prove a most terrible weapon in the hands of unscrupulous persons. With respect to the above we learn that Ireland was coming into line with England, for in the latter country during the fifteenth century charges of sorcery were frequently raised against persons of eminence by their political adversaries. One of the most celebrated cases of the kind occurred only six years prior to the above, in 1441, that of the Duchess of Gloucester in the reign of Henry VI.
1 Ed. H. F. Berry, D.Litt.