A few anecdotes upon the subject of the belief in witchcraft, in former days, we trust will not prove uninteresting to our readers.
The reign of James the Sixth of Scotland, and First of England, may be said to have been the witchcraft age of Great Britain. Scotland had always been a sort of fairy land; but it remained for that sagacious prince, at a time when knowledge was beginning to dispel the mists of superstition, to contribute, by his authority and writings, to resolve a prejudice of education into an article of religious belief amongst the Scottish people. He wrote and published a "Treatise on Daemnologie;" the purpose of which was, to "resolve the doubting hearts of many, as to the fearful abounding of those detestable slaves of the Devil, witches, or enchanters." The authority of Scripture was perverted, to show, not only the possibility, but certainty, that such "detestable scenes" do exist; and many most ridiculous stories of evil enchantment were added, to establish their "fearful abounding." The treatise, which is in the form of a dialogue, treats also of the punishment which such crimes deserve; concluding, that "no sex, age, nor rank, should be excused from the punishment of death, according to the law of God, the civil and imperial law, and the municipal law of all Christian nations." In answer to the question, "What to judge of deathe, I pray you?" The answer is, "It is commonlie used by fyre, but there is an indifferent thing to be used in every country, according to the law or custume thereof."
Such, in fact, was the cruel and barbarous law of James's native country; and such became the law also of England, when he succeeded to the sceptre of Elizabeth. Many hundreds of unfortunate creatures, in both countries, became its victims, suffering death ignominiously, for an impossible offence: neither sex, nor age, nor rank, as James had sternly enjoined, was spared; and it was the most hapless and inoffensive, such as aged and lone women, who were most exposed to its malignant operation.
There were persons regularly employed in hunting out, and bringing to punishment, those unfortunate beings suspected of witchcraft.
Matthew Hopkins resided at Manningtree, in Essex, and was witchfinder for the associated counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Huntingdonshire. In the years 1644, 1645, and 1646, accompanied by one John Stern, he brought many to the fatal tree as reputed witches. He hanged, in one year, no less than sixty reputed witches of his own county of Essex. The old, the ignorant, and the indigent, such as could neither plead their own cause nor hire an advocate, were the miserable victims of this wretch's credulity, spleen, and avarice. He pretended to be a great critic in special marks, which were only moles, scorbutic spots, or warts, that frequently grow large and pendulous in old age; but were absurdly supposed to be teats to suckle imps. His ultimate method of proof was by tying together the thumbs and toes of the suspected person, about whose waist was fastened a cord, the ends of which were held on the banks of the river by two men, in whose power it was to strain or slacken it. Swimming, upon this experiment, was deemed a sufficient proof of guilt; for which King James (who is said to have recommended, if he did not invent it) assigned a ridiculous reason, that, "as some persons had renounced their baptism by water, so the water refuses to receive them." Sometimes those who were accused of diabolical practices were tied neck and heels, and tossed into a pond: if they floated or swam, they were consequently guilty, and were therefore taken out and burned; but if they were innocent, they were only drowned. The experiment of swimming was at length tried upon Hopkins himself, in his own way, and he was upon the event condemned, and, as it seems, executed as a wizard. In a letter from Serjeant Widrinton to Lord Whitelocke, mention is made of another fellow of the same profession as Hopkins. This fellow received twenty shillings a-head for every witch he discovered, and thereby obtained rewards amounting to thirty pounds.
In an old print of this execrable character, he is represented with two witches. One of them, named Holt, is supposed to say, "My Impes are, i. Ile-mauzyr; 2. Pyewackett; 3. Pecke in the Crown; 4. Griezell Griediegutt." Four animals attend: Jarmara, a black dog; Sacke and Sugar, a hare; Newes, a ferret; Vinegar Tom, a bull-headed grey hound. This print is in the Pepysian library.
Amongst a number of women (as many as sixteen) whom Hopkins, in the year 1644, accused at Yarmouth, was one, of whom the following account is given. It appears that she used to work for Mr Moulton (a stocking merchant, and alderman of the town), and upon a certain day went to his house for work; but he being from home, his man refused to let her have any till his master returned; where upon, being exasperated against the man, she applied herself to the maid, and desired some knitting-work of her; and when she returned the like answer, she went home in great discontent against them both. That night, when she was in bed, she heard a knock at her door, and going to her window, she saw (it being moon-light) a tall black man there: and asked what he would have? He told her that she was discontented, because she could not get work; and that he would put her into a way that she should never want anything. On this, she let him in, and asked him what be had to say to her? He told her he must first see her hands; and taking out something like a penknife, he gave it a little scratch, so that a little blood followed, a scar being still visible when she told the story; then he took some of the blood in a pen, and pulling a book out of his pocket, bid her write her name; and when she said she could not, be said he would guide her hand. When this was done, be bid her now ask what she would have. And when she desired first to be revenged on the man, he promised to give her an account of it next night, and so leaving her some money went away. The next night be came to her again, and told her he could do nothing against the man, for he went constantly to church, and said his prayers morning and evening. Then she desired him to revenge her on the maid: but he said the same of the maid, and that therefore he could not hurt her. But she said that there was a young child in the house, which was more easy to be dealt with. Whereupon she desired him to do what he could against it. The next night he came again, and brought with him an image of wax, and told her they must go and bury that in the church-yard, and then the child, which he had put in great pain already, should waste away as that image wasted. Where upon they went together and buried it. The child having lain in a languishing condition for about fifteen months, and being very near death, the minister sent this woman with this account to the magistrates, who thereupon sent her to Mr Moulton's, where, in the same room that the child lay, almost dead, she was examined concerning the particulars aforesaid; all which she confessed, and had no sooner done, but the child, who was three years old, and was thought to be dead or dying, laughed, and began to stir and raise up itself: and from that instant began to recover. The woman was convicted upon her own confession, and was executed accordingly.
A more melancholy tale does not occur in the annals of necromancy, than that of the Lancashire Witches, in 1612. The scene of the story is in Penderbury Forest, four or five miles from Manchester, remarkable for its picturesque and gloomy situation. It had long been of ill repute, as a consecrated haunt of diabolical intercourse, when a country magistrate, Roger Nowel by name, took it into his head that he should perform a great public service by routing out a nest of witches, who had rendered the place a terror to all the neighbouring vulgar. The first persons he seized on were Elizabeth Demdike and Ann Chattox. The former was eighty years of age, and had for some years been blind, and principally subsisted by begging, though she had a miserable hovel on the spot, which she called her own. Ann Chattox was of the same age, and had for some time been threatened with the calamity of blindness. Demdike was held to be so hardened a witch that she had trained all her family to the mystery: namely, Elizabeth Device, her daughter, and James and Alison Device, her great-grand children. These, together with John Balcock, and Jane his mother, Alice Natter, Catherine Hewitt, and Isabel Roby, were successively apprehended by the diligence of Nowel, and one or two neighbouring magistrates, and were all of them by some means induced, some to make a more liberal, and others a more restricted confession of their misdeeds in witchcraft, and were afterwards hurried away to Lancaster Castle, fifty miles off, to prison. Their crimes were said to have universally proceeded from malignity and resentment; and it was reported to have repeatedly happened for poor old Demdike to be led by night from her habitation into the open air, by some member of her family, where she was left alone for an hour to curse her victim, and pursue her unholy incantations, and was then sought and brought back again to her hovel, her curses never failing to produce the desired effect.
The poor wretches had been but a short time in prison, when information was given that a meeting of witches was held on Good-Friday, at Malkin's Tower, the habitation of Elizabeth Device, to the number of twenty persons, to consult how, by infernal machinations, to kill one Lovel, an officer, to blow up Lancaster Castle, deliver the prisoners, and to kill another man, of the name of Lister. The last object was effected; the other plans, by some means, which are not related, were prevented.
The prisoners were kept in jail till the summer assizes; but in the mean time, the poor blind Demdike died in confinement.
The other prisoners were severally indicted for killing by witchcraft certain persons who were named, and were all found guilty. The principal witnesses against Elizabeth Device were James Device and Jennet Device, her grandchildren, the latter only nine years of age. When this girl was put into the witness-box, the grandmother, on seeing her, set up so dreadful a yell, intermixed with dreadful curses, that the child declared that she could not go on with her evidence, unless the prisoner was removed. This was agreed to, and both brother and sister swore that they had been present, when the Devil came to their grandmother, in the shape of a black dog, and asked her what she desired. She said the death of John Robinson; when the dog told her to make an image of Robinson in clay, and after crumble it into dust, and as fast as the image perished, the life of the victim should waste away, and in conclusion the man should die. This testimony was received; and upon the conviction, which followed, ten persons were led to the gallows, on the twentieth of August, Ann Chattox, of eighty years of age, among the rest, the day after the trials, which lasted two days, were finished.
The judges who presided on these trials were Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, barons of the exchequer.
Guluim, who gives the most simple and interesting account of this melancholy case, conjectures, with much reason, that the old women had played at the game of commerce with the Devil, in order to make their simpler neighbours afraid of them; and that they played the game so long, that in an imperfect degree they deceived themselves. But when one of them actually saw her grandchild of nine years old placed in the witness-box, with the intention of consigning her to a public and ignominious death, then the reveries of the imagination vanished, and she deeply felt the reality, that, when she had been somewhat imposing on the child, in devilish sport, she had been whetting the dagger that was to take her own life. It was then no wonder that she uttered a supernatural yell, and poured curses from her heart.
Such was the first case of the Lancashire Witches. In that which follows, the accusation was clearly traced to be founded on a most villainous conspiracy.
About the year 1634, a boy named Edmund Robinson, whose father, a very poor man, dwelt in Pendle Forest, the scene of the alleged witching, declared that, while gathering wild-flowers in one of the glades of the forest, be saw two greyhounds, which he supposed to belong to a gentleman in the neighbourhood. Seeing nobody following them, the boy alleged that he proposed to have a course; but though a hare was started, the dogs refused to run. Young Robinson was about to punish them with a switch, when one Dame Dickenson, a neighbour's wife, started up instead of the one grey hound; and a little boy instead of the other. The witness averred that Mother Dickenson offered him money to conceal what he had seen, which he refused, saying, 'Nay; thou art a witch!' Apparently, she was determined he should have full evidence of the truth of what be said, for she pulled out of her pocket a bridle, and shot it over the head of the boy, who had so lately represented the other greyhound. He was then directly changed into a horse; Mother Dickenson mounted, and took Robinson before her. They made to a large house or barn, called Hourstown, into which the boy entered with the others. He there saw six or seven persons pulling at halters, from which, as they pulled them, meat ready-dressed came flying in quantities, together with lumps of butter, porringers of milk, and whatever else might, in his fancy, complete a rustic feast. He declared that, while engaged in the charm, they made such ugly faces and looked so fiendish, that he was frightened.
This story succeeded so well, that the father of the boy took him round to the neighbouring churches, where he placed him standing on a bench after service, and bade him look round and see what he could observe. The device, however clumsy, succeeded; and no less than seventeen persons were apprehended at the boy's election, and conducted, as witches, to Lancaster Castle. These seventeen persons were tried at the assizes and found guilty; but the judge, whose name has unfortunately been lost, unlike Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, saw something in the case that excited his suspicion, and, though the juries had not hesitated in any one instance, respited the convicts, and sent up a report of the affair to the Government. Twenty-two years had not elapsed since the former case, in vain. Four of the prisoners were, by the judge's recommendation, sent for to the metropolis, and were examined, first by the king's physician, and then by Charles the First, in person. The boy's story was strictly scrutinised, and in the end, he confessed that it was all an imposture, in which lie had been instructed by his lather; and the whole seventeen prisoners received the royal pardon.
So late as the year 1679, several unfortunate persons were tried and executed at Borrostowness in Scotland, for witchcraft, four of them being poor widows, The following is a literal copy of the indictment upon which they were arraigned
"Annaple Thompsone, widow in Borrostowness, Margaret Pringle, relict of the deceast John Camphell, seivewright there, &c. &c.
"Aye, and ilk ane of you, are indighted and accused, that, whereas, notwithstanding the law of God particularlie sett down in the 20th chapter of Leveticus and the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy, and by the lawes and actes of parliament of this kingdome and constant practis thereof, particularlie to the 27 act, 29 parliament Q. Marie, the cryme of witchcraft is declaired to be one horreid, abominable, and capitall cryme, punishable with the pains of death and confiscatioiwn of moveables;-- nevertheless it is of veritie, that you have comitted and are gwyltie of the said crime of witchcraft, in awa far ye have entered in practicion with the devile, the enemie of your salvatiown, and have renownced our blessed Lord and Savior, and your baptizme, and have given yoursellfes, both soulles and bodies, to the devile, and swyndrie wyth witches, in divers places. And particularlie ye, the said Annaple Thompsone, had a metting with the devile the time of your weidowhood, before you were married to your last husband, in your coming betwixt Linlithgow and Borrostowness, where the devile, in the lykeness of one black man, told you, that you was one poor puddled bodie, and had one lyiff and difficulties to win throu the world; and promesed if ye wald followe him, and go alongst with him, you should never want, but have one better lyiff; and about fyve wekes thereafter the devile appeared to you, when you was going to the coal-hill, abowt sevin a-clock in the morning. Having renewed his former temtatiown, you did condeshend thereto and declared yourself content to follow him and become his servant; whereupon the devile * * * and ye and each persone of you wis at several metting with the devile, in the linkes of Borrostowness, and in the house of you, Bessie Vicker; and ye did eate and drink with the devile, and with one another, and with witches in her howss in the night tyme; and the said Wm. Crow bought the ale, which ye drank, extending about sevin gallons, from the howss of Elizabeth Hamilton; and you, the said Annaple, had another metting about fyve wekes ago, when you wis goeing to the coal-hill of Grange, and he inveitted you to go alongst and drink with him in the Grange farmes; and you, the said Margaret Pringle, have bein one witch this many yeeres by gone, hath renownced your baptizme and becum the devile's servant, and promeis to follow him; and the devile took you by the right hand, whereby it was for eight days greivowslie pained, but, having it twitched new again, it immedeatelie became haul; and you, the said Margaret Hamilton has bein the devile's servant these eight or nine years by gone, and he appeared and conversed with you at the town well of Borrostowness, and several times at your owin howss, and drank several choppens of ale with you. * * and the devile gave you ane fyne merk piece of gold, which a lyttle after becam ane skleite stone; and you, the said Margaret Hamilton, relict of James Pullevart, has been ane witch, and the devile's servant, thertie yeres since, bath renounced your baptisme, as said is
* * * * * * *
And ye, and ilk of you, was at a meeting with the devile and other witches, at the croce of Murestain, above Renneil, upon the threttein of October last, where you all danced, and the devile acted the piper, and where you endeavoured to have destroyed Androw Mitchell, sone to John Mitchell, elder in dean of Kenneil."
The charges thus made against the "poor puddled bodies," Annaple Thompsone and her associates, however ludicrous they may seem, were substantiated to the satisfaction of a jury; and for so meeting, and dancing, and drinking, and frolicking with his satanic majesty (who condescended to act the piper), the unfortunate defendants were solemnly condemned, "to be taken to the west end of Borrostowness, the ordinary place of execution there, upon Tuesday, the 23rd day of December current, betwixt two and four in the afternoon, and then to be wirried at a steack [that is, like a bull or a badger, by dogs in human shape] till they be dead, and thereafter to have their bodies burned to ashes."
The strange and eventful history of the Witches of New England is, perhaps, generally known to the educated and informed; still there must be many who are not aware of all its melancholy details. As a story of witchcraft, without any poetry in it, with out anything to amuse the imagination, or interest the fancy, it, perhaps, surpasses everything upon record. The prosecutions for witchcraft in New England were numerous, and they continued, with little intermission, principally at Salem, during the greater part of the year 1692. The accusations were of the most vulgar and contemptible sort -- invisible pinchings and blows, fits, with the blastings and mortality of cattle, and wains stuck fast in the ground, or losing their wheels. A conspicuous feature in nearly the whole of these stories, was what they named "the spectral sight," or, in other worth, that the profligate accusers first feigned, for the most part, the injuries they received, and next saw the figures and action of the persons who inflicted them, when they were invisible to every one else. Hence the miserable prosecutors gained the power of gratifying the wantonness of their malice, by pretending that they suffered by the hand of any one against whom they had an ill will. The persons so charged, though unseen by any one but the accuser, and who in their corporal presence were at a distance of miles, and were doubtless wholly unconscious of the mischief that was hatching against them, were immediately taken up, and cast into prison. And what was more monstrous and incredible, there stood the prisoner on trial for his life, while the witnesses were permitted to swear that his spectre had haunted them, and afflicted them with all manner of injuries!
The first specimen of this sort of accusation was given by one Paris, a minister of a church at Salem, in the end of the year 1691, who had two daughters, one nine years old, the other eleven who were afflicted with fits and convulsions. The first person fixed on as the mysterious author of these evils, was Tituba, a female slave in the family, and she was harassed by her master into a confession of unlawful practices and spells. The girls then fixed on Sarah Good, a female, known to be the victim of a morbid melancholy, and Osborne, a poor man who had for a considerable time been bed-ridden, as persons whose spectres had perpetually haunted and tormented them, and Good was, twelve months after wards, hanged on this accusation.
A person, who was one of the first to fall under the imputation, was one George Burroughs, also a minister of Salem. He had, it seems, buried two wives, both of whom the busy gossips said he had used ill in their life-time, and, consequently, it was whispered that he had murdered them. He was accustomed, foolishly, to vaunt that he knew what people said of him in his absence, and this was brought as a proof that he dealt with the devil.
The following copy of the indictment, furnished us by a friend who took it from the American Court record, must prove a matter of curiosity to the reader at the present enlightened era: -- 'Essex, ss. (a town in the colony of Massachusets Bay, in New England.)
'The jurors of our sovereign lord and lady, the king and queen (King William and Queen Mary), present, that George Burroughs, late of Palmouth, in the province of Massachusets Bay, clerk (a Presbyterian minister of the Gospel), the ninth day of May, and divers other days and times, as well before as after, certain detestable arts, called witchcraft and sorceries, wickedly and feloniously hath used, practised, and exercised, at and in the town of Salem, in the county aforesaid, upon and against one Mary Walkot, single woman, by which said wicked arts the said Mary, on the day aforesaid, and divers other days and times, as well before as after, was, and is, tortured, afflicted, pined, consumed, wasted, and tormented, against the peace, &c.'
A witness, by name Ann Putnam, deposed as follows: 'On the 8th of May, 1692, I saw the apparition of George Burroughs, who grievously tormented me, and urged me to write in his book, which I refused. He then told me that his two first wives would appear to me presently, and tell me a great many lies, but I must not believe them. Then immediately appeared to me the forms of two women in winding-sheets, and napkins about their heads; at which I was greatly affrighted. They turned their faces towards Mr. Burroughs, and looked red and angry, and told him that he had been very cruel to them, and that their blood called for vengeance against him; and they also told him that they should be clothed with white robes in Heaven when he should be cast down into hell; and he immediately vanished away. And as soon as he was gone the women turned their faces towards me, and looked as pale as a white wall; and told me they were Mr. Burroughs's two wives, and that he had murdered them. And one told me she was his first wife, and he stabbed her under the left breast, and put a piece of sealing-wax in the wound; and she pulled aside the winding-sheet, and showed me the place: she also told me that she was in the house where Mr. Daris, the minister of Danvers, then lived, when it was done. And the other told me that Mr. Burroughs, and a wife that he hath now, killed her in the vessel as she was coming to see her friends from the eastward, because they would have one another. And they both charged me to tell these things to the magistrates before Mr. Burroughs's face; and, if he did not own them, they did not know but they should appear this morning. This morning, also, appeared to me another woman in a winding-sheet, and told me that she was Goodman Fuller's first wife, and Mr. Burroughs killed her, because there was a difference between her husband and him. Also, the ninth day of May, during his examination, be did most grievously torture Mary Walkot, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Abigail Williams, by pinching, pricking, and choking them.'
Upon the above, and some other such evidence, was this unfortunate man condemned; and, horrible to relate, executed! Burroughs conducted himself in a very injudicious way on his trial; but, when he came to be hanged, made so impressive a speech on the ladder, with fervent protestations of innocence, as melted many of the spectators into tears.
The accusations, founded upon such stories as these, spread, with wonderful rapidity. In Salem, many were seized with fits, exhibited frightful contortions of their limbs and features, and became a fearful spectacle to the bystanders. They were asked to assign the cause of all this; and pretended to suppose, that they saw some neighbour, already solitary and afflicted, and on that account in ill odour with the townspeople, scowling upon, threatening, and tormenting them. Presently persons, specially gifted with the 'spectral sight,' formed a class by themselves, and were sent about at the public expense from place to place, that they might see what no one else could see. The prisons were filled with the persons accused, and the utmost horror was entertained, as of a calamity which in such a degree had never before visited that part of the world. It happened, most unfortunately, that Baxter's "Certainty of the World of Spirits" had been published but the year before, and a number of copies had been sent out to New England. There seemed a strange coincidence and sympathy between vital Christianity in its most honourable sense, and the fear of the devil, who appeared to be "come down unto them, with great wrath." Mr Increase Mather, and Mr Cotton Mather, his son, two clergymen of the highest reputation in the neighbourhood, by the solemnity and awe with which they treated the subject, and the earnestness and zeal which they displayed, gave a sanction to the lowest superstition and virulence of the ignorant. All the forms of justice were brought forward on this occasion. There was no lack of judges, and grand juries, and petty juries, and executioners, and still less of prosecutors and witnesses. The first person that was hanged was on the 10th of June, five more on the 19th of July, five on the 19th of August, and eight on the 22nd of September. Multitudes confessed that they were witches; for this appeared the only way for the accused to save their lives. Husbands and children fell down on their knees, and implored their wives and mothers to own their guilt. Many were tortured by being tied neck and heels together, till they confessed whatever was suggested to them. It is remarkable, however, that not one persisted in her confession at the place of execution.
The most interesting story that occurred in this affair, was of Giles Cory, and Martha, his wife. The woman was tried on the 9th of September, and hanged on the 22nd. In the interval, on the 16th, the husband was brought up for trial; He said he was not guilty; but being asked how he would be tried, he refused to go through the customary form, and say, "By God and my country." He observed that, of all that had been tried, not one had as yet been pronounced not guilty; and he resolutely refused in that mode to undergo a trial. The judge directed, therefore, that according to the barbarous mode prescribed in the mother country, he should be laid on his back, and pressed to death with weights gradually accumulated on the upper surface of his body, a proceeding which had never yet been resorted to by the English in North America. The man persisted in his resolution, and remained mute till he expired.
The whole of this dreadful tragedy, says Mr Godwin, in his "Lives of the Necromancers," was kept together by a thread. The spectre-seers, for a considerable time, prudently restricted their accusations to persons of ill repute, or otherwise of no consequence in the community. By-and-bye, however, they lost sight of this caution, and pretended they saw the figures of some persons well connected, and of unquestioned honour and reputation, engaged in acts of witchcraft. Immediately the whole fell through in a moment. The leading inhabitants presently saw how unsafe it would be to trust their reputations and their lives to the mercy of these profligate accusers. Of fifty-six bills of indictment that were offered to the grand jury on the 3rd of January, 1693, twenty-six only were found true bills, and thirty thrown out, On the twenty-six bills that were found, three persons only were pronounced guilty by the petty jury, and these three received their pardon from the Government. The prisons were thrown open; fifty confessed witches, together with two hundred persons imprisoned on suspicion, were set at liberty, and no more accusations were heard of. The "afflicted," as they were technically termed, recovered their health; the "spectral sight" was universally scouted; and men began to wonder bow they could ever have been the victims of so horrible a delusion.
Dr Cook, in his "General and Historical Review of Christianity," gives a melancholy description of the condemnation of a woman for witchcraft, by a tribunal at Geneva, about the middle of the seventeenth century. An enumeration of some of the particulars of this case will afford a tolerably correct notion of the horrible cruelty, which, in almost all proceedings against witchcraft, was practised in different parts of Europe. The woman was accused of having sent devils into two young women, and of having brought distempers upon several others -- a charge sufficiently vague. To substantiate the accusation, the members of the tribunal availed themselves of an opinion, that the devil imprinted certain marks upon his chosen disciples, the effect of which was, that no pain could be produced by any application to the parts of the body where these marks were. They sent two surgeons to examine whether such marks could be discovered in the accused; who reported, not much to the credit of their medical skill and philosophy, that they had found a mark, and that, having thrust a needle into it, the length of a finger, she had felt no pain, and that no blood had issued from the wound. Being brought to the bar, the prisoner denied the statement of the surgeons; upon which she was examined by three more, with whom were joined two physicians. It might have been expected that a body of men, who had received a liberal education, and who must have bad some acquaintance with the nature and construction of the human frame, would have presented a report, showing the absurdity of the examination upon which they were employed. This, however, did not occur to them; for they gravely proceeded to thrust sharp instruments into the mark already mentioned, and into others which they thought they had found out; but, as the miserable patient gave plain indication that she suffered from their operations, they were staggered, and satisfied themselves with declaring, that there was something extraordinary in the marks, and that they were not perfectly like those commonly to be seen in witches. She was, notwithstanding, doomed to another investigation, the result of which was, that after some barbarous experiments, she felt no pain, and hence it was inferred that the marks were satanical. She bad, previously to this last inquiry, been actually put to the rack; but she retained her fortitude and presence of mind, firmly maintaining that she had sent no devils into the persons whom it was alleged she had thus injured. She was again threatened with the torture; and, from dread of undergoing it, made a confession, which it is painful to think was not at once discerned to be the raving of insanity. Similar proceedings were continued; and the conclusion of the whole was, that she was condemned to be hanged and burned, for giving up herself to the devil, and for bewitching two girls!
In the year 1748, in the bishopric of Wurtsburg, an old woman was convicted of witchcraft, and burnt. This was an extraordinary phenomenon in the eighteenth century, particularly among a people who boasted of having trampled superstition under their feet, and flattered themselves that they had brought their reason to perfection.
We conclude this article by the well-known case of the trial and acquittal of Lady Fowlis.
Catherine Ross, Lady Fowlis, was the daughter of Ross of Balnagown, and second wife of the fifteenth Baron of Fowlis. The object of her crimes was to destroy her step-sons, Robert and Hector Monro, with about thirty of their principal kinsmen, in order that her own children might succeed to the possessions of their father, which were considerable, and lay in the counties of Ross, Sutherland, and Inverness. Her brother, George Ross, seems to have been in league with her for the accomplishment of this diabolical purpose, and his wife, the young Lady Balnagown, was marked out as a victim, whose removal, with that of the rest of the family, might pave the way for his marriage with the wife of Robert Monro, the young laird. Their schemes were brought into active operation in the summer of 1577. Towards the end of that year, four of their accomplices, Agnes Roy, Christian Ross, of Canorth, William M'Gillievoricdam, and Thomas M'Kane More M'Allan M'Evoch, were arraigned in a justice court, held in the Cathedral Kirk of Ross, convicted, and burnt. One of the judges who presided at this trial was Robert Monro, the husband of the principal instigator of the crimes, and father of the family whose lives were practised against. Lady Fowlis, upon the discovery of her wickedness, fled into the county of Caithness, and, after remaining there for the space of three quarters of a year, her husband was persuaded to receive her home again; and she seems to have lived unmolested during the rest of the life of the old baron; and even the young laird, for whose destruction she had perseveringly laboured, made no exertion to bring her to justice. His brother Hector, however, on succeeding him in 1590, procured a commission for the punishment of certain witches and sorcerers, which was understood to be aimed at his step-mother; but before he had time to act upon the power thus granted, she had influence enough to obtain a suspension of the commission; and it was not till July, 1591, that she was brought to trial. The evidence mainly rested upon, was that of the notoriety of the facts, and the confession of the accomplices; each count of the indictment closed with a reference to the record of the process before the provincial court, with the occasional addition of "as is notour," "as is manifest be the haill countie of Roiss," or words to that effect. The verdict was favourable to the accused, but Mr Pitcairn is of opinion that her escape was owing to her powerful influence, "The inquest," he says, "bears all the appearance of a selected or packed jury, being very inferior in rank and station of life, contrary to the usual custom." The dittory or indictment is the only part of the proceedings that is preserved; indeed, the reading of it seems to have constituted the whole case of the prosecutor, and the simple denial of the "samin and the hail poyntis thereof," the whole case for the accused; after which the jury retired to consider their verdict.
The first method adopted to compass the deaths of the persons who stood in the way of her ambition, was to form figures to represent the young Laird of Fowlis and the young Lady Balnagown, which were to be shot at with elf-arrows, in conformity with the belief, that, if these charmed weapons struck the typical bodies, the wounds would be felt in the real bodies, and produce invisibly the desired effect. For the performance of the necessary rites, a meeting of three witches took place in the house of Christian Ross, at Canorth, Christian herself being one of them, Lady Fowlis another, and Marjory M'Allester, a hag of peculiar eminence, distinguished also by the name of Loskie Loncart, the third. Having constructed two images of clay, they placed them on the north side of the western chamber, and Loskie, producing two elf-arrows, delivered one to Christian Ross, who stood by with it in her hand, while, with the other, Lady Fowlis shot twice at the figure of Lady Balnagown, and Loskie three times at that of Robert Monro, without success. In the mean time, the images not having been properly compacted, crumbled to pieces; and their purpose being thus thwarted for the present, the unhallowed convocation broke up, Loskie having engaged, at the command of Lady Fowlis, to make two other figures. M'Gillievoricdam seems now to have been taken into their counsels; and by his advice, an image in butter of the young Laird of Fowlis was placed by the side of the wall in the same western chamber of Canorth, and shot at eight times with an elf-arrow by Loskie, without effect. This was on the 2nd of July, 1577; and nothing discouraged by repeated failures, a clay figure of the same person was constructed on the 6th, when the indefatigable Loskie discharged the elf-arrow twelve times, some times reaching the image, but never wounding it. The other two hags stood by, anxiously watching for a successful shot, Christian Ross having provided three quarters of fine linen cloth, to be bound about the typical corpse, which was to be interred opposite the gate of the Stank of Fowlis, in order to complete the enactment by a full representation of every circumstance which they were desirous of producing as its consequence. The main part of the rite, however, consisted in the infliction of a wound; and this not having been accomplished, they desisted from the vain labour.
The more secret arts of witchcraft having failed to effect the desired ends, Lady Fowlis next had recourse to poison; and numerous were the consultations held to concoct drugs and devise means for administering them. The same assistants figured as the chief agents in this equally abominable work. A stoup full of poisoned ale was first mixed in the barn of Drumnyer, but opportunity not serving for its immediate use, it was kept three nights in the kiln, and the stoup being leaky, the liquor was lost, all but a very small quantity; to prove the strength of which, Lady Fowlis caused her servant lad, Donald Mackay, to swallow it. The three confederates were assembled on this occasion, and as the draught did not kill the boy, but only threw him into a state of stupor, Loskie Loncart was dismissed, with an injunction to make "ane pig-full of ranker poysoune." The obedient hag prepared the potion, and sent it to her patroness, by whom it was delivered to her nurse, Mary More, to be conveyed to Angus Leith's house, where the young laird then was, that it might be employed for his destruction. Night was the time chosen for despatching her, on this errand: she broke the vessel by the way, spilt the liquor, and, wishing probably to ascertain the nature of what had been intrusted to her under such circumstances of mystery, tasted it, and paid the forfeit of her curiosity with her life; and what helps to show the deadly qualities of, their preparation, the indictment adds, that "the place quhair the said pig brak, the gers that grew upon the samin wes so hirch by (beyond) the natur of other gers, that nather cow nor scheip evir preavit (tasted) thairof." It were endless to detail all the traffickings and messengers kept scouring the country to collect the required quantity of poison. Loskie Loncart was lodged and maintained a whole summer in Christian Ross's house, for the greater convenience of assisting to drug drinks, and devise means of administering them. M'Gillievoricdam was sent to consult the gipsies about the most effectual way of poisoning the young laird. He also purchased a quantity of the powder used to destroy rats, of a merchant in Elgin, and another portion in Tam, and was strictly questioned by Lady Fowlis whether it would suit best to mix the ingredient with egg, brose, or kail. No fitting opportunity seems to have occurred for administering any of the portions to Robert Monro: but, after three interviews, John M'Farquhar, Lady Balnagown's cook, was prevailed upon by the present of two ells of grey cloth, a shirt, and twelve and fourpence (Scots), to lend them his aid in accomplishing their purpose on his mistress. That young lady being to entertain a party of friends one night at her house at Ardmore, a witch, named Catherine Mynday, carried poison thither to M'Farquhar, who poured it on the principal dish, which was kidneys. This woman remained to witness the effects, and after wards declared that she "skunnerit," or revolted at the sight, which was "the sarest and maist cruell that evir scho saw, seeing the vomit and vexacioun that was on the young Lady Balnagown and her company." The victim of these horrible practices did not die immediately, but contracted a deadly sickness, "quhairin," says the indictment, "scho remains yet (that is twelve years after taking the poison) incurable."
The persons named as privy to the designs of Lady Fowlis were numerous, and included the daughter of a baronet of her own name, whose interest in the matter seems to have been merely that of a connection, or, at most, a clanswoman; and the bribes with which she purchased assistance and secrecy were of the paltriest kind. She provided lodgings in the houses of her adherents, for some whom she wished to have near her, for the better maturing of her schemes. The cook of young Lady Balnagown was bribed, as we have seen, with little more than a shirt and a shilling sterling! The fidelity of Christian Ross was bespoken, by reminding her that she ought not to reveal anything against one who was her lady and mistress. Another of the gang was paid with 'ane-haif furlett of meill.' M'Gillievoricdam got four ells of linen for his trouble, but, besides, appropriated six and eightpence (Scots) of the money given to him to be expended for poison; at other times, however, this person was conciliated with 20s., a firlot of meal, five ells of linen, and 16s. The brother of Lady Fowls is also said to have promised to Thomas M'Kane More M'Allan M'Evoch 'ane garmounthe of dais' (suit of clothes) for his services in the same base plot.
From a review of this whole case, with others of the same date, it will appear that the crimes of former times were distinguished from those of the present day, not so much by the greater atrocity of any single act, as by the length of time for which they were meditated, and the number of persons admitted to a knowledge of them, without any fear of disclosure. They were the offspring of habitual thought rather than the effect of sudden starts of passion.
Immediately after the acquittal of Lady Fowlis, her step-son and prosecutor, the seventeenth Baron of Fowlis, was presented at the bar on an accusation in some respects similar, of which be also was found not guilty, by a jury, the majority of whom had sat on the preceding trial. In January, 1588-9, this gentleman being taken ill, sent a servant with his own horse, to bring to his assistance Marion M'Ingarach, who is characterised as being 'ane of the maist notorious and rank wichis in all this realme,' and who, as soon as she entered the house where he lay sick, gave him three drinks of water from three stones (probably rude stone cups). After a long consultation, she declared there was no hope of recovery, unless the principal man of the patient's house should suffer death for him; and it was determined, after some discussion, that this substitute should be George Monro, eldest son of Catharine Monro, Lady Fowlis. A plan was next devised for transferring the onus moriendi, for the present, to George; according to which, in the first place, no person was to have admittance to the house in which Hector lay, until his half-brother came; and on his arrival, the sick man, with his left hand, was to take his visitor by the right, and not to speak until spoken to by him. In conformity with these injunctions, several friends, who called to inquire for the patient, were excluded, and messengers were despatched, both to George Monro's house and to other parts of the country, where he was thought to be engaged in the sports of the chase. Before he could be found, seven expresses had been sent after him, and five days expired. On the intelligence that his brother earnestly desired to see him, he repaired to the place, and was received in the form prescribed by the witch, Hector with his left hand grasping George's right, and abstaining from speaking until asked "how he did," to which he replied, "the better that you have come to visit me," and he uttered not a word more, notwithstanding his urgency to obtain an interview. The younger Monro having, in this manner, been brought fairly within the compass of the witch's spells she that night mustered certain of her accomplices and having provided spades, repaired to a spot where two laird's lands met, and, at 'ane after midnycht,' digged a grave of the exact length of Hector Monro, and laid the turf of it carefully aside. They then came home, and M'Ingarach gave her assistants instructions concerning the part that each was to perform in the remaining ceremonies. The object -- namely, the preservation of Hector's life and the death of George in his stead -- being now openly stated, some of those present objected, that if the latter should be cut off suddenly, the hue and cry would be raised, and all their lives would be in danger. They therefore pressed the presiding witch not to make the sacrifice immediately, but to cause it to follow after such an interval as might obviate suspicion, which she accordingly engaged to accomplish, and warranted him to live till the 17th day of the ensuing April, at least. This being arranged to the satisfaction of the persons assembled, the sick man was laid on a pair of blankets, and carried out to the place where the grave had been prepared. The party were strictly enjoined to be silent, and only M'Ingarach and Christian Neil, Hector's foster-mother, were to utter the necessary incantations. Being come to the spot, their living burden was deposited in the grave, the turf being spread over him, and held down by staves. M'lngarach stood by the side of the grave, and Neill, holding a boy, a son of Hector Leith, by the band, ran the breadth of nine rings, then returned, and demanded, 'which is your choice?' Thereupon the other replied, 'Mr Hector, I choose you to live, and your brother George to die for you.' This form of conjuration was twice gone through that night; and, on its completion, the sick man was lifted, carried home -- not one of the company uttering a word further -- and replaced in bed.
To the efficacy of this spell was attributed not only the recovery of Hector, but the death of George. Monro, though the latter continued in perfect health not only for the time warranted by the witch, but for a year longer. He was taken ill in April, 1590, and died on the 3rd of June following. M'ingarach was highly favoured by the gentleman who supposed he owed to her his life. As soon as his health was restored, 'be the dewilisch moyan foir said,' he carried her to the house of his uncle at Kilurmmody, where she was entertained with as much obsequious attention as if she had been his spouse, and obtained such pre-eminence in the country that no one durst offend her, though her ostensible character was only that of keeper to his sheep. Upon the information of Lady Fowlis, the protector of M'Ingarach was compelled to present her at Aberdeen, where she was examined before the king, and produced the stones out of which she had made the baron drink. These enchanted cups were delivered to the keeping of the justice clerk; but we are not informed as to the fate of the witch herself.
The indictment charged the prisoner that 'ye gat yowr health be the develisch means foirsaid,' And further, it said, 'ye are indicted for art and part of the cruel, odious, and shameful slaughter of the said George Monro, your brother, by the enchantments and witchcrafts used upon him by you and of your devise, by speaking to him within youre bed, taking of him by the right hand, conform to the injunctions given to you by the said Marian Ingarach, in the said month of January, 1589 years; throw the which inchantmentis he tuke ane deidlie seikness in the moneth of Apryle, 1590 yetris, and continew and thairin until Junii thairafter, diceissit in the said moneth of Junii, being the third day of that instant!'
It is astonishing that any persons could be so stupid as to believe in the ridiculous doctrine of witchcraft. How absurd to suppose that the power of Heaven is delegated to a weak and frail mortal; and, of all mortals, to a poor decrepit old woman! for we never hear of a young witch, but through the fascination of the eyes. Just when a woman has been poor and old enough to obtain the pity and compassion of every one; when nothing has remained to her but her innocence, her piety, and her tabby cat; then has she, by the voice of superstition, been dignified with the presumed possession of a power which the God of Heaven alone could exert!