They should kiss the Devil’s buttocks


Today’s post comes from a contemporaneous account of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which took place in Scotland in 1591-2. The case was an overnight sensation since it featured the attempted murder of King James VI (later James I of England) by witchcraft.


Agnis Sampson, which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliriud house before the Kings Maiestie and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the persuasions which the Kings maiestie used to her with the rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but [she] stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge. Whereupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in that country.

By due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Devill doth generally marke them with a privie marke. The Witches have confessed themselves that the Divell doth lick them with his tung in some privy part of their bodie before he doth receive them to be his servants, which marke commonly is given them under the haire in some part of their bodye, whereby it may not easily be found out or seene, although they be searched. Generally, so long as the marke is not seene by those which search them, the parties that hath the marke will never confesse any thing. By special commandment this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shaven off in eache parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen [twisted] with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, being a paine most greevous, which she continued almost an hour, during which time she would not confesse any thing untill the Divels marke was found upon her privities, Then she immediately confessed whatsoever was demanded of her, and justifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.

The saide Agnis Tompson was after brought againe before the Kings Maiestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of those witches, she confessed that upon the night of Allhallows Eve last, she was accompanied as well with the persons aforesaide, as also with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundred. And that all they together went by Sea each one in a Riddle or Cive, and went in the same very substantially with Flaggons of wine, making merrie and drinking to the kerke of North Barrick in Lowthian, and that after they had landed, tooke handes on the land and danced this reill or short dance, singing all with one voice

Commer goe ye before, commer goe ye,
Gif ye will not goe before, commer let me

Agnis Tompson confessed that the Divell being then at North Barrick Kerke attending their comming in the habit or likenes of a man, and seeing that they tarried over-long, he at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his Buttockes, in signe of duetye to him: which being put over the Pulpit barre, everye one did as he had enjoyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotlond, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which done, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

The witches demanded of the Divel why he did beare such hatred to the King, who answered, by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde: all which their confessions and depositions are still extant upon record. Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Maiestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her words to be false, but rather to beleeve them. And thereupon, taking his Maiestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye wordes which passed betweene the Kings Maiestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage. Where at the Kinges Maiestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he believed that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her words to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest.

Agnis Tompson, by the Divels persuasion should have intended and put in execution the Kings Maiesties death in this manner: She confessed that she tooke a blacke Toade, and did hang the same up by the heeles, three daies, and collected and gathered the venome as it dropped and fell in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, until she should obtaine any parte or peece of linen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Maiestie, and shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine. And the said Agnis Tompson by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linen cloth which the King had worne and fouled, she had bewitched him to death, and put him to such extraordinary paines, as if he had beene lying upon sharp thornes and endes of Needles.

Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Maiestie was in Denmarke, she tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of the Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joyntes of his body, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles or Cives as is aforesaide, and so left the saide Cat right before the Towne of Lieth in Scotland. This done, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene seene: which tempest was the cause of the perrishing of a Boate or vessell comming over from the towne of Brunt Island to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye jewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland.

Againe it is confessed that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Maiesties Ship at his coming forth of Denmarke had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, which thing was most strange and true, as the Kings Maiestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the Shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarye and altogether against his Maiestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Maiestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their intentions.

As is clear from the account, Agnes Sampson was tortured in prison prior to her confession. She was probably forced to wear a scold’s bridle – an iron device which was fitted over the head and had sharp clamps which crushed the tongue, and sometimes spikes which poked into the face. She was also deprived of sleep, chained to the wall of her cell, and abused. It was only after extreme torture that Agnes confessed to witchcraft. She was eventually strangled and burned alive for her supposed crimes. Estimates suggest that up to four thousand people in Scotland were executed for witchcraft through the late sixteenth and seventeenth century.

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  • February 5, 2012 - 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Lovely read!

  • February 4, 2012 - 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Great post, all from my neck of the woods, just a little farther east. I always feel sad for the poor victims, even though it all took place hundreds of years ago. Kings had absolute power and met out barbaric retribution on anyone who threatened them. Like Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters, in England. When they were captured there was no escape and so they had to face the horrors of the King’s vengeance. Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing.

  • February 1, 2012 - 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Barbaric and utterly wicked treatment. Always blame a woman!

  • February 1, 2012 - 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating and horrifying. It was interesting that she had to start by christening the cat.

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