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mong the lower orders in Scotland About the month of March 1704, generally, whatever may be their reli- there lived in the town of Pittenweem gious persuasion.
a noted witch, Beatrix Layng by In many of our parishes, tradition- name, who came to one Patrick More ary tales of witches, and specific in- toun, a blacksmith, with an order for stances of their preternatural power, some nails, which this person, being are still current, only a few of which otherwise employed at the time, rehave passed through the press. Of fused to execute. The witch went the works on this curious subject, “Satan's Invisible World discovered,
June 1704, at which “ the minister and “Master George Sinclar, late Pro- some of the elders were present," where fessor of Philosophie at the Colledge a bailie and another member of the of Glasgow," seems to have been re- town council were “ elected and nominat ceived with peculiar favour, thé Lords to goe from this burgh to Edinburgh to of Council having, by an order, dated morrow, and deal with Sir Thomas Monat Edinburgh, 26th February 1685, crief of that ilk, as justiciar within the reprohibited and discharged all persons gality of St Andrews, to grant comissione from printing, reprinting, or im
to some gentlemen and burgesses in this porting into this kingdome, any copie part of the country, for sitting as justices
in this burgh, for takeing trial of these or copies of the said book, dureing the space of eleven yearis after the date persones incarcerat in the tolbooth, as sus
pect guilty of witchcraft; and if Sir Thomas heirof, without license of the author, refuse to make applicatione to the councill, or his order.” The last edition of it to take such other methods as they shall which we have seen was printed in think fitting for that effect.” It was also 1814; and the editor, without the resolved at the same time to apply “ for slightest intimation of any doubts as advice to the presbyterie." Sir Thomas, it to the truth of the marvellous narra- would appear, had not given these officious tives it contains, has enriched his work gentlemen much encouragement; for, on with some additional relations which the 12th July thereafter, there is another have happened in the shire of Ren
entry in the records, nominating two new frew, towns of Pittenweem, Calder, with the members of the commission
commissioners “ to consult and advyse and other places. The Renfrewshire of the General Assembly of the Kirk now witches, indeed, have been thought to sitting at Edinburgh, and crave their conmerit the honour of a separate “ His- currence; and also to take the advyse and tory,” which was published in 1909 concurrence of her Majestie's Advocate, and by" the Editor of the Paisley Repo- of SF Rob. Forbes, one of the clerks of her sitory." We are sorry that we cannot Majestie's Privy Council, and principal ado as much justice to the old ladies of gent for the royal burrows, what method Pittenweem, who, notwithstanding and course may be taken in addressing the the very laudable exertions of their mi Privy Councill, for getting these persones nister and magistrates, had the singu- put to trial and condign punishment, with
all convenient dilligence." On the 20th lar good fortune to escape the flames, July, these last commissioners report that through the obstinacy of the Privy the Privy Council had ordained the susCouncil, who could not be prevailed pected witches to be transported to Edinon to bring them to trial. What burgh and judged there, requiring at the could be done, however, by these ac- same time information of the names and tive enemies of the Evil One was not confessions of the accused, and the witnesspared. The witches were imprison- ses' names who were to be cited. It is posed and tortured, and confessed in the sible enough, that a trial on the spot beusual manner. One of them was
fore some “ gentlemen and burgesses in starved in prison, and the rabble en
this part of the country," would have been three hours' sport" in mur
more acceptable to these enlightened guarjoyed dering another, by the permissive wished ; for, either for want of evidence, or
dians of the burgh, as they had at first power of the legal guardians of their on some other account, the witches were lives and properties on earth, and of not transported to Edinburgh, nor ever their saintly guide to heaven. *
brought to trial. On the 12th August, all
of them, five in number, were liberated on The better educated classes of Scotland bail, apparently in consequence of the inseem by this time to have become rather terference of the " Erle of Bellcarres and sceptical about the existence of witches. Lord Anstruther," commissioners of the 'In the records of the burgh of Pittenweem, Privy Council, with whom the bail bonda we find a minute of a meeting, dated 1st were lodged.
away muttering threats of course, means by which they were extorted. and soon after was detected by the “ Thrusting of pins into the flesh, blacksmith in the use of a charm, of and keeping the accused from sleep, which even the literal description is were the ordinary treatment of a not without its difficulties. “ Patrick witch. But if the prisoner was enMortoun, with another person in com- dued with uncommon fortitude, other pany, carrying some fish by the said methods were used to extort confesBeatrix Layng's door, they saw a sion. The boots, the capsic-claws, vessel with water placed at the door, and the pilniewinks, engines for torwith a burning coal in it, upon which turing the legs, the arms, and the he was presently stricken with an im- fingers, were applied to either sex; pression that it was a charm designed and that with such violence, that against him; and upon this, a little sometimes the blood would have after, he sickened." This is the spouted from the limbs.
Loading account of the party who had taken with heavy irons, and whipping with 80 active a concern against the witches, cords, till the skin and flesh were torn and is given from a pamphlet pub- from the bones, have also been the lished in their defence, after their adopted methods of torment." proceedings had drawn upon them Of the treatment which the wretchthe notice of the Privy Council. Con- ed Layng experienced, in consequence vincing, however, as this charm must of the ridiculous charge we have menhave been to the magistrates and tioned, we have some account in a minister of Pittenweem, as well as petition which she presented to the to the blacksmith himself, of the Privy Council about a year afterwards, diablerie of Layng, other proofs praying for protection against the were not wanting. The physicians rabble, who had murdered another could not understand Mortoun's dis- woman a few months before, and temper : At length he was seized with which detestable outrage does not fits; and in due time delated (accused) seem to have had its proper effect upLayng and a number of other pers on the darkened intellects of the sons as his tormentors, who were rulers of that ancient burgh. + forthwith thrown into prison, and subjected to the usual preparatory
• Arnot's Criminal Trials, p. 413. process of pricking or brodiling, to prevent them from sleeping, and to
+ “ Act and Protection to Bettie Laing. extort from them a confession of guilt.
“ Alt the Palace of Holyrudehouse, “ It was upon-his (Morton's) ac
“ May 1, 1705. cusation allenarly the ininister and “ Anent the supplication given in and baillies imprisoned these poor women, presented to his Grace her Maties High and set a guard of drunken fellows Commissioner, and the Lords of her Matles about them, who, by pinching and Privy Council, by Bettie Laing, spous to pricking some of them with pins and William Brown, tayleor, and late theasurer elsions, (awls,) kept them from sleeping, that the petitioner having met with
of the town of Pittenweem ; humbly shewfor several days and nights together; most cruell and unchristian treatment in the marks whereof were seen by se- the town of Pittenweem, upon no other verals a month thereafter. This cruel ground then bare affection of ane Peter usage made some of them learn to be Mortoun, a young man in the said town, so wise, as acknowledge every question who being under a natural disease wch had that was asked them ; whereby they some strange effects upon his body, prefound the minister and baillies well tended that the petitioner, and other perpleased, and themselves better treat- sons he named, wer witches, and tormented." +
ed him : Upon this very insufficient ground Nothing on this subject of witch- the petitioner was thrown into the tolbooth craft has ever appeared more extraor
of Pittenweem, by the minister and madinary than the confessions of the not confess that she was a witch, and in
gistrates thereof; and because she would accused themselves. But this won
compact with the divell, was tortured by der must cease, when we know the keeping her awake without sleep for fyve
days and nights together, and by continual * A Just Reproof to the False Reports, precking her with instruments in the &c. printed in 1705.
shoulders, back, and thighs, that the † An Answer of a Letter from a gentle blood gushed out in great abundance, man in Fife to a nobleman, printed 1705. so that her lyfe was a border to ber;
Janet Corphat, or Cornfoot, who ble, was also one of those unhappy. was afterwards murdered by the rab- persons delated by this Mortoun.
There was another crime, however, and they urging her continuallie to imputed to this woman of a not less confess, the petitioner expressed severall extraordinary description. Beatrix things, as they
directed her, to be ride Layng, who seems to have been 'Saof the present torture; and because she af- tan's chief minister in those parts, terwards avowed and publictly told, that happened to quarrel with one Alexwhat she had said to them of her having ander Macgregor, a fisherman-about seen the divell, &c. was lyes and untruths, what we are not told-and forthwith they put her in the stocks for severall dayes, the Devil in person, with this Janet and then carried her to the thief 's holl
, Cornfoot, and several others in comand from that they transported her to a dark dungeon, where she was allowed no
pany," set upon poor Macgregor in maner of licht, nor human converse, and his bed, with the telonious intent of in this condition she laye for fyve moneths murdering him in his sleep. Mactogether ; and at last haveing found means gregor, however, awaking in good to get out of the saià dungeon, she wan. time, and wrestling manfully, his indered about in stranye places in the extre- fernal majesty was glad to beat a remity of hunger and cold, tho' she thanked treat with his baffled troops. The God she had a competency at home, but truth of the thing could not possibly dared not come near hier own house, be- be called in question, for it was concause of the fury and rage of the people: fessed by two of the hags who had asAnd the petitioner being
willing to under- sisted on the occasion ; and at last, goe any legall tryall upon the said cryme it would appear, by Cornfoot herself whereof she was accused, and for denying also. This poor woman, of course, of which she had been so inhumanly treated: She confidently presumed his retracted her confession to some genGrace and their Lops. would grant tlemen whom curiosity had induced her the common benefit of protection to visit her in prison, but beggen! to her person till she wer legally con
them “ for Christ's sake not to tell vict of cymes rendering her indeserv- that she had done so, else she would ing of it. And this she was necessitat be murdered." + to demand of your Lops. for that she hav- She was murdered nevertheless; and ing lately returned to her own house at with circumstances of such almost inPittenweem, expecting to have lived safely credible barbarity, that we shall give and quietly with her husband, the rabble the account in the words of the writer there so menaced and threatened to treat her as they had done Janet Cornfoot a little before, &c. &c. His Grace her Maties Bellcaites and Lord Anstruther, two of her High Commissioner, &c. &c. declares the
Maties most honoble Privie Counsell, being petitioner to be under the protection of the commissionat to meet here this day for Government ; and therefore his Grace and takeing further triall of the murther of the said Lords appoints and ordains the Janet Cornfoot, who confest herself guiltie magistrates of Pittenweem to maintain and of witchcraft, and anent the way of the defend the petitioner against any tuinults
townes procedure agse Beatrix Laying, and mobbs, insult, and violence that may
and others, accused for that cryme, fall upon or be attempted against her, as
the saids Lords requyred that the baillies they will be answerable," &c. &c. &c.
and whole toune counsell should engage in The magistrates, however, were more
a bond to protect the said Beatrix Laying careful of their own individual interest than age any rabble should assault her. Which the peace of their burgh, or the lives of they unanimously refused to doe, in respect their fellow citizens, and seem to have held she may be murthered in the night withtheir clergyman in higher veneration than
out their knowledge, and the penalty of the Commissioners of the Privy Council.
the bond being fyve hundreth merks, they In the burgh records there is the following would be obliged to pay it. The said bal. minute on this occasion :
lie also informed the counsell, that these
Lords of the Committee of Counsell were " Act anent the Committie of the Privie to meet here on Saturday nixt, and it was
Counsell, ther tryal of the process anent concluded, that the ballie and some of the the Witches.
toune counsell should attend them.” “ Undecimo Maij 1705. A Just Reproof to the False Reports, “ The which day the ballies and coun- &c. p. 7. sell, viz. William Borthwick, &c. (thirteen + Account of an horrid and barbarous present) being conveened, the said ballie murder, in a Letter from a gentleman in represented to the counsell, that one the Fife to a friend in Edinburgh, Feb. 5, nyoth day of Maij instant, the Erle of 1705.
to whom we have just referred. The the truth. But when they did let her woman had escaped from prison, as it up, what she said could not satisfy would appear, by the connivance of them, and therefore they again laid the minister, who, after the attention on the door, and with a heavy weight that began to be paid to her case by of stones on it, prest her to death. persons of rank and influence, seems And to be sure it was so, they called to have lost all hope of bringing her a man with a horse and a sledge, and to the stake, and was, probably, glad made him drive over her corp backto get rid of her. She was appre- ward and forward several times. hended, however, and sent back to When they were sure she was kilPittenweem by another active clergy- led outright, they dragged her miserman in the neighbourhood, in the able carcass to Nicolas Lowson's house, custody of two men, who carried her where they first found her. as a matter of course to the minister, “ There was a motion made to treat in whose person the offices of priest Nicolas Lowson (another witch) after and king appear to have been harmo- the same manner immediately; but niously combined throughout all these some of them being wearied with proceedings. But the clergyman had three hours' sport, as they called it, nothing to say to her; he was not said, “ It would be better to delay her concerned, he told the rabble ; and for another day's divertisement;' and, they might do what they pleased with so they all went off."
To the disgrace of the country, the They took encouragement from rabble, who had been so easily disthis," says the Fife gentleman, “ to persed by the magistrates before, do fall upon the poor woman, those of not appear to have experienced any. the minister's family going along with interruption in this protracted murtherr, as I hear; they tell upon the der, which was perpetrated on the poor creature immediately, and beat 30th January 1705, in one of the most ber unmerçifully, tying her so hard civilized counties of Scotland, and with a rope, that she was almost within a few hours' distance of the strangled ; they dragged her through metropolis. But this was an enorthe streets, and alongst the shore by mity which it was impossible for a the heels. A bailie hearing of a rab- well regulated government to overlook. ble near his stair, came out upon The Privy Council had lent a deaf them, which made them immediately ear, as we have seen, to two sets of disappear. But the magistrates, though commissioners from this priest-ridden met together, not taking care to put junto, who do not appear to have been her into closs custody, for her safety, supported either by the presbytery, or the rabble gathered again immediate- the commission of the General Assemly, and stretched a rope betwixt a bly of the kirk; but this very plain ship and the shoar, to a great height, hint was still not plain enough for to which they tied her fast; after their comprehension. On the present which they swinged her to and fro, occasion, it was necessary to operate from one side to another, in the upon their perverted intellects by a meantime throwing stones at her from more definite expression of disapproall corners, until they were weary. bation. Besides this, Mrs White, a Then they loosed her, and with a witch of the better order, about this mighty swing threw her upon the time commenced an action against hard sands; all about being ready these magistrates for wrongous impriin the mean time to receive her with
These proofs of a remarkastones and staves, with which they ble improvement in public opinion beat her most cruelly. Her daughter seem to have put an end to the lein the time of her mother's agony, gal persecution of old women in that though she knew of it, durst not ad- quarter,-though, as appears from the venture to appear, lest the rabble had order made upon the petition of Beaused her after the same manner, be- trix Layng in May thereafter, foring in a house in great concern and merly referred tomnot to the belief terror, out of natural affection for her in the existence of witches. The mother. They laid a heavy door up- following paper, of which the title on her, with which they prest her so does not exactly correspond with Bore, that she cried out to let her up its contents, is transcribed frown the for Christ's sake, and she would tell original records, and the proceedings
of the Privy Council do not seem to that they deforced the officer, and have been carried further. The re- made him flee: That the officer went port of the committee represents the to the other two baillies and gott their murder as of a less atrocious character verbal orders, but they concerned than the account of it we have taken themselves no further : That when from the letter of the gentleman of Baillie Cook heard of the rable, he Fife, though the two are by no means came out himself and dispersed them, inconsistent with each other.
and rescued the poor woman, but
found her almost halfe dead, lying Approbation of the Report of the within the sea-mark: That she being Committee anent the Murder att Pit- in that condition, Baillie Cook did tenweem.
not order her to prison, but ordained “ At Edinr. Feb. 15, 1705. “The Lords of her Majestie's Pri- the officer and four men to take her vy Counsell doe heirby nominat and ried her to Nicolas Lawson's, other
to a private house: That they carappoynt the Earles of Rothes and houses being unwilling to receive her : Hadingtoun, Lords Yester, Advocat, That before Nicolas Lawson's door and Enstruther, to be a committie to she was again assaulted, cast down, inquyre into the murder committed and murdered. And that it appears upon a woman in Pittenweem, as suspect of witchcraft, and recommends
the principal aetors wer Robert Dalto the said committee to meet to-mor- in Bruntisland, and one Groundwater,
ziell, a skipper's son, Walter Watson, row at twelve o'clock, in the midd-day, and call for Baillie Couts, in Pitten an Orkney man; all three fled."
While these active magistrates disweem, and know at him why he suffered the said murder to be commit- played so much laudable anxiety to ted, and did not keep the publict peace expel the great enemy of mankind and
his associates from their jurisdiction, in the place, and appoynts the solici. tors to cite the rest of the Magistrates should look with horror on the in
it was not to be expected that they of the said burgh of Pittenweem, to struments by which their object appear before the said committee and was in some degree accomplished. ansuer to what shall be laid to their The end was probably thought holy charge, for their not keeping the peace of the place, as said is, and declares enough to sanetify the means, how any three of the said committee a that a single individual was ever
ever irregular. It does not appear quorum, and to report.
brought to trial for the “ three hours “Report of the Committee appointed to sport” of the rabble who murdered
inquyre after the Murder committed Janet Cornfoot. Before the bailies at Pittenweem.
made their appearance in presenee of “At Edinburgh, sederunt the Earle the committee of the Privy Council, of Rothes, the Lord Yester, the Lord they had contrived, indeed, toimprison Enstruther, and her Majesties Advocat. some of the murderers, but according The baillies compearing, and having to the writer of the letter to a noble given in a subi information of the man, already quoted, " they were not matter of fact, with the double of the long from the town, when the miniprecognition taken by them anent the ster set them at liberty," as it is alleged, murder of Janet Cornfoot, they find by virtue of an order from these mathat the said Janet was brought from gistrates themselves. the parish of Lewchars by two men, The only man accused by Mortoun to the town of Pittenweem, upon the was one Thomas Brown, who died in threttieth of Janty last, about six prison, “after a great deal of hunger acloak at night ; that the men brought and hardship;" and his remains, as her first to the minister, after she had well as those of Janet Cornfoot, were stayed a little in a private house of denied Christian burial. the town; and that the minister be- We have said so much of the Piting for the time at Baillie Cook's tenweem witches, not because the house, she was brought before Baillie evidence against them, if Mortoun's Cook's door, but not immediately se- pretended fits could deserve such a cured as she ought to have been : name, or the murder of two of them, That when the officer, Peter Innes, are circumstances in themselves re after a little time, was found, and sent markable. Hundreds were brought to secure her, the rable was up, and to the stake in Scotland during the