Skip to main content

Newes from Scotland

Newes from Scotland.

Declaring the Damnable life and death of Doctor Fian, a notable Sorcerer, who was burned at Edinburgh in January last. 1591. Which Doctor was regester to the Divell that sundry times preached at North Barrick Kirke, to a number of notorious Witches.
With the true examinations of the saide Doctor and Witches, as they uttered them in the presence of the Scottish King.
Discovering how they pretended to bewitch and drowne his Majestie in the Sea comming from Denmark with such other wonderfull matters as the like hath not been heard of at any time.
Published according to the Scottish Coppie.
Printed for William Wright.


To the Reader.




The Manifolde untruthes which is spread abroade, concerning the detestable actions and apprehension of those Witches wherof this Historye following truely entreateth, hath caused me to publish the same in print: and the rather for that sundrie written Copies are lately dispersed therof, containing, that the said witches were first discovered, by meanes of a poore Pedler travailing to the towne of Trenent, and that by a wonderfull manner he was in a moment convayed at midnight, from Scotland to Burdeux in Fraunce (beeing places of no small distance between) into a Marchants Seller there, & after, being sent from Burdeux into Scotland by certaine Scottish Marchants to the Kinges Maiestie, that he discovered those Witches and was the cause of their apprehension: with a number of matters miraculous and incredible: all which in truthe are moste false. Nevertheles to satisfie a number of honest mindes, who are desirous to be enformed of the veritie and trueth of their confessions, which for certaintie is more stranger then the common reporte runneth, and yet with more trueth I have undertaken to publish this short Treatise, which declareth the true discourse of all that hath hapned, & aswell what was pretended by those wicked and detestable Witches against the Kinges Majestie, as also by what meanes they wrought the same.

All which examinations (gentle Reader) I have heere truelye published, as they were taken and uttered in the presence of the Kings Majestie, praying thee to accept it for veritie, the same beeing so true as cannot be reproved.


A true discourse, of the apprehension of sundrye Witches lately taken in Scotland, some are executed, and some are yet imprisoned.

With a particuler recitall of their examinations, taken in the presence of the Kinges Majestie.

God by his omnipotent power, hath at al times and daily doth take such care, and is so vigillant, for the weale and preseruation of his owne, that thereby he disapointeth the wicked practises and evil intents of all such as by any meanes whatsoever, seeke indirectly to conspire any thing contrary to his holy will: yea and by the same power, he hath lately overthrown and hindered the intentions and wicked dealinges of a great number of ungodly creatures, no better then Divels: who suffering themselves to be allured and inticed by the Divell whom they served, and to whome they were privatelye sworne: entered into the detestable Art of witchcraft, which they studied and practised so long time, that in the end they had seduced by their sorcery a number of other to be as bad as themselves: dwelling in the boundes of Lowthian, which is a principall shire or parte of Scotland, where the Kings Majestie useth to make his cheefest residence or abode: and to the end that their detestable wickednes which they privilye had pretended against the Kings Majestie, the Common-weale of that Country, with the Nobilitie and subjects of the same, should come to light: God of his unspeakeable goodnes did reveale and lay it open in very strange sorte, therby to make knowne unto the worlde, that there actions were contrarye to the lawe of God, and the naturall affection which we ought generallye to beare one to another: the manner of the revealing wherof was as followeth.

Within the towne of Trenent in the Kingdome of Scotland, there dwelleth one David Seaton, who being deputie Bailiffe in the saide Towne, had a maide servant called Geillis Duncane, who used secretly to be absent and to lye foorth of her Maisters house every other night: this Geillis Duncane took in hand to help all such as were troubled or greeved with any kinde of sicknes or infirmitie: and in short space did perfourme manye matters most miraculous, which thinges forasmuch as she began to doe them upon a sodaine, having never doon the like before, made her Maister and others to be in great admiracion, and wondred thereat: by meanes wherof the saide David Seaton had his maide in some great suspition, that she did not those things by naturall and lawfull wayes, but rather supposed it to be doone by some extraordinary and unlawfull meanes.

Wherupon, her Maister began to growe very inquisitive, and examined her which way and by what meanes she were able to perfourme matters of so great importance: whereat she gave him no answere, neverthelesse, her Maister to the intent that he might the better trye and finde out the trueth of the same, did with the helpe of others, torment her with the torture of the Pilliwinckes upon her fingers, which is a greevous torture, and binding or wrinching her head with a corde or roape, which is a most cruell torment also, yet would she not confesse any thing, whereupon they suspecting that she had beene marked by the Divell (as commonly witches are) made dilligent search about her, and found the enemies marke to be in her fore crag or foreparte of her throate: which being found, she confessed that all her dooings was doone by the wicked allurements and inticements of the Divell, and that she did them by witchcraft.


Newes from Scotland 2


After this her confession, she was committed to prison, where she continued for a season, where immediatly she accused these persons following to be notorious witches, and caused them foorthwith to be apprehended one after an other, vidz. Agnis Sampson the eldest Witch of them al, dwelling in Haddington, Agnes Tompson of Edenbrough, Doctor Fian, alias John Cunningham, maister of the Schoole at Saltpans in Lowthian, of whose life and strange actes, you shall heare more largely in the ende of this discourse: these were by the saide Geillis Duncane accused, as also George Motts wife dwelling in Saltpans, Robert Griersonn skipper, and Jennit Bandilandis, with the Porters wife of Seaton, the Smith at the brigge Hallis with innumerable others in that partes, and dwelling in those bounds aforesaide: of whom some are alreadye executed, the rest remaine in prison, to receive the doome of Judgement at the Kings majesties will and pleasure.

The said Geillis Duncane also caused Ewphame Meealrean to be apprehended, who conspired and perfourmed the death of her Godfather, and who used her art upon a gentleman being one of the Lords and Justices of the Session, for bearing good will to her Daughter: she also caused to be apprehended one Barbara Naper, for bewitching to death Archibalde, last Earle of Angus, who languished to death by witchcraft and yet the same was not suspected, but that he died of so strange a disease, as the Phisition knew not how to cure or remedy the same: but of all other the saide witches, these two last before recited, were reputed for as civill honest women as any that dwelled within the Citie of Edenbrough, before they were apprehended. Many other besides were taken dwelling in Lieth, who are detayned in prison, untill his Majesties further will and pleasure be known: of whose wicked dooings you shall particularly heare, which was as followeth.

This aforeaside Agnis Sampson which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliciud house before the Kings Majestie and sundry other of the nobilityThe highest hereditary stratum of the aristocracy, sitting immediately below the monarch in terms of blood and title; or the quality of being noble (virtuous, honourable, etc.) in character. of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the perswasions which the Kings majestie used to her with the rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge: wherupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in that country: and forasmuch as by due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Devill dooth generallye marke them with a privie marke, by reason the Witches have confessed themselves, that the Divell dooth lick them with his tung in some privy part of their bodie, before hee dooth receive them to be his servants, which marke commonly is given them under the haire in some part of their bodye, wherby it may not easily be found out or scene, although they be searched: and generally so long as the marke is not seene to those which search them, so long the parties that hath the marke will never confesse any thing. Therfore by special commaundement this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shaven of, in each parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, beeing a paine most greevous, which she continued almost an hower, during which time she would not confesse any thing untill the Divels marke was found upon her privities, then she immediatlye confessed whatsoever was demaunded of her, and justifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.

Item, the saide Agnis Tompson was after brought againe before the Kings Majestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of those witches, she confessed that upon the night of Allhollon Even last, she was accompanied aswell with the persons aforesaide, as also with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundreth: 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 by the waye in the same Riddles or Cives, to the Kerke of North Barrick in Lowthian, and that after they had landed, tooke handes on the land and daunced this reill or short daunce, singing all with one voice. 

Commer goe ye before, commer goe ye,
If ye will not goe before, commer let me.

At which time she confessed, that this Geilles Duncane did goe before them playing this reill or daunce upon a small Trump, called a Jewes Trump, untill they entred into the Kerk of north Barrick.

These confessions made the King in a woderful admiration, and sent for the said Geillis Duncane, who upon the like Trump did playe the said daunce before the Kings Majestie, who in respect of the strangenes of these matters, tooke great delight to bee present at their examinations.

Item, the said 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 enioyned 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 enioyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotland, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which doone, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

At which time the witches demaunded 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.

Item, the saide Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Majestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange, as that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her woords to be false, but rather to beleeve them, in that she would discover such matter unto him as his maiestie should not any way doubt off.

And therupon taking his Majestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye woordes which passed betweene the Kings Majestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage, with their answere eache to other: whereat the Kinges Majestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he beleeved that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her woords to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest which is before declared.

Touching this Agnis Tompson, she is the onlye woman, who by the Divels perswasion should have entended and put in execution the Kings Majesties 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 from it in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, untill she should obtaine any parte or peece of foule linnen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Maiestie, as shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine by meanes of one John Kers, who being attendant in his Maiesties Chamber, desired him for olde acquaintance betweene them, to helpe her to one or a peece of such a cloth as is aforesaide, which thing the said John Kers denyed to helpe her too, saying he could not help her too it.

And the said Agnis Tompson by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linnen 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 Majestie was in Denmarke, she being accompanied with the parties before specially named, tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of that Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joynts of his bodie, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveied 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 doone, 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 Iland to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye Iewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland, at her Maiesties comming to Lieth.

Againe it is confessed, that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Majesties Ship at his comming foorth of Denmarke, had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, then being in his companye, 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 altogither against his Majestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Majestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their ententions.

Moreover the said Witches being demaunded how the Divell would use them when he was in their company, they confessed that when the Divell did receive them for his servants, and that they had vowed themselves unto him, then he would Carnallye use them, albeit to their little pleasure, in respect of his colde nature: and would doo the like at sundry other times.

As touching the aforesaide Doctor Fian, alias John Cunningham, the examination of his actes since his apprehension, declareth the great subtiltye of the divell, and therfore maketh thinges to appeere the more miraculous: for being apprehended by the accusation of the saide Geillis Duncane aforesaide, who confessed he was their Regester, and that there was not one man suffered to come to the Divels readinges but onlye he: the saide Doctor was taken and imprisoned, and used with the accustomed paine, provided for those offences, inflicted upon the rest as is aforesaide.

First by thrawing of his head with a roape, wherat he would confesse nothing.

Secondly, he was perswaded by faire means to confesse his follies, but that would prevaile as little.

Lastly he was put to the most severe and cruell paine in the world, called the bootes, who after he had received three strokes, being enquired if he would confesse his damnable acts and wicked life, his tung would not serve him to speak, in respect wherof the rest of the witches willed to search his tung, under which was found two pinnes thrust up into the head, whereupon the witches did laye, Now is the Charme stinted, and shewed that those charmed Pinnes were the cause he could not confesse any thing: then was he immediatly released of the bootes, brought before the King, his confession was taken, and his owne hand willingly set ther-unto, which contained as followeth.

First, that at the generall meetinges of those witches, hee was alwayes preasent: that he was Clarke to all those that were in subiection to the Divels service, bearing the name of witches, that alwaye he did take their othes for their true service to the Divell, and that he wrot for them such matters as the Divell still pleased to commaund him.

Item, he confessed that by his witchcrafte he did bewitch a Gentleman dwelling neere to the Saltpans, where the said Doctor kept Schoole, onely for being enamoured of a Gentlewoman whome he loved himselfe: by meanes of which his Sorcerye, witchcraft and divelish practises, he caused the said Gentleman that once in xxiiii. howres he fell into a lunacie and madnes, and so continued one whole hower together, and for the veritie of the same, he caused the Gentleman to be brought before the Kinges Majestie, which was upon the xxiiii. day of December last, and being in his Majesties Chamber, suddenly he gave a great scritch and fell into a madnes, sometime bending himselfe, and sometime capring so directly up, that his head did touch the seeling of the Chamber, to the great admiration of his Maiestie and others then present: so that all the Gentlemen in the Chamber were not able to holde him, untill they called in more helpe, who together bound him hand and foot: and suffering the said gentleman to lye still untill his furye were past, he within an hower came againe to himselfe, when being demaunded of the Kings Majestie what he saw or did all that while, answered that he had been in a sound sleepe.

Item the said Doctor did also confesse that he had used means sundry times to obtain his purpose and wicked intent of the same Gentlewoman, and seeing himselfe disapointed of his intention, he determined by all waies he might to obtaine the same, trusting by conjuring, witchcraft and Sorcery to obtaine it in this manner.

It happened this gentlewoman being unmaried, had a brother who went to schoole with the said Doctor, and calling his Scholler to him, demaunded if he did lye with his sister, who answered he did, by meanes wherof he thought to obtaine his purpose, and therefore secretlye promised to teach him without stripes, so he would obtain for him three haires of his sisters privities, at such time as he should spye best occasion for it: which the youth promised faithfullye to perfourme, and vowed speedily to put it in practise, taking a peece of conjured paper of his maister to lappe them in when he had gotten them: and thereupon the boye practised nightlye to obtaine his maisters purpose, especially when his sister was a sleepe.

But God who knoweth the secrets of all harts, and revealeth all wicked and ungodlye practises, would not suffer the intents of this divilish Doctor to come to that purpose which he supposed it would, and therefore to declare that he was heavilye offended with his wicked entent, did so woorke by the Gentlewomans owne meanes, that in the ende the same was discovered and brought to light: for she being one night a sleepe, and her brother in bed with her, suddenlye cryed out to her mother, declaring that her Brother would not suffer her to sleepe, whereupon her mother having a quick capacitie, did vehemently suspect Doctor Fians entention, by reason she was a witche of her selfe, and therefore presently arose, and was very inquisitive of the boy to understand his intent, and the better to know the same, did beat him with sundry stripes, wherby he discovered the trueth unto  her.

The Mother therefore being well practised in witchcrafte, did thinke it most convenient to meete with the Doctor in his owne Arte, and thereupon tooke the paper from the boy, wherein hee should have put the same haires, and went to a young Heyfer which never had borne Calfe nor gone to the Bull, and with a paire of sheeres, clipped off three haires from the udder of the Cow, and wrapt them in the same paper, which she againe delivered to the boy, then willing him to give the same to his saide Maister, which he immediatly did.

The Schoolemaister so soone as he had received them, thinking them indeede to bee the Maides haires, went straight and wrought his arte upon them: But the Doctor had no sooner doone his intent to them, but presentlye the Hayfer or Cow whose haires they were indeed, came unto the doore of the Church wherein the Schoolemaister was, into the which the Hayfer went, and made towards the Schoolemaister, leaping and dauncing upon him, and following him foorth of the church and to what place so ever he went, to the great admiration of all the townes men of Saltpans, and many other who did beholde the same.

The reporte whereof made all men imagine that hee did woorke it by the Divell, without whom it could never have beene so sufficientlye effected: and therupon, the name of the said Doctor Fian (who was but a very yong man) began to grow so common among the people of Scotland, that he was secretlye nominated for a notable Cunjurer.


Newes from Scotland 3


All which although in the beginning he denied, and would not confesse, yet having felt the pain of the bootes (and the charme stinted, as aforesayd) he confessed all the aforesaid to be most true, without producing anie witnesses to justifie the same, & therupon before the kings majesty he subscribed the sayd confessions with his owne hande, which for truth remaineth upon record in Scotland.

After that the depositions and examinations of the sayd doctor Fian Alias Cuningham was taken, as alreadie is declared, with his owne hand willingly set thereunto, hee was by the master of the prison committed to ward, and appointed to a chamber by himselfe, where forsaking his wicked wayes, acknowledging his most ungodly lyfe, shewing that he had too much folowed the allurements and entisements of Sathan, and fondly practised his conclusions by coniuring, witchcraft, inchantment, sorcerie, and such like, hee renounced the devill and all his wicked workes, vowed to leade the life of a Christian, and seemed newly connected towards God.

The morrow after upon conference had with him, he granted that the devill had appeared unto him in the night before, appareled all in blacke, with a white wand in his hande, and that the devill demaunded of him if hee would continue his faithfull service, according to his first oath and promise made to that effect. Whome (as hee then sayd) he utterly renounced to his face, and sayde unto him in this manner, Avoide Satan, avoide, for I have listned too much unto thee, and by the same thou hast undone mee, in respect whereof I utterly forsake thee. To whome the devill answered, That once ere thou die thou shall bee mine. And with that (as he sayde) the devill brake the white wande, and immediatly vanished foorth of his sight.

Thus all the daie this Doctor Fian continued verie solitarie, and seemed to have care of his owne soule, and would call uppon God, shewing himselfe penitent for his wicked life, neverthelesse the same night hee founde such meanes, that hee stole the key of the prison doore and chamber in the which he was, which in the night hee opened and fled awaie to the Salt pans, where hee was alwayes resident, and first apprehended. Of whose sodaine departure when the Kings majestie had intelligence, hee presently commanded diligent inquirie to bee made for his apprehension, and for the better effecting thereof, hee sent publike proclamations into all partes of his lande to the same effect. By meanes of whose hot and harde pursuite, he was agayn taken and brought to prison, and then being called before the kings highnes, hee was reexamined as well touching his departure, as also touching all that had before happened.

But this Doctor, notwithstanding that his owne confession appeareth remaining in recorde under his owne hande writing, and  the same thereunto fixed in the presence of the Kings majestie and sundrie of his Councell, yet did hee utterly denie the same.

Whereupon the kinges majestie perceiving his stubbourne wilfulnesse, concerned and imagined that in the time of his absence hee had entered into newe conference and league with the devill his master, and that hee had beene agayne newly marked, for the which hee was narrowly searched, but it coulde not in anie wise bee founde, yet for more tryall of him to make him confesse, hee was commaunded to have a most straunge torment which was done in this manner following.

His nailes upon all his fingers were riven and pulled off with an instrument called in Scottish a Turkas, which in England wee call a payre of pincers, and under everie nayle there was thrust in two needels over even up to the heads. At all which tormentes notwithstanding the Doctor never shronke anie whit, neither woulde he then confesse it the sooner for all the tortures inflicted upon him.

Then was hee with all convenient speed, by commandement, convaied againe to the torment of the bootes, wherein hee continued a long time, and did abide so many blowes in them, that his legges were crushte and beaten togeather as small as might bee, and the bones and flesh so brused, that the bloud and marrowe spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable for ever. And notwithstanding al these grievous paines and cruell torments hee would not confesse anie thing, so deepely had the devill entered into his heart, that hee utterly denied all that which he had before auouched, and woulde saie nothing thereunto but this, that what hee had done and sayde before, was onely done and sayde for feare of paynes which he had endured.

Upon great consideration therefore taken by the Kings majestie and his Councell, as well for the due execution of justice uppon such detestable malefactors, as also for example sake, to remayne a terrour to all others heereafter, that shall attempt to deale in the lyke wicked and ungodlye actions, as witchcraft, sorcery, cunjuration, & such lyke, the sayde Doctor Fian was soone after araigned, condemned, and adjudged by the law to die, and then to bee burned according to the lawe of that lande, provided in that behalfe. Whereupon hee was put into a carte, and beeing first strangled, hee was immediatly put into a great fire, being readie provided for that purpose, and there burned in the Castle hill of Edenbrough on a saterdaie in the ende of Januarie last past. 1591. The rest of the witches which are not yet executed, remayne in prison till farther triall, and knowledge of his maiesties pleasure.


This strange discourse before recited, may perhaps give some occasion of doubt to such as shall happen to reade the same, and thereby conjecture that the Kings majestie would not hazarde himselfe in the presence of such notorious witches, least therby might have insued great danger to his person and the generall state of the land, which thing in truth might wel have bene feared. But to answer generally to such, let this suffice: that first it is well knowen that the King is the child & servant of God, and they but servants to the dvuil, hee is the Lords annointed, and they but vesselles of Gods wrath: he is a true Christian, and trusteth in God, they worse than Infidels, for they onely trust in the devill, who daily serve them, till he have brought them to utter destruction. But heereby it seemeth that his Highnesse carted a magnanimious and undanted mind, not feared with their inchantmentes, but resolute in this, that so long as God is with him, hee feareth not who is against him. And trulie the whole scope of this treatise dooth so plainely laie open the wonderfull providenceGod or another spiritual entity's protective care and direction. of the Almightie, that if he had not bene defended by his omnipotencie and power, his Highnes had never returned alive in his voiage frõ Denmarke, so that there is no doult but God woulde as well defend him on the land as on the sea, where they pretended their damnable practise.


Newes from Scotland 4