1590 - North Berwick witch hunt

Dr Fian's Love Magic

16th-century Scots worried about foreign enemies, but they also worried about an enemy within - the minions of the Devil. In 1590, it was brought to James VI's attention that some witches had been apprehended. They confessed to trying to destroy James by magic as he returned from his Danish honeymoon with his new Queen, Anne of Denmark. Those accused were supposed to have raised storms to sink the newly-weds' ship. James interrogated the offenders himself and they produced the strangest stories of witches' sabbaths in North Berwick and thereabouts. Here is an account of the confession of Dr Fian, alias Cunningham, the village schoolmaster in Tranent. It is taken from 'Newes from Scotland', a sensational pamphlet attributed to James Carmichael, the minister of nearby Haddington and published in London in 1591. Fian was accused not only of the attempt on James's life, but also of using magic for other ends. His love magic allegedly had unpredictable results.

Hee confessed, that by his witchcraft hee did bewitch a gentleman
He confessed that he bewitched a gentleman
dwelling neare to the Saltpans, where the said Doctor kept schoole,
living near Prestonpans (where Fian was a schoolmaster)
onely for beeing enamoured of a gentlewoman whome hee loved
because he was in love with a lady also loved by Fian.
himselfe; by meanes of which his sorcery, witchcraft and divelish
By sorcery, witchcraft and devilish practises he caused
practises, hee caused the saide gentleman, that once in xxiiii [24]
the gentleman, for one hour out of every twenty four,
howers [hours] hee fell into a lunacie and madnes, and so continued
to fall into a fit of madness.
one whole hower [hour] together: And for the veritie of the same, hee
He proved this by having the gentleman brought
caused the gentleman to bee brought before the Kinges Majestie,
before the King on 23 December
which was uppon the xxiiii day of December last, and beeing in his
and in the king's chamber the victim
Majesties chamber, suddenly hee gave a great scritch [screech], and
suddenly gave a loud scream and
fell into madnesse, sometime bending himself, and sometime capring
fell into lunacy for a whole hour, sometimes
[capering] so directly up, that his heade did touch the seeling
throwing himself about so that his head almost touched the ceiling,
[ceiling] of the chamber, to the great admiration of his Majestie and
to the great wonder of the king and the others who were present.
others then present; so that all the gentlemen in the chamber were
All the king's bedchamber gentlemen together were not capable of
not able to holde him, untill they called in more helpe, who together
holding the victim down until they called for more help and
bound him hand and foot; and suffering the saide gentleman to lie
bound him hand and foot and forced the victim
still untill his furie [insanity] were past, he within an hower [hour]
to lie still until his insanity left him.
came againe to himselfe; when, being demaunded [asked] by the
Within an hour he came to, and when asked by
Kinges Majestie, 'what he saw or did all that while', answered, that
the king 'what he saw or did all that time' he answered
'he had been in a sounde sleepe'.
that he had been in a sound sleep.
The said Doctor did also confesse, that hee had used meanes
The Doctor also confessed that he had used
sundry times to obtaine his purpose and wicked intent of the same
various ways on a number of occasions to persuade
gentlewoman; and seeing himselfe disappointed of his intention, he
the lady in question to let him have his wicked
determined, by all wayes hee might, to obtaine the same; trusting by
way with her and seeing that he was getting
conjuring, witchcraft and sorcerie, to obtaine it, in this manner. It
nowhere he decided to use magic. The lady
happened this gentlewoman, being unmarried, had a brother, who
was unmarried and had a brother who
went to schoole with the saide Doctor; and calling the saide scholler
was one of the Doctor's pupils. He called the
[pupil] to him, demaunded 'if he did lie with his sister' [sharing a
pupil to him and asked 'if he and his sister
bed was common], who answered 'he did': By meanes whereof, hee
shared a bed?' The boy answered that 'he did.'
thought to obtaine his purpose; and therefore secretly promised, to
Fian, seeing a way to obtain his desire, promised to
teach him without stripes [beating], so he woulde obtaine for him
teach the boy without beatings, if he would fetch him
three hairs of the sisters privities, at such time as hee should spie best
three of his sister's pubic hairs when he had the
occasion for it; which the youth promised faithfully to performe,
opportunity. The boy promised faithfully to perform
and vowed speedily to put it in practise, taking a peece of conjured
this and took a piece of magically-charmed paper
paper of his maister, to lap [wrap] them in, when he had gotten
from his master to wrap them in when he had obtained
them; and thereupon the boy practised nightly to obtaine his
them. The boy then tried nightly to get the hairs,
maisters purpose, especially when his sister was asleep. But God,
especially when his sister was asleep. But God
who knoweth the secrets of all harts, and revealeth all wicked and
who knows the secrets of all hearts and who reveals all wicked and
ungodly practises, would not suffer the intents of this divelish
ungodly practices would not allow the Devilish
Doctor to come to that purpose which he supposed it woulde; and
Doctor to succeed in his intentions, as he supposed he would,
therefore, to declare that he was heavily offended with his wicked
and therefore to show how offended he was with the
intent, did so work by the gentlewomans owne meanes, that in the
Doctor's wicked intentions, he worked through the lady
ende the same was discovered and brought to light; for shee being
herself to bring the fact to light. One night when she was
one night a sleepe, and her brother in bed with her, sodainly cried
asleep with her brother in bed she suddenly cried
out to her mother, declaring that her brother woulde not suffer her
out to her mother, declaring that her brother would not let her
to sleepe; whereupon her mother having a quicke capacitie [being
sleep. Her mother being very quick to work things out,
quick to work things out], did vehemently suspect Doctor Fians
was deeply suspicious of Dr Fian's
intention, by reson she was a witch of her self; and therefore,
intentions, because she herself was a witch. She therefore got up
presently arose, and was very inquisitive of the boy to understand
immediately and quizzed the boy carefully to understand what his
his intent; and the better to know the same, did beate him with
intention was, and the better to find out she gave him a good beating,
sundrie stripes, wherby hee discovered the truth unto her.
until he told her the truth.
The mother, therefore, beeing well practised in witchcraft, did thinke
The mother being adept in witchcraft decided
it most convenient to meete with the Doctor in his owne art; and
to give the doctor a dose of his own medicine, and
thereupon took the paper from the boy, wherein hee should have put
took the paper from the boy, that he was supposed to have put
the same haires, and went to a yong heyfer [heifer] which never had
the hairs in and went to a young heifer which had never
borne calfe, nor gone unto the bull, and with a paire of sheeres
given birth to a calf or been put to the bull and with a pair of shears
[shears] clipped off three haires from the udder of the cow, and
she clipped off three hairs from the udder of the cow
wrapt them in the same paper, which shee again delivered to the boy;
and wrapped them in the same paper which she gave back to the boy,
then willing him to give the same to his saide maister, which hee
telling him to give the paper to his master, which he
immediately did. The schoole maister, so soone as he had received
did as soon as possible.
them, thinking them indeede to be the maid's haires, went straight
The school master as soon as he had received them,
and wrought his arte upon them: But the Doctor had no sooner
believing them to be the young lady's hairs, went and straight away
doone his intent to them, but presently the heyfer [heifer] cow,
cast his magic upon them. He had no sooner done
whose haires they were indeede, came unto the door of the church
what he intended to them, but immediately the heifer cow,
wherein the schoole maister was, into the which the heyfer went,
whose hairs they really were, came to the door of the church where
and made towards the schoole maister, leaping and dauncing upon
he was and went inside. She made towards the schoolmaster leaping
him, and following him forth of the church, and to what place
and dancing about him and following him out of church
soever he went; to the great admiration of all the townes men of
wherever he went, to the great wonder of everybody in
Saltpans, and many other who did beholde the same. The report
Prestonpans and everyone else who saw it. The incident
whereof made all men imagine he did worke it by the Devill, without
made everyone think that he did it by the work of the Devil, without
whome it coulde never have been so sufficiently effected; and
whom it could never have been done, and
thereupon, the name of the saide Doctor Fian (who was but a yoong
because of this Dr Fian (who was only a
[young] man) began to growe common among the people of
young man) gained a reputation amongst the people of
Scotland, that hee was secretly nominated for a notable conjurer.
Scotland as a notorious conjurer.
All which, although in the beginning he denied, and woulde not
He denied all of this to begin with and would not
confesse, yet having felt the paine of the bootes [a Scottish
confess, yet having been tortured with the boots (an
instrument of torture, which involved driving wedges of wood into
instrument of torture which involved crushing the legs with wedges of
the legs] . . . he confessed all the aforesaid to be most true, without
wood) . . . he confessed all this to be true, without
producing any witnesses to justifie the same; and therupon, before
producing any witnesses to back up his story and
the Kings Majesty, hee subscribed the sayd confessions with his
to this effect he signed his confession with his own hand before the king,
owne hande; which for truth remaineth upon record in Scotland.
which fact remains on record in Scotland.
After the depositions and examinations of the sayd Doctor Fian
After the depositions and examinations of Dr Fian
alias Cuningham was taken, as alreadie is declared, with his own
alias Cunningham were taken, as has already been declared, with his
hand willingly set thereunto, hee was by the maister of the prison
own signature put to them voluntarily, he was put in jail
committed to ward, and appointed to a chamber by himselfe; where,
by the master of the prison and given a cell to himself, where
foresaking his wicked wayes, acknowledging his most ungodly lyfe,
forsaking his wicked ways and acknowledging his most ungodly life
shewing that he had too much folowed the allurements and
he admitted that he had followed the allures and
enticements of Sathan, and fondly practifed his conclusions, by
enticements of Satan too much and enthusiastically practiced the
conjuring, witchcraft, inchantment, sorcerie, and such like, hee
Devil's work by conjuring, witchcraft, enchantment sorcery and such
renounced the Devill and all his wicked workes, vowed to leade the
like. he renounced the Devil and all his wicked works and vowed to
lyfe of a Christian, and seemed newly converted towards God.
lead the life of a Christian - seeming newly converted to God.

Robert Pitcairn, Criminal Trials in Scotland from 1488 to 1596, Edinburgh, 1833.

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