Key figures in the North Berwick witch-hunt


Gilly Duncan

  • First person to confess
  • Reputed to have unnatural healing abilities
  • Visited the sick and disabled 
  • When miracle recoveries were made people thought supernatural forces were to blame 
  • Interrogated and tortured by David Seaton
  • She confessed
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Anne of Denmark

  • Married James by proxy
  • Her three attempts to set sail for Scotland were set back by storms 
  • Blamed on witchcraft
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James I

  • Travelled to Denmark and met scientists, philosophers and astronomers, e.g. Tycho Brahe 
  • Met with theologian Niels Hemmingsen with whom he discussed Calvansim 
  • Met with courtiers who held beliefs in group witch trials 
  • Journey back to Scotland was perilous and this strengthened his belief in witches
  • Took a personal interest in witchcraft cases
  • He grew up in a highly religious environment 
  • Agnes Sampson's confession took his interest
  • Approved of torture
  • Produced Daemonologie 
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Anna Koldings

  • Tortured and interrogated
  • Gave up five other names including the wife of the borgmaster of Copenhagen
  • Confessed to raising a storm to sink Anne's ship and sending demons
  • Burned at the stake with at least 12 other women
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Agnes Sampson

  • Long standing reputation as a midwife, healer and cunning woman
  • Fit description of typical suspect
  • Interrogated and examined by James
  • Subject to witch's bridle, cords around limbs and was kept awake 
  • Gave calm and logical answers
  • Confessed
  • Repeated the exact words passed between Anne and James on wedding night
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John Fian

  • Arrested with 20 counts of witchcraft
  • Subject to torture, e.g. needles driven under his fingernails
  • Refusal to confess made interrogators more enthusiastic because they believed the devil was entrenched in his soul
  • Account recalled in Newes from Scotland
  • Easy target as a schoolmaster who conducted affairs with married women
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Earl of Bothwell

  • First cousin of James
  • Joined Privy council and was Lord High Admiral of Scotland
  • Became involved in criminal cases and plots, e.g was found guilty of treason
  • Bothwell had suggested James make the journey to meet Anne himself, he was then caught in storms
  • Found guilty of witchcraft but was given an official pardon
  • James feared his growing political influence and withdrew his pardon
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