The Gypsies’ Field of Blood at Romanno, 1677

•March 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

On 1 October, 1677, a ‘battle’ between gypsies took place near Romanno Bridge in Peeblesshire. Five men were later hanged in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket in connection with the battle. Their story then takes a bizarre turn that could almost come straight out of a story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Track near Romanno

Track near Romanno © Colin Kinnear and licensed for reuse.

In the seventeenth century, the Scottish authorities had a hostile attitude towards gypsies. The reign of James VI (1567-1625) was a turning point in what, today, we would call “community relations”. From that time, there were numerous acts of parliament levelled against Gypsies and banishments to the American plantations. The extremely draconian 1609 Act ‘regarding the Egyptians’ is a particularly sobering read. As a result of that long history, discriminatory attitudes about Gypsies/Travellers are ‘fairly widespread’.

In 1677, a dispute between two Gypsy kin groups, the Faws and the Shaws, ended in the killing of ‘Old Sandie Faw, a bold and proper fellow,’ and his pregnant wife at Romanno, and Sandie’s brother being ‘very dangerously wounded’. The Faws, or Faas, Falls etc, were an important gypsy kin group in the eastern Lowlands.


According to the OS name book, under ‘Romanno’:

‘About ½ Mile E.N.E. from Romannobridge A large rectangular building three Storeys high with vegetable garden and offices attached, and surrounded by a small well wooded Demesne … At the S.W. Corner of the garden is a large Elm tree, around which a battle was fought between two tribes of Gipsies Called The Fawes and the Shaws in the year 1683. in which a good many on both sides were Killed.’

Map of Garden at Romanno                 Aerial View of Garden at Romanno

The OS name book also records the ‘Site of AFFRAY between two Parties of Gypsies 1677’ (See map above):

‘Adjoining Dovecot about ¼ of a Mile E. [East] from Romanno Bridge This is where the contest took place between the two clans of Gipsies, the Fawes and the Shawes; It happened on the first of October 1677, and to commemorate the event Doctor Pennicuik erected a Dovecot on the spot where the fight took place, no remains of this Dovecot are to be seen now but the stone bearing the inscription (viz The field of Gipsie blood which here you see. A shelter for the harmless dove shall be) 1683 is still to be seen, it is placed above the Garden door at Romano.’

The historical sources confirm that the ‘battle’ took place in 1677 and that the Doocot was probably erected in 1683.

In the 1680s, the estate at Romanno was owned by Alexander Pennecuik, who wrote about the ‘battle’ in his description of Tweeddale that was probably composed in the 1690s:

‘Upon the first of October 1677, there happened at Romanno, on the very spot where now the Dove-cot is built a memorable Polymachy betwixt two Clans of Gipsies, the Fawes and Shawes; who had Come from Haddington fair, and were going to Harestanes to meet two other Clans of those rogues, the Baillies and Browns, with a resolution to fight them. They fell out at Romanno amongst themselves, about dividing the spoil they had got at Haddington And fought it manfully. Of the Fawes there were four brethren And a brothers son; of the Shawes, the father with three Sons; And Several women on both sides. Old Sandie Faw a bold and proper fellow, with his wife, then with Child, were both Killed dead upon the place; And his brother George, very dangerously wounded. In February 1678 old Robin Shaw, the gipsie, And his three sons, were hanged at the Grass Mercat for the above mentioned murder Committed at Romanno; And John Faw was hanged the Wednesday following for another murder – Sir Archibald Primrose was Justice General at the time; And Sir George McKenzie King’s Advocate.’ (Pennecuik, Works, 179-81.)

In the nineteenth century, Robert Chambers told the following version of the story in his Domestic Annals, which were based on earlier historical sources:

‘Oct. 1. [1677] The Egyptians or gipsies still roamed in a lawless manner over the country, without attracting much notice from the authorities, their conduct being now probably less troublesome than it had been in the reign of King James [VI (d.1625)]. Two bands of these people, the Faws and the Shaws, on their way from Haddington fair to Harestanes, in Peeblesshire, where they expected to meet and fight two other tribes, the Bailies and Browns, fell out among themselves at Romanno about the spoil they had lately acquired, and immediately engaged in battle. ‘Old Sandie Faw, a bold and proper fellow,’ and his wife, then pregnant, were killed on the spot, while his brother George was very dangerously wounded.

[John Murray] The Laird of Romanno apprehended ‘Robert Shaw; Margaret Faw, his spouse; James, Patrick, Alexander, and Thomas Shaws, their sons; and Helen Shaw, their daughter; Robert and John Paws; John Paw younger; Agnes and Isobel Shaws; Isobel Shaw younger; and George Faw, and did commit them prisoners within the Tolbooth of Peebles;’ whence they were speedily removed to Edinburgh to be tried.’

Track from Romanno Bridge to Peebles

Track from Romanno Bridge to Peebles © Chris Heaton and licensed for reuse.

Only archaeological remains of Peebles Tolboorh exist, but it lay on the Brodgegate in Peebles.

Street View of former site of Peebles Tolbooth

Chambers continues:

‘We soon after find the Council despatching a warrant to [Murray] the Laird of Romanno and Mr Patrick Purdie, to send to Edinburgh ‘the money, gold, gold rings, and other things which were upon these persons;’ likewise the weapons with which they had fought. An account of expenses sent by the magistrates of Peebles was disallowed, excepting only £15 Scots (£l, 6s. 8d. sterling) for the sustenance of the company while in jail.—[P[rivy]. C[ouncil]. R[egisters].’

Gallows Edinburgh

The Grassmarket

‘In February [6th] next year [1678], ‘Old Robin Shaw’ and his three sons were hanged in the Grassmarket for this murder, and John Faw was executed in the following week [13 February] for another murder. Two or three years after [i.e., probably in 1683], the [new?] Laird of Romanno— a quaint physician named [Doctor Alexander] Pennecuik [of Romanno (d.1722)], who wrote verses—erected a pigeon-house on the scene of the conflict, with this inscription over the door:

The field of gipsy blood which here you see,
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.
(Chambers, Domestic Annals, II, 388-9.)

Alexander Pennecuik M. D. married Margaret Murray, the heir to the estate of Romanno, in 1676. The full inscription records their marriage by their initials. Pennecuik was a poet and wrote a description of Tweeddale.

When the enclosed garden at Romanno was revisited by the OS in 1964, both the elm and the doocot had vanished. Nearby Romanno House had been demolished in the 1930s:

‘There is no elm tree at the SW corner of the garden nor any remains of a dovecot in the vicinity, but the stone bearing the inscription given by Name Book is now built into the end of the garden wall at NT 1660 4820. Above the inscription are the letters APMD MM. The Name Book entries differ as to the date of this conflict. It is more likely that the battle took place on the 1st October 1677 and the dovecot was erected later in 1683 but nothing could be found to confirm this.’

Is the inscribed stone still in situ? Can it be photographed? Please get in touch.

A Curious Tale
Lord Fountainhall also recorded their execution:

‘6th February 1678.–Four Ægyptians, of the name of Shaw, ware this day hanged, (the father and three sones,) for a slaughter committed by them of one of the Faws, (another tribe of thesse vagabonds, worse than the mendicantes validi mentioned in the Code,) in a drunken squabble made by them in a randevouz they had at Romanno, with a designe to unite their forces against the clans of the Brouns and Bailzies, that ware come over from Ireland, to chasse them back again, that they might not share in their labors; but in their ramble they discorded, and committed the forsaid murder, and sundry of them of both sydes ware apprehended.’

Fountainhall then records a strange twist in the story, the body of the youngest of the Shaws disappeared:

‘Thir four, being throwen all unto one hole digged for them in the Grayfrier churchyard, with their cloaths on, the nixt morning the youngest of the 3 sones, (who was scarce 16,) his body was missed and found to be away.

Some thought, he being last throwen over the ladder [when hanged], and first cut doune, and in full vigor, and no great heap of earth, and lying uppermost, and so not so ready to smother; the fermentation of the blood, and heat of the bodies under him, might cause him rebound and throw of the earth, and recover ere the morning, and steal away; which, if true, he deserved his life, tho the Magistrats or their bourreau deserved a reprimand.

But others, more probably, thought his body was stollen away by some chirurgian or his servant, to make ane anatomicall dissection on, which was criminall to take at their own hand, (vide titulum de sepulchra violato,) since the Magistrates would not have refused it; and I hear the chirurgians affirme the toun of Edinburgh is oblidged to give them a malefactor’s body once a-year for that effect; and it’s usuall in Paris, Leyden, and other places, to give them also some of them that dyes in hospitalls.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 187-8.)

Had the body snatchers struck? Or had young Shaw survived hanging? We do not know.

Fountainhall also captured the conviction and execution of old Robin Faw a few days later. His conviction was not, in Fountainhall’s opinion, sound, and probably indicates how the prejudice against Gypsies at that time led to careless presumptions of guilt, collective punishment and injustice:

‘On the 13 of Februar 1678, one of the Faws, called Robert Faw, being convict of having killed one Young, a caird or tinker in Aberdene, was also hang’d tho the probation was very slender, the witnesses not deponing positively he was the very man; yet it was thought sufficient against such cattle, for the being a knowen Ægyptian is death by our Acts of Parliament. He dyed affirming he was not in the country the tyme of that murder; for they had been tane two years ago peiking, and sent away with the French officers, but returned. The rest of this tribe and band the Justices banished the kingdom, never to returne under the paine of death.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 188.)


For other stange events and wonders in the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Entry of a Witch Finder into Glasgow, Samuel Pepys and the Second Sight

•March 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment


The entry of Janet Douglas, a famed dumb seer and discoverer of witches, into Glasgow in early 1677 led to a wild reception as ‘the people in great numbers ran out to meet her’. Her later reception by ‘vast crowds’ at Edinburgh was even greater. One can only imagine the chaotic and hysterical scenes that followed, as she levelled accusations of witchcraft against several people…

George Hickes

George Hickes

George Hickes, the private chaplain to John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, recorded the arrivals of Douglas and his interview with her when she was imprisoned in Edinburgh in his correspondence with the famous diarist, Samuel Pepys.

Extract of a letter of George Hickes to Samuel Pepys
London 19 June, 1700.

‘At the same time [in 1678?] there was a girl in custody at Edinburgh, whose name was Janet Douglas, about 12 or 13 years of age, famous for the Second Sight, and the Discovery of witches, and their malefices and enchantments thereby. This girl first signalized herself in the Western Islands [probably an error for ‘lands’, as she operated in Renfrewshire in late 1676 and early 1677], where she discovered how one Sir G[eorge]. Maxwell was tormented in effigy by witches. She was not known there where she made this, which was her first discovery, but from thence she came to Glasgow [in early 1677], whither her fame having got before her, the people in great numbers ran out to meet her.

As she was surrounded with the crowds, she called out to one man, a goldsmith, as I remember, and told him that of so long a time he had not thriven in his trade, though he was very diligent in it, because an image was made against him, which he might find in such a corner of his shop; and when the man went home, there he found it where she said it was; and the image was such, both as to matter and form, as she had described it, viz. a little rude image made of clay.

She told another, that he and his wife, who had been a very loving couple, of late had lived in great discord, to the grief and astonishment of them both; and when the man asked the reason, she answered as she did before, that there was an image made against them.’

While she was in Glasgow, a gentleman paid for an interview with Douglas

‘I have forgot whether she named the witches who made those images, as she did those who made that in which they tortured Sir George Maxwell. But by these, and other such discoveries, she made such tumults and commotions among the people of Glasgow, that the magistrates thought fit to confine her, and sent an account of her to the Privy Council at Edinburgh, who sent for her up in custody; but when she came near the city the people went out to meet her in vast crowds, and as she was surrounded with them, she accused several persons of witchcraft, which obliged them to put her in close confinement, to keep the people and their minds quiet from the commotions she had raised in them.

This happened a little before the Duke of Lauderdale went the last time as High Commissioner into Scotland, in May 1678, when I had the honour to attend him as his domestic Chaplain.

Hearing these and many other stories of this girl, I had a desire to see her and discourse with her; but it was some time before I could obtain leave to go to her, because an order had been made in Council, before we came into Scotland, that no one should be admitted to her.

In the interim, upon an invitation by the then Lord Archbishop of Glasgow, Dr. Burnet, of honourable memory, afterwards made Archbishop of St. Andrew’s, I went to see Glasgow, where I had the happiness to meet Dr. Rosse, then Lord Bishop of Argyle, who afterwards succeeded Dr. Burnet in the Archbishoprick of St. Andrew’s, of which he was deprived, with the whole order, soon after the Revolution.

It was from him ]Rose] that I had the stories above related concerning Janet Douglas, with many more which I have forgotten, from her first appearance in the Highlands [actaully Renfrewshire] to her coming to Glasgow. My Lord Archbishop is still living, and if my Lord Reay would please to inquire of him, and many others yet alive, about that girl, he would be able to give you an account of her much more worthy your knowledge than any thing I can now write of her, at so great a distance of time.

One thing I must not omit to tell you,—that in all her marches from Sir George Maxwell’s [in Renfrewshire] to Edinburgh, nobody knew her, nor would she discover to any one who she was.’

Canongate Tolbooth

Edinburgh;s Canongate Tolbooth

‘After I returned from Glasgow, I renewed my petition to my Lord Duke for leave to see Janet Douglas [who was held in the Canongate Tolbooth], which he granted me. My desire of seeing her arose from a great curiosity I had to ask her some questions about the Second Sight, by which she pretended to make all her discoveries.

I took a reverend and learned Divine with me, one Mr. [Robert] Scott, Minister of the Church of the Abbey of Holyrood, now the Palace of the Scottish Kings. [See Scott, Fasti, I, 24.]

When we were first brought to her, I found her as I had heard her described, a girl of very great assurance, undaunted, though surprised at our coming, and suspicious that I was sent to betray her: this made her very shy of conversing with us; but after many and serious protestations on my own part, that I came for no other end but to ask her some questions about the Second Sight to which she pretended, she at last promised she would freely answer me, provided I would use my interest with my Lord High Commissioner [i.e., Lauderdale] to obtain her liberty, upon condition she went into England, never again to appear in Scotland; which I promised to do.

Upon this I began to premise something of the baseness of lying and deceiving, and especially of pretending to false revelations, and the dangerous consequences of such practices, which made all such lying pretenders odious to God and man; and then requiring her in the presence of God to tell me nothing but truth, she promised me with a serious air to tell me nothing but the very truth. I then asked her, if indeed she had the Second Sight, and if by that she knew those things she had discovered: to which she answered in the affirmative.

I then asked her if she thought it proceeded from a good or evil cause; upon which she turned the question upon me, and asked me what I thought of it. I told her plainly, I feared it was from an evil cause; but she replied quickly, she hoped it was from good.

I then asked her if it came upon her by any act of her own, as by saying any words, or performing any actions or ceremonies: to which she replied, No.

I asked her upon this, if she remembered her baptismal vow: but she did not understand my question till I began to explain it; and then with great quickness replied, she remembered it, and called to mind that she had renounced the Devil and all his works: and then I told her, that by the devil was meant Satan, the Prince of Devils, and all evil spirits under him, and asked her if she renounced them all; which she said she did.

Then I asked her if she would renounce them all in a form of words that I had provided; which promising to do, I bid her say after me, which she did in the most serious and emphatical expressions that I was able to devise.

I then asked her if she could say the Lord’s Prayer; she said, Yes: I bid her say it upon her knees, which she did. I then asked her if she ever prayed to God to deliver her from the power of the Devil and all evil spirits; but not answering readily and clearly to that question, I then asked her if she would make such a prayer to God upon her knees, which I had composed for her, which she did without any difficulty.

Then I proceeded to ask her at what distance she saw persons and things by the Second Sight: she replied, at the same distance they were really from her, whether more or less. Then I asked her if the Second Sight came upon her sleeping or waking: she answered, never sleeping, but always when she was awake.

I asked this question, to know whether the Second Sight was by outward representation, which I call apparition, or by inward representation on the theatre of the imagination caused by some spirit; or that I may once more use my own terms for distinction, whether these Second Sight folks were Seers or Visionists, or sometimes one and sometimes the other.

Then I asked her if she was wont to have any trouble, disorder, or consternation of mind, before or after the Second Sight came upon her: to which she answered, never, but was in the same temper at those, as at all other times.

Then I asked her if the Second Sight never left any weariness or faintness upon her, or listlessness to speak, walk, or do any other business: to which she also answered, No; adding, that she was always then as before.

These two answers of hers do not agree with some accounts in my Lord’s Letter, wherein, as I remember, he speaks of one who said he had always perturbation of mind attending the Second Sight; but as to this, there may be a difference, from the different temper of the patients, and the different stock and temper of the animal spirits in them.

This girl, as I have observed before, was of a bold undaunted spirit, and might bear those sights, from what cause soever, without any fear or perturbation, which others of more passive tempers, and a less stock of animal spirits, could not so well endure. There seems to have been this difference among the prophets themselves; whereof some, as we read, received the prophetical influx with great terrors, labour, and consternation, of which they complained when their visions or apparitions were over, and desired of God to be excused from the prophetical influx, and the burthen of it: but of others, we do not read they had any such complaints.

One of the last questions I asked this girl was, if she desired to have the Second Sight taken from her: to which she replied, what God pleased.’

John Maitland Duke of Lauderdale

John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale

‘After I had discoursed with her in this manner, as long as I thought convenient, I returned home, and gave the Duke [of Lauderdale] an account of my conversation, with which he was pleased; and I also told him of my promise to intercede with his Grace for her liberty, upon condition she might go into England: but he said that would not be convenient, for certain reasons.

After receiving which answer, I sent her word I could not obtain her liberty; and so she was shut up all the while we were there, but soon after we came away she was set at liberty.

When I heard of it I made all the inquiry I could what was become of her, and how she came to obtain her liberty; but I could not get any further account of her, which made me suspect that she was the child of some person of honour or quality, for whose sake all things were hushed.

When I was with her, I asked her of her parentage, but she would tell me nothing of it: I also told her how I observed how her words and expressions were of the better sort, and asked, her how she, being a Highlander, and in appearance a poor girl, came to speak so well. To this she artfully replied, by asking me why I should suppose it so difficult for her to learn to express herself well. Indeed, her wit and cunning were both answerable to her assurance, which I told you was very great.

I designed to give a second visit, but my first made so much noise about the town, that it was not thought fit; and I did not press for leave again, because I had reason to believe the denial of her liberty would make her sullen and reserved.

The famous Lord Advocate, Sir George Mackenzie, of immortal memory [and opprobrium among the Covenanters], designed to write her history; but why he did not, I can give no account. People were divided in their opinions of her:—some suspected her for an impostrix: but others, of whom I was one myself, thought that she was really what she pretended; being induced to that opinion from the notoriety of the facts which the most incredulous and suspicious could not deny.’ (Braybrooke (ed.), Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, V, 283-90.)

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Pepys, who had a genuine interest in the second sight, replyed.

Extract of a letter in reply to George Hickes from Samuel Pepys,
Clapham 2 August, 1700.

‘The history of Janet Douglas has many things very singular in it, and informing; especially with the improvement it receives from your own conversation with her, and learned remarks upon it: for which, with your pains and patience in collecting and transcribing them at so great length for my single benefit, and at a season so little admitting the interruption it must have been of to your nearer cares, is an instance of your favour I can never enough acknowledge. It is a great pity Sir Geo. Mackenzie let fall, or was prevented in, his purpose of putting together the whole of that girl’s legend.’ (Braybrooke (ed.), Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, V, 292.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Witch Finder Interviewed in Glasgow in 1677: Satan’s Invisible World Discovered

•March 12, 2015 • 1 Comment

In the summer of 1677, Janet Douglas, a fourteen-year-old ‘dumb girle’ who had been involved in discovering witches, was interviewed, probably in Glasgow Tolbooth, At that time, Douglas was believed to have the second sight. However, the authorities had begun to think that Douglas was ‘a snare for the country’ and that her ongoing discoveries were getting out of hand.


A few years later, an account of the interview was sent to the mathematician, George Sinclair, from ‘a discreet understanding gentle-man who was one of my Scholars at Glasgow several years agoe.’ Sinclair included it in Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, which he published in 1685.

‘A Short Information anent Jennet Douglas.

Edinburgh, Octob: 8th. 1684. For Mr. Sinclar.

When I was at Glasgow in the Summer, 1677. I was desirous to see the Dumb Girle, whom you mention in your first Relation. At my first incoming she declined to entertain discourse, but by friendly expressions, and giving her some money, I gained her.

I first inquired anent her Parentage? I do not remember (says she) of my Parents, but only that I was called by the name of Jennet Douglas by all People who knew me. I was keeped, when I was very young by a poor woman that proved cruel to me, by beating, and abusing me, whereupon I deserted the Womans house, and went a begging.

I enquired next, how she became Dumb? She told me, by reason of a sore swelling she tooke in her Throat and tongue; but afterwards, by the Application of Album Græcum, [a medicine that is said to have been the whitish hardened turds of dogs, wolves etc. from eating bones which when mized with honey was used for sore throats or inflamations,] which I thought said she was revealed to me, I recovered my speech [in April, 1677].

I asked her, how she came to the knowledge of Witches and their practises? She answered, that she had it only by vision, and knew all things as well this way, as if she had been personally present with them, but had no revelation, or information from the voice of any Spirit. Nor had she any communication with the Devil, or any Spirit of that kind: only (sayes she) the Devil was represented to me, when he was in company with any of the Witches, in that same shape and habit he was seen by them.

She told me, she was altogether ignorant of the Principles of Christian Religion, but had some smattering knowledge of the Lords Prayer, which she had heard the Witches repeat (it seems by her vision) in presence of the Devil; and at his desire (which they observed) they added to the word Art, the letter W, which made it run, our father which wart in heaven, and made the third Petition thus, as on earth, so it may in heaven, by which means the Devil made the application of the Prayer to himself.

I remember, that one day, their was a woman in the town who had the curiosity, to give her a visit, who asked her how she came to the knowledge of so many things? But the young Wench shifted her, by asking the Womans name. She told her name. Says the other, are there any other in Glasgow of that name? No sayes the Woman. Then said the Girle, you are a Witch; Says the other, then you are a Devil. The Girle answers, the Devil doth not reveal Witches. But I know you to be one, and I know your practises too. Hereupon the Woman run away in great confusion, being indeed a Person suspected of Witchcraft, and had been some time imprisoned upon that account.

Another Woman, whose name was Campbel had the curiosity likewise to come and see her, and began to ask some questions at her. The Wench shifting to give her an answer, says I pray you tell me, where were you yesternight, and what were you doing? And withall (says she) let me see your arm. She refusing, the Land-Lord, laid hold upon the Woman, with some others of the house, and forced her to make bare her arm, where Jennet Douglas shewed them an invisible mark, which she had gotten from the Devil. The poor Woman much ashamed run home, and a little time after, she came out and told her Neighbours, that what Jennet Douglas had said of her was true, and earnestly entreated them that they would shew so much to the Magistrates, that she might be apprehended, otherwise the Devil (says she) will make me kill my self. But the Neighbours judging her to be under a fit of distraction, carried her home to her house. But early the next morning, the Woman was found drowned in Clyde.

The Girle likewise told me at Glasgow, being then under no restraint, that it was revealed her, she would be carried before the Great Council at Edinburgh, imprisoned there, and scourged thorow the town. All which came to pass: for about a year after she was apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tolbuith of the Canongate, and was brought before the Council. But nothing being found against her, she was dismist. But thereafter for several crimes committed within the town of Edinburgh, she was taken again, and imprisoned, scourged, and sent away to some forrainge Plantation, since which time, I have not heard of her.

There are several other remarkable passages of her which I cannot informe you of, which others perhaps may do, therefore I shall abruptly break off, and say no more, but that I am your affectionat Friend.’ (Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, 203-7.)

What appears ro be the same interview was recorded by the Reverend John Fraser in his Treatise Containing a Description of Deuteroscopia, Commonly Called the Second Sight (1707):

‘I know assuredly that Janet Dowglas, that was first a Dumbie, yet spoke thereafter, who had given many Responses by Signs and Words, and foretold many future events, being examined by Mr Gray one of the Ministers of the City of Glasgow, denyed any explicit or implicit Paction [with the Devil], and declared freely that the answers of the questions proponed to her were represented by a Vision in lively Images, representing persons concerned and acting the thing, before her Eyes; This Master Gray exchanged several Discourses in writ with Sir James Turner, concerning her.’ (Fraser’s text is reproduced in Hunter, Occult Laboratory, 196-7.)

As Hunter points out, ‘Master Gray’ was probably John Gray (d.1729), who after the interview in 1684 became the minister of the Collegiate church in the burgh in 1693 and the Wynd church in 1700. Gray was also probably the ‘discreet gentle-man’ who corresponded with Sinclair, as he had studied at the University of Glasgow. (Scott, Fasti, III, 432, 451.)

For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

‘The Hid Works of Darkness’: The Mysterious Death of John Schaw and the Paisley Witches

•March 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Devils Witches Dance

The Reverend Law attributed many strange events to the hidden works of darkness, i.e., to the works of Devil or his servants, witches. The unearthly death of John Schaw of Bargarran in winter was no exception. Several years after both Schaw’s unexplained death and Law wrote, Christian Schaw, Bargarran’s granddaughter, made accusations which led to the famous case of the Paisley or Renfewshire Witches of 1696 to 1697, the last mass execution of witches in Scotland. The Paisley Witch Trials are the subject of a historical research project, the RWH1697.

The story of the death of John Schaw by ‘works of darkness’, which took place before Christian was born, may have been a significant influence on her and shaped the environment in which she grew up in.

It is not clear when John Schaw died. Law places the case in a winter context and after an event in 1676, roughly around the time of the violent frost, but it is not clear if Schaw’s death took place earlier, at around the same time, or later. The last entry in Law’s narrative is in April, 1684. Christian Schaw was born in c.1685.

Servants played a role in both cases. In the later witch hunt, Christian Schaw was allegedly cursed by a servant that the Devil would haul her soul through Hell. In the story of Bargarran’s death, it was his man, his servant, that left him to his fate.

Other local people also played a part, In Bargarran’s death, they either failed to find his body, or allegedly pursued false claims against Christian’s father. Christian would widen her accusations of witchcraft to others.

Was it revenge? Perhaps not.

Christian was allegedly cast into fits after a servant’s curse and she encountered a witch. The earlier family trauma of her grandfather’s mysterious and gruesome death, according to Law allegedly by dark or Satanic forces, may have prompted fears, or dread, that led to her physical response. For the Schaw family, the Devil’s works may have been tangible and had directly disrupted their home.

Bargarran House

Bargarran House

Law records:

‘I will make known to the reader a very remarkable storie that fell out a few yeirs past, There was a gentleman, John Shaw of Bargarran, in Arskin parish;’


Today, the site of Bargarran House lies below this building in Erskine.

Map of Site of Bargarran

‘he always used to ryd[e] the water of Gryf, which is ‘twixt his house and Paisley, deep and late, and being at Paisley on a nyght, he comes late out of the town to go home, a thing ordinar to him, and it being very dark, he comes to the water syd at the foord, viz. ~Allan’s foord;’

Allans was a farm on the north side of the River Gryfe. Today, the site of the farm is occupied by the Rolls Royce building.

Allans Ford almost certainly lay to the south of the farm, where tracks met at the River Gryfe by an island, or two islands on Roy’s map of the 1750s.

Aerial View of Allans Ford

‘he calls to his man that was riding with him to take the water. His man told him it was full water, and also very dark; he tushes at that, and so put spurr to the horse, in steps he. His man thinking him too adventurous stays behind, waiting to hear what might come of him; when he is mid-water, he hears him groan heavily, but heard no more of him, suspecting he might have won throw; but draws back to the nearest house [Easter Yonderton?], and abydes all night. Meanwhile, Bargarran his horse goes home his alone with brydle and sadle on him, without his master, about 11 or 12 hours at night. His lady and children are amazed at this, and concludes he’s perished in the water.

Betymes in the morning his family and neighbours come to seek him, and not only seek him be the way fra his house to the water, but gets botts and searches all the water down to Clyd, and searches Clyd near to the sea, but found he cannot be; whereupon they give over seeking.

A quarter of yeir after that his body is found near two mylles of the water, and a myle fra his own house, in a ditch at the end of a moor, in the spring tyme, (which ditch gentlemen about declared that in their hunting in the winter they had searched, and found nothing lyke him in it); but that which was remarkable, his ryght hand was cut off; his privie members Were cut off; his cloths and boots no wett, nor any way spoyled; his papers in his pocket all dry; his gold which he used to wear about him are found on him; (among which papers there was a discharge of accompt he had payed to a merchant in Paisley, who, supposing his discharge had been lost with himself in the river, did knavishly suit his son[, John,] for the same count already payed); his hat layed beside him, and his lather-cap upon his head, and the string of his hat about his collar, which was ordinar to him when he ryds in dark nights or windy nights; and his body found als fresh, as if he had been newly dead; at the off-taking of his boots, one of his heels bled. All men were sensible that he was brought to that untymely end and death by the hid works of darkness; but how to make a search after it his relations knew not.’ (Law, Memorialls, 111-112.)

Barochan Moss

Barochan Moss

Schaw’s body was probably found in the vicinity of the eastern side of Barochan Moss, which covered a greater extent in the seventeenth century. Today, the area is largely occupied by the BAE/Royal Ordnance complex at Bishopton.

Map of former site of Barochan Moss

For more wonders of late seventeenth-century Scotland, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

‘Woe to this Land': Visions and Dumb Seers near Glasgow in 1677

•March 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In early 1677, a number of strange signs and apparitions were reported in the Presbyterian heartlands. Some of those visions were probably “witnessed” at ecstatic prayer meetings in the fields. Others were said to have come from the ‘dumb’, that some believed had the gift of the second sight, the ability to see future or distant events:

Female Prophetesses
‘January 1677- There was seen at Kilbryd, near to Glasgow, in a plain, an appearance of two armies, shooting of gunns and fighting on both sides ; the fyre and smock was seen, but without noise and crack. Sic lyk at Easter Calder; on a moor there the lyke was seen, attested by eye-witnesses. – Also about the same time there was an apparition of a man clothed in rid, on a hill above Eastwood-moor, near Glasgow, crying, “Wo, woe to this land!” It’s also remarkable, that in that month there was a dumb man in a hous, at the Wynd Heid of Glasgow, sitting, and on a sudden (he rousing up a man that was sleeping by him,) made, with his staff in his hand, draughts of fighting, shooting of gunns, and sounding of trumpets, saddling of horses, and drawing off boots, and making signs of some great stir, (the lyke a dumb man in Calder, before the rise of the west in the yeir 1666, made signs of a rysing, shooting of gunns and of fighting, and of imprisoning,) attested by famous witnesses.

Siclyke, in February 1677, did the dumb Laird of Duntraith, at Pasely, make signs to some of great troubles and fightings to be in this land in a few months.

These seem to be presages of sad things following, together with the strange revelations made to the foresaid dumb lass [Janet Douglas], in discovering witches, seems to be a presage of great alterations.

In 26th March, 1677, there was seen by some inhabitants of Glasgow, betwixt 11 and 12 at night, great fyres, as if it had been the burning of three corn stacks, on the south side of Clyd, beside Litle Govan, which flamm’d exceedingly; but there was no burning of houses, or stalks, as was found after search, and before that tyme was a dreadful voice heard in the [vacant] Blackfriar Church [on the east side of the High Street near the college and which had burned down in 1666] for severall nights.’ (Law, Memorialls, 128-9.)

Duntreath Castle from West Highland Way

Duntreat Castle from West Highland Way © Lairich Rig and
licensed for reuse.

William Edmonstone, the “Dumb Laird” of Duntreath, was well known for the second sight. Although he was the eldest son, he did not inherit the family titles and estate in Strathblane parish, Stirlingshire, as he was deaf and dumb from birth. He was certainly born before 1630, as a letter of that year records that “the King’s best Doctors” tried to cure him. When he attained maturity, he was supported by an allowance and is said to have lived in a room in the castle. The castle can be seen from the West Highland Way/John Muir Way.

Map of Duntreath Castle                Aerial View of Duntreath Castle

According to one description of him, “he was an exceedingly sightly handsome gentleman as could be seen. He had a great vivacity and quickness of imagination, and a wonderful and amazing apprehension of things; and so great and so strong a memory, that…he seldom or ever forgot any person he had once ever seen.”

The Reverend Law also relates the following story of Edmonstone’s second sight:

‘The Laird of Duntraith, born dumb and deaf, a man devoter sett, one a tyme two of his neighbours falling out at two myles distance fiom him, where he was at present in Duntreath, the one striking the other with a whinger in the arme, he, in the same instant of tyme, makes a sign of it. So at Pa[i]slay, he being there in the year 1676, in December, in the time of the frost [17 to 18 December], there was one of his acquaintance went forth to a water at a good distance fra him upon the ice, and had fallen in; and he, at that instant of time, gave warning of it by a sign.’ (Law, Memorialls, 118.)

For other wonders of late seventeenth-century Scotland, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Great Fire of Glasgow in 1677

•February 27, 2015 • 1 Comment

On the night of November 2 to 3, 1677, a ruinous great fire broke out in Glasgow that burnt out much of the heart of the burgh. What had caused such destruction?

Great Fire Glasgow

The Reverend Law of Easter Kilpatrick parish records that a malicious blacksmith’s apprentice was guilty of the wilful fire raising that sparked the firestorm, but he also thought, as he so often did, that some other mysterious hand or providence was behind it:

‘November 3d, 1677, the fire brake up in Glasgow in the heid of the Salt-mercat, on the right near the cross, which was kyndled by a malicious boy, a smith’s apprentice, who being threttened, or beatt and smittin by his master, in revenge whereof setts his workhouse on fyre in the night tyme, being in the backsides of that fore street, and flyes for it. It was kyndled about one in the morning, and having brunt many in the backsyd, it breaks forth in the fore streets about three of the morning; and then it fyres the street over against it, and in a very short tyme burned down to more than the mids of the Salt-mercat, on both sydes, fore and back houses were all consumed. It did burn also on that syd to the Tron church, and two or three tenaments down on the heid of the Gallowgate. The heat was so great that it fyred the horologe of the tolbooth, (there being some prisoners in it at that tyme, amongst whom the Laird of Carsland [the father of Daniel Ker of Kersland, one of the Society people,] was one, the people brake open the tolbooth doors, and sett them free); the people made it all their work to gett out their goods out of the houses; and there was little done to save houses till ten of the cloke, for it burnt till two hours afternoon. It was a great conflagration, and nothing inferior to that which was in the yeir 1652. The wind changed several tymes. Great was the cry of the poor people, and lamentable to see their confusion.

It was remarkable that a little before that tyme, there was seen a great fyre pass throw these streets in the night tyme, and strange voices heard in some parts of the city.’ (Law, Memorialls, 135.)

What was the ‘great fyre’ passing through the streets beforehand? To whom did the ‘strange voices’ belong? Law did not reveal either what, or whom, he thought lay behind the strange reports he had probably heard from Glasgow, but his tone certainly suggests some kind of malign cause. What malignant force others believed had caused the firestorm probably fuelled the rumour mill on Glasgow’s streets. Those rumours often reflected the fears of the population is uncertain political times and could be politically explosive. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Catholics were said to have deliberately burned down the city. Blaming secret Catholic plots for disasters or mysterious events was the classic scapegoat of late seventeenth-century Britain. Witches, too, were often said to lie behind allegedly malign events, but usually the malice of witches was connected to more personal afflictions like damage to food stuffs, misfortune, illnesses or unexplained deaths.

On 10 November, the town council met, probably amid speculation as to the cause of the fire, to pass resolutions on how to deal with its aftermath. Most of their resolutions were pragmatic. Care was taken that ‘what persones wrought at the fyre’, i.e, fought the fire, were to be given ‘some allowance for their paines’ and ‘to lay doune some fitt way for getting the red of the brunt houssis takin aff the streit’. The council also concluded that ‘a contributioune’ should be ‘collected throw the toune for helping of these who susteined los throw the lait fyre’, sent the provost to Edinburgh to seek assistance and offered to feu ‘the landis of Provand to any persone who hes a mynd to buy the same, …[for] helping the poor people who hes susteined los by the fyre.’

Cynical observers of the dealings of Glasgow’s council may note that the latter, apparently generous, gift of the feu money was also to be used to pay the town’s debts, and that the paying the debts, which doubtless were owed to prominent members of the council, was listed before paying the ‘poor people’. It is not clear if the feu money was forthcoming. Nearly a year later, on 5 October, 1678, John Hamilton, the tenant of the lands of Provan, was ejected:

‘The said magistratis and councell, considering the irregular carriadge of John Hammiltoune, their tennent in Provand, throw his keeping of conventickles, and how the secret counsell is insensed against the toune for sufferring him to doe the samyne, for preventing therfor the danger the toune may sustine, they heirby ordaine John Barnes, their baillie of Provand, to eject and cast the said John Hammiltoune out of the said landis, and to secure his guidis and plenishing, ay and quhill the toune be satisfeit of the rent, and that he bring in the keyes of the tounes hous till the samyne be disposed wpon, and for this effect appoyntis the said John Barnes to tak with him such persones as he thinkis fitt.’

However, back in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the baillies of the town were appointed to ‘tak als[o] [a] pairticular a list as they can of the los susteined by the lait fyre’ for the distribution of money.

The Lord’s Wrath
Like the Reverend Law, the town council also saw another hand in the fire than just that of a blacksmith’s apprentice. For them, it was the visitation of God’s wrath on Glasgow:

‘The magistratis and counsell taking to their serious consideratioune the great impovrishment this burgh is reduced to throw the sad and lamentable wo occasioned by fyre on the secund of November last, that God in his justice heath suffered this burgh to fall under, and lykwayes the most pairt of the said burgh being eyewitnessis twyse to His just punishment, for our iniquities, by this rod which we pray Him to mak ws sensible off, that we may turne from the evill of our wayes to Himselfe, that so His wraith may be averted and we preserved from the lyk in tyme to come;’

God’s wrath was viewed as a justified chastisement for iniquities. It was not the malign force that Law’s account hints at. It was also less socially explosive. Rather than people seeking out imaginary scapegoats and turning on others, the council aimed to atone for the iniquities of Glaswegians.

One iniquity which had to go was building in timber, when it pleased God to put those who had suffered fire damage ‘in ane capacitie and resolutioune to build de novo [i.e., anew], or repair their ruinous houssis’:

‘and becaus such things ar mor incident to burghs and incorporatiounes, by reasone of their joyning housses to housses, and on being inflamed is reddie to inflame ane uther, especiallie being contiguously joyned and reared wp of timber and daill boardis, without so much as their windskew of stone, therfor they out of their dewtie to sie to the preservatioune of their burgh and citie, doe statut and ordaine that quhen it sall pleas God to put any of their nighbouris in ane capacitie and resolutioune to build de novo, or repair their ruinous houssis, not only for their probable securitie but als for decoring the said burgh, that each persone building de novo on the hie streit, or repairing, sall be obleidged and is heirby obleist to doe it by stone work, from heid to foot, bak and foir, without ony timber or daill except in the insett therof, quhilk is understood to be partitions, doors, windowes, presses and such lyk, and this to be done or engadged to befor they be suffered to enter to building;’

Besides building regulations, rules were also introduced to maintain order by preventing disputes arising between the owners of the damaged or destroyed buildings and those whose livelihoods depended on the shops or booths below them.

‘and seing that severall heritouris at present ar not in a capacitie to build, and manye utheris having under boothes and no intrest in the houssis covering them, they being at present ather not fitting to build or unwilling, or may be belonging to minoris, by which they have their chops uncovered, repairing to the magistratis for libertie of covering themselfes the best way they can for present till it sall please God to capacitat the owners to doe the samyne; which desyre the said magistratis and counsell thought bot just; therfor they thought fitt to licence the same to be done be the grund heritouris, they alwayes enacting themselfes to uncover the same againe quhen it sall pleas the super heritour to build, and not to come no further out with the upper structur nor the foir face of the under chops, and to build the samyne with stone, except the toune counsell licence them, quhich they will tak into their consideratioune how far they may without spoyling the broadnes of the streit, they alwayes repairing it with stone in the foir wark by arched pillaris, and how many as the toune counsell, by the advice of architectouris, sall think most convenient, and the magistratis with the deane of gild for the tyme ar to sie the persones presently covering themselfes enacted to uncover their houssis at the rebuilding, and to keep themselfes within the above wryttin limitis excepting as aforsaid, under the penaltie of fourtie pundis starling each under heritour, and if they be full heritouris to rebuild the samyne according to the act of counsell within the time appoynted by act of parliament.’

With the emphasis firmly on economic concerns, rebuilding and addressing fears over owners exploiting the situation, the potential for seeking out scapegoats on the streets was averted. (Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow, III, for the years 1677-1678.)

For more on Glasgow in the 1680s, see here.

For more on Strange Wonders and Portents, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The ‘Most Violent Frost’ of 1676

•February 25, 2015 • 2 Comments

Winter Crows

The Reverend Law of Easter Kilpatrick parish near Dumbarton liked mysterious portents and events. Under 1676, he records the ‘most violent frost’ anyone could remember in Scotland:

‘In the year 1676, the 17th, 18th dayes of December, there was a most violent frost both before and behind them; but these so violent, as the most aged never remembred the lyke. The birds fell down fra the air dead; the ravens died; the ratts in numbers found deid; all liquors friezed; the strongest aile, the urine in the chamber-potts, yea, the distilled waters of apothecars in warm rooms friezed in wholl, and the glasses broke.’ (Law, Memorialls, 107.)

For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.