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HomeScotlandHomicide, Malice and Misogyny - The Pittenweem Witch Hunt

Homicide, Malice and Misogyny – The Pittenweem Witch Hunt


⚠️Content material warning: This submit comprises particulars concerning the homicide of a girl and consists of graphic descriptions of violence in opposition to girls⚠️

Pittenweem is a little bit fishing village in Fife. In 1704, it turned the centre of rumours that culminated within the lynching of Janet Cornfoot.

These suspected of her homicide have been by no means charged, however the occasions in Pittenweem went down as considered one of Scotland’s most uncommon witch hunts.

A black and white drawing of View of the harbour, Pittenweem

Showing in information in 1228, Pittenweem’s port harboured a thriving fishing fleet, and was dwelling to retailers buying and selling with the Low Nations. This illustration exhibits a view of Pittenweem Harbour from 1840. Zoom in on Canmore

Our story begins when Beatrix Layng visits 16-year-old Patrick Morton, working at his father’s blacksmith store, to ask if he could make her some nails.

When Patrick refuses as he has to finish an pressing job for a ship within the harbour, Beatrix angrily leaves the store, allegedly threatening revenge.

The subsequent morning, Patrick reportedly notices a bucket of water with burning coals subsequent to Beatrix Layng’s home. Upon the invention, Patrick claims he feels weak and turns into sick. He takes this as an indication that Beatrix has cursed him.

Within the following days, Patrick is alleged to start out affected by heavy convulsions and seizures. Native physicians can’t determine a trigger. That is when the hypothesis of witchcraft begins to unfold.

Beatrix already has a repute for being a hard neighbour, which fuels rumours about her supposed involvement with the Satan. She instantly turns into the goal and centre of the witchcraft allegations…

He stated, (s)he stated – Pittenweem’s witchcraft investigations

The native minister, Patrick Cooper, was on a mission to reveal alleged witches, obsessive about uncovering the Satan’s work. When Patrick Morton turned sick and the rumours of a curse began to unfold, the minister started visiting Morton.

Shortly after Morton accused Beatrix Layng of witchcraft, he named a number of accomplices: Isobel Adam, Janet Cornfoot, Nicolas Lawson, Lillie Wallace and Janet Horseburgh. It’s possible he was influenced by the minister, who pressured the boy to make these accusations in opposition to the ladies.

The minister and the authorities swiftly imprisoned the accused within the Pittenweem Tolbooth, neighbouring the parish church. Underneath torturous ordeals led by the minister together with sleep deprivation, beatings and witch pricking, Layng ultimately confessed to working with the Satan and casting spells.

In her confession, Isobel Adam implicated a seventh particular person – Thomas Brown. Thomas was questioned as nicely however by no means confessed to the witchcraft allegations. Nonetheless, he was imprisoned within the Pittenweem Tolbooth and later sadly died of hunger.

A drawn sketch of the 'Parish Church at Pittenweem,.

This sketch from 8 September 1838 exhibits a view of the Pittenweem Parish Church and the Tolbooth Steeple by artist Alexander Archer. Take a better look on Canmore

Beatrix Layng, Isobel Adam, Janet Cornfoot and Nicolas Lawson have been interviewed on 29 Could and confirmed their statements. Janet Horseburgh and Lillie Wallace, nonetheless, maintained their innocence.

Misogyny was an integral a part of the witchcraft investigations and trials on the time. It was a typical perception that girls lacked the willpower of males and have been subsequently simply tempted by the Satan. The intimate, usually violent strategies of detecting a suspected witch and the trials have been usually carried out by male-dominated authorities.

Janet Cornfoot’s tragic escape from Pittenweem

After a number of months in jail, all girls aside from Janet Cornfoot have been both freed or launched after paying a tremendous.

Cornfoot remained within the Pittenweem Tolbooth, in solitary confinement. It’s stated that one of many guards took pity on Janet and put her in a cell with a low window, simply sufficiently small for her to flee.

Black and white drawing of the Tolbooth Steeple of Pittenweem Parish Church

Pittenweem’s Parish Church and its Tolbooth’s steeple is now a class A-listed constructing. However in 1704, this was the place Janet Cornfoot and the opposite accused witches have been held and tortured. Discover our Canmore photographs of Pittenweem Parish Church 

Janet fled from the village, however the style of freedom didn’t final lengthy. She was captured and returned to Pittenweem on 30 January 1705, and dropped at the home of an area bailiff.

Information of Janet’s return travelled quick, and a mob of blood-thirsty villagers fashioned. What occurred subsequent is unclear, as interpretations of those occasions range. In accordance with essentially the most cited account, the villagers entered the home, tortured Janet, tied her up and dragged her to the harbour. On the harbour, they hoisted her up on a rope to stone her.

Ultimately, the rising group of villagers pulled Janet down and lay a door and heavy boulders on her, crushing Janet to dying.

To complete off their murderous spree, the mob drove a horse and cart over her physique to make sure Janet was actually lifeless. Her physique, together with that of Thomas Brown, was thrown right into a communal grave because the minister denied them a Christian burial.

The aftermath

That is the one documented lynching of an accused witch in Fife. The occasions may have been impressed by the Salem witch trials that passed off round ten years earlier than. On the Salem witch trials, urgent was used in opposition to a suspect who wouldn’t confess.

It’s value noting that by the 18th century there was rising scepticism round witchcraft and the brutal strategies authorities had deemed efficient in exposing it. After over a century of witch hunts, the Witchcraft Act was formally repealed in 1736, 30 years after the Pittenweem witch trials.

Following the lynching of Janet Cornfoot, pamphlets within the type of nameless letters begin to flow into. The letters questioned Patrick Morton’s statements and even raised suspicions concerning the minister’s involvement and the therapy of the ladies.

Beatrix Layng, who had left the village, returned to Pittenweem in 1705 and have become a whistle-blower concerning the false allegations. She spoke out about what occurred and the torture the accused had endured, resulting in the ‘confessions’.

Afraid of going through the identical brutalities as Janet, Beatrix requested safety which the Privy Council granted. They ordered the Justice of the Peace to make sure her security. Nonetheless, the Justice of the Peace didn’t comply. They claimed Beatrix could possibly be attacked at evening, with out their information.

The Privy Council later launched an investigation into the homicide and raised accusations in opposition to the Justice of the Peace’s lack of management over the occasions. A number of suspects have been recognized and ordered by the Privy Council to be dropped at the tolbooth in Edinburgh. They have been later launched. Additional investigations fizzled out and nobody was ever charged with the barbaric homicide of Janet Cornfoot.

Who have been the ladies?

Sadly, we don’t know extra concerning the lives of the accused girls and Thomas Brown. We all know that Beatrix Layng was the spouse of a tailor who typically had been the treasurer in Pittenweem. The truth that Layng was capable of attraction to the Privy Council for defense means that she was not completely with out means.

Janet Horseburgh was the spouse of Thomas White who had been an area baillie earlier than he died. She efficiently introduced an motion in opposition to her wrongful imprisonment and acquired a public apology from William Bell, one of many baillies, in 1710.

In his apology Bell conceded wrongdoing and appearing on ‘idle tales’.

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