A Halloween Special feature Michelle Leonard @GenealogyLass as James VI as broadcast on Anne's Rock Show at EGH Radio the 30th October 2017.
In keeping with Halloween, tonight’s pick from the past takes a peek into the enduring mystery that surrounds magic and witchcraft. The 16th and 17th centuries saw Europe in the grip of witch hunting mania and it is estimated some 100,000 people, mostly woman tried for the crime of ‘witchcraft’. However, nowhere was it so fervently hunted out than in Scotland. It is perhaps little known that Shakespeare’s the ‘Scottish’ Play was based on real events that took place in 1590 involving the then monarch James VI. Returning to Scotland by sea with his new bride Ann of Denmark the ship encountered a fearful storm that had James fearing for his life. Convinced witchcraft and sorcery was to blame he rounded up some 70 potential perpetrators at North Berwick amongst whom was the Geillis Duncan a healer from Tranent. No doubt the inspiration for Diana Gabaldon’s character of the same name in the Outlander series.
James took a personal interest in the trial and interrogated another woman named Agnes Sampson himself. Agnes confessed she took the Devil “for her maister and reunceit Christ”. It was heard that she and her fellow witches gathered in the churchyard to kiss the Devil’s backside and dug up graves to get finger bones for their spells. In 1597 James published ‘Daemonologie’ a dialogue on the subject in three books which also touched on topics such as werewolves and vampires. From which Michelle Leonard @Genalogy Lass reads the opening lines:
The fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters, hath moved me (beloved reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine (...) to resolve the doubting (...) both that such assaults of Satan are most certainly practised, and that the instrument thereof merits most severely to be punished.
On succeeding Elizabeth 1st in 1603, James was alarmed at the rather more apathetic attitude of his English subjects to the problem of witchcraft and the books were republished twice. They are credited as being the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s play. However, as it was first enacted in 1606 to a house packed with dignitaries and heads of state – could it perhaps have been another tool employed by James to incite fervour amongst his subjects?