Monday 28 October 2019

Orkney Witchcraft Trial Source Books and Archives

The archive sources listed below are from the collections of Orkney historians and archivists of the past. Without the dedication of these people, the following items would not have been saved.  
The published sources in the Orkney Room have been collected for this room by all our Librarians of the past and present. Many thanks to them too.
We owe all of these people a huge debt of gratitude. All archive and published sources mentioned below are available to see in the Orkney Library and Archive.

Orkney Council Records Collection (Reference CO1)

An entry in the Commissioners of Supply minute book of 1669. The Commissioners of Supply were first established in 1667 for collecting the cess or national land tax. The commissioners were landowners charged with collecting the tax from their fellow landowners. But they also acquired duties which ranged beyond the collection of land tax and with the justices of the peace were responsible for county roads, bridges and ferries.
CO1/1/1 - Orkney Commissioners of Supply minute book, 1660-1678 

Item 6 on the above page reads:
"to procure a warrand from the Counsill to the Justicia and Justices of his Maj[es]ties Pease; for putting of Witches and Incestuous persons to a Triall."
Item 6

Ernest Walker Marwick Collection (D31)

Ernest W Marwick (1915-1977), was an author, journalist, broadcaster, historian and folklorist. He researched and collected a large amount of information on those who were accused of witchcraft in Orkney. Here is an image summing up his findings in a single page.

Summary Sheet (Reference: D31/4/3)
His subsequent article Northern Witches was published in the book "An Orkney Anthology" in 1981 and is available to see in the Orkney Room under reference 800 Y MAR

Cover of "An Orkney Anthology"
Beginning of article Northern Witches from pages 333-383 in An Orkney Anthology

About book and the author
A scribbled note from the Ernest Marwick Collection refers to Peterkin's Rentals of Orkney which lists some women as witches in the rental of 1595. This book can be seen in the Orkney Room under reference number  333 Y. The last one in the list says "Jonet of Cara quha was brunt for witchcraft" (Janet of Cara who was burnt for witchcraft).
Extract from EWM Collection Ref: D31/52/6/2

Extracted references from
Peterkin's Rental 1595
A list typed by Ernest Marwick of 8 questions put to Barbara Boundie led me to the original Orkney Presbytery minute book entry of 1643 in which all ten questions put to her can be read. The handwriting shown in this presbytery book on page 256 is surprisingly legible for the time period.

Typed list of questions (Reference: D31/1/5/15)

Original presbytery minute book (Reference: OCR/4/1)

Albert Thomson's Collection (D66)
Albert Thomson was curator of St Magnus Cathedral for 32 years from 1946 until his retirement in 1978. His collection is made up of archive items collected by him and notes made by him. This is a single page original document of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1679.
Evidence from John Mowatt and John Flett against Margaret Sclater,
accusing her of witchcraft, Firth Parish 1679. (Ref: D66/1/19)
This is a transcription presumably by Mr Thomson himself. (Ref: D66/1/19)
 Published Sources in the Orkney Room
Abbotsford Club Miscellany Trials for Witchcraft, Sorcery and Superstition in Orkney contains:
The trial of Marable Couper for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1624
The trial of Annie Tailzeour [Taylor] alias Rwna Rowa for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1624
Examination of the Charges of Witchcraft and Sorcery against Marione Richart or Layland before the Kirk Session of Sanday, 1633. The trial of Marione Richart, alias Layland for witchcraft, sorcery and divination, 1633.
The trial of Katherine Craigie, alias Estquoy, for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1640. Second trial of Katherine Craigie, 1643.
[Orkney Room Reference 133.4Y]

SC11 - Orkney Sheriff Court Records
The Sheriff was a royal official appointed to help the monarch establish control in the localities. Sheriff performed a wide variety of duties, administrative, financial, military as well as judicial. Judicially, the sheriffs dealt with both civil and criminal cases and appeals as well as first time cases. Our collection is held in the Orkney Archive under Charge and Superintendence from the National Records of Scotland.

SC11/5 - Civil Court Processes

SC11/5/1646/010 - Janet/Jonet Rendall in Rigga. Indicted for Witchcraft in 1646
SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 1

SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 2

SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 3
The indictment of Jonet Rendall in Rigga, in the parish of Rendall is catalogued as part of the Civil Court Processes Collection. Unfortunately a transcription for this document is not in the Orkney Archive collections. It is also extremely fragile.

[Update: The Orkney Archive Palaeography Group took on the task of transcribing the above document. We went home having successfully transcribed 27 lines. Two of us came back to the Group with the discovery that this document has been transcribed before. Two sources have it: one Kirkwall in the Orkneys  by Hossack on pp256-258; and the other County Folklore Vol. III Orkney & Shetland Islands collected by G F Black (Facsimile Edition) on pp103-108. Both published transcriptions have the document dated 1629 and as part of the 1629 trial of Janet/Jonet Rendall of Rigga in the parish of Rendall. So, we have not discovered a "new" victim of the witchcraft trials, but we have reversed some incorrect cataloguing. The new reference number for this document is SC11/5/1629/41. We are also looking into getting the document some professional tlc.]

SC11/79 Miscellanea - Transcripts of documents deposited in H. M. Register House (Now National Records of Scotland) by George H. M. Thoms, Sheriff of Orkney and Shetland from 1870-1903.

SC11/79/1 - In this book is a transcript of Katherine Grieve's trial from 1633 and also the trial of Janet Rendall of Rigga from 1629 (first three pages shown below). The indictment document mentioned above is not transcribed here.

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 271

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 272

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 273
Joseph Storer Clouston Collection [D23]
J. Storer Cluston OBE, FSA Scot, JP 1870-1944, was a novelist, historian, antiquarian and chairman of the Orkney Antiquarian Society. He wrote "A History of Orkney" in 1932.
D23/14/8 - Indictment for "witchcraft, sorcerie and divining" of Helen Isbister, vagabond, 1635. There is no transcription available for this document in the Orkney Archive. It is written in Secretary Script which uses difference letter forms than we use now. A useful source for learning to read this script is the Scottish Handwriting website.
D23/14/8 - Indictment of Helen Isbister, page 1

D23/4/8 - Indictment for Helen Isbister, page 2

D23/14/8 - Indictment for Helen Isbister, page 3
John Mooney Collection [D49]
John Mooney, 1862-1950, was a reporter on the 'Orkney and Shetland Telegraph' for a brief time, then in 1884 joined R. Garden Ltd, general merchant. He was a keen historian and a founder member of the Orkney Antiquarian Society. He published various publications concerning the history of Orkney.

D49/3/12 - A reference in John Mooney's collection leads to a single page entry in the 1913 Peace's Almanac regarding Katherine Grieve.

D49/3/12 Katherine Grieve, an Evie Witch p152-153
A set of Peace's Almanacs from 1868-1940 is available to see in the Orkney Room stored with the Periodicals under reference 914.1 YZ.
Published Sources in the Orkney Room
County Folklore Volume III - Orkney and Shetland Islands - Contains the Trial of Janet Forsyth accused of witchcraft. [Orkney Room Reference 390 YZ]
Witch Stories - A collection of stories about witches and witchcraft in Scotland. Contains references to Orkney witches Margaret Balfour, Alison Balfour, Katherine Grant, Marion Richart, Elspeth Cursiter, Janet Rendall, Janet Forsyth, Katherine Grieve, John Sinclair, Bessie Skebister, Catherine Craigie, James Knarston, Marion Comloquoy and Catherine Taylor. [Orkney Room Reference 398]
The Darker Superstitions of Scotland - includes many references to Orkney witches and witchcraft. Alison Balfour, Margaret Balfour, Katherine Bigland, Katherine Caray, David Comloquoy, Marion Comloquoy, Thomas Corse, Marable Couper, Katherine Craigie, Elspeth Cursiter, James Daill, John Faw, Janet Forsyth, Christian Gow, Katherine Grant, William Gude, James Hourston, Helen Hunter, Janet Irving, Helen Isbister, Alexander Knarston, Cirstane Leask, Oliver Leask, Magnus Linay, Christian Marwick, John Master, Katherine Miller, Janet Rendall, Elspeth Reoch, Marion Richart, Margaret Sandison, Geillis Sclater, Agnes Scottie, William Scottie, Isobel Sinclair, Janet Sinclair, John Sinclair, Bessie Skebister, Annie Taylor, Janet Thomson, Agnes Tulloch and Helen Wallis. [Orkney Room Reference 398]

Other Published Sources in the Orkney Room
133.4: General Scottish books
which mention Orkney witches and witchcraft trials
133.4 Y: Specific Orkney books
which are mainly about Orkney witches and witchcraft trials.
398 and 390 YZ: Folklore books which include stories
about Orkney and Shetland witches.

This is a selection of the sources available on this subject, not our complete list, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what we have.

This list was requested by the group dedicated to unveiling a memorial to the victims of the Orkney witchcraft trials. On 30 October 2018 they held a creative day to gather items to add to a time capsule which was to be buried underneath the memorial. On 9th March 2019 they successfully unveiled the memorial at Gallowha in Kirkwall where many of the victims were executed. More information can be found here.