[ Bird cawing ] -Scotland, 1591.
A woman is about to be executed.
She is a witch.
-Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.
-She's been interrogated and tortured, and now she'll be strangled and burnt at the stake.
This woman met her death a century before the notorious witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts.
I want to know how her execution sparked terrifying witch hunts across Britain and America, leading to the death of thousands more like her.
-The ungodly are not so!
♪♪ In this series, I'm reinvestigating some of the most dramatic and brutal chapters in British history.
♪♪ It wasn't just one generation.
It was three generations losing their lives, bam, bam, bam.
These stories are epic and legendary, and they all have fascinating mysteries at their heart.
It's chilling to think that this could actually be evidence in a murder investigation.
I want to look at them from a fresh and modern perspective to see if I can unlock their secrets.
♪♪ It's a horrible psychosexual form of torture, isn't it?
-By uncovering forgotten witnesses, reexamining old evidence, and following new clues, can I get closer to the truth?
-It is one of the great British mysteries.
-It was one of those moments, I'm afraid, for a historian, that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
[ Bird cawing ] ♪♪ -"Lucy Worsley Investigates" was made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
[ Thunder rumbling ] ♪♪ -Today when we think about witches, we think about old hags with pointy hats and broomsticks and black cats.
But witches have a history that's long, sinister, and very real.
400 years ago, thousands of ordinary women were tortured and executed in witch hunts.
I want to know who these women were and why they were killed.
♪♪ This story begins 400 years ago in Scotland, near Edinburgh, in a small seaside town called North Berwick.
What happened here would start a craze for witch hunting that would spread across the country and to North America.
I'm heading to the scene of the crime, the Old Kirk, or church, of St Andrew.
Though it looks a bit like a small hut.
♪♪ Today, this is all that remains of a once-sizable church.
And it was here one night in October 1590 that a group of witches supposedly gathered.
♪♪ What a great place for a witches' meeting, right on the edge of the sea with a huge, craggy, devilish looking rock in the background.
In 16th century Britain, everyone believed in witchcraft.
This was the story told about what supposedly happened here.
"On the night of All Hallow --" That means Halloween, the perfect time for some witchy business... ♪♪ [ Women singing indistinctly ] ...there were a great many witches to the number of 200.
And it says that they had flagons of wine, they were making merry and drinking, and that they were singing all with one voice.
♪♪ The story goes that the devil was here.
[ Distorted singing ] And these witches were concocting dangerous spells.
♪♪ [ Women singing indistinctly ] They took a cat and christened it and afterward bound to each part of that cat the chiefest parts of a dead man.
And the said cat was put in the sea.
And then there did arise such a tempest in the sea as a greater hath not been seen.
[ Thunder crashes ] This storm had been conjured for one purpose -- to kill the king of Scotland.
♪♪ James VI had been returning by ship from Denmark and was lucky to survive.
It all sounds absolutely bonkers.
[ Laughs ] But it all, uh...
It makes a crazy sort of sense.
This is exactly the sort of thing that witches are supposed to do, isn't it?
They're supposed to play around with corpses and cats.
Witches are supposed to be able to control the weather.
It's one of their powers.
♪♪ It might sound like a fairy tale, but what happened here set off a devastating chain of events.
Dozens were executed for this alleged plot, and it triggered a century of persecution across the British Isles and beyond.
Thousands more would be killed for the crime of witchcraft, some of them men, the majority women.
♪♪ [ Bell tolling ] To understand why this story had such impact, I want to see the original text for myself.
It's held here at the University of Glasgow archives.
It's a pamphlet printed in London called "Newes from Scotland," and it gives a full account of this plot against the king and the trial of those held responsible.
Only a very few of these pamphlets survive.
♪♪ This little book is more than 400 years old.
It's an account and quite -- in fact, it's quite a sensational, tabloid-y account of the first major witch hunt in Scotland.
It was written in 1591, shortly after the events it describes.
I-I have picked up many, many old books, and it never gets old.
It's a pleasure every single time.
You can't open it too wide.
Don't want it to snap.
Here's a little summary.
It's "a true discourse of the apprehension of sundry witches lately taken in Scotland, whereof some --" whew -- "are executed, and some are yet imprisoned."
♪♪ These must be the witches.
They're all bustling along in a sort of girl gang.
And it's pretty clear that they are witches, because here is the devil.
He's in a pulpit.
He's making a sermon like a priest would do.
But he's the flipped image of a priest.
He is, in fact, the devil.
And these witches here at the top, they are working magic with their cauldron.
They have cooked up a storm that has destroyed His Majesty's ship.
You can see it's been wrecked.
People are falling into the waves.
And these are the witches who disrupted the king's journey back from Denmark.
♪♪ This pamphlet was commissioned by King James himself.
It was distributed in England to tell the story of his triumph against the witches' wicked plot.
It's clearly designed to be dramatic.
Mm, so, this is quite emotive language here.
They're not just witches.
They are wicked and detestable witches.
They had seduced by their sorcery a number of others to be as bad as themselves.
So, this is a problem.
The number of witches in Scotland is growing.
There are more and more of them every day.
We should be very afraid.
The author tells us that God hath lately overthrown and hindered the intentions and wicked dealings of a great number of ungodly creatures no better than devils.
"Newes from Scotland" paints witches as a serious threat to order and stability and the witch hunt as the necessary means by which the godly can prevail.
But why was the Scottish king so eager to tell the English about his triumph over evil?
♪♪ Son of the infamous Mary Queen of Scots, he became king at a time of great change in politics and religion.
The Reformation was sweeping across Europe, as Protestants rejected the Pope's authority and centuries of Catholicism.
Here in Scotland, James was the figurehead for this new Protestant church, but he also had his eye on the English throne.
Queen Elizabeth I was getting older.
She had no children.
James was positioning himself as a strong and godly ruler, as a worthy successor to the crown of England.
♪♪ I wonder if the Scottish King's desire for the English throne played a part in the ramping up of a war against witches.
I want to find out more about him.
So I'm meeting an expert at Edinburgh's National Portrait Gallery.
-James has just turned 24.
He's already had two decades of his reign, and a very turbulent reign it has been.
Remember, he's still quite a young king, sort of dealing with noble factions and quarrels, and he doesn't have the all-important heir.
-So, am I right that in 1590, James has just got married?
-Yes, he's just got married to Anna of Denmark.
She's just a teenager.
She is his new bride.
And of course, now James has the hope that they're going to have children, they're going to produce heirs.
-But there have been a few problems in getting her from Denmark to Scotland, haven't there?
-Anna's meant to be coming to Scotland, but there are these terrible storms, and her ship springs a leak, and the admiral in charge of the fleet says, "No, we have to turn back."
And James makes a decision.
"I'm going to go to Anna."
Originally, he's driven back by storms.
He has to go back into one of the five ports and then try again.
But eventually, they make it through, but he's had to leave his country.
I mean, okay, he has taken a lot of his nobles and gentlemen with him, where he can keep an eye on them, but he has had to leave Scotland.
-It's a risk.
-So these storms, this business of the weather in the North Sea, is psychologically onerous to him.
It's more than inconvenient.
He's had to take risks to his personal safety to overcome it.
And remember, we've only James.
There's no heir.
If James goes down with the ship.
Scotland is plunged into chaos.
-Louise, how familiar do you think James was with the idea of witches and witchcraft?
-Witchcraft has been around in Scotland from before the Reformation.
The important thing is that people believed that witchcraft is real.
And it's also about living in a providential world where you believe God is looking over everything.
So if the king is godly, then God blesses him.
God blesses his rule.
God blesses his country and people.
Now, if you annoy God by letting sinners like witches go unpunished, well, that's when God might visit your country with famines and plagues and losses in battle.
So, you know, to show you're a good, strong king, you must show you're a godly king upholding God's law and especially against the enemies of God, the witches.
-I think King James had found a way to show the English he would be a righteous and godly king, by winning a face-off with witches.
That pamphlet, "Newes from Scotland," was clearly good spin for James.
But who were the real women from North Berwick in rural Scotland who were branded as witches, strangled, and burnt at the stake?
♪♪ I want to find these women, but it won't be easy.
They would have been illiterate and left no writing of their own.
And many documents from the witch trials have been lost.
This book is a history of King James VI.
It was written in his lifetime, and there's a whole section in it about witches.
And there should be a reference to the very first woman to be executed in the North Berwick witch hunt.
And here, I think -- Yes -- is her name.
♪♪ Agnes Sampson, "grace wyff."
That means midwife.
♪♪ Somebody who brings you God's grace when you're giving birth.
♪♪ And it says "alias callit," which means "otherwise called," "the wyse wyff of Keyth."
That means a wise woman, a-a folk healer, somebody with slightly mysterious powers.
And it looks like she's from Keyth.
♪♪ So how on earth did Agnes Sampson, midwife and folk healer, get caught up in this brutal witch hunt?
[ Baby coos ] ♪♪ The answer could lie in the role she played in her community and in the tools of her trade.
Hidden away in the storerooms of the National Museum of Scotland is a unique collection of everyday objects with magical powers.
♪♪ -Well, what we have here is a selection of some of our large collection of charms and amulets which are reputed to have superstitious powers.
So, these were objects put to protect you, and they are also curative.
-So, what sort of a world are we looking into here, then?
One where people probably believed in God but also believed in a load of other sorts of supernatural powers?
We have religious belief, belief in God, that is able to coexist in their mind quite happily with the supernatural, so, a belief in fairies, malevolent elves, evil witches.
-What's this neat, little black one that looks like a Christmas pudding tied up with a ribbon?
-This is a seed pod... -Oh, is it?
-...that's come all the way possibly from the Caribbean.
And it's floated on the Gulf Stream.
So, local people, ordinary people, would pick them up off the beaches and use these to help them during childbirth.
And as a result, they are called Mary's Nut.
-Yes, or St. Mary's Nut.
So it's really Mother Mary's protection in childbirth.
So it's that combination of a religious belief allied to something that is more of a folk belief and a superstitious belief.
-And is it the sort of thing that you'd lend to your friend when she was pregnant?
-Yeah, I think you could.
-And then pass it on?
But you'd probably want your own one anyway, 'cause you're probably giving birth quite a lot.
-Oh, many times.
A lot of -- A lot of use for the Mary's Nuts.
-This one catches my eye.
-Well, this little cross is a wonderful example of something everyday that anyone could have owned.
It's made from rowan, and the rowan tree is supposed to be protective against evil spirit.
So you might just carry this.
You could have it on your person, or you could have it under your pillow.
-And you planted rowan trees in your gardens to keep away the evil spirits.
-So, how does a folk healer fit into this world of the amulets and the charms?
-So, you'll have had these as your everyday item for everyday protection.
And you would bring in someone like a healer, a wise woman, when something has gone really badly wrong.
She will have had knowledge of herbs and so on like a homeopath today.
But they're also presumed to have magical powers.
-This sounds like witchcraft.
What's the difference between folk healing and witchery?
-The witch is living within the community and associated with evil things, evil spirits, nasty things happening -- disease, crops failing.
The folk healer is associated with good things.
-So, the folk healer is on your side, and the witch is against you.
Indeed, she's a witch buster, because she's associated with getting rid of those evil spirits.
♪♪ -As a midwife and healer, Agnes would have been important to her community.
♪♪ But she'd have walked a fine line between helping people and being blamed when things went wrong.
♪♪ ♪♪ It makes me wonder what triggered the first accusation against Agnes.
The pamphlet "Newes from Scotland" says a servant girl called Geillis Duncane was the first to say that Agnes was a witch.
But I can't find any evidence to back that up.
What I have uncovered is this document describing a church leaders' meeting.
15th of September, 1589.
The minutes at the synod say they've ordered the Presbytery of Haddington -- That's the local church committee in Haddington -- to summon before them Agnes Sampson, suspected of witchcraft.
So here it is in black and white.
On the 15th of September, 1589, we have the first reference to Agnes Sampson in connection with witchcraft.
♪♪ So Agnes is under suspicion, and church leaders want to question her.
And all this happened a year before the North Berwick trial.
♪♪ By this time, the Scottish Church was in the hands of radical Protestant reformers who'd been led by John Knox.
Knox had wanted to create a new godly state based on the pure message of the Bible, obedience and discipline, ushering in a new age of religious puritanism in Scotland.
[ Bird caws ] ♪♪ This is St Mary's Church in Haddington.
North Berwick and Agnes' village both came under its jurisdiction.
The Protestant elders of this church were keeping a close watch on suspected witch Agnes.
♪♪ And this church was also at the forefront of religious change sweeping the country.
Will you be Stewart?
-Hello, I'm Stewart.
-It's really nice to meet you, Stewart.
-Nice to meet you.
Welcome to St Mary's.
-Thank you for having me.
-Not at all.
-Now, I know -- Every historian knows -- that in the 16th century, the big thing that happens in Scotland is the Reformation, which is led by John Knox.
He's -- He's a Haddington boy, isn't he?
-Well, John Knox was born about 200 yards from where we're standing on the other side of the river.
And he was almost certainly baptized in this church.
So, this church -- Well, he was baptized here.
This is right at the cutting edge of the Reformation, then, this place.
And how would you characterize this -- this Scottish Reformation religion that John Knox was keen on?
-'Course, it was a much simpler, stricter, and very -- in some ways, very harsh religion.
-So, what kind of behavior did the Reformed Scottish Church disapprove of?
-What we might describe as frivolous behavior -- singing, dancing, drinking, and of course fornication.
You could be called up in front of the congregation if you're misbehaving in some way.
-And that's because the devil is just around the corner, and your soul is at risk of eternal damnation if you step out of line.
-And John Knox didn't approve of women, did he?
-Well, he didn't approve of women being in positions of authority.
So, if the new church did not like to have women in positions of authority, someone like Agnes, who was a wise woman, who had the trust of the community, do you think maybe they felt threatened by that?
-That's quite possible, yes.
[ Bell tolls ] -I wonder if Agnes was aware that she was being watched by the church as she went about her business as a midwife and a healer.
It's starting to look like there's no place in this new Protestant order for women like her.
She is a woman in a position of authority.
She's got this power of healing.
People in the community trust her, need her, look up to her.
Do the church authorities feel a bit threatened by that?
[ Bell tolls ] Agnes' fate now lay in the hands of these fervent Protestants.
And these religious leaders were absorbing new ideas circulating in Europe about the nature of witchcraft and how to deal with it.
They were laid out in a book written by two German Catholic theologians in the 15th century.
This is a direct translation of a text that's more than 500 years old.
It's called "Malleus Maleficarum," "The Hammer of Witches."
And it's a sort of a manual of how to spot a witch and what sort of things they're going to get up to.
Demonology books like this made it clear the devil was specifically recruiting women to do his evil bidding.
"Why is it that more witches are female than men?"
I'm quite interested in what they're going to say about that.
Well, it's basically because of the wickedness of women, as spoken of in the Bible.
"In Ecclesiasticus 25 -- There is no wrath above the wrath of a woman.
I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep house with a wicked woman."
[ Woman moaning, echoing ] "All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable."
And that's why the devil's able to recruit them more easily.
They're so desperate to fill their wombs that they will consort even with devils.
You know, if there aren't enough men to go around, devils will do.
The witches meet together in conclave on a set day.
And the devil appears to them in the assumed body of a man.
And he says to them, "Look, if you have sex with me, ladies, I will give you long life."
That is the deal.
And this witch is showing her allegiance to the devil by kissing his backside.
[ Laughs ] Oh, dear.
What has surprised me reading through this book -- And I really wasn't aware of this -- was just how much witchcraft and sex seem to be mixed up together.
Fear about sexual matters and the lust of women seems to be absolutely fundamental.
♪♪ So, poor Agnes.
She's had the bad luck to be born at a really bad time.
It's like the end of days.
In the 16th century, everybody gets utterly obsessed with the devil.
People now genuinely believe that witches are largely female, that they gather in groups, that they have this kinky sexual pact with the devil, and that their number is growing.
More and more witches are being recruited.
So what are the authorities going to do to deal with these wicked women?
♪♪ For centuries, accusations of witchcraft had largely been settled within the local community.
But if these witches were the devil's agents, the authorities had to do something and crack down.
♪♪ Well, this is the Scottish Witchcraft Act.
So, this act was drawn up by Scotland's Protestant reformers.
John Knox may even have had a hand in it.
It is statute and ordained that no manner of person or persons of whatever estate, degree, or condition is to use any manner of witchcraft.
And if you do do that, they'll be under pain of death.
It actually says under the pain of "deid," but that means death.
You will be killed.
It has become a capital offense for the first time.
So the Act is really clear that the whole weight of the law is going to come down on anybody doing witchcraft.
♪♪ But there's a -- It seems to me there's a huge problem here.
It doesn't actually say what witchcraft is.
So witchcraft is open to interpretation, and that means the law is open to interpretation, and that seems to me to be very dangerous.
What the Witchcraft Act provided was a legal framework for the prosecution of witches.
Now if enough evidence could be gathered, a suspected witch could be tried in the courts and sentenced to death.
♪♪ By autumn 1519, the church elders in Haddington had been investigating and building a case against Agnes for more than a year.
I'm told that very few witch trial documents still exist, but remarkably, Agnes' have survived.
I can't access the originals in the National Records of Scotland, but the history center in Haddington has a copy.
Incredibly, they include detailed transcripts of the evidence against Agnes.
It says here, "Here follows the articles of her Dittay, whereof she was convicted, by number, 53."
Now, a Dittay -- It's from the French, Dittay meaning "said."
These are the things that were said against her, and there were 53 charges.
That's quite a lot, isn't it?
Here, she's charged with using of witchcraft in healing of John Thomson in Dirletoune, who remained -- Oh, I see what she's done.
She's -- She used witchcraft to heal John Thomson.
But he remained crippled -- that's crippled -- notwithstanding thereof.
I can see that if you'd booked Agnes to heal you, and then it failed, then he'd want his money back, wouldn't he?
You might be so cross that you reported her to the authorities.
Let's have a look at this one.
Item, for coming to Bessie Aitkenhead and using her prayer and devilish charms for the recovering of her health to her.
Well, here's someone who's pleased.
Bessie -- Bessie Aitkenhead has been cured.
So, when I look at the list of people who've been either cured or not cured by Agnes, it's a bit confusing, 'cause you can't see what the problem is.
She's sort of going about her business as a healer.
But perhaps the problem is that this old, traditional way of doing things, of healing people, has now become suspicious, because people are increasingly worried about witches.
There's a lot of talk here about witchcraft and prayers to the devil.
I mean, I cannot know whether all of these people who were Agnes' clients, whether they really said these things, or were these important people who were determined to catch a witch, were they taking the evidence and twisting it and putting on this whole witchy layer?
I can't rely on this document for hard facts, but it does offer a tantalizing glimpse of Agnes herself.
We're told that she's a widow and has children and that she learned her folk healing skills from her father.
So I love the way that, hidden within this formal document written by men who had it in for Agnes, we're actually meeting the real person.
And then here, now, this is really extraordinary, because this is just what you don't normally get.
You do not normally get the recorded words of somebody living in a tiny village in remote Scotland in the 1590s.
That's not somebody that we normally hear from in history.
But here we do, because recorded here, are the words to Agnes' prayer to her patients for life or death.
"All kinds of ills that ever may be, in Christ's name, I conjure thee.
I conjure thee both more..." -I conjure thee both more and less with all the virtues of the mass.
And right so the nails sore that nailed Jesus and no more.
And right so the same blood that reeked o'er the ruthful rood.
Forth of the flesh and forth of the bone and in the earth and in the stone, I conjure thee in God's name.
-These are supposed to be her very words.
It's like she's speaking to us.
♪♪ It gives a wonderful, tingly feeling.
This is -- This is -- This is why we do this, to bring people back from the dead.
But one thing is clear.
Even if some of Agnes' clients were grateful for her powers of healing, and even if she claimed that her prayer was to God, the authorities were intent on painting her as a witch in league with the devil.
And there's something else in here that's really intriguing.
♪♪ People are summoning her from far and wide, and it's not just villagers who are after her services.
It's -- It's the toffs.
Posh people are after her, too.
Perhaps her far-reaching reputation as a healer helps explain why, when the king was looking for a scapegoat for the storms that beset his ship, Agnes Sampson was a ready name on people's lips.
♪♪ In the fall of 1590, just weeks after the alleged witches' gathering at North Berwick, Agnes was arrested and imprisoned in Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh.
And in early December, she was brought here to be interrogated.
This is the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
This was the home of King James VI.
This part of the palace here has been altered, but this part is the original palace that Agnes would have seen.
She would have set eyes on these two rather sinister-looking turrets.
So I really am walking in Agnes' footsteps at this moment.
[ Door clanks ] ♪♪ ♪♪ This is the actual chamber in which James VI received visitors.
His bedchamber is just through there.
And it was here in this room, to the best of our knowledge, that Agnes came face to face with the king.
♪♪ What an extraordinary encounter.
A woman from a tiny rural village brought before the king.
A Protestant monarch determined to prove he had the power to drive out the devil.
So, what on earth happened in this room?
"Newes from Scotland" offers this account.
Agnes Sampson was brought here to Holyroodhouse before the King's Majesty and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland.
But it says here she stood stiffly in the denial of all that was laid to her charge.
So she stood up to them.
This is a fearsome situation to be questioned by the king himself in his royal palace.
But she wasn't giving way an inch.
♪♪ Despite this, at some point, Agnes cracked and confessed.
♪♪ It's chilling to realize that all the detail of what happened in North Berwick, as recounted in "Newes from Scotland," actually comes from the confession Agnes made right here in Holyrood Palace.
It was Agnes who said 200 witches gathered together and used a dead man and a christened cat to raise the storm that almost killed the king.
This is her story.
But why would she say all these things?
Reading on, I think I can see why.
Agnes Sampson has all her hair shaven off in each part of her body and her head "thrawen" with a rope.
But during this time, she would not confess anything until the devil's mark was found upon her privities.
♪♪ Now, to my mind, this is -- this is torture of a really horrible, sexual nature.
♪♪ It's a sort of a sexual assault.
♪♪ And then when this -- when this happened, when they did this to her, she immediately confessed whatsoever was demanded of her.
And, goodness me, I'd do exactly the same thing.
♪♪ It's hard to be sure whether these descriptions of torture are true.
Was this the sort of treatment inflicted on women like Agnes?
♪♪ To find out, I'm traveling to the small Scottish town of Forfar.
When a witch hunt happened here in the 1660s, more than 50 women were accused from this small town alone.
[ Gasps ] It's Judith.
-I meet you in the flesh at last.
-One local historian has been doing groundbreaking research into the experiences of these so-called witches.
She's uncovered shocking new evidence of their interrogation from unlikely historical documents, the town's financial records.
-"Accounts of the town officials" sounds a bit dull.
[ Chuckles ] -Yes, it does, if you -- if you don't realize what's going on.
And what's going on in Forfar at that time is a witch hunt that's been described as being like no other in Scotland.
And when you follow the money, you find some really interesting things.
Okay, on the first page, the first section, "ye examiner of Girsell Simpson."
She was a suspected witch, but she was arrested, and she was put in a tollbooth.
It says an item to Andrew Taylor for closing of the high tollbooth yea time that Girsell Simpson was therein and for taking down of them again.
-Oh, so when the suspected witch was in the prison, they closed up the windows.
-And then when she had been executed, they opened up the windows again.
-And that would be to keep her in the dark?
-Well, it's the devil, and you don't want the devil cursing the people in the street when they walk by.
Oh, look at this!
For the making of two pairs of stocks for the witches.
So, the stocks are really interesting, 'cause stocks sound like they are quite innocent.
You know, we have images of people in the stocks outside.
-Being hung up like this, and people throw eggs at them.
-That's not what's happening here.
In Scotland at the time, stocks were used on the accused witches as a form of torture.
-It says here that candles are bought for those who did watch Girsell Simpson, who's the suspected witch.
What does that mean to watch her, do you think?
-Watching usually comes with waking.
So watching and waking was a form of torture in itself.
It's sleep deprivation.
Later on, we'll see that there -- There are other prisoners in.
They're male prisoners, and they're murderers, and they're not being watched.
There's no -- There's no candles being paid for for them.
So the suspected witch is treated worse than the murderers.
These women, they're a danger because they endanger the whole of society.
-They put the idea of the godly society at risk.
If you go down to the 13th of September... -Yes.
-...John Kincaid and David Cowand come to Forfar.
So, John Kincaid is the famous witch-pricker.
-The witch pricker.
-That's a very resonant phrase.
What exactly does that mean?
-Well, they pay for two -- "twa preens" for him.
-Here it is.
This is the purchase of two preens for the pricking of Catherine Porter.
-Preens are pins.
They're made of iron, and they're usually about 3 inches long.
Or some people would say -- -3 inches.
-Oh, not tiny, little dressmaking pins.
-And what ex-- Why -- Why do they want to stick these pins into the suspected witches?
-They're trying to find the devil's mark.
-It was usually thought to be a blue mark.
It could be a mole.
It could be an extra nipple.
It could be scars.
Anything that they thought was unusual on a woman's body that doesn't respond to pain or doesn't bleed.
That was evidence, pure and simple, that you had convened with the devil.
So what they would do was they would -- they would shave the woman.
They would shave all her hair.
And they would -- She would be naked.
She's in front of a panel of men, and she's having these pins stuck in all over her body.
And they would prick people for hours.
There's mention in one of the Privy Council documents of a woman dying from witch pricking.
-It's a really -- It's a horrible psychosexual form of torture, this, isn't it?
-What really shocks me, Judith, is that the evidence is here, that they've recorded it for us to see.
When I read these treasurers' accounts, and I've read them many times, the hairs never cease to stand up on the back of my neck.
And I think, how could they have treated people like this?
And then you have to remember what they had in their mind.
And in their mind, they were absolutely convinced that they were not people.
You know, they -- -They were devils.
-They are the devil.
-How long have you been trawling through all of these records, Judith?
-About 10 years.
[ Chuckles ] -At least 10 years.
-And what -- what motivates you to do this?
-Well, um, one, it's just so incredibly interesting.
And, two, there's the real sense of injustice.
♪♪ -Judith's fascinating research shows how the authorities devised a system for rooting out witches.
Torture was an acceptable means to elicit a confession.
And the so-called devil's mark, which wasn't too hard to find, provided undeniable proof.
Under this kind of duress, in December 1590, Agnes made her confession.
♪♪ Remarkably, the National Records of Scotland holds an account of what was said during Agnes' actual interrogation.
It also offers clues as to why Agnes' case triggered a terrifying craze for witch hunts that tore across Britain and reached as far as Salem, the fledgling Puritan colony of Massachusetts.
Is this word for word, then?
Was there someone in the room making notes?
How -- How was it put together?
-This has been written up afterwards.
There was probably a scribe in the room at the time jotting down a few things.
But this isn't a transcript of her actual words.
This is a summary in the third person, you know.
You know, "She confessed that, she denied that," and so on.
And we see breaks in the document where perhaps she was tortured.
It's hard to tell.
We do know in general terms that she was tortured.
And we can see this text as a kind of negotiation, because Agnes probably didn't know anything about those storms at the time, but they're asking her about it, so she knows she can't just remain silent.
She has to tell a story.
Otherwise, she'll get tortured more.
-Do you think that the interrogators were asking what we might call leading questions to get a particular answer?
-Oh, undoubtedly, yes.
You know, "Tell us about when you met the devil," and, "How does one worship the devil?"
And so, one of the things that witches do is that they kiss the devil's ass.
That is -- -Does it say that in her actual confession?
-It actually says.
-"Before they departed, they all kissed his ass."
That almost certainly comes from a leading question from somebody who has come across the European learned idea of how witches worship the devil, and Agnes has been made to say it.
If people torture you enough, you do get so confused that you lose confidence in your own memory and you start thinking, "The interrogators are right, and perhaps I'm a witch after all."
They're breaking her body, but they're also trying to break her mind at the same time.
-Yeah, I'm afraid so, yeah.
-Really, it seems to me that they're fitting her up.
-You certainly could say that.
I mean, they're doing it unwittingly.
They're terrifyingly sincere, these guys.
You know, they think they're getting the truth.
They are trying to save themselves and everybody from the terrifying power of the devil.
And, you know, it certainly by this time has become a conspiracy.
They -- They think it isn't just one witch.
You know, it's a group who has done this.
And this is what the elite understand that witches will do.
They will gather in groups.
So they're asking Agnes, you know, "Who else was there?"
You know, whether these were names that she gave or names that were fed to her and then she repeated, you can't always tell.
You ask for names of accomplices, and you get a sort of snowball effect.
And once you've got one witch, you can then go to another and another and another.
And, you know, the snowball can go on getting larger until everyone's sick of it.
-How any people eventually get pulled into the whole thing?
-How many people ultimately is one of the very difficult questions to answer.
Almost certainly dozens, probably hundreds, but, you know, many of the records have disappeared.
It's very hard to put numbers on it for that reason.
-Julian, why is the North Berwick Witch Hunt in particular so important?
-There have been earlier trials with individual witches, but they never get into large numbers.
They don't manage to interrogate them properly, and it all fizzles out.
This is the first big, successful one where we see the witch hunters really working out how to do it.
So this provides a sort of blueprint for how to have what you might call a successful witchcraft panic that actually leads to large numbers of executions.
And versions of that then get repeated time and again over the next 100 years or so in Scotland.
♪♪ -What's so horrifying is that, clearly, if you torture someone, they'll say anything to make it stop.
It's this that made Agnes into a witch and, in a final tragic irony, offer up the names of 59 other people, too, who'd go on to face the same fate.
But here's the problem.
She's now "officially confessed" to causing storms and to conspiring to kill the king.
♪♪ Six weeks after her confession, Agnes was put on trial in Edinburgh.
The building Agnes' trial took place in stood right here.
It was in the shadow of the great cathedral.
She would have been the only woman in a courtroom full of men.
The trial took one day, and the verdict was guilty.
♪♪ The following day, the 28th of January, 1591, Agnes was brought here to Castle Hill.
♪♪ She was to be strangled and burnt at the stake, a sentence reserved only for the most dangerous of heretics.
I can't begin to imagine how petrified she must have felt as she was being brought here, knowing what was going to happen.
[ Bird caws ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord.
On his law doth he meditate day and night.
-In this moment, religious zeal, fear of the devil, and an ambitious king had collided to create a system of persecution from which there was no escape.
And Agnes Sampson paid the ultimate price.
♪♪ [ Bird cawing ] ♪♪ This event, it makes me angry.
It seems like a terrible, tragic miscarriage of justice.
This is a woman who tried to help people but who ended up being punished for it.
[ Bird cawing ] ♪♪ King James got what he wanted and became king of England.
Agnes' execution set a blueprint for a century of witch hunts across Britain and America, leading to the trial in 1692 of 200 suspected witches at Salem and the hanging of 19 people.
But it was Scotland that would have one of the highest rates of witch killing anywhere.
In total, 2,500 people would be executed, the vast majority women.
And imagine what it was like for other women in this society, the fear they must have felt that they could be next.
The only national monument in Scotland to the thousands killed is this small drinking fountain known as the Witches' Well.
But a campaign is now under way for a larger-scale memorial and an official pardon.
It's hard to know what to do with these dark chapters from our past.
Seems to me there's a double injustice for the women caught up in the witch hunts.
They were wrongly convicted, but on top of that, their stories have been forgotten.
They've been buried under a pile of stereotypes.
Now is the time to restore the voices of women like Agnes Sampson and to make sure they're heard.
-"Lucy Worsley Investigates" is available on Amazon Prime Video.
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