Who was the Scottish witch-finder behind the Newcastle witch trials?

There is no definitive evidence as to who the Newcastle witch pricker was. In my forthcoming novel, Widdershins, my witch finder is the fictitious John Sharpe.

However, one possibility is that the Newcastle witch-finder might have been John Kincaid, the notorious witch pricker from Tranent in the south east of Scotland. Certainly, he was testing people in North Berwick shortly before the Newcastle witch trials. So, as he was a hundred miles away pricking people to determine whether or not they were guilty of witchcraft, it’s not inconceivable that Kincaid was the witch-pricker invited to cleanse Newcastle of its alleged infestation of witches.

D. Webster’s Collection of Rare and Curious Tracts on Witchcraft, includes a declaration from John Kincaid, Pricker when he was in Dirlton in June 1649. This declaration was witnessed by six local officiaries. Kincaid’s declaration discusses how he tested a man and his spouse for witchcraft.

It seems that the couple in question, Patrik Watsone and Menie Halyburtoun, presented themselves voluntarily to Kincaid at Dirlton Castle near North Berwick in Scotland. After testing them with a pricking device, Kincaid claimed ‘I found the divillis marke upon the bak syde of the said Patrik Watsone…’ and ‘…upon the left syde of the said Menie Halyburtoune hir neck a littill above her left shoulder…’ He found them both guilty after pricking the devil’s marks he claimed to find about their persons, and finding that these marks were insensible and did not bleed.

                              Witches consort with the devil in N.Berwick

Witches consort with the devil in N.Berwick

Following Kincaid’s revelation, the deposition of Menie Halyburtoune (again witnessed by six local officiaries) on 1 July 1649, subsequently detailed her copulating with the devil, following this spectacle being reported by her husband.

John Kincaid of Tranent was still at large as late as 1661, when he was reported in Dalkeith in Scotland. Here, he tested a woman called Janet Peaston, claiming he’d found two devil’s marks upon her body. When Kincaid pricked these marks, the woman felt no pain, and no blood was let. In fact, so little pain did she feel when pricked, she was unable to correctly identify the points on her body where she had been pricked. This is surprising, given that ‘they being preins of thrie inches or thairabout’. Yet, Kincaid still subscribed to his test under oath and this test was witnessed by seven people, among them, the local minister and elders including a Major.

We may never know the true identity of the Scottish witch-finder employed by Newcastle, but John Kincaid was a notorious witch-pricker who worked in the borders between Scotland and north-east England, and so he is certainly one possibility worth considering.

Sources

Newes from Scotland (1591) ‘Declaring the damnable life of Doctor Fian a notable sorcerer, who was burned at Edenbrough in Ianuarie last.’ London: William Wright (in Special Collection Ferguson Al-a.36 at Glasgow University).

J. Sands (1881) Sketches of Tranent in the Olden Time, Pitcairns’ Justiciary Records, vol 111., p. 602 in Chapter 3 ‘Witchcraft, 1591’.

D. Webster (1820) Collection of Rare and Curious Tracts on Witchcraft and the Second Sight; with an Original Essay on Witchcraft, Edinburgh: Thomas Webster.

Categories writingTags , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Who was the Scottish witch-finder behind the Newcastle witch trials?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close