Wicked Women of Dalkeith ……………………..
As you drive past the Dalkeith village of Lugton, do not be deceived by this quiet and leafy suburb because in centuries gone by witchcraft and madness were the order of the day …….. you’ll never see Lugton in the same light again………………..
Living in Lugton (or Lugtown as it was known) in the 1650s was a well known character called Katherine Casse who found herself brought before the Kirk Session and Presbytery of Dalkeith on 11 August 1657 – she was accused of the heinous crime of witchcraft. The accused had been reported as practicing witchcraft by another Lugton resident, Isobel Maw.
Six pieces of evidence were brought against the accused and included involvement in the death of George Richardson who had fallen sick after a violent quarrel with Katherine and as George breathed his last he dramatically blamed her for killing him. After the death, Katherine became embroiled in an argument with Richardson’s son, John, who slashed her face with his knife. It was reported that the accused had cursed John’s horses and the following morning two of the horses were found dead – this was a mystery as they had been healthy the previous evening.
Further evidence stacked up against Katherine as it was reported she had had an argument with a neighbour about a fruit tree. Shortly after this, the tree mysteriously died and never grew and bore no more fruit! Worse was to come as the accused was engaged to John Merrylees and carried a declaration to this effect in her purse. She often gloated about this and taunted John that he was bound to her and not free to marry anyone else as long as she had the document! Enraged by this, John managed to wrestle the declaration away and burn it. Was this a wise thing to do?
In a towering rage, Katherine shrieked that her ex-fiancé would face ruination and would never have food and clothing at the same time. This was overhead by Ronald Forrester who would become a key witness in her trial.
Things became progressively worse at the trial as it was claimed that the bold Katherine boasted that she had called upon the powers of the Devil to make Nicholas Sutherland blind. It is not clear what Nicholas had done to deserve this fate. Katherine became a bit gallas in her behaviour and had confidence in her powers ………….. the people of Lugton grew fearful.
Back to the trial , which was turning into a marathon, the services of John Kincaid, our venerable witch pricker, were called upon by none other than Katherine herself! Kincaid had found two marks of the Devil on her body – one on the inside of her left thigh and the other upon her shoulder. Had Katherine wanted to prove her innocence? That we will never know!
Thirteen charges were heard in total with the majority of evidence coming from three men. The case dragged on throughout the autumn and winter of 1657 ……… no-one but no-one could break the accused’s spirit or elicit a confession from her. Katherine robustly denied all the charges and eight ministers were sent to pray with her in an attempt to break her spirit and make her confess. Despite being imprisoned and persistent psychological warfare, the Lugton Lass held firm, denied all charges and refused to plead guilty. What a woman ….. certainly not one to be messed with!!
Therefore, Katherine became a problem and embarrassment to Dalkeith and it was decided to pass her to a higher authority in Edinburgh. After months of imprisonment and brow-beating, this is where our story reaches an anti-climax. Katherine’s trial had been set with great gusto for the first Tuesday in January 1658. This was going to be sensational as all the key witnesses had been to court and £5 was paid to ensure their attendance. However, on the actual day three witnesses failed to show …….. including one of the star witnesses, Ronald Forrester!
Forrester’s evidence was to be electric and to prove without a shred of doubt that Katherine Cass was a witch ………… but the conclusion of this trial is unlike any other you have read which normally ended in a verdict of guilty and death by strangulation and burning. I have to disappoint you here because no-one knows Catherine’s fate as nothing was recorded!!
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One Dalkeith is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) No. SC048018