Around 1661, some women in Dalkeith were arrested and charged with serious cursing ……… thankfully, this is NOT the case in the 21st century! If it was, dear reader, Dalkeith Police Station would be bulging at the seams!!
There were a number of women arrested in the early part of the 1660s and charged with serious cursing. However, the strange and inexplicable thing is that these cursers were not accused of witchcraft – cursing was considered a major characteristic of being a witch – having a ‘ready, sharp and angry tongue’.
Marion Leach of Newbattle was charged with bidding the devil to tear the heart out of Elspeth Sympsoun. While in Dalkeith, Marion Wilson attracted attention to herself when she stated that she would give herself to the Devil ‘to have amends of Alexander Calderwood and Alexander Wilson’.
The Presbytery of Dalkeith decided that their cursing was punishable. Even though they had made direct appeals to the devil, they were not suspected of witchcraft ……………… simply because their threats had no effect on the individuals they had cursed. HOW could these women have been punished ……… by being forced to wear the scold’s bridle …. I could not find their actual punishment but the scold’s bridle was the most common for these type of ‘crimes’.
The bridle could be used as a form of torture and worn in public for humiliation. It was like an iron dog’s muzzle in an iron helmet that went round the head. Also, there was a mouth piece, similar to a horse’s bit with a spike attached, that could slide into the wearer’s mouth and either pressed down on top of the tongue or raised the tongue up to lie on top of the mouth. This meant that the wearer could not speak and as you can imagine there were many unpleasant side effects.
In Scotland, the kirk sessions inflicted the scold’s bridle on women who cursed, gossiped, were rude or nagged their husbands!! Those found guilty could be led through the town, like Dalkeith, to be publicly humiliated for their ‘scolding’ offence. It was impossible for the guilty to speak as the spike could pierce the tongue if the mouth was moved
Famous cursers of Dalkeith, if you remember from previous witchcraft stories, included the case of Janet Cook who did not have the luxury of being punished by scold’s bridle. Janet had an argument with James Ritchie of Peebles about where he had placed his stand at the weekly Dalkeith Fair. This meant she was not given the place she wanted. It was reported that Janet told Ritchie that he would repent coming to the Fair. Ritchie was said to have then ‘lost of his goods about two and twenty pounds sterling’. He fell sick and remained so for half a year, and ever since had neither thrived in his person nor fortunes. After several other curses came to fruition, Janet was found guilty of witchcraft and this resulted in strangulation and burning in Dalkeith on 26 November 1661.
Curses by alleged witches could take a number of forms, for example, there were predictions that specific things were going to happen. This could be anything from death, losing health or money and becoming paralysed. Sometimes threats were general and a promise would be shouted that a person would regret saying or doing something that had slighted or hurt the witch.
On his deathbed, William Richardson who had killed Christian Wilson’s hen, declared that Christian was responsible for his demise. He claimed that Christian had appeared at his bedside in the form of a grey cat. These nocturnal visions look like cases of sleep paralysis.
Next time you want to nag, curse, gossip etc ………… spare a thought for the Medieval women of Dalkeith who suffered the consequences of doing this!!!
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