The Witches of North Berwick by Catherine Cavendish.
My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches.
But they weren’t alone. Scotland was not short of witches – especially in East Lothian.
they often admire the pretty flowers at the well. They don’t generally notice the detail of the design on the wall, but if you take a close look:
See it now? Witches and they are certainly not happy and sparkly. During the 17th and 18th centuries, more than 3800 so-called witches were killed in Scotland – by strangling, drowning, hanging or burned alive at the stake. This makes that country the biggest persecutor of witches in Europe.
The first major witch trial took place in 1590 and was presided over by the King of Scotland himself – James VI, later to become James I of England.
He believed witches were out to kill him. He based this reasoning on an incident that took place a couple of years earlier when his new bride – Anne of Denmark – was on her way from her home country to Scotland, following her proxy marriage to the king. Fierce storms blew up from nowhere, forcing her ship to put into a safe harbour in Norway. James did the gallant thing and set out to bring her back. The treacherous journey saw them buffeted by three consecutive storms, which nearly wrecked the ship.
If it had, it is almost certain the king and his new bride would have drowned.
At that time, James learned of a coven of witches operating at the Auld Kirk Green in North Berwick, East Lothian. He believed they had vowed to assassinate him and, in order to do so, had conjured the storms. The king was assisted and encouraged in his beliefs by his wife. She, her family and many members of the Danish nobility attributed the near death of a relative to witchcraft, while, in Denmark itself, witch-hunts were rife.
Now James was convinced he too was a victim. He set out on a holy crusade to rid the land of witches by any means – including barbarous torture.
Suspicion and fear became rife in North Berwick as the inhabitants speculated on who was and who wasn’t a witch. One man – David Seaton – reported his maid, Geillis Duncan. The poor woman had been rash enough to help sick people get well. She was arrested, but refused to confess. In jail, torturers discovered a witch’s mark – a mole or similar blemish which, when poked with a sharp implement, didn’t bleed.
Terrified out of her wits, Geillis accused a long list of others in the neighbourhood, totalling more than 70 men and women.
One of the accused – Agnes Sampson – was shackled to the wall of her cell. A witch’s, or ‘scold’s’, bridle was secured to her head. This contained four sharp prongs which pierced her cheeks and tongue. Perhaps not surprisingly, the woman confessed to being a witch and implicated others. A lot of others. She said that around 200 witches had met with the devil at the coven on Auld Kirk Green and summoned the violent storms to kill the king.
For her co-operation, Agnes was granted the mercy of being strangled before being burnt as a witch.
James decided to make a further example of accused schoolmaster, James Fian, who had initially confessed, following hideous torture, including the infamous, bone-crushing boot, accompanied by having his fingernails pierced by needles and then torn out by pincers. Bloodied and maimed, he later retracted his confession, but James was having none of it. The schoolmaster was burned to death on the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle in January 1591.
In all, the trials of the North Berwick witches lasted two years, resulting in multiple executions – the exact number of which is unknown. We can probably assume that the overwhelming majority of those brought to trial would have been condemned to die.
James’s experiences led him to believe he was now an expert on witchcraft, He wrote his treatise, Daemonologie, which was published in 1597. The Scottish witch-hunts had begun in earnest.
Now, here’s the blurb for The Pendle Curse:
Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.
Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.
Here’s a short extract from the beginning:
His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.
He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.
Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.
The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.
His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”
She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”
He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.
Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.
“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.
Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.
“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”
From somewhere, he heard an echo…
You can find The Pendle Curse here:
About the author
Catherine Cavendish – Cat to her friends – lives with her husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she’s definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it’s a long story!).
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She is the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits In The Shadows. The Pendle Curse is her latest novel for Samhain; her first – Saving Grace Devine – was published in 2014.
Her daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories and a novella. As she says, “It’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community.” Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask!
You can connect with Cat here: