On 12 June 1662, Sir Archibald Douglas of Kelso obtained a Commission from the Privy Council to try four accused witches: Bessie Thomson, Malie Jonstoun, Agnes Quarie and Malie Turnbull. Douglas was a fervent Covenanter and was extremely outspoken in his condemnation of, as he saw it, any form of religious belief that was not strictly Calvinist. Being a child was no protection from Douglas. Arrested by Douglas, all four accused were imprisoned and immediately interrogated under torture.
Several court records list the methods used to extract confessions:[i]
‘bound her armes with towes and so threw the same about that they disjoynted and mutilat both her armes’
‘tying their thumbs behind them and then hanging them up by them… set lighted candles to their feet and between their toes and in their mouths and burned their heads.’
‘the women were tortured by hanging them up by the thombes and burning the soles of their feet at the fyre.’
During all of these practices the suspects would be being constantly berated by the local Kirk minister and elders. Harangued and bullied, they would be told that they were evil and wicked and would go straight to hell for all eternity for their crimes; told how they were a disgrace and a source of shame and loathing to their families; how everybody hated and feared them, their filthy practices were known, their heresies had been exposed. Castigated as the Devil’s whores and followers, they were ridiculed and humiliated. This psychological abuse was heaped on them continuously in a tirade of anger and disgust. Those who refused to co-operate could also be threatened that their families would be arrested and also tortured. This was often used where a suspect had a teenage daughter or son.
Torture was not allowed to be used against children under 14. Because of this the case against Bessie Thomson, Malie Jonstoun, Agnes Quarie and Malie Turnbull collapsed as Bessie and Malie Jonstoun were underage. Their exact ages are not recorded but both Bessie and Malie were probably as young as eight or nine. In other words, Douglas was torturing children. All four were released but not until after they had suffered imprisonment, interrogation and torture. They would have suffered, at the very least, sleep deprivation, psychological bullying and having been walked for hours on end. They might have been burnt with hot stones, had their skin rasped off with ropes or their fingers broken and crushed. They may well have been beaten by their guards, partly for fun or boredom, or from a genuine hatred of witches. All of this as well as being imprisoned for weeks away from their families and friends. They would have eaten little or poor-quality food, slept on filthy flea-infested straw with only a corner of their cell to relieve themselves. Even on release, they bore the stigma of having been investigated for witchcraft. Douglas may have been thwarted in this particular case but no records exist of any charges brought against him for his illegal ill treatment of Bessie, Malie, Agnes and Malie. In addition, his name appears as a prosecuting Commissioner in several cases over the following ten years.
[i] Register of the Privy Council, 2nd series, vol.3, pp. 41-42