Elizabeth Dunlop (d. 1856) farmers wife who lived in Dalry and was convicted of withcraft. Strangled and burnt at Castle-Hill in Edinburgh.

On this day, in 1576, Elizabeth (Bessie) Dunlop was convicted of Witchcraft and taken to the Castle-hill, Edinburgh, where she was tied to a stake, strangled and her body burnt.  

Bessie lived with her husband Andrew Jack and their children at Lynn Glen, Dalry, and were tenants of Lord Boyd. Like many other people of that time period, she used herbs to create natural remedies, poultices and ointments to cure both people and animals of illness and as an aid in childbirth. She was also highly observant and helped people to locate lost or stolen items.  

Unfortunately, Bessie began claiming that she received guidance on how to recover lost items and treat illness from the spirit of Thomas Reid, a man who had died at the Battle of Pinkie on 10 September 1547, some 29 years earlier.  

When her claims came to the attention of those in authority, Bessie was accused of using sorcery and witchcraft to help people find lost or stolen items and of curing disease, when she had no formal training. 

Bessie claimed that she first met Thomas Reid while she was driving her cows to pasture near the yard at Monkcastle, at which time she was grieving for her husband and infant child who were both extremely ill and close to death, and also worried about one of her cows who was sick. She described Thomas Reid as being an elderly man with a grey beard, dressed in grey clothing of an older fashion, with a black hat. She claimed that Thomas Reid told her that both her child and sick cow would die, along with two of her sheep, but that her husband would recover, after which he dived into a hole in the dyke surrounding the yard at Monkcastle.  

When questioned how did she know for certain, that this spirit was indeed Thomas Reid, she replied that his spirit had bid her go to Thomas Reid, his son, who worked as an officer to the Laird of Blair, and to certain other kinsmen and friends whom he named.  

She also claimed that the spirit of Thomas Reid promised her goods, horses and cows, if she denied her Christian faith and that he was very angry with her when she refused. She also said that he told her to keep silent when he introduced her to eight women wearing plaids, and four men in gentlemen’s clothing whom he claimed were good witches from the fairy Court of Elfame, and that they invited her to join them, but as she kept silent, they departed.  

Under interrogation she declared that when the country folk approached her for help in finding a lost or stolen item, she always sought the advice of Thomas Reid, whom she claimed told her where the lost item was. She also claimed that Thomas Reid taught her how to pick and mix herbs to create natural remedies to cure illness and that she had used these remedies to treat Johne Jakis’s child, the Wilsons who lived in the town, her husband’s cows as well as Lady Johnestone, Catherine Dunlop’s daughter who had recently married the young Laird of Stanelie, but that he had told her that Lady Kilbowye’s crooked leg could not be mended.  

Bessie also claimed that Thomas Reid had instructed her to intervene in the forthcoming marriage of the eldest daughter of William Blair of the Strand to Crawfurd, the young Laird of Baidland, stating that if the marriage was to go ahead the girl would either commit suicide or end up mad. The marriage contract was cancelled, and the young Laird married the girl’s younger sister.  

Finally, Bessie claimed that when she was delivered of her last child, the midwife was none other than the fairy Queen of Elfame herself, who then sent Thomas Reid to be her spirit guide.  

Was poor Bessie, grieving for her dying child, suffering from postpartum psychosis which can cause hallucinations and delusions? No matter the cause, despite having done no harm to any of those she treated with her natural remedies, Bessie was found guilty of the crime of witchcraft and was sentenced to be “Conuict and Brynt”.