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In Remembrance of Jonet Barker

By Laquitha Glass

Strangled and burned on Castle Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland after a period of imprisonment and a trial for alleged witchcraft.

Art credit Jan Toorop (1896), from the public domain. This is not an artist's rendering of Jonet Barker.

~+~ Jonet Barker ~+~

Jonet Barker was a resident of Edinburgh and a local shopkeeper. Her case mirrors Margaret Lauder's case because it is thought that Jonet Barker was the one who denounced Margaret Lauder and kicked off the investigation of her case. Jonet Barker was accused of meeting with the devil for sexual activities. She was also accused of learning her folk healing methods from the devil. She was investigated by a group of at least 7 documented men over the course of about a month, of which one was a well-known witch-pricker. During her trial, Margaret Lauder was tried as an accomplice, and the two of them were both sentenced individually to be strangled and burned on Castle Hill. The assize consisted of a merchant, cordiner, wright, baxter, stabler, and a locksmith all from Edinburgh.

~+~ My Point of View ~+~

Jonet Barker's case launched the investigation into Margaret Lauder's accusation of witchcraft, and it is very clear in my opinion that her case is also an extreme miscarriage and abuse of the justice system of the time. When looking over the trial documentation, the first thing that caught my attention was the fact that it took 7 male investigators over a month to interrogate Jonet Barker. The only question they asked pertained to her having sex with the devil and then having a beer with him afterwards. Looking more closely, I noticed that her occupation was listed as being a shopkeeper, with additional notes stating that she 'wanted to be the best dressed servant in town.' It appears that even though she was documented as being of lower socioeconomic status, she had a penchant for fashion and cared about the way she presented herself to the public, perhaps even taking pride in the reputation she may have garnered for being among the best dressed servants in Edinburgh. As a shopkeeper, she would have had ample opportunities to interact with and be seen by the local community in Edinburgh. When Jonet Barker was accused, she was imprisoned and interrogated by 7 documented men, presumably at various times, throughout her imprisonment.  One of her investigators, James Scobie, was a well-known witch-pricker. As the witch-hunting and mass-murdering became an accepted part of the community social fabric, many found fame and fortune by becoming professional witch hunters. Witch-pricking was a method by which a professional investigator could poke the accused with sharp objects, and if there was no puncture wound or bleeding, then there would be a positive identification of a witch. If there was a puncture wound and bleeding, then it was proof that one was not a witch. However, in order to identify a person as a witch, the puncture would have to be done at a spot on the body known to be a witch's mark. Many people lost their lives as a result of this form of 'testing', often done in front of public audiences to feed the paranoia of the gathered crowds. What many did not realize, however, was that many professional witch-prickers were actually skilled magicians performing a slight of hand trick with a retractable tool. When puncturing a witch mark, the tool, usually with a blunted blade, would retract back into the handle. This would shock any onlookers, and then to prove the validity of the results, the magician would then take the sharp end of the tool and puncture the accused elsewhere, drawing blood and most likely a pained reaction. It was not documented how many times Jonet Barker had been pricked by James Scobie, but during her investigative sessions, the 7 men were able to extract a confession stating that she learned her folk healing from the devil. She also confessed to sexual activities with the devil and also implicated another woman who visited her with almost 12 other women. I questioned if these women were lured to the prison for the sake of getting more people to accuse to corroborate the allegations being made. When I first read about Jonet accusing Margaret, the full weight of the psychological and physical duress she was experiencing was not fully evident. After reading more of the details, I got a fuller picture of the context of her denouncing, and also why Margaret would feel it necessary to bribe her in desperation of being subjected to the same unjust fate. The other detail that stuck out to me was the demographic of the court that tried her. It was made up of a merchant, a cordiner (shoemaker), a wright (construction), a baxter (possibly female baker), a stabler, and a locksmith. They were all from Edinburgh, and with Jonet's occupation being a shopkeeper, I wondered if they had crossed paths before her trial. They would certainly be among her peer group, and given that one of her goals was to be the best dressed servant in town, she would have most likely stood out.  Overall, it felt very disturbing that this fashion-forward woman was tortured, strangled, and burned due to an inordinate level of concern about with whom she was, or was not, choosing to engage in sexual activities.

The Bird that was Trapped has Flown

by James Robertson

The bird that was trapped has flown

The sky that was grey is blue

The bone that was dead has grown

The dream that was dreamed is true

The locked door has been swung wide

The prisoner has been set free

The lips that were sealed have cried

The eye that was blind can see

The tree that was bare is green

The room that was dull is bright

The sheet that was soiled is clean

The dawn that was dark is light

The road that was blocked has no end

The unknown journey is known

The heart that is hurt will mend

The bird that was trapped has flown

~+~ Resources ~+~

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft

Scottish History , School of History and Classics

The University of Edinburgh

Credit to L.Glass


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