Mary W. Craig returns to share the story of Lauder resident Hob Grieve, who was executed as a witch in 1649.
Hob (Robert) Grieve had lived in Lauder all his life and was known to most people as a harmless fool. Married but with no children he and his wife had a hard life scraping an existence with odd jobs here and there. Hob and his wife would frequently cross the moor to Stow to get work there either in the village or on the surrounding farms. Sometimes they were so desperate they would ask for money from the Stow Kirk poor fund despite being from Lauder. Travelling between Stow and Lauder Hob and his wife were viewed as no more than a nuisance until the witch panic of 1629 hit the Borders and Hob’s wife was accused, tried and executed as a witch.
Hob and his wife were viewed as no more than a nuisance until the witch panic of 1629 hit the Borders and Hob’s wife was accused, tried and executed as a witch.
Without his wife Hob struggled as he drank more and worked less and survived on the edge of destitution. Matters got worse around 1637 when the Stow Kirk Session Records note that Hob was trying to get money with a forged token. Getting money from the Poor Fund was not easy and some parishes issued tokens that proved you were ‘deserving poor’ and were entitled to help. Hob had somehow got hold of a forged token or had possibly been so desperate he had made one. The Kirk Session admonished him and he was banned from any poor relief. The minister of Stow, John Cleland sent word to the minister at Lauder, Thomas Byres and Hob was admonished in Lauder as well.
By 1649 Hob was managing, just, to survive with occasional odd jobs around Lauder town but he was no longer a young man and was drinking more heavily. One evening in early summer he was drinking when he was talking about his wife introducing him to a ‘great gentleman’. Hob was arrested and brought in for questioning.
When he was asked if he knew why he had been arrested he said, ‘forbye my wife was a witch’. Hob confessed that his wife had introduced him to a fine black gentleman who would make them rich. Hob agreed to serve the man but then said that Auld Nick had tricked him as he had remained poor and thus taken a ‘richt scunnert wi him’. Hob then named four local women that he had seen with the Devil: Isobel Brotherstane, Margaret Dalgleish, Janet Lyes and Christian Smith. A fifth woman, Issobel Raich, was named by Isobel Brotherstone.
It was assumed that Hob, as a man, had been their leader and so was kept apart from the others.
The six accused were locked in Lauder tolbooth to await trial. It was assumed that Hob, as a man, had been their leader and so was kept apart from the others. Alone, confined to a cramped airless cell over the hot summer months, Hob’s mental health rapidly deteriorated. Prison conditions were hard for all prisoners at that time but they were particularly brutal for suspected witches. All prisoners had to pay for their own food and bedding and would sell anything they had to prevent starvation. Hob had nothing to sell. He survived on little or poor-quality food, slept on filthy flea-infested straw with only a corner of his cell to relieve himself. By the autumn Hob was heard shouting and laughing to himself in his cell.
The law in Scotland was clear, no one who was ‘addled in their wits’ could stand trial. For some reason the magistrates in Hob’s case ignored the law.
The trial started on 2 October with Thomas Cranston, Edzer Young of Wedderlie, Robert Hart of St John’s chapel and Alexander Hume sat as Magistrates. When Hob arrived in court he was talking to himself. When his confession was read out Hob laughed and said that he didn’t care. He claimed the Devil had come to him in his cell and threatened him but Hob said he wasn’t scared as he could defeat Auld Nick.
Hob Grieve, Isobel Brotherstane, Margaret Dalgleish, Janet Lyes, Christian Smith and Issobel Raich were all found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Despite being obviously ‘addled in his wits’ Hob was worriet (strangled) and burned with the others.
Committee of Estates PA11/8fo.172r (National Records of Scotland)
Craig, Mary W., The Borders Witch Hunt (Luath Press, 2020)