Mary W. Craig
Scottish Borders: Jonet Armstrong
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
We're grateful to writer and historian Mary W. Craig for sharing her research with us. This the first of a series of monthly profiles, focusing on accused witches from the Scottish Borders.
In 1668 a Commission was granted to try Jonet Armstrong for being a witch. Jonet was an indweller of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. She had been known as a healer and midwife for over 30 years and as a result was probably quite well known and respected in the town. By the time of her arrest in 1668, however, she was an old woman crippled with arthritis and going blind. Her age is not known but she was probably in her mid-60s. She had always poor but by 1668, she was almost destitute and survived by begging. She had lived in Galashiels all her life and had a generally good reputation. There is no note of her in the local Kirk session records of parishioners who were admonished for bad behaviour. However, in the spring of 1668, for some reason Jonet’s reputation turned and before long she was summoned to appear before the minister and the Kirk elders.
When she was brought before the minister and the elders she was dressed in the only clothes she possessed. A destitute old woman in a dirty, tattered dress, the minister was angry that she stood before them with ‘her petticoats a’ agape’. After some intense questioning Jonet was arrested and locked up in the tolbooth. She was interrogated and confessed to witchcraft. After her confession Jonet was left in her cold, flea, cockroach and rat-infested cell with only bread and ale to await her trial. Within two days, she died. Despite not having stood trial the local authorities recorded her death as that of a ‘known witch’. Equally the Kirk appears to have treated her as a convicted witch and no Kirk burial appears to have taken place. During the time of her imprisonment and interrogation, one shilling and sevenpence was spent on bread and ale for Jonet. Her petticoats, which had so offended the minister, were sold for washing rags to pay the bill.
Craig, Mary W., The Borders Witch Hunt (Luath Press, 2020)
Maidment, J., Spottiswoode Miscellany Vol ii (Edinburgh, 1845), p.271
Register of the Privy Council, 3rd series, vol.3, p.101