Janet or Jonet Kennedy was a Scottish visionary involved in the North Berwick witch trialsSeries of Scottish witch trials held between 1590 and 1593 of 1590–1593. Also known as the witch of Redden, very little is known about her, as few records have survived. She was a minor character in the overall witch-hunt, yet the information given in her two extant depositions provide key confirmation of the testimony supplied by Ritchie GrahamSorcerer, necromancer and wizard. Executed on the last day of February 1592 as part of the North Berwick witch trials, he was an associate of Francis Stewart, fifth Earl of Bothwell. against Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell.


In November 1590[1] David Seton,[a]Some sources use an alternate spelling of his name, Seaton. an appointed magistrate in Tranent, suspected that one of his young maid servants, Geillis DuncanYoung Scottish maidservant suspected of witchcraft by her employer in November 1590. After being tortured, the initial testimony she gave led to the start of the North Berwick witch trials. , was involved in witchcraft.[2] After being tortured, Geillis confessed and went on to name several others, triggering what was to become known as the North Berwick witch trials, the first major Scottish witch-hunt and the inaugural large witchcraft trial under criminal law.[1][3]

In the typical style of an emerging extensive witch-hunt, there was a ripple or wave effect as other people became implicated.[2] Several who were being incriminated as witches attempted to escape scrutiny by fleeing across the nearby border into England.[4]

Janet, a visionary,[5] lived in the small settlement of Redden, to the north-east of Kelso, about one mile (1.6 km) from the border.[4] Little further personal information is available about her in the surviving records,[6][b]Two records are included in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database, one for “Kennedy, unknown” and another for “Kennedy, Jonet”; both appear to refer to this woman. but it is likely she is one of those who fled across the border.[4]

Witchcraft investigations

Contemporary sources indicate that witchcraft investigations following the initial examinations of Geillis Duncan, Agnes SampsonScottish midwife, cunning woman and healer; central figure in the North Berwick witch trials. and Dr FianSchool teacher convicted of witchcraft in 1590, a central figure in the North Berwick witch trials were ongoing, and a few witches had already been executed.[7] On 5 February 1591 King James ordered David Seton to travel to England to capture the witches who had absconded over the border;[8] James was particularly keen that Janet should be apprehended and brought back to Scotland.[9] After being found, she was held in custody at Berwick before being repatriated.[9]


Two depositions from Janet survive in the records.[9] Both these examinations were attended by King James; at the first he was joined by two ministers – James Gilstone and David Lindsay[c]David Lindsay (1531?–1613) was the minister who performed the marriage ceremony of the King and Anne.[10] – together with the Duke of Lennox who was also present at her second interrogation. Robert Bruce, the Edinburgh minister who in May 1590 anointed Anne queen, replaced the other ministers at the second.[11][d]The specific dates given on the depositions are damaged but June 1591 can be discerned.[11] Maxwell-Stuart quotes 14 June,[4] the date of the letter from Robert Bowes, the English ambassador, to Lord Burghley, in which Bowes mentions the witch of Reydon.[12]

Janet’s first confession recounts that around thirty years previously she had been visited in her home by a man like a palmer or pilgrim who was dressed entirely in white. He brought a book with him, and after the pair had conversed, he convinced her to swear on his book that she renounced the Devil (termed as “the foul thief”) and would instead follow the bidding of her visitor in return for which she would acquire a good life for herself.[13] She then conceded during her examination that with hindsight she realised the palmer was an evil being.[10]

Agnes Sampson is given a prominent role in Janet’s confessions;[12] while Janet was asleep the witch enchanted her spirit, causing it to leave her body to attend their meetings.[10] Janet recalled two specific events that occurred at conventions held three or four years before her examination. At the first – it was held in a field but she was unable to identify exactly where because it was a dark night – she watched Agnes place a wax picture into a bowl of hot water, intending to cause the death of the Earl of Angus by witchcraft.[14]

Pinpointing the location of a later incident was easier for her as it took place on a clear starlit summer night; Janet thought it was beside a small country house that Agnes lived in. She was able to describe a pale clean-shaven man, aged around thirty, of average build, who stood next to Agnes. The man was displeased as Agnes was having difficulty bewitching a wax effigy of the King by burning it in a fire; he instructed that the blaze be intensified but Agnes felt it would make no difference, as all their efforts to use witchcraft against the monarch were proving futile.[14]

Janet’s second confession clarified that the previously described meeting took place around Lammas 1590[e]Lammas is celebrated on 1 August with the narrative concerning the attempted burning of the King’s effigy reiterated. She added that she was physically present at the convention rather than only attending in spirit and, that together with another participant, she had helped build and tend the fire. Claiming Agnes stated to the assembled company that there were more than those present involved in their endeavours against the sovereign, Janet also declared Agnes named “MacCalzeanWealthy Scottish heiress and member of the gentry convicted of witchcraft. A key figure in the North Berwick witchcraft trials of 1590–1591.” and “NapierWoman accused of witchcraft and conspiracy to murder during the North Berwick witch trials.” plus the man mentioned before as important people particularly involved.[15]

Modern interpretations

Historian Peter Maxwell-Stuart describes the evidence given by Janet in her depositions as “clinch[ing] the case against Bothwell” at a time when the King was prevaricating about how much credence could be given to the earl’s claims of innocence.[16] Scholars Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts, consider her description of the man standing next to Agnes Sampson refers to the earl, and that her deposition provides “the unique moment in the records when it is insinuated that Bothwell actually attended a convention.”[17]

Academic Julian Goodare likens the spirit recounted by Janet to that described by Bessie Dunlop – who was tried and convicted in Ayrshire in 1576,[18] – and that narrated by Janet Rendall alias Rigga, who was executed for witchcraft in OrkneyWitchcraft in Orkney possibly has its roots in the settlement of Norsemen on the archipelago from the eighth century onwards. Until the early modern period magical powers were accepted as part of the general lifestyle, but witch-hunts began on the mainland of Scotland in about 1550. in 1629.[5][19] In her depositions, Janet Kennedy was relaying to her inquisitors a tale concerning an ambiguous being or spirit, but they transcribed it as an evil spirit, construing it as the Devil.[13] The wording used takes the form of a recurring theme among witchcraft confessions; the Devil initially appears to the witch as a holy man who pledges to provide favours in return for compliance with his commands.[12]

The naming of Euphame MacCalzean and Barbara Napier in Janet’s second deposition is unexpected, as it deviates from practices claimed in earlier interrogations.[4] For instance, in the transcripts of Agnes Sampson’s examinations detailing information about Robert GriersonNamed by several accused of witchcraft during the North Berwick witch trials, Grierson died whilst being tortured during his interrogation., she testifies that at a gathering in North Berwick kirk the attendees became angry that the Devil did not use Grierson’s nickname.[20] The naming incident is given further elaboration in the indictment at Agnes’s trial on 27 January 1591 indicating she had confessed to King James that Grierson should have been referred to as “Robert the Comptroller” or “Rob the rower”; the Devil’s error had caused those present to run round in a hirdie-girdie, or uproarious fashion.[21]


a Some sources use an alternate spelling of his name, Seaton.
b Two records are included in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database, one for “Kennedy, unknown” and another for “Kennedy, Jonet”; both appear to refer to this woman.
c David Lindsay (1531?–1613) was the minister who performed the marriage ceremony of the King and Anne.[10]
d The specific dates given on the depositions are damaged but June 1591 can be discerned.[11] Maxwell-Stuart quotes 14 June,[4] the date of the letter from Robert Bowes, the English ambassador, to Lord Burghley, in which Bowes mentions the witch of Reydon.[12]
e Lammas is celebrated on 1 August



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Goodare, Julian, et al. Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, Scottish History, School of History and Classics, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Jan. 2003, http://witches.shca.ed.ac.uk.
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Levack, Brian P. The Witchcraft Sourcebook: Second Edition. Second Edition, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.
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Yeoman, Louise. “North Berwick Witches.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/69951.