Richard Graham, sometimes Ritchie Graham or Rychie Grahame,[a]In Scotland and England during the sixteenth century spelling was haphazard, leading to many words, places and names having several variations. Modern-day texts often use an anglicised version.[1] executed for witchcraft in 1592 as part of the North Berwick witch trialsSeries of Scottish witch trials held between 1590 and 1593 , had a well-established and long-standing reputation among the aristocracy as a magician and necromancerForm of magic in which the dead are re-animated and able to communicate with the sorcerer who invoked them, just as they would if they were alive.. He had used mystical practices for at least twenty years,[2] and may have been identified in an earlier witchcraft case, although it is uncertain if it was purely a coincidence of a man with the same name. Isobel Watson, an elderly beggar woman, was subjected to a series of interrogations by members of the presbytery in Stirling in early 1590. On 21 April she confessed to having dealings with fairies and, on 12 May, she went on to name others including a Richie Graham who she said she saw with the “fair folk” several times.[3]

Little is known of Graham’s background or personal details, except that he had connections with the nobility and had a close association with the fifth Earl of Bothwell;[4] in April 1591 the earl claimed he had been friendly with Graham for three or four years.[5] According to the earl, he had been approached by a third party to permit Graham, who was excommunicated at the time, to reside in an area that came under his jurisdiction. The earl also promised, but ultimately did not implement, a request to secure royal protection for the sorcerer.[6][b]The reason for Graham’s excommunication is not known; likewise the name of the third party was never revealed.[6] Others included among the sorcerer’s acquaintances were the King’s chancellor, Lord Maitland.[c]Maitland was appointed as vice chancellor in 1586 rising to chancellor from 1587 until 1595.[7] Bothwell described a meeting of Maitland, himself and Graham when the trio had gone horse riding together in the grounds of the Chancellor’s residence. On that occasion the sorcerer showed them a magical device he used.[8]

Described by King James as being “fat or corpulent”,[9][d]Annotations attributed to the King appear in the manuscript for Daemonologie with the initials RG marked beside the phrase.[9] Scholar Rhodes Dunlap tentatively speculates the initials may instead refer to Robert GriersonNamed by several accused of witchcraft during the North Berwick witch trials, Grierson died whilst being tortured during his interrogation. but concludes this is highly unlikely, further noting there is no indication Grierson was overweight.[10] Graham led a nomadic lifestyle. He was a welcome house guest at the residences of several prominent dignitaries throughout the south of Scotland, among them the prosperous merchant, Edinburgh burgess and associate of the Earl of Morton, John Provand.[11] Graham claimed one of his encounters with Bothwell occurred in Provand’s Edinburgh home but the earl denied that such a meeting took place.[12]


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. , a young maidservant, was interrogated and tortured by her employer, David Seton, in November 1590, as he suspected her of witchcraft.[13] She confessed to being a witch and went on to name several others including an elderly healer, Agnes SampsonScottish midwife, cunning woman and healer; central figure in the North Berwick witch trials.,[14] who named Graham as a co-conspirator during her first interrogation.[15] Graham also featured as a prominent participant in the magical events and machinations described by other detained witches in their statements.[16] By 11 November 1590, Graham was detained in the Edinburgh tolbooth.[6]

One of the accused witches, Barbara NapierWoman accused of witchcraft and conspiracy to murder during the North Berwick witch trials., had approached Graham on several occasions. She admitted she requested his services to charmVerbal charm to be spoken or chanted, sometimes a single magic word such as Abracadabra or the Renervate encountered in the fictional Harry Potter series of books. a ring then also consulted him to help ease her son’s ailments.[17] While she was seeking the magician’s advice about her son in 1589 the King was absent from Scotland and she quizzed Graham as to whether James would return or not.[18] Around the same time the pair also discussed the possibility of the King being harmed by a toad.[19]

After his arrest Graham was questioned by King James. He admitted he conjured a spirit or familiar and divulged other instances of magical endeavours he had been involved in like summoning the Devil.[20] Sir James Melville, also present at the interrogation, recorded claims by Graham that, at the Earl of Bothwell’s request, he had provided the earl with a concoction to apply to the monarch’s face. The potion was supposed to make the King look favourably on the earl – the pair had a tumultuous relationship with the earl constantly dropping in and out of favour – but was unsuccessful. When the earl approached the magician again it was to seek advice on how to bring harm to the monarch; Graham advised him to elicit help from Agnes Sampson.[21]


As in the case of Duncan, no trial records for Graham have been discovered but he was convicted of witchcraft, a crime he had already confessed to.[22] He was executed at Edinburgh’s Market Cross.[23] Sources give varying dates; 1592 was a leap year and some writers quote the last day of February while others state 28 or 29 February.[24] At the time of his execution Graham continued to insist the statements he made about the Earl of Bothwell’s involvement in a conspiracy against the King were true.[25]


Bothwell was tried on 10 August 1593; although Graham had been executed over a year beforehand, his testimony was used as a key component in the charges against the earl.[22]

Modern interpretations

Historian Peter G. Maxwell-Stuart speculates that the magician may have been a member of the Catholic Grahams of Fintry family which had close links to the Earls of Huntly and Crawford. Records indicate that Graham spent time in Fintry and, although Maxwell-Stuart admits there is no firm evidence to confirm this theory, he suggests it would account for Graham being readily accepted and comfortable within the higher echelons of society.[8]

The spirits conjured up by Graham are similar to those invoked by Alison PearsonScottish woman found guilty of sorcery, witchcraft and invoking the spirits of the Devil in 1588, then strangled and burned. and Janet BoymanScottish woman found guilty and executed for witchcraft and associating with fairies..[11][e]Pearson was convicted and sentenced to death in May 1588;[26] Boyman was executed on 29 December 1572.[27]




Dunlap, Rhodes. “King James and Some Witches: The Date and Text of the Daemonologie.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 54, 1975, pp. 40–46.
Goodare, Julian. “The Framework for Scottish Witch-Hunting in the 1590s.” Scottish Historical Review, vol. 81, no. 212, 2002.
Henderson, Lizanne. “Detestable Slaves of the Devil: Changing Ideas about Witchcraft in Sixteenth-Century Scotland.” A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000 to 1600, edited by Edward A. Cowan and Lizanne Henderson, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, pp. 226–53.
Lee, Maurice. “Maitland, John, First Lord Maitland of Thirlestane.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004,
Levack, Brian P. Witch-Hunting in Scotland. Law, Politics and Religion. Routledge, 2007.
Maxwell-Stuart, P. G. Satan’s Conspiracy: Magic and Witchcraft in Sixteenth-Century Scotland. Tuckwell Press, 2001.
Maxwell-Stuart, Peter G. “The Fear of the King Is Death: James VI and the Witches of East Lothian.” Fear in Early Modern Society, edited by William G. Naphy and Penny Roberts, Manchester University Press, 1997, pp. 209–25.
Normand, Lawrence, and Gareth Roberts. Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James VI’s Demonology and the North Berwick Witches. University of Exeter Press, 2000.
Pavlac, Brian Alexander. Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Trials. Greenwood Press, 2009.
Stafford, Helen. “Notes on Scottish Witchcraft Cases, 1590-91.” Essays in Honor of Conyers Read, edited by Norton Downs, University of Chicago Press, 1953, pp. 96–118, 278–84.
Watson, Godfrey. Bothwell and the Witches. Hale, 1975.
Wormald, Jenny. “The Witches, the Devil and the King.” Freedom and Authority: Scotland, c. 1050-c. 1650: Historical and Historiographical Essays Presented to Grant G. Simpson, edited by Terry Brotherstone et al., Tuckwell Press, 2000, pp. 165–82.