Robert Grierson, Greyson, Greirsoune or Robin Grison, (d. 15 April 1591) was involved in the North Berwick witch trialsSeries of Scottish witch trials held between 1590 and 1593 of 1590 to 1593. Dubbed “Rob the rower” and “Robert the Comptroller” by other significant persons accused of witchcraft during the spate of persecutions, he died whilst being severely tortured during the interrogations concerning his participation in the events under investigation.


In November 1590, David Seton questioned his young maidservant, 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. , as he suspected she was involved in witchcraft. 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][2] In the typical style of an emerging extensive witch-hunt, there was a ripple or wave effect as other affiliated people were implicated.[3]

Robert Grierson, sometimes given as Greirsoune, Greyson or Robin Grison,[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.[4] a resident of Prestonpans[5] and the skipper of a boat,[3] was identified as attending several witch conventions.[6] Named by Agnes SampsonScottish midwife, cunning woman and healer; central figure in the North Berwick witch trials. in the earliest transcription of her surviving examinations,[b]The transcript bears no date, but is dated by modern-day academics Normand and Roberts as sometime shortly before December 1590.[7] she explains that Grierson sat beside John FianSchool teacher convicted of witchcraft in 1590, a central figure in the North Berwick witch trials at the front of a boat in which they were meeting. She continues to describe a gathering in North Berwick kirk when the attendees became angry that the Devil did not use Grierson’s nickname prior to the congregation performing the obscene kissRitual of a witch paying homage to the Devil by kissing his genitals, anus or feet. as homage to their leader.[8] The incident is given further elaboration in the indictment at Agnes’ 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.[9]

At the witch convention held at Acheson’s Haven on Lammas Eve, 31 July 1590,[10] Grierson scolded the Devil for not providing a wax effigy of the King in a timely manner. He also asserted that people would have a long wait for some gold to use towards financing plots against the King to arrive from England.[6]

Torture and death

Official documentation such as statements and examinations do not record any details of torture being applied during the questioning and detention of the North Berwick witches, although the methods used are noted in the contemporary publication, Newes from Scotland1591 pamphlet describing the North Berwick witch trials in Scotland, detailing the confessions given by the accused witches before the King.. A note added to the correspondence of Robert Bowes, the English diplomat who was Ambassador for Scotland from 1577 until 1583,[11] to Lord Burghley, William Cecil, indicates that Grierson died owing to the severity of torture inflicted on him while he was being interrogated on 15 April 1591.[12]

Modern interpretations

Grierson is named in all the extant records concerning the North Berwick persecutions except King James’ Daemonologie, which does not explicitly name any of the witches.[6] The manuscript has annotations attributed to the King with the initials RG marked beside the phrase “fat or corpulent”.[13] Scholar Rhodes Dunlap tentatively speculates the initials may refer to Grierson rather than Richard 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. , a magician and necromancer who was also executed as part of the North Berwick witch trials,[14][15] but concludes this is highly unlikely, further noting there is no indication that Grierson was overweight.[16]

According to scholars Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts, the information garnered about Grierson is a fusion of fabrication with minor truthful elements constructed from folk tales, demonology and political themes.[6]




Davenport Adams, William Henry. Witch, Warlock, and Magician. Chatto & Windus, 1889.
Dunlap, Rhodes. “King James and Some Witches: The Date and Text of the Daemonologie.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 54, 1975, pp. 40–46.
Levack, Brian P. The Witchcraft Sourcebook: Second Edition. Second Edition, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.
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.
McGladdery, C. A. “Bowes, Robert (d. 1597).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004,
Normand, Lawrence, and Gareth Roberts. Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James VI’s Demonology and the North Berwick Witches. University of Exeter Press, 2000.
Yeoman, Louise. “North Berwick Witches.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004,