£1.5m mansion’s historic links to witch trials

A BEAUTIFUL baronial mansion boasting superb views of unspoilt Lothian countryside is on sale for £1.5 million – but it comes with a tragic and horrific history.
Keith Marischal House. Picture: CompKeith Marischal House. Picture: Comp
Keith Marischal House. Picture: Comp

Keith Marischal House is the place where hundreds of witches spent their last night before being executed.

More than three centuries ago, the condemned women were locked in the chapel near to the mansion house in Humbie.

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The ruined chapel, now a scheduled ancient monument, is included in the sale which also includes ten acres of grounds, the seven-bedroom mansion and historic tower house.

Although now a place of tranquil beauty, Keith Marischal House was drawn into the North Berwick witch trials which took place between 1590 and 1678. They were sparked by the belief that severe storms had been conjured up by witches, a notion suggested by King James VI following a sea journey to Denmark.

After “confessing” their sins at trials in North Berwick, one of which was attended by James VI, condemned women were kept in the chapel the night before their execution.

The sentences were carried out a mile away from the house, by burning or garrotting.

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Names of the “witches” have been lost to history, but one of the most prominent could have been Agnes Sampson, an elderly Scottish healer who lived nearby who was eventually brutally tortured, garotted and burned at the stake.

The witch trials became so widespread that it has been predicted up to 4000 accused men and women may have been killed in Scotland.

Today the chapel bears no mark of the pain and suffering of the women held within.

However, it does boast a wealth of other historical detail.

It holds the unidentified tombstone of a crusading knight – a possible memorial to Sir William Keith who assisted the campaign to take the heart of Robert the Bruce to the Holy Land.

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There are also spiral carvings on the exterior of a window, which bear a likeness to those made by a philosophical secret society founded in the 1600s.

The house, which is being sold by Savills, is described by the firm as a “delightful, historic country house in mature gardens with far-reaching views.”

A gate and stone steps lead to an all-weather tennis court and there is also a greenhouse, a dog kennel and run.