The craze for witch-hunting in Europe in the 16th century was as brutal as it was bloody. It is estimated that over a period of about 200 years, about 40,000 women, men and even children have been executed for the “crime” of witchcraft. Agnes Sampson was one of these victims, now it is said that her ghost would haunt the corridors of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

agnes sampson

Agnes Sampson was a midwife and healer at the end of the 16th century who used her knowledge in herbal remedies and related (sometimes questionable) medical procedures for charitable purposes. Moreover, she was so expert that many attributed supernatural or paranormal powers to her. But at that time, Scotland was a deeply superstitious place with fears of masses regularly triggered by presumed evil forces.

Agnes’ success as a midwife and healer was fatal to her, as she quickly became an easy target for extremist fanatics, while in addition, at that time, a wave of religious fervour swept Scotland in the 1590s, so Agnes was quickly accused of making a deal with the devil and found herself in a group of about 100 suspects, who were arrested to practice witchcraft in North Berick. Agnes vehemently denied the charges against her.

Unfortunately for Agnes Sampson, James VI of Scotland took a particular interest in her case. She was taken to a council of her nobles and was fiercely questioned. Agnes’ refusal to submit to the King’s accusations weakened the monarch. She was, by consent, confined in a dungeon where she was brutally tortured, until a confession was extracted.

Remarkably, Agnes endured this ordeal without confessing for days. However, after shaving all her hair, she had to stand naked, fixed against a wall with a painful oral device known as the “scold’s bridle“. This iron instrument with four sharp teeth placed in the mouth, two of which pressed against the cheeks and two against the tongue, preventing any movement of the mouth and any speech. She stood like that for days without sleep or food. Despite this inhuman treatment, Agnes maintained her innocence, begging for her freedom.

Frustrated by Agnes’ resilience to torture, the guards decided to increase their torture and deployed the use of a tourniquet. Within an hour of putting the rope around her neck, Agnes confessed to the multitude of charges she had been charged with. After this, she was removed from her cell, tied to a stake and then slowly burned until she died, the common fate of those accused of witchcraft.

The execution of Agnes Sampson was just one of thousands of tragedies that occurred during the witch hunt in Scotland. Her sad story became particularly important, especially because her tormented ghost would often be seen walking the corridors of Holyrood’s palace, where she was tortured, naked and bald.

Agnes’ ghostly observations date from the time of her execution to the present day. One of the most recent observations was reported to have taken place in 2014, when a maintenance man was working late, trying to repair a defective lock. He said he saw Agnes’ ghost appear at the end of a well-lit corridor and she would have headed in his direction with slow and agonizing movements. Surprised, the worker made a scream of terror, but by that time she had already disappeared…

Another observation by Agnes is supposed to have taken place in the 1990s during a visit by the German Chancellor. According to the sources, the witness was a young German diplomat, who was seen leaving the office he had just entered for fear. When the people present with him asked them what was wrong, he replied that he had seen a naked and transparent spectral shape floating in the middle of the room with his arms outstretched, like a horror film.

Agnes Sampson was an exemplary midwife and healer, who devoted her life to trying to help others through her wisdom. For this reason (perhaps), she was denounced as a witch, stripped, shaved, tortured and finally burned to death. His ghost will surely haunt Holyrood’s palace forever, in perpetual turmoil.

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Pière J. Robin
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