Kate McNiven

d. 1715 or 1563

There are various stories about Kate McNiven which take in more or less, or variations, of what comes below. This is the best description and analysis of Kate McNiven which I have found, reflecting the local folklore of Strathean.

"Monzie is best known in connection with the burning of a witch. The traditionary story makes out Kate M'Niven to have been a nurse in the family of the Grammes [Grahams] of Inchbrakie, and as a proof that she was a member of the weird sisterhood, a story is told of her in connection with a visit which the Laird of Inchbrakie made to Dunning on the occasion of some festivity. According to the fashion of the time, he took with him his knife and fork. After he was seated at the dinner table he was subjected to [the] annoyance ...[of] the hovering of a bee about his head. To relieve himself from the tiny tormentor, he laid down his knife and fork, and attempted to beat off the insect with his hands. It soon flew out at the window; but behold! the laird's knife and fork had disappeared. They were searched for all over the table, and under the table; nowhere could they be found; but when their owner reached home and recounted his mysterious loss, Kate M'Niven, who was present, straightway went and produced both articles safe and sound from their accustomed repository. It was whispered that Kate had personated the bee.

Relieved of her duties in the house of Inchbrakie—as the result, it is said, of an attempt to poison the young laird—Kate M'Niven returned to her old home at the Kirkton of Monzie, where she acquired an "uncanny" reputation. Evidence of her sorceries was collected or suborned, and through the machinations of the young laird of Inchbrakie, she was apprehended and brought to trial on a charge of witchcraft, and her guilt being conclusively established, sentence of death was pronounced against her. The stake was pitched and the faggots piled on the summit of the Knock of Crieff, and thither was the sorceress dragged, to suffer in presence of an immense multitude gathered from all the surrounding country...

The Inchbrakie family tradition is much more reliable than the traditionary story as related by Dr. Marshall and Rev. Mr Blair. Writing under date November 25, 1895, Miss L Graeme says:—'My mother was the wife of the second son of Inchbrakie, and I have over and over again heard her relate how, on her home-coming as a bride, my grandfather on one occasion told her the story. He spoke of Monzie having brought a witch to the notice of the authorities. She was being burnt on the Knock of Crieff, above Monzie, when the Inchbrakie of the day, riding past, did all in his power to try and prevent the matter from being concluded, without avail. Just as the pile was being lit she bit a blue bead from off her necklet, and spitting it at Inchbrakie, bade him guard it carefully, for so long as it was kept at Inchbrakie the lands should pass from father to son. Kate then cursed the Laird of Monzie.

"My grandfather had the ring carefully kept in a casket, and his own daughter was not allowed to touch it—only the daughters-in-law. On my mother presenting my grandfather with his first grandson, he bade her slip it on her finger, as the mother of an heir. Nearly forty years after, when I was a young girl, I well remember my mother's horror and dismay when my cousin Patrick—the head of the family—after his majority, opened at our house a box of papers which, during the family's absence abroad, had been left in my mother's care; for there was the ring in which the stone was set—no longer guarded within the walls of Inchbrakie. A few years after this the first acres of the old Barony of Inchbrakie and Aberuthven were sold; now there is not one of them left. The ring is still retained among the family papers—such, at least, as were left after the burning of the castle by Cromwell. It is a moonstone sapphire, set in two brilliants of different shape. There is a curious bluish enamel on part of the gold, which is embossed half-way round. There is also a charm, which is said to have belonged to Kate M'Niven. It is a slight iron chain with a black heart, having two cross bones in gold on the back, bearing the words 'cruelle death' on it, and attached to it a death's-head in the shape of a serpent's head with curious enamel.'

That Kate Nike Neiving—not M'Niven, as her name is generally pronounced—was among the first to suffer as the result of the passing of this statute, is clearly proved by referring to the case of John Brughe, the notorious Glendevon wizard, who was tried at Edinburgh on November 24th, 1643, for practising sorcery and other unholy arts. It was alleged against him that he had obtained his knowledge 'from a wedow woman, named Neane Nikclerith, of threescoir years of age, quha wis sister dochter to Nike Neveing, that notorious infamous witche in Monzie, quha for her sorcerie and witchcraft was brunt fourscoir of yeir since or thereby.'

That the date of the burning of the witch at Monzie took place in the year 1563, and not, as is generally supposed, in the year 1715 is not only proved by the recorded evidence in the case of John Brughe already referred to, it also receives confirmation from the fact that although reference is made over and over again in the Session Records to public events, there is no mention made of the witch. An additional argument for the earlier date is also found in the fact that Patrick Graeme, younger of Inchbrakie (referred to by Dr. Marshall as the person who brought Kate to the stake, and by Mr Blair as the man who would prove the means of her death), had been for over twenty years in exile. Having slain John, the Master of Rollo, when returning homewards from a revel at Invermay, he escaped abroad, and it was not till the year 1720 that he procured remission of his sentence and returned to Inchbrakie. That he did return is proved by the fact that he was a witness to a feu-charter, granted by Anthony Murray of Dollary, to Donald Fisher, taylzior in Crieff, dated 'at Dollary,' January 13th, 1725.

An attempt has been made not only to fix the date as 1715, but also to give a list of the 'understanding gentlemen, magistrates, and ministers of the neighbourhood,' who acted as judges on the occasion; and in particular the then minister of Monzie—Mr Bowie—is singled out as one of those who are said to have been bitter against the witch, and because of the part he is supposed to have taken in bringing her to justice, not only was a curse pronounced upon the parish, but for rhyming purposes a curse is also pronounced on Mr Bowie and his successors in office—

"Yon bonnie manse shall ne'er a tenant see
Who shall not yet this bitter day abye,"—

a curse which has not been realised, so far as we know, in the case of any of those who have ministered in holy things in the parish. If there is any honour attached to the work of burning witches, we conclude that the parish can claim the honour of being the first to obey the law enacted on the 4th of June, 1563, and if the evidence given at the trial of John Brughe be at all reliable—as we have no reason to doubt—the real name of the witch was Kate Nike Neiving."
From 'Chronicles of Strathearn'

Chronicles of Strathearn; New Statistical Account
Chronicles of Strathearn (CRIEFF: DAVID PHILIPS,1896); New Statistical Account, Monzie parish, pps 269-70.