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    George Hickes. Ravillac Redivivus: Being A Narrative Of the late tryal of Mr. James Mitchel A Conventicle-Preacher, Who was Executed the 18th of January, 1677. for an attempt which he made on the Sacred Person of the Archbishop of St. Andrews. To which is Annexed, An Account of the Tryal of that most wicked Pharisee Major Thomas Weir, who was Executed for Adultery, Incest and Bestiality. In which Are many Observable Passages, especially relating to the Cpresent Affairs of Church and State. In a letter from a Scottish to an English Gentleman. London: Henry Hills. 1678. Krown & Spellman retail: $1,000. First Edition. 4to. 185 x 148mm. A-K4 [Lacks K4, blank]. 78p. Late 19th c. 1/2 calf over marbled boards, title gilt on spine, spine ends chipped, pieces lost from backing leather on covers, hinges cracked but strong, rubbed, owner's name "Thomas Lushman, Norwich" on f.f.e.p., old note on f.f.e.p., 2 small holes in inner margin of t.p.(no text loss), lacks final blank, marginal dampstain on gathering "D," foxing and minor soiling. From the Krown & Spellman Collection.

    More Information:

    Hickes, George (1642-1715), bishop of the nonjuring Church of England and antiquary. "After consulting John Fell, by then bishop of Oxford, Hickes accepted the position despite some misgivings concerning Maitland's debauched courtly lifestyle. In Scotland it was Hickes's task to introduce the liturgy and support Maitland's policies. Thus Maitland commissioned Hickes's Ravillac redivivus (1678), an account of the trial of the covenanter James Mitchell, who had attempted to assassinate James Sharpe, the archbishop of St Andrews. Through Sharpe, Hickes was offered a DD at St Andrews for this work." [Oxford DNB]

    ...Mitchell resolved to assassinate the archbishop of St Andrews, James Sharp, who had betrayed his fellow covenanters at the Restoration and engineered the suppression of dissenters thereafter. Mitchell acquired "a pair of long Scots iron pistols, near musket bore" (Justiciary Records, 2.308) and awaited his moment. On 11 July 1668 he shot at Sharp as the archbishop sat in his coach in the High Street in Edinburgh, but only succeeded in wounding the bishop of Orkney, Andrew Honyman. In the confusion that ensued Mitchell escaped... In January 1676 the council ordered that Mitchell be interrogated under torture in order to wring a confession from him. Mitchell stubbornly refused to confess, and was returned to the Tolbooth before being transferred to the notorious Bass Rock in January 1677. In October 1677 it was decided to bring him to trial, and on 6 December he was brought from the Bass to Edinburgh.... Mitchell's trial did considerable damage to the reputation of a government that was now associated with torture and perjury. In the words of Sharp's biographer, "Not only had he perjured himself, he had been seen to do so" (Buckroyd, 103). On 3 May 1679 a gang of covenanter militants succeeded where Mitchell had failed and assassinated Sharp on Magus Moor outside St Andrews; before they killed him, they declared that they were avenging the death of James Mitchell. In 1681, Halton was indicted for perjury on the evidence of letters he had written in 1674 reporting Mitchell's confession, "upon assurance of his life" (State trials, 6.1263Ð4). However, Mitchell's religious terrorism was exploited by tory propagandists to blacken the reputation of whigs and dissenters. In Ravillac redivivus (1678) George Hickes linked Mitchell's story to that of the notorious covenanter Major Thomas Weir (who had been executed for bestiality and incest in 1670), in order to demonstrate that fanatical dissenters considered themselves to be above the moral law, and were capable of committing the most outrageous crimes in the name of religion." [Oxford DNB]

    Weir, Thomas (d. 1670), criminal and reputed sorcerer. In 1670 Weir suddenly began to exhibit terror at the word "burn," presumably in fear of the fires of hell, and began to confess to many sexual crimes. At first the authorities regarded him as mad, but after he had been examined by physicians he was judged to be sane. On 9 April 1670 he was tried before the justiciary court for "Incests, Adulteries, Fornications, and Bestialitys." Charges included attempted incest with his sister Jean when she was aged about ten, and actual between 1620 (when she was sixteen) and 1624, at the family "House of Wicketshaw," the relationship continuing intermittently for many years; incest with his stepdaughter Margaret Bourdoun; habitual adulteries, persisted in even when "he was of great age;" bestiality with a mare in 1651 at Newmylns in Ayrshire, and lying with "Cows and other beasts." His outward piety and professions of purity beyond other men were denounced as aggravating such offences (Scott-Moncrieff, 2.10-11).

    Weir, by now sunk in despair, failed to plead directly to the charges, although he said that "he thinks himself guilty of the forsaid Crimes and cannot deny them" (Scott-Moncrieff, 2.12), but his confessions had been detailed, specific and consistent, and some aspects of them were corroborated by confessions by his sister Jean, who had lived with him. She also related how they had once, back in the 1620s, been discovered committing incest by their sister Margaret. Margaret confirmed catching her brother and sister in the act. Otherwise no independent witnesses were called, but there was evidence that the 1651 bestiality incident had been observed and reported by a witness at the time, but that no charges had been brought through lack of supporting evidence.

    Thomas Weir was found guilty on all charges, and "not being able to travell for age, was dragg'd on a sled" on 11 April to the Gallowlee, between Edinburgh and Leith, where he was strangled at the stake and then burnt, dying in "despair" (Scott-Moncrieff, 2.14). Jean was convicted of incest and sorcery, to which she had confessed, and was hanged in the Grassmarket on 12 April, trying to tear her clothes off so "she might die with all the shame she could" (Scott-Moncrieff, 2.14).

    The confessions of Thomas and Jean Weir may have exaggerated their misdeeds, but they may be accepted as basically truthful. Their confessions in old age may simply have been the expression of long suppressed guilt which became intolerable, but it seems possible that the Weirs had fallen into the antinomian heresy, and believed that, as the elect of God predestined for salvation, they could do no wrong, but then lost conviction in their own election and collapsed into wild despair.

    The story of Major Weir's crimes was exploited for propaganda purposes as sensational evidence that the supposedly godly presbyterian dissidents in Scotland were immoral hypocrites. In time the propaganda value of his case vanished, but his name survived in popular tales of outstanding wickedness, their crimes being usually bowdlerized as unsuitable subject matter for oral or literary treatment. Weir was transformed into a sorcerer, though he had never been charged with any offences relating to the supernatural, the surviving tales drawing on his sister Jean's confessions rather than his own. Her confessions to witchcraft, including dealings with "the Queen of the Fairie, meaning the Devil" (Scott-Moncrieff, 2.11), alleged that Thomas too had had dealings with the devil, owning a magical staff that gave him power. As a result, even contemporary reports attributed "horrible witchcraft" as well as sexual offences to "that monster of men and reproach of mankind." (J. Lauder, Journals, 1900, 232).[Oxford DNB]



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    December, 2014
    31st Wednesday
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