Weir, Thomas (DNB00)

WEIR, THOMAS (1600?–1670), reputed sorcerer, son of a Lanarkshire proprietor in Clydesdale, was born about 1600. He served as captain-lieutenant in Colonel Robert Home's regiment in Ireland in 1641, and also for some time as major in the Earl of Lanark's regiment; and on 3 March 1647 presented a petition to the estates for the payment of a sum of 600 merks due to him for these services. In 1649–50 he was promoted to the command of the city guard of Edinburgh. He was one of the promoters of the western remonstrance in 1650, and gradually became noted as one of the most devoted and sanctified of a strict sect of Edinburgh covenanters, at whose meetings he displayed a remarkable gift of extempore prayer. As major of the city guard he had special charge of Montrose before his execution in May 1650, and is stated to have treated him with peculiar harshness.

In his later years, and after he retired from the city guard, Weir gradually became reputed as a wizard. On coming to Edinburgh he lodged for some time in the Cowgate, in the house of a Miss Grissel Whitford, where James Mitchell (d. 1678) [q. v.], the would-be assassinator of Archbishop Sharp, also for some time lodged. Subsequently he resided with his sister Jean in a house in the West Bow. On the stair of this house he is said to have cast a powerful spell by which those who were ascending it felt as if they were going down. His incantations were mainly effected by means of a black staff, which was curiously carved with heads like those of the satyrs, and was supposed to have been presented to him by Satan. This staff could be sent by him on errands, and on dark nights (so it was gravely affirmed) might be seen going before him carrying a lantern. Fraser, minister of Wardle, who saw him in Edinburgh in 1660, thus describes him: ‘His garb was still a cloak, and somewhat dark, and he never went without his staff. He was a tall black man, and ordinarily looked down on the ground: a grim countenance and a big nose’ (manuscript in the Advocates' Library, quoted in Wilson's Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time, 1872, pp. 335 sqq., where is also an engraving of Weir's house in the West Bow). But whether influenced by remorse or lunacy, or a combination of the two, Weir, though he never professed any penitence, made a voluntary confession to the authorities of incest, sorcery, and other crimes; and, after trial, on 9 April 1670, during which he is said to have been delirious, was burned at the stake on the 12th, at Gallowlie, on the slopes of Greenside, between Edinburgh and Leith. He died impenitent, and renounced all hopes of heaven. His staff, which was also burned with him, ‘gave rare turnings’ in the fire, and, like himself, ‘was long a burning.’ His sister, notwithstanding that she manifested unmistakable symptoms of lunacy, was burned along with him. His story is supposed to have suggested Lord Byron's ‘Manfred.’

[Hickes's Ravaillac Redivivus, 1678; Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Displayed, 1685, reprinted 1871; Lamont's Diary, ed. Kinloch, 1830; Robert Law's Memorialls, ed. C. K. Sharpe, 1818; Arnot's Criminal Trials; Robert Chambers's Traditions of Edinburgh.]

T. F. H.