The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women: From the Earliest Times to 2004

By Elizabeth Ewan; Sue Innes et al. | Go to book overview

Y

YOUNG, Issobell, born parish of Dunbar c. 1565, died Edinburgh, Feb. 1629. Indicted for witchcraft. Wife of tenant-farmer.

Issobell Young was first accused of witchcraft on 8 January 1619 and eventually tried in February 1629, when she was at least 65 years old. Her husband George Smith, a portioner of East Barns, Dunbar, testified against her. Three of their four married sons sat on her defence.

References to Issobell Young's work scattered through the abundant surviving documents make it possible to sketch her life before her trial. The family had a secure and heritable lease to one portion of the lands and village of East Barns, Dunbar, for most of her adult life. She and George Smith held the smallest of the three portions, and fought to increase their social status. They owned livestock, barns and outbuildings and employed about ten servants. In addition to managing a household of around 15 permanent members, which probably increased during planting and harvest, Issobell Young took crops to the mill, bought and sold goods and produce, and cared for animals. She undoubtedly also raised her children, cooked, cleaned, mended, and gathered peat, wood and water.

Witness testimony suggests that although in control of her life, Issobell Young was not happy with her economic and social position. Her neighbours believed that she used harmful magic to damage the profitability of their households as a strategy to advance her own. Neighbours recalled patterns of verbal and sometimes physical aggression. A jury of their peers believed them. Issobell Young's testimony provides a rare insight into how an early modern woman saw herself. She refuted the connection between her speech and behaviour and her neighbours' misfortunes. Rather than denying her quarrels, as some witchcraft suspects did, she justified them, describing her reactions to her neighbours as normal. She described her words as 'ordinarlie blastis of anger', or the 'bragis [threats] of passionat wemen' (Selected Justiciary Cases, pp. 101, 104). She called herself an 'honest woman' (NAS, JC26/9), and said her neighbours' misfortunes were due to their own immorality, God's judgement, or their own laziness and incompetence. She became the persecuted, honest, good Christian wife and neighbour. Her self-presented image only partially failed. She was acquitted on ten of the charges and only on one charge was unanimously found guilty. After her trial she was taken to Castle Hill, Edinburgh, tied to a stake, strangled and burned. LM

• NAS: JC26/9 'Issobell Young' bundle, document 4. Larner, C. (1981) Enemies of God: the witch-hunt in Scotland; Martin, L. (2002) 'Witchcraft and family: what can witchcraft documents tell us about early modern Scottish family life?', Scottish Tradition 27; Smith, J. (ed.) (1914) Selected Justiciary Cases, vol. 1, pp. 96–120; Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, www.arts.ed.ac.uk/witches.

YOUNG, Mary Helen, born Aberdeen 5 June 1883, died Ravensbrück, Germany, 14 March 1945. Nurse and resistance worker, France. Daughter of Elizabeth Ann Burnett, and Alexander Young, grocer's clerk.

The youngest of three children, Mary Young moved to Edinburgh with her family in 1884, after her mother's death. After school, she spent several years as a dressmaker in Jenners' department store, before training as a nurse at Kingston County Hospital, Surrey. In 1909, after qualification, she went to France as a private nurse. When war was declared in 1914, Mary Young volunteered for service with the Allied forces, working in the British Army zone in France. After the war she resumed private nursing in Paris, but returned regularly to Scotland and sent her sister money to help maintain the Aberdeen house where she intended to retire. She worked on in Paris during the Second World War, even after the Germans occupied the city. In December 1940, she was sent to a civilian internment camp in Besançon, but due to ill health was soon released. Back in Paris, although under Gestapo surveillance, she managed to harbour resistance organisers sent from London and provide a base for radio transmissions. The Gestapo arrested her late in 1943, on suspicion of helping British prisoners to escape, and she was sent as a political prisoner to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück. Small (4ft 11in), now aged 60, and already ill with heart trouble, she could not do the heavy work required of camp inmates, and conditions at Ravensbrück took their toll. Like thousands of her fellow prisoners, she perished.

When news of Mary Young's resistance work and death reached Scotland in September 1945, newspapers hailed her as a second Edith Cavell. Preliminary investigations revealed that she had died in early 1945, possibly in the gas chamber; in 1948, the Court of Session adjudged that she had died on 14 March 1945. Letters produced in evidence referred to her courage and cheerfulness. A fellow inmate said 'she always kept her chin up'. FRW

• NAS: CS 46/1948 Feb 55, Court of Session unextracted process; NAS: SC70/1/1123 pp. 552–7, Edinburgh Sheriff Court Commissary Court records. *ODNB (2004); 'Nazis send Aberdeen heroine to gas chamber', The Press and Journal, 27 Sept. 1945; 'Marie Helene Sends her Love', The Press and Journal, 27 Sept. 1945; 'Nazis murdered nurse for aiding French, The Press and Journal, 31 Jan. 1948.

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The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women: From the Earliest Times to 2004
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Advisers to the Project viii
  • Contributors ix
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Readers' Guide xxiii
  • Introduction xxv
  • The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women 1
  • A 3
  • B 21
  • C 56
  • D 90
  • E 109
  • F 115
  • G 130
  • H 153
  • I 177
  • J 181
  • K 188
  • L 200
  • M 214
  • N 280
  • O 285
  • P 289
  • Q 294
  • R 295
  • S 310
  • T 350
  • U 358
  • V 359
  • W 361
  • Y 383
  • Z 384
  • Thematic Index 386
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