The Dumfries Historical Society

I’ve ended up spending the evening rewriting my synopsis for Order For Burning, the theory being that I almost refuse to belief that I’ve spent a year of my life working on this thing without giving it a damn good shot. I had no returns the first time around so something needs to change. What did I come up with? Here’s what I got.


Dumfries, South West Scotland, 1659. An air of tension hangs over this town, it is the height of the witch trials. In which rumour can quickly become accusation, accusation rapidly becoming trial.

Agnes Cairns lives with her husband David on farm land outside Dumfries. They are both devoted to God and are friends with the local minister Robert. Robert carries out the public burnings for all women found guilty of being witches yet he has grown weary of this, beginning to doubt exactly what good this practice does. A young man called Andrew also works on the farm, helping David in the fields. Agnes’ friend Helen does not share the town’s appetite for the burnings, she stays well away from the crowds that gather around the town during the events.

The story begins with a young girl found guilty of witchcraft and burned on the stake on the banks of the River Nith. After conducting this macabre showing Robert finds solace talking to David and Agnes. He reveals his concern that town rumour has suggested another local woman, Janet Miller, is concerned with the dark arts.

Janet provides natural cure alls for the townsfolk on a very secretive basis. She is essentially the closest thing most of the people have to a doctor. Robert is placed with a difficult task as he is actually one of Janet’s customers. The Church notice Robert’s inaction on the matter and employ Jack, a man who has a record in finding witches and bringing them to the stake. Jack is very much guided by God and has a firm believe he is simply acting on the Lord’s instruction despite his use of torture to gain confessions from the women accused.

Lacking anywhere to stay locally, Jack ends up lodging with Agnes and David on their farm. It us during this time that he meets Andrew and begins the process of taking this young man and making him his own apprentice in methods of torture. Andrew is taught the art of extracting a confession by inserting a metal rod through the skin and muscle of the shoulder and forcing it upwards. Convinced he is doing God’s work and glad of the prospect of the extra coin Andrew quickly adapts to his new role. Very soon Janet Miller is held in the local prison and, whilst undergoing this barbaric practice, confesses. This is before she gives Jack a list of names of women whom she shared her methods with. Two of these women are Agnes and Helen.

Jack proceeds to attempt to turn the town against all those accused, saying they’re in league with the Devil. David begins to leave his religious beliefs behind as he tries to defend his wife.

Before long Agnes and Helen are amongst the group of women held in prison by Jack and Andrew. Robert attempts to convince the town that they are innocent but it is too late as Jack’s words begin to take hold with the locals.

Agnes however holds her ground and refuses to bow to Jack’s methods to get a confession out of the women. She stands up to Jack’s tactics and works out he’s simply a mercenary hiding behind religion. In a frustrated rage Jack visits David in the hope he can convince him to confess on behalf of his wife. When David refuses and slams the door back in his face Jack sets fire to the farmhouse with David still inside.

Helen, not coping with the levels of pain and despair, reaches out to Jack asking if there is a way this can end. Jack arranges it so Helen can confess on the group’s behalf thus condemning them to the fires. In the following court hearing Helen is the only one excused as she is banished from Dumfries for the rest of her days.

Nine women are sent to be executed on the Whitesands in Dumfries, Agnes amongst them. Upon seeing this Andrew struggles with what he has done. Jack receives his payment whilst the embers glow and asks Robert to direct him back to his horse. As Jack mounts his steed he is stabbed in the back by David who gains vengeance against the man who killed his wife. Robert witnesses this attack but takes no action, instead motioning for David to leave as quickly as possible.

Order For Burning is a drama based on real life historical events.


It’s detailed, possible too detailed but I feel much better about this than I did with the original a few weeks ago. I’ve actually gone back to relist it on Shooting People. Let’s see if we can get this kick started.

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