Victims of witch hunts between the 16th and 18th centuries soon to be officially exonerated in Scotland

EThey were accused of spoiling the crops, of changing into animals to commit their misdeeds, even of dancing with the devil. In Europe, between the sixteenthand and the XVIIIand century, thousands of women and, more rarely, men were tried for witchcraft. Almost systematically, these trials resulted in a death sentence. Historians speak of 200,000 witch trials and 50,000 to 100,000 women burned.

In Scotland, the witch hunt was particularly virulent. According to an article by CityLabpublished in October 2019, the number of people accused of witchcraft is “four to five times higher than the European average”. Now, nearly three centuries after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1736, campaigners are set to win a formal apology on behalf of some 3,837 people – 84% of them women – tried for witchcraft. It is estimated that about two thirds of them perished at the stake.

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Confessions obtained under torture

the Sunday Times reports that after a two-year campaign led by the group of Witches of Scotlanda bill to exonerate the defendants has been introduced in the Scottish Parliament and won the support of the government led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “It is right that this wrong be righted, that these people who have been criminalized, most of them women, be forgiven”commented MP Natalie Don, at the origin of this text, which should be voted on by the summer of 2022.

In 2001, a similar initiative enabled the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, in the United States, to proclaim the innocence of the victims of the Salem witch trials. Between 1692 and 1693, this series of trials resulted in the arrest of a hundred people and the execution of fourteen women and six men.

In Scotland, witchcraft trials began after the passage of the Witchcraft Act in 1563. Before this date, a few judgments are attested, but they are rare. The first witch hunt began in 1590. King James VI of Scotland, who later became James Ier from England, traveled by boat to Copenhagen to meet his future wife, Princess Anne, the sister of the King of Denmark. On the way back, the ship was caught in a storm. Different people were accused of trying to sink the king’s ship. Eventually, over a hundred alleged witches were arrested in North Berwick, a port town in northeast Scotland. Many confessed under torture to having encountered the devil and sought to kill the king. About 70 people were tried.

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James VI was particularly interested in the question. He even wrote a treatise, Daemonologyin 1597, in which he encourages the witch hunt:

“The disturbing abundance in our country in our time of those detestable slaves of the devil, witches and sorcerers, prompts me to write you this note (…) to eliminate the doubt (…) that such attacks of Satan are assuredly practiced, and that his instruments deserve the severest punishment. »

Over time, the king’s interest in the subject waned. Even so, several major series of trials unfolded during the remainder of his reign and well after.

the Guardian cited other well-known cases of witchcraft trials. That of Lilias Adie, for example, accused in particular of having cast a spell on a neighbor to cause him a hangover. Sentenced to death, she died in prison in 1704. Issobell Young was tried, strangled and then burned at the stake in 1629. A stable boy had accused her of having transformed herself into an owl and of having participated on Sabbaths.

The Witches of Scotland website points out that the attributes traditionally associated with witches – brooms, cauldrons, black cats and pointed black hats – were also given to witches. alewives, the name of women who brewed beer. The broom was used to inform consumers that beer was on sale, the cauldron to make it, the cat to ward off mice and the hat to distinguish them at the market.

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Victims of witch hunts between the 16th and 18th centuries soon to be officially exonerated in Scotland

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