Thousands of Scots convicted of witchcraft could posthumously be pardoned if a new bill proposed by an MSP becomes law.
Natalie Don, SNP MSP for Renfrewshire North and West, has launched a hearing on a member’s bill to “correct the historic clock of witchcraft convictions” and grant legal pardons to those convicted nearly 300 years ago.
It comes after the Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologized on International Women’s Day in March to those convicted, insulted or executed under the Witchcraft 1563 Act.
About 4,000 Scots are estimated to have been charged with the crime, which was valid until 1736, when about 85% of those convicted were women.
Campaigners have been fighting to secure a legal pardon for about 200 years for the approximately 2,500 people convicted of breaking the law.
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- Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis Accused of witchcraft by her brother, King James V, as part of a vendetta against his family, she was arrested on summary charges. People close to her were tortured to extract “evidence,” and on July 17, 1537, Janet was burned alive at Castle Hill, Edinburgh, with her young son forced to watch.
- Helen Duncan (1897-1956) The last Scot to stand trial under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, Duncan was notorious as a schoolgirl for his dark preconceptions. She later claimed she could summon spirits by emitting ectoplasm from her mouth, but was exposed and convicted of fraud. In 1941, Duncan held a session in which a dead sailor told her that HMS Barham had been sunk. Because this information had not been released to the public, Duncan was arrested and jailed for falsely claiming to have obtained liquor.
- The Bo’ness witches In 1679, Annabel Thomson, Margaret Pringle, Margaret Hamilton, William Craw, Bessie Yickar, and another Margaret Hamilton were detained at the Borrowstounness toll booth accused of witchcraft. It was alleged that they had all renounced their baptism and eaten, drunk, danced and committed adultery with the devil on several occasions. They were all found guilty and strangled on the fire.
- Janet Horne Accused of being a witch in 1727, Janet Horne was the last person in the British Isles to be executed for witchcraft. When Horne and her daughter were arrested in Dornoch, after being accused of being witches by their neighbors, she showed signs of senility. Following a hasty trial, they were both found guilty. While her daughter managed to escape, the old woman was undressed, smeared with tar, paraded through the city on a barrel and burned alive.
- Isobel Gowdie In 1662, Isobel Gowdie, a housewife from Lochloy, Nairn, was executed after freely confessing – without being tortured, as was customary at the time – to being part of a coven of 13 who partyed with the fairy queen and also had the ability to transform into animals. She also claimed to have killed a man with elf arrows and to have been raped and beaten by the Devil. Gowdie’s testimony is considered to be the most unusual ever given by a witchcraft suspect in Britain.
- The Witches of Macbeth “Double, double wear and tear; / Fire burns, and boiler bubbles.” Shakespeare’s witches predict Macbeth’s rise to prominence and his eventual downfall. They were probably based on a chronicle about Britain written in 1587, in which Macbeth and Banquo meet ‘three women in strange and wild clothes’, believed to be Weird Sisters, ‘goddesses of fate’.
Don said: “The recent formal apology from the Prime Minister on International Women’s Day was welcomed by advocates in Scotland and recognized worldwide as a declaration of intent.
“It was a powerful and incredibly important first step in rectifying the historic clock of ‘witchcraft’ charges, arrests and executions.
“My Member’s bill will hopefully be the next step towards that, and if it is passed, it will make it clear that the people who have been convicted of witchcraft all those years ago should never have faced that injustice. to be branded as criminal.
“By issuing official pardons to all those convicted of witchcraft, we want to send a strong message to the wider world – some parts of which women are still facing prosecution for being accused of witchcraft – that Scotland acknowledges what happened. with these people, as a regrettable legal disturbance.
“It is also about influencing the gendered and patriarchal attitudes that unfortunately still exist in our society today – and making it clear that Scotland does not tolerate discrimination in any way.”
The Witches of Scotland campaign group said: “We are absolutely delighted to see Natalie Don’s bill reach this stage and hope that this will bring a posthumous justice to the thousands of people executed by the state during the witch hunts.
“This will also signal to other countries around the world, where accusations of witchcraft are a very real and current topic, that this is not acceptable in the present.”