MSPs Consider Pardoning Those Accused of Witchcraft in Scotland’s Past

It has been decided today, 1st of September, to explore pardoning those accused of witchcraft in Scotland. MSPs on the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee considered a petition presented by Claire Mitchell QC to pardon and memorialise those convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1563.

Information provided by SPICe to the committee states:

“The following information has been taken from ‘The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft 1563 – 1736’ (“the Survey”1).

The Survey identified a total number of 3,837 people who were accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736. The authors state that older accounts of the subject tended to produce much higher figures, such as 4,500 or 30,000, but that they are based on speculation rather than detailed research.

Of the 3,837 people who are on the survey database, 3,212 are named and there are a further 625 unnamed people or groups. Of the 3,212 named individuals, the sentence given after trial is only known in 305 cases: 205 were to be executed; 52 were acquitted; 27 were banished; 11 were declared fugitive; 6 were excommunicated; 2 were “put to the horn” (outlawed); 1 person was to be kept in prison; and 1 person was to be publicly humiliated. In addition, a further 98 were recorded as having fled from prosecution. This would suggest that 67% of those tried were sentenced to death. However, the authors state that this figure is probably not very accurate. It is based on only 305 cases – less than a tenth of the 3,212 people known to have been accused.”

The committee decided on a two pronged approach to the petition.

  1. To write to the petitioner to bring forward a case/several cases which could be presented for a review by the courts for a pardon.
  2. To write to the Scottish Government for the First Minister to ask the Queen to use the Royal Prerogative to pardon those convicted of witchcraft. This would be a more straightforward route.

The question of a national memorial to those murdered by the state having been condemned for witchcraft was not yet considered.

A petition on this issue was brought before the Scottish Parliament in 2008 which resulted in no action taken.

There are some local memorials to those condemned to death after being convicted of witchcraft, including one in Orkney, but there is no national memorial.

Orkney’s memorial at the top of Clay Loan Kirkwall
Crook of Devon Memorial Image credit Rosie Hopkins

1 reply »

  1. Thinking of Lilias Adie again….

    And the others, too.

    Do they need our pardon? They will have known the rights and wrongs of it, and pardoned themselves.
    A pardon is usually for people who were wrongly accused of committing a crime – depends on if what a lot of them were doing, was a crime or not – helping, healing, teaching herbal lore?

    Innocence needs no pardon.

    A posthumous pardon can help to make the families of those wrongly accused of a crime feel better, but if what they were accused of shouldn’t really count as a crime – surely no pardon is needed?
    Thinking of them and wishing them well might be more relevant.

    Maybe I’m nit-picking. The MSP’s are showing willing though, which is a good thing.

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