As witchcraft was a capital crime, convicts were usually strangled to death and then burned at the stake so as not to bury a body. Many confessed to being tortured, including sleep deprived, crushed and pulling out nails, and piercing the skin with needles and bodkins to see if the defendants were bleeding. Ruth Schieferstein, Nikki Moran and Morvern work together as part of the Cultural Resources team that researches and interprets the history and archaeology of the properties managed by Historic Environment Scotland. With increasing attention being paid to the history of witchcraft allegations in Scotland and the anniversary of the witchcraft law on June 4, we wanted to remember the thousands of people and their lives that the law has influenced. In 1623, an Issobell confessed to Haldane that she had gone to Ruthven`s well to fetch water to wash a sick child. The child later died and Issobell admitted to having sex with fairies. She was imprisoned and interrogated at the Tolbooth in Perth, convicted of witchcraft and executed. Curiously, the law on witchcraft is short and does not clarify what a witch is and what constitutes witchcraft. Nevertheless, people were able to identify the witches in their communities and prosecute them. In 1561, however, Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France – a Catholic monarch.
Mary delayed the parliamentary session until she could win the support of more moderate Protestants. The result was that most of the laws that John Knox and his radicals wanted were blocked. The law on witchcraft was one of the few laws designed to enforce it. The Scottish witches` website notes that signs associated with witchcraft — broomsticks, cauldron, black cats and black pointed hats — have also been associated with “alewives,” the names of women who brewed weak beer to combat poor water quality. The broom panel should let people know that beer has been sold, the cauldron to brew it, the cat to guard the mice and the hat to distinguish them in the market. Women were pushed out of brewing and replaced by men as soon as it became a profitable industry. So the elitist idea is that you find witches in groups: it`s not just a witch who harms her neighbors, it`s part of a conspiracy. You know, if they find a witch — and you know, ordinary people will give the name to the authorities — the authorities might think, “Well, who are this witch`s accomplices?” And if they interrogate the alleged witch and ask her about her accomplices, they can get the names of other possible witches, especially if they use torture, which they often seemed to do. The most common form of torture in Scotland is sleep deprivation. If you`re sleep deprived for three or four nights, you`ll start working with your interrogators — and most of them seem to do. So they can then get the names of other accomplices – and – you know – those people can be tricked into telling a credible story about witchcraft. I have always been interested in the stories of Scottish women.
Anyone looking for women`s stories in our historical record will, of course, encounter the witch trials, as around 85% of Scotland`s accused witches were women. The Witchcraft Act was an Act of the Scottish Parliament on 4 June 1563. It has adopted a framework under which a person can be charged with witchcraft, tried and executed if convicted. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 (9 Geo. 2 c. 5) marked a complete reversal of attitudes. Punishments for the practice of witchcraft, as it was traditionally constituted, which at the time was considered an impossible crime by many influential figures, were replaced by punishments for the pretext of witchcraft. A person who claimed to have the power to summon spirits or predict the future, cast spells or discover the whereabouts of stolen property were to be punished as a tramp and a fraudster punishable by fines and imprisonment. The Act applied throughout Great Britain and repealed both the Scottish Act of 1563 and the English Act of 1604.  The Witchcraft Act 1603 was applied in the Anglo-American colonies, for example in the trial of Margaret Mattson, a woman accused of witchcraft in the province of Pennsylvania. (She was acquitted by William Penn in 1683 after a trial in Philadelphia.) In the eighteenth century, authorities were increasingly skeptical of witchcraft, and prosecutions were less likely to lead to executions.
Religious tensions in England during the 16th and 17th centuries led to the introduction of harsh penalties for witchcraft. Henry VIII`s Act of 1541 (33 Hen. VIII century 8) was the first to define witchcraft as a crime, a crime punishable by death and confiscation of property and movable property.  It was forbidden: the Witchcraft Act, which criminalized witchcraft, was repealed by the British Parliament in 1736, which is mainly an English initiative, and then he says: “Oh, there is a Witchcraft Act in Scotland too, let`s repeal this”. After that, no one can be executed. A law of 1562 against incantations, enchantments and witchcraft (5 Eliz. I c. 16) was adopted at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I. He was in some respects more merciful to those convicted of witchcraft than his predecessor and demanded the death penalty only when harm had been done; Minor offences are punishable by imprisonment. The law stated that anyone who “used, practiced or practiced witchcraft, enchantment, spells or witchcraft, thereby killing or destroying any person” was guilty of a crime of no benefit to the clergy and should be killed.  Both were arrested, tried, and convicted, but the girl escaped. Janet was the last person in the British Isles to be executed for witchcraft.
“We still see people around the world being convicted, tortured and executed for witchcraft,” says Don. The last charge of witchcraft took place in 1727. In Dornoch, Janet Horne`s daughter was allegedly “turned into a pony and shodden by the devil, which made the girl lame in hands and feet”, and Janet riddled her daughter like a pony. “. Na maner de persoun ni persounis de quhatsumever estate, degre ou conditioun thay be of tak up one hand in ony tymes heirefter to use ony maner of witchcraftis, sorsarie or necromancie … The law also removed the clergy advantage, a legal means that freed defendants from the jurisdiction of the king`s courts from those convicted of witchcraft.  This law was repealed in 1547 by Henry`s son, Edward VI.  Gradually, people are less interested in witchcraft, or the elite are less interested in witchcraft because the authorities no longer put as much effort into creating a divine state. They are not so interested in the divine right of kings, so the government does not try to prove their divine legitimacy. It`s just getting old-fashioned.
There are more modern scientific ideas that do not necessarily contradict witchcraft, but only marginalize it, and so the excitement comes out of it. People lose interest in it and it gradually fades. The last known witch to have been executed was in 1727. The first very big panic is sometimes called the “North Berwick panic”. He was associated with King James VI in 1590, 1591. Some of the witches are said to have conspired against the king. And they are said to have held a meeting at North Berwick Church on Halloween 1590, where she got her name. The witches came from different places – Edinburgh and different places in East Lothian. The king`s involvement politicizes witchcraft and you get several panics afterwards. The last really big one is 1661, `62.
For the next half century, you have a little panic. Scottish lawyer and adviser to King Claire Mitchell, who launched The Witches of Scotland campaign, said: “Those convicted of witchcraft have been strangled and burned at the stake so as not to bury a body.” Under the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563, the practice of witchcraft and counseling witches were capital crimes.  This Act remained in the books of Scottish law until it was repealed following an amendment by the House of Lords to the Post-Union Witchcraft Bill 1735.   But if the authorities are interested in executing witches, you know, witches are appointed by the authorities. And the authorities` own ideas about witchcraft come into play. They tend to assume that a witch is someone who makes a pact with the devil, who sells her soul to the devil, if you will. This was at a time in Scotland when reformers were trying to enshrine the Protestant faith in law. In 1560, Parliament had begun to do so, but without royal approval. The leaders of the new church intended to pass laws that would make Scotland a “God-fearing” country that would punish a whole host of “Horibill vices” such as witchcraft, adultery, etc.