List of ‘Scots witches’ published online for first time

The monument to Maggie Wall, who was killed in 1657 for being a witch, in Dunning, Perthshire. Picture: Contributed

The monument to Maggie Wall, who was killed in 1657 for being a witch, in Dunning, Perthshire. Picture: Contributed

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The historic pages of a 350-year-old book used to record the names of those accused of witchcraft in Scotland have been published online for the first time.

The Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658 collection, digitised from original records held by the Wellcome Library, holds the names of both women and men who were accused of witchcraft during a period of Scottish history in which persecution of supposed witches was rife.

The names listed have been published online for the first time. Picture: SWNS

The names listed have been published online for the first time. Picture: SWNS

Along with the names and towns of these accused, there are also notes of confession.

About a Helene Minhead of Irongray, Dumfries, it is written: “Her Confessione Is In The Hands Of Mr. Patrike Cuamlait Minister At Irongray”.

READ MORE - Five of Scotland’s infamous witchcraft trials

Other notes give small insights into the lives of those accused. Jon Gilchreist and Robert Semple from Dumbarton are recorded as sailors. It’s also recorded that the spouse of Agnes Watsone of Dumbarton is “umquhile” (deceased).

And, mysteriously, a James Lerile of Alloway, Ayr, is noted as “clenged”, in other words cleaned or made clean. While it’s unclear what James’ fate was, it likely meant banishment or death.

The passing of the Scottish Witchcraft Act in 1563 made witchcraft, or consulting with witches, capital crimes in Scotland.

It is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 women were publicly accused of being witches in 16th and 17th century Scotland, a much higher number than neighbouring England. As revealed in these records, some men were also accused of witchcraft during this period. However, the number of women persecuted was far larger.

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The outbreak of witch-hunting in the years 1658-1662, the period in which this list of names was created, is generally seen to represent the high water mark of persecution of accused witches in Scotland.

But these people were not actual witches. Rather, people accused of being a witch were in many cases healers, part of a tradition of folk medicine. Their treatments sometimes helped poor communities but accusations of witchcraft could crop up if they didn’t work.

The names have been published by Ancestry, who specialise in family history and consumer genomics.

Ancestry Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman said: “Many of us have donned a black dress, pointy hat and even green face paint to go to Halloween parties as witches, but that’s our almost comic interpretation of something mysterious and scary that people feared in the past. In the 17th century, people believed that the unholy forces of witchcraft were lurking in their communities, and those accused of being witches were persecuted on the basis of these dark suspicions.

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“Whether your ancestors were accused witches or not, you can find out more about them and their lives by searching these – and many other collections – online today.”

Dr Christopher Hilton, Senior Archivist at Wellcome Library said: “This manuscript offers us a glimpse into a world that often went undocumented: how ordinary people, outside the mainstream of science and medicine, tried to bring order and control to the world around them. This might mean charms and spells, or the use of healing herbs and other types of folk medicine, or both. We’ll probably never know the combinations of events that saw each of these individuals accused of witchcraft.

“It’s a mysterious document: we know when it entered Henry Wellcome’s collections, and a little about whose hands it passed through before that, but not who created it or why. It gives us a fleeting view of a world beyond orthodox medicine and expensively trained physicians, in which people in small towns and villages looked for their own routes to understanding the world and came into conflict with the state for doing it. We’re delighted to share this insight into the past with a wider audience.”

To search the Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658 collection and more than 18 billion historical records worldwide, visit ancestry.co.uk.

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