The story of Scotland’s last witch burning

A witch burning at the stake. Picture: Contributed.
A witch burning at the stake. Picture: Contributed.
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In 1727 one of the most brutal episodes in Scottish history came to an end as the country’s last witch burning took place.

The woman who owns this unenviable distinction is Janet Horne of Dornoch, Sutherland.

The location of Janet Horne's witch trial is marked by a small stone. Picture: Ronnie Leask/Wikimedia Commons

The location of Janet Horne's witch trial is marked by a small stone. Picture: Ronnie Leask/Wikimedia Commons

Mrs Horne had been a maid before getting married but at the time of her execution was old, frail and confused.

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Her ‘crime’, it transpires, was to suffer from what we may recognise today as dementia - and to have a disabled daughter with a withered hand.

Neighbours accused Janet of trying to transform her daughter into a pony and said she had ‘ridden her until lame’.

Sadly, in the early 18th century, this kind of outrageous hearsay was enough to see you charged with witchcraft and burned alive.

Somehow, the daughter escaped but Janet was stripped naked and tragically burned to death in a tar barrel.

A contemporary source quotes Janet Horne as saying: “I’ve tried to lead a good life, but my people are strangers to me now. My girl has a twisted hand and they whisper terrible things about us. Why do they hate us so?”.

Another cruelly asserts that a confused Janet held out her hands as she burned and said: “that’s a bonnie warming”.

A stone was erected to mark Mrs Horne’s place of execution. It incorrectly states the year of Janet’s death as 1722.

Witchcraft was outlawed in 1736, less than a decade after Janet Horne’s barbaric sentence was carried out.