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Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database

Survey of Scottish Witchcraft
Scottish History, School of History and Classics, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Woodcut of a witch trial

Trial Details

Click the name of the accused (Associated Case) to go back to the Case Details report.

Pointers for understanding your search result

This search result report tells you about the trial process of this accused witch. This help menu is quite long so scroll down for a description of all the sections and categories provided in this report. The trial process was potentially complicated because some form of central permission was required to conduct a witchcraft trial. However, local authorities had varying degrees of power to arrest and investigate suspected witches. To make matters more complicated both the secular state officials and the church were involved in witchcraft prosecutions.

We have defined three types of process through which an accused witch could be brought to trial: a central trial, a local trial and a mixed central/local trial. We defined a fourth type of trial process called 'mentioned in a trial' for convenience, to denote those people who were mentioned as a witch by another accused or confessed witch. In some instances a person was 'mentioned in a trial' and also definitely tried or investigated for witchcraft. But, usually we have no evidence of whether a person 'mentioned in a trial' was also tried for witchcraft. These four trial types will be explained in more detail in the appropriate sections below. This report tries to balance enough detail with maintaining clarity.

The information for the first three trial types is broken into six different categories:

  1. Pre-trial central actions
  2. Pre-trial local actions
  3. Trial phase
  4. People involved with the trial
  5. Post-trial phase
  6. Other named witches

Each section is described in detail below. The fourth trial type is described near the end of the help menu. Through the rest of this help menu we provide general guidance on interpretation of each section, but we will only provide detailed descriptions of the categories that are not self-explanatory. This report will contain some technical legal terms and offices that may not be familiar to a modern reader. If you encounter something you don't understand check the Glossary first. If you do not find it in the glossary then check a Scots Dictionary. We have made every effort to provide you with a glossary for everything contained in this report.

Trial Type - We defined three types of trial process an accused witch could go through: central trial, local trial and mixed central/local trial.

A central trial happened at the High Court in Edinburgh. It was staffed and run by professional lawyers and judges.

A local trial was held in the accused witch's locality. Local officials (either church or secular) were required to apply to a central authority, usually the Privy Council, for a commission of justiciary (which was permission to hold a trial). If granted the trial was to be run by named commissioners who could then appoint all the officials and install the jury. This was by far the most common trial type.

The third type of trial was the mixed central/local trial. This was either a circuit court trial where central officials travelled to set localities to hold courts, or where a central official was appointed to oversee a local trial. Central and mixed central/local trials were roughly the same in numbers.

The 'mentioned in a trial' trial process is different from the first three because in it we do not know if the accused witch was ever formally charged with witchcraft. The trial type has its own Trial details. A description of the report for this trial type is provided at the end of this help page.

Linked Trials - Many witchcraft suspects were processed and/or tried in groups. Names and links to any witches processed or tried concurrently with the accused are provided here. Occasionally the whole group is not linked to each individual case. If you encounter this and want to go back to your original accused, you must use the back arrow on your own tool bar.

Pre-trial Central Actions

These are procedural events that were referred to a central authority including the crown (i.e. the King of Scotland and England), the Privy Council, Parliament, or committee of Parliament. Technically all the courts were royal courts, but the king did not authorise all trials personally.

Commissions - a Commission was the granting of formal permission to an individual or group of individuals to conduct an action or a process. Commissions were granted in response to a request, either from local authorities (either church or secular) or from the family and friends of a suspected witch. Local authorities sought commissions for a variety of reasons including arrest, investigation or trial. Trial commissioners were called commissioners of justiciary. Likewise a commission could be issued to stop trial proceedings or to demand the release of a suspected witch from prison.

Confessions and Imprisonment - information in this part of the report describes those confessions and imprisonment that took place in Edinburgh, under the auspices of central authority.

Pre-trial Local Actions

These are procedural events that happened outside of Edinburgh, usually in or near the residence of the accused witch. A variety of pre-trial events could take place without or before central involvement in the case. Local authorities could and did arrest and interrogate suspects on their own authority.

Torture - Torture is the measured use of pain to force a suspect to confess or provide greater detail. Most instances of torture described in Scottish witchcraft sources refer to torture used prior to a trial, not to judicial torture. This section lists the types of torture described in the sources for this case. If torture is not mentioned in your report this means that we did not find direct evidence that the suspect was tortured. However, this does not necessarily mean that torture was not used. It only means that it either was not written down or that the documentation has been lost. See the Glossary for descriptions of the kinds of torture described in your report.

Ordeal - An ordeal is the use of what was seen as an objective test to prove innocence or guilt. The ordeal was a way to let God speak to provide solid evidence. This form of inquiry is quite distinct from torture, although some ordeals certainly could be painful. See the Glossary for definitions of ordeals in your report.

Confronting Suspects - Some suspects were carried around to other places to confront other witchcraft suspects, particularly ones named by the accused or people who denounced the accused. The phase 'confronting suspects' denotes this procedure.

Trial Phase

The information in this section covers what is known of the actual trial of the accused witch. In most instances we do not have direct evidence that a trial took place. The categories in this section are self-explanatory. If you encounter a technical term that you do not understand please refer to the Glossary or a standard dictionary.

People involved with trial

This section lists the people involved in the trial and their type of involvement. Click on the names to find out more about the people involved. If you encounter a term you do not understand please refer to the Glossary or a standard dictionary.

Post Trial

This section covers details of the execution, if the accused witch was found guilty. We have very little information about the outcomes of trials, therefore the data about executions is minimal.

Other Named Witches

Many accused witches named other people as witches. This section records the names of people who were denounced by the suspect. Click on the name to explore the biographical detail, cases and trial processes of these named witches.

Mentioned in a Trial

An accused witch with this type of trial indicated in their report became a witchcraft suspect after being named as a witch during the course of investigations into someone else. Some accused witches named many other people as fellow witches, thereby widening the scope of investigations and trials. The phenomena of large numbers of witchcraft trials following denunciations extracted from the confessions of witchcraft suspects has been called a 'panic', 'witch-hunt', or 'witchcraze' by historians. When more than two people from any one parish were denounced in this manner, we would refer to this as a 'local panic'. The database shows local panics of anywhere from 2 to 80 suspects. This trial type charts those connections. It also shows up those suspects who were in other people's trial documents as having been previously investigated, burnt or consulted. More often than not, we do not have any evidence about what happened to suspects categorised with this trial type.

Date of Mention - This provides the date of when the accused was named in the trial process of another accused witch.

Type of Mention - People could be denounced by confessing witches for a variety of reasons, either as a known witch, an accomplice, a previously tried suspect, or the cause of harm.

Mentioned in the Trial of - We have provided links to information about the witchcraft suspects who denounced the accused. The link brings you to the personal information report of the witchcraft suspects who denounced other people as witches. From there you can go to their case and trial process details.