King James the VI played an important role in the legal development of witch trials in Scotland. He did not show a large interest in witch until the early 1590s. When his bride to be, Princess Anne of Denmark, was unable to reach Scotland due to storms and other difficulties on the ship the king had to go retrieve her in Scandinavia. He also experienced a series of violent storms. He began to question whether these challenges were the result of witchcraft spells.
When the couple finally returned to Scotland, the first great witch-hunt was beginning in the North Berwick region. There, a witch mentioned involvement with raising storms to hinder the king and queen’s travels. The king became highly involved in the trials, serving as an interrogator in several cases. Toward the end of this hunt, a pamphlet titled Newes from Scotland was published. The writer of this work detailed and explained the king’s belief in the existence of witches and told about his role in the North Berwick trials.
Newes was later added to the king’s 1597 book, Daemonologie. This work explained his beliefs in witchcraft and outlined his thoughts on the legal process for trying a witch. These were the king’s most important contributions to the witchcraft trials in Scotland. His support of the trials justified their existence and the deaths of those convicted, and his legal ideas played an important role in the politicization of witchcraft in Scotland.
Fraser, Antonia. King James. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975.
Levack, Brian. Witch-Hunting in Scotland: Law, Politics, and Religion. New York: Routledge, 2008.