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Scottish act of 1563 :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

Scottish act of 1563

WitchesThe Scottish act of 1563 went into effect in 1563, establishing witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. The act did not specify how to handle a witchcraft trial, nor did it establish qualifications for how to identify a witch. It is unclear who exactly drafted the piece of legislation. The act went through a series of revisions, but it is not known what exactly was changed. The final product was brief, and it made practicing witchcraft and consulting with witch’s crimes that courts could execute a person for. The act did not give a clear definition for what identified a witch, though.

The act was responsible for the execution of at least two thousand people until it was repealed in 1736. The vague explanation of what witchcraft actually meant was a key factor in this high number. Charmers and healers became targets for the crime because their skills were viewed as superhuman in some cases. Also, if a costumer was unhappy with the results of their attempts to work with one of these people, they could easily blame it on witchcraft. The lack of guidelines in the act allowed society and courts to establish the script for what a witchcraft crime looked like. For example, there was no mention of the demonic pact in the act, yet that became a key piece of evidence from confessions used to convict an accused witch.

Over the years the government passed various regulations for how to manage a witchcraft trial. However, it was not until many years of decline in accusations that the act was repealed.

Goodare, Julian, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller, and Louise Yeoman. “The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft: 1563-1736.” January 2003.

Goodare, Julian. “The Scottish Witchcraft Act.” In Church History, 39-67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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