Witches On Trial

The Witches of Berwick

It’s a common fiction that witch craft crazes were the malignant work of poor, simple country folk. Not so, James VI Of Scotland (later to become James I of England too) was an enthusiastic student of witchery and took a personal role in the trial and execution of Agnes Sampson and Dr Fian.

The trouble started when James was sailing home to Scotland with Anne of Denmark, his new wife. A storm – on the North Sea of all places – that troubled their crossing was attributed to witches.

An extraordinary series of events followed that saw witch trials in the home countries of both newly-weds that dragged in high-ranking courtiers. After two Danish women had been burned for their part in the other-worldly plot, James decided to root out the baddies on his territory.

Torture was still legal in witch trials in Scotland, and it was used liberally to help along a process of accusation that soon saw more than 100 so-called witches in chains.

Tragically, two of them – Sampson and Fian – confessed under appalling torture and were strangled before burning and burned.

James VI himself interviewed Sampson and was inspired to write a book on the subject and change the law so that local courts could no longer try witchcraft cases.

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