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Reviewed by:
  • Scottish Witches and Witch-Hunters ed. by Julian Goodare
  • P. G. Maxwell-Stuart

P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, Julian Goodare, witchcraft, Scotland, Scottish witchcraft, witch hunters, scottish witch hunts, early modern witchcraft, North Berwick, British history

Julian Goodare, ed. Scottish Witches and Witch-Hunters. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Pp. xiii + 258.

This collection of twelve essays adds to the growing series of Palgrave’s Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic, and is the second edited by Goodare, who contributes to this volume not only a preface, but one essay of his own and another in tandem with Margaret Dudley.

“Hunting” in one form or another provides subject matter for seven of the twelve contributions. Michael Wasser, in a typically well-researched piece, discusses one such episode from the late 1560s, led by the Regent Moray, and suggests that it was not successful in its aims because, instead of concentrating on witchcraft to the virtual exclusion of other possible offences by the accused, the energies of the preliminary inquiries and then the justice ayres were dissipated in the regent’s attempt to recreate Scotland as a godly commonwealth by casting around for instances of other moral failures, too—adultery, incest, and abuse of the sacraments, for example. Pamela Hughes takes up the theme of “hunting” in an essay on perhaps the worst outbreak of prosecution, that of 1649–50, which took place in the wake of Covenanters’ seizure of power. This forms an interesting companion to Wasser’s essay, since it represents the way to success that had eluded the earlier Protestant reformers. It is not that the Kirk in Moray’s day was any less keen to establish a state purged of vice and wickedness, but that the Covenanters made sure that both Kirk and secular government cooperated in the measures they considered necessary to their godly purpose; and it is noteworthy that during the 1640s charmers and consulters of witches were targeted as well as those who were said to have entered into a covenant with the Devil. At the other end of the collection’s chronological spectrum comes Alexandra Hill’s essay on the decline and survival of “hunting” between 1701 and 1727. She makes the important point that, while doubts about the reality of witchcraft and the validity of its practitioners’ claims certainly seemed to increase in portions of the ruling and educated classes who were keen to distance themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, from those they saw as “not one of us,” belief continued to be strong, and therefore active, not only among the mass of the people, but also among local elites who did not, and perhaps felt they could not, subscribe to the reservations of those in the capital.

While these essays deal with “hunting”—an unhappily loaded term, along with “panic,” which also appears quite frequently—in terms largely of the political, social, and religious preoccupations of their different chronologies, those by Anna Cordey and Alistair Henderson concentrate on two somewhat different themes. Anna Cordey discusses community relationships in the [End Page 256] presbytery of Dalkeith during the fraught years of 1661–62, and suggests that, while local assumption that someone was a witch or was associated in some way with magic could be damaging and lead to eventual prosecution, it was being named by a suspect that could prove more damaging, especially in times of intensive prosecution, rather than having a reputation for magic, which might swell the numbers of accused. Social networks thus loom large in events leading to the courtroom, as one might expect, and it is thus not surprising, perhaps, that small towns played a major role in producing and pursuing such suspects. This is the theme of Alistair Henderson’s essay, which illuminates the point and, quite timeously, calls for further examination of witchcraft in its urban, as opposed to rural or village setting.

Conflict within communities and between individuals was frequently at the root of particular accusations. This is illustrated in Lauren Martin’s essay on Isobel Young, prosecuted and executed in 1629 after a long history of disputes with her neighbors, and Martin makes the important point that Isobel’s fate...


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