The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft

1563-1736

By Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller and Louise Yeoman, January 2003


The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft logo

About the Survey

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft is the result of a two-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), grant no. R000239234. The primary goal of the project was to create a database of people accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736. The aim was to collect, collate and record all known information about accused witches and witchcraft belief in a Microsoft Access database and to create a web-based user interface for the database. Users can view the data through our online web interfaces (searching, graphing and mapping capabilities) or they can download the full database into their own copy of MS Access. The web interfaces and database were designed to enable the public and academic researchers to examine biographical and social information about accused witches; cultural and sociological patterns of witchcraft belief and accusation; community, ecclesiastical and legal procedures of investigation and trial, national and regional variations; and the chronology and geography of witchcraft accusation and prosecution.

The project's director was Dr Julian Goodare, a lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh, with Dr Louise Yeoman (formerly a curator at the National Library of Scotland, later a researcher with BBC Scotland) as co-director. Dr Joyce Miller and Ms Lauren Martin conducted the research and database maintenance. For more details of how the work was done see History of the Project.

history of the project

The idea for the project arose in the late 1990s, when the four project members (Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller and Louise Yeoman) began to discuss the possibility of adding, both quantitavely and qualitatively, to the information available on Scottish witches. We realised that we could find additional witches, and also add dramatically to the range of information available about them. Moreover, database technology could be harnessed to process the information in sophisticated ways. A successful funding application was made to the ESRC in 2000.

The project began early in 2001, with Julian Goodare as the project director, Louise Yeoman as co-director, and Lauren Martin and Joyce Miller as full-time researchers. The project team first devised the comprehensive list of database fields and parameters. The database was modelled around a flat-field prototype designed by Michaele Gardner for use in Lauren Martin's Ph.D. dissertation. Ed Dee and Charlotte Moon of the Edinburgh University Computing Services implemented the complicated programming needed for over 300 fields and extremely complex links between tables and records that were needed to capture the complicated processes of denunciation and investigation. Once the design was finalised and tested, the database was populated by basic data compiled in electronic form by Stuart Macdonald, largely derived from the printed work of Christina Larner, Christopher Hyde Lee and Hugh V. McLachlan (see Previous Surveys of Scottish Witchcraft). Lauren Martin and Joyce Miller then conducted the extensive archival research. They finished their research in September 2002 and spent the final few months of the project on data cleaning, database documentation and writing these web pages. Charlotte Moon created the web interfaces and database tools. The Survey was completed and went online in January 2003.

In autumn 2003, with the support of a British Academy small research grant, the researchers were able to make significant improvements to the supplemental information contained in the database about people involved in witchcraft investigation and prosecution. Our list of people involved in the prosecution of witchcraft suspects can now be used as the basis for further inquiry and research.

previous surveys of scottish witchcraft

George F. Black
In 1938, G.F. Black published his Calendar of Cases of Witchcraft in Scotland, 1510-1727. This listed all the cases he could collect from a wide range of published sources. Based in New York, he did not attempt to examine manuscripts. His Calendar contained about a thousand entries, most of which were references to specific trials (sometimes of more than one witch). Black's work made no claim to be comprehensive, and could not be used for statistical analysis. However, it had a straightforward and convenient chronological arrangement, and contained a paragraph or two of text summarising each case. For this, and for its survey of local published sources, it has remained useful.

Christina Larner, Christopher Hyde Lee and Hugh V. McLachlan
In 1977, Christina Larner et al. published their Source-Book of Scottish Witchcraft, the fruits of a research project funded by the then Social Science Research Council. This was the first attempt to gather trial records systematically. A great deal of new information was uncovered, particularly from central manuscript sources, and raising the total number of cases to 3,069. The entries for each case provided little detail—10 basic fields, containing less information than Black—but Professor Larner et al. were able to run some elementary statistical queries, using the mainframe computer on which the Source-Book's data was originally compiled. However, the data was not made available electronically; the published Source-Book was simply a printed book with a list of cases and some attached tables.

Stuart Macdonald
In the 1990s, in the course of his doctoral research, Stuart Macdonald produced a revised version of the Source-Book. He corrected many of the Source-Book's numerous errors, and collected additional cases—particularly in Fife, the county on which his doctoral research concentrated. This raised the total of cases to 3,230, though this figure included numerous duplicates inherited from the Source-Book. He also entered the Source-Book's data onto a modern computer database, increasing the number of fields from 10 to 21 while retaining the basic scope of the data. He issued this Scottish Witch Hunt Data Dase (SWHDB) on CD-Rom, and also kindly made the data available to the present Witchcraft Survey. The SWHDB itself has now been superseded by the Survey.

acknowledgements

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft team gratefully acknowledge the help of many institutions and people.

  • The main research project, from February 2001 to January 2003, was funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
  • A small research grant from the British Academy allowed the researchers to improve the information about people involved in witchcraft prosecution.
  • Computing support and application development were provided by Computing Services, The University of Edinburgh. Ed Dee (Information Tools Team) built the Microsoft Access database and application used to collect the data, Charlotte Moon (Information Tools Team) built the ColdFusion application, web interface, graphs and maps used to display the data, and Tim Riley (Data Library) provided the parish and county boundary data files. The web pages are hosted on the Computing Services ColdFusion server, using Microsoft SQL Server as the back-end database.
  • We offer many thanks to the staff at the National Archives of Scotland. This project could not have been completed without their support and help. We worked in the NAS for nearly 19 months. They provided specialist advice when needed and they cheerfully delivered all the manuscripts we consulted to our desks. Thank you.
  • During the course of research into the local aspects of witchcraft and witch prosecution, we visited many local archives, including: Ayshire Archives, Dundee City Archives, Glasgow City Archives, Orkney Archives, St Andrews University Library, and Stirling Council Archives. The staff at these archives were extremely helpful and directed us to many important sources for our study.
  • Stuart Macdonald acted as a consultant to the project. By kindly donating us a copy of his Scottish Witch Hunt Data Base, he helped us get started with a run rather than a crawl.
  • Michaele Gardner designed a database for Lauren Martin's Ph.D. thesis that we used as a prototype for the project database.
  • Michael Wasser provided us with detailed corrections and additions to Larner et al.'s A Source-Book of Scottish Witchcraft. His more accurate references made it easier for us to find relevant source materials, thereby allowing us to cover more material for the project.
  • Eila Williamson, a researcher for the project 'Records of Early English Drama' provided the project with many references from presbytery, kirk session and burgh court records. She has greatly expanded our coverage of local documents.
  • Alastair Hendry very kindly donated a copy of his 'Calendar of Witchcraft Cases of Ayrshire' to the project. He has spent many years combing the local records of Ayrshire and has found many local witchcraft suspects that would have gone undiscovered by the project.
  • Martin Rackwitz provided us with many references to witchcraft suspects and people's attitudes to witchcraft belief and witch-hunting from early travellers' accounts of Scotland.
  • Elizabeth Ewan provided the project with many references to witchcraft that she encountered while conducting research into slander cases.
  • Kelly Walker helped us at the beginning of the project with references and help at the National Archives of Scotland.
  • Laura Stewart provided us with references to witchcraft in the Edinburgh City Archives.
  • Lizanne Henderson provided us with references to witches in Dumfries and shared her interpretations with us.
  • Kenneth Wright provided us with some new information about witchcraft suspects from Bo'ness.
  • John G. Harrison gave us information about the witch of Monzie.
  • Aonghas MacCoinnich told us about some printed sources.
  • Fiona Scharlaw provided the project with a detailed account of documents held locally in Angus.
  • Robert Landrum gave us references from presbytery minutes and burgh accounts.
  • John Ballantyne provided a reference to witchcraft information in the Rose of Kilravock Papers.
  • Alexander Sutherland gave us a wealth of information about witchcraft cases from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
  • Gregory Durston told us about a pamphlet that mentions a Scottish witch-finder being brought to Newcastle.
  • Professor Geoffrey Barrow identified a number of obscure place-names for us.

authorship and copyright

This website and database were created by Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller and Louise Yeoman, with financial support from the Economic and Social Research Council.

This website and database and all of their contents are the copyright of the University of Edinburgh and reproduction is only permitted in accordance with the following terms:

You may view the database and download it to file or print for the purposes of private reference, research or study. You may not (a) store it or print out copies of it (or any part of it) other than for the purposes set out in this paragraph; or (b) reproduce, copy or transmit it (or any part of it) in any other way for any purpose or in any other medium, without our prior written permission.

links

Here are some websites about the history of witchcraft and witch-hunting in Scotland and Europe. We have included only scholarly websites. There is a great deal of unscholarly information about witchcraft on the Internet, some of which can be seriously misleading; the best information usually comes in published books and articles. For these see our Further Reading section.

The Witchcraft Bibliography Project. A major project listing published works on the history of European witchcraft.

Scottish Archive Network (SCAN). An electronic illustrated exhibition of documents on Scottish witch-hunting, created in 2002 by SCAN, an organisation providing electronic access to Scottish archives.

Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN). Electronic images of artefacts, pictures and other materials on Scottish culture. Includes some witchcraft materials. Registration is required.

The Damned Art. An electronic illustrated exhibition of books on witchcraft and demonology, created in 1985 by Glasgow University Library.

Stuart Macdonald. Homepage of the author of The Witches of Fife (2002), and of the electronic 'Scottish Witch Hunt Data Base' which helped to make the Witchcraft Survey project possible.

Rune Hagen. Homepage of a scholar who has conducted several studies of witchcraft in Scotland and Scandinavia.

contact us

The project has now closed, so we do not have an office or staff who can answer enquiries.

If you would like information about Scottish witchcraft, please read this website, explore the database, and check out the books and articles listed in the Further Reading section.

If you would like information about European witchcraft, please see the websites listed in our Links section.

If you have information about errors in the database, or about witches whom we have omitted, please contact the project's director, Julian Goodare.

disclaimer

If your PC does not support relevant technology you may not be able to use or run certain sections of the website interactive searches or the clickable download. The interactive maps section of the website requires the Autodesk MapGuide Viewer plug-in, which can be downloaded via the website. The clickable download database is accompanied by instructions for use, a description of the database (design, structure and concepts), list of fields and descriptions, reference table descriptions, methodology, bibliography and provenance of data. It requires Microsoft Access 97 and Microsoft Word. The project does not accept any liability if you are unable to utilise or access any parts of the website or database. The project members are under no obligation to help you understand the data or the database.

The survey assumes no responsibility for the contents on any other websites to which we have links. We have no control over, and exclude liability for, any material on the World Wide Web that can be accessed by using the witches.hca.ed.ac.uk website.

how to cite us

If you use information from this website in something you have written, please acknowledge us as your source.

Please use your normal citation conventions for websites. We suggest:

Julian Goodare, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller and Louise Yeoman, 'The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft', https://witches.hca.ed.ac.uk/ (archived January 2023, accessed '[your date]').

The information in this website may be used freely for the purposes of private reference, research or study, but please remember that it is copyright. See Authorship and Copyright.

the illustration

Newes from Scotland

This is a woodcut from the pamphlet Newes from Scotland, about the North Berwick witch-hunts of 1590-1. The author was probably James Carmichael, minister of Haddington, who helped to interrogate the North Berwick witches and who advised King James on the writing of his book Daemonologie. The pamphlet was published in London in 1591, and contains virtually the only contemporary illustrations of Scottish witchcraft.

The woodcut illustrates various scenes relating to the pamphlet.

  • Centre and left: a group of female witches listen to the Devil preaching a sermon in North Berwick church at Hallowe'en 1590, with John Fian, schoolmaster of Haddington, acting as their clerk.
  • Top left: a ship is sunk by witchcraft. The witches were accused of raising the storms that troubled the voyage of James's bride, Anne of Denmark, to Scotland, though in fact none of her ships were sunk. The pamphlet describes the sinking of a ferryboat in the Forth, and elsewhere in the trials some of the witches were accused of having sunk a ship, the Grace of God, at North Berwick.
  • Top right: witches stirring a cauldron—a stock image rather than a scene directly from the pamphlet.
  • Right and bottom right: a pedlar who discovers witches in Tranent is magically transported to a merchant's wine-cellar in Bordeaux. This story is told in the preface to the pamphlet only to be described as 'most false', but this did not discourage the illustrator.

The best edition of the pamphlet Newes from Scotland is in Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts (eds.), Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James's Demonology and the North Berwick Witches (2000). For other works see Further Reading on Scottish Witchcraft.