Witch Beliefs and Witch-hunting in England and Scotland

Comparisons between the English and Scottish witch-hunts have been drawn from as early as 1591. Using recent research on the subject from both sides of the border, Christina Larner offers a timely reassessment of their differences.


Our Scottish witch is a far more frightful being than her coadjutor on the south side of the Tweed. In a people so far behind their neighbours in domestic organisation, poor and hardy, inhabiting a country of mountains, torrents, and rocks where cultivation was scanty, accustomed to gloomy mists and wild storms, every impression must necessarily assume a corresponding character. Superstitions, like funguses and vermin, are existences peculiar to the spot where they appear, and are governed by its physical accidents.

The writer was the Scottish historian, John Hill Burton, in 1852. He was but one exponent of a long rationalist tradition in which the relative severity of the Scottish witch-hunt is (correctly) noted, and the cause attributed (with some reason) to the zeal of the Scottish clergy and (falsely) to the severity of Scottish geography and climate.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.