Scotland’s first minister apologized for the women who were burned at the stake 400 years ago

The First Minister of Scotland made a historic request for forgiveness for all the women who died unjustly accused of witchcraft. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/Pool (RUSSELL CHEYNE/)

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has issued a formal apology to thousands of women who suffered “injustice on a colossal scale” when they were accused of being witches 400 years ago.

The Prime Minister yesterday commemorated International Women’s Day by issuing the historic apology for those who were accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Scottish Witchcraft Act 1563.

It is estimated that 4,000 Scots were accused of witchcraft between 1563 and 1736.

But Miss Sturgeon said the injustice they suffered was “driven by misogyny” and should be acknowledged.

He also praised Baroness Helena Kennedy’s “powerful and compelling” report on misogyny, and welcomed her recommendations, which include the introduction of a legal aggravation of misogyny.

The activists have presented in the Scottish parliament a petition that seeks grant pardon to the 4,000 people accused of witchcraft.

“Those who met this fate were not witches, they were people, and mostly women. In a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in court, they were accused and killed for being poor, different, vulnerable or, in many cases, simply because they were women”, Sturgeon said

Detail of the plate located in
Detail of the plaque located at ‘The Witches’ Well’ in Edinburgh, UK. The “Witches of Scotland” platform seeks redress and national recognition for them. EFE/Kathryn Rattray/EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Kathryn Rattray/)

“It was an injustice on a colossal scale, fueled at least in part by misogyny in its most literal sense: hatred of women. The pardon that the petition asks for would require this parliament to legislate and in future this parliament may choose to do so.”he added.

But in the meantime, the petition also demands an apology. After all, these accusations and executions were instigated and perpetrated by the state.

And so, today, on International Women’s Day, I choose to acknowledge that egregious historical injustice and extend a formal posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.”said the president.

She said that while some may wonder why this generation should apologize for something that happened centuries ago, “It might actually be more pertinent to ask why it’s taken so long.”

“Acknowledging injustice, no matter how historic, is important. This parliament has issued formal apologies and pardons for the most recent historical injustices suffered by gay men and miners. Confronting historical injustice is a vital part of building a better country,” said Sturgeon.

The Witches of Scotland campaign group, which has led calls for all those on death row to be pardoned, yesterday welcomed the apology.

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More than 4,000 women died accused of witchcraft in Scotland.

“This is the first formal acknowledgment of this terrible miscarriage of justice,” they said.

Yesterday the burning of Agnes Sampson, an old woman who was the first woman convicted of witchcraft in Scotland, was recreated on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

Before her death in 1591, she was subjected to sleep deprivation, a common tool of interrogators, as he eventually produced hallucinations used as ‘evidence’.

The performance took place as activists push for the exoneration of all those accused of witchcraft.

Janet Horne was the last Scotswoman to be tried and executed for witchcraft in Dornoch, Sutherland, in 1727.

On the proposal to create a legal aggravation of misogyny, Sturgeon said: “It is important to stress, in anticipation of concerns about freedom of thought and expression, that this would not criminalize misogyny per se.

“But it would allow crimes, for example assault, that are motivated by misogyny to be treated more seriously in sentencing,” he added.


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