A pardon for Scottish witches
The Scottish witchtrials began in ernest in 1590, killing thousands of innovent people, but justice may now be finally served. There has now been a petition; PE 1855 to Pardon and Memorialise those convicted under the Witchcraft Actof 1563 for the attention of the Scottish Parliament and as such a Bill was presented by MSP Natalie Don in June 2022 in an attempt to fix the injustices of the past for around 4000 people.
Don is quoted as saying this is to ensure that these individuals are “recognised as victims of a miscarriage of justice and are no longer recorded in history as criminals“. She goes on to suggest that “In Scotland, at least 2,500 people were convicted and
executed on the charge of practicing witchcraft between 1563 and 1736″.
This Bill was in part helped by an apology issued by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in the spring of this year for those people, mainly women who were tortured and killed in the name of some archaic belief and law. The Witchcraft Act itself was in effect from 1563 to 1736, and made practicing witchcraft punishable by death.
The tide is definitely turning in favour of those poor souls to include an apology from the Church of Scotland and a proposed site in Fife of a national memorial being the epicentre of much of Scotland’s witch fervour.
According to the Washington Post and as many know, Scotland was not a stand-alone nation as documents confirm; there was it seems about 12,000 witch executions, the bulk from 1580 to 1650. This was confirmed by one historian who found in a timeline based on the witch hunts of Europe, that some countries have since issued pardons. This includes countries outside Europe where, after more than three centuries since the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts many individuals have since been officially cleared in the United States.
A list of witches in Scotland
According to some, Carruthers had their fair share of ‘Witches’, although the latest listings published on Ancestry suggest that at least from 1658 onwards, only one is mentioned; that being a Marion Carruthers. The list itself was compiled by Ancestry and reported in 2016.
According to the Scotsman Newspaper “The 350-year-old book, entitled the Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658, documents a time when persecuting supposed witches was rife. The list of Scottish witches has been published on Ancestry, a family history website“.
Ancestry itself states: The passing of the Scottish Witchcraft Act in 1563 made witchcraft, or consulting with witches, capital crimes in Scotland. It is estimated that between three and five thousand women were publicly accused of being witches in 16th and 17th century Scotland, a much higher number than neighbouring England. Some men were also accused of witchcraft during this period, however, the number of women persecuted was far larger.
The outbreak of witch-hunting in the years 1658-1662 the period in which this list of names was created, is generally agreed to represent the high-water mark of Scottish persecution. With this collection, you will be able to find details of the accused’s name and town of residency.
The ‘plethora‘ of Carruthers’ witches?
Firstly, we have to remember that although there are one or two records under the Great Seal, full records of parliament, which would not necessarily have covered criminal trials not of the nobility, only began in 1466.
The recording of births, deaths, baptisms, banns and marriages, through statutory regulation only began in 1855 although parish records, held by the church began in England in 1538, with the oldest in Scotland dating from 1553 (Errol, Perthshire), although many did parishes did not keep records until much later. Some registers have been lost or destroyed and the condition of the surviving 3500 is variable.
In the Catholic church of which many Carruthers were the earliest records date from 1703, these do not cover the same area as the Church of Scotland or other denominations according to a guide produced by scotlandspeople.
The protestant reformation is accepted as beginning seriously in Scotland through the preachings of George Wishart and John Knox beginning in 1525. It was accepted by parliament as the state religion in 1560. As such pior to this and in fact beyond, many of our kin would have remained Roman Catholic, how long for one cannot say.
The National Records of Scotland holds all surviving original registers. As such genealogical claims going back prior to the 17th century (ie 1600’s), are difficult to accept without any real obust evidence. This includes claims of witchcraft in our family, as just because its a claim, does not make that claim factual.
Therefore as we research our name and therefore our family’s involvement and persecution from witchcraft which was initiated by the news of the potential upcoming pardon, we look at previous and other claims being made of Carruthers witches.
As such an interesting site to check out with a total of 3141 names is ‘Places of Residence for Accused Witches. Here you can click on the graphic of a witch in an area and a summary of information pops up relating to the ‘witch’ along with their names, residence etc.
As you can see from the map of the area in and around Dumfriesshire, which historically was where the vast majority of our family would have resided at the time, Carruthers is not common place on the list of witches and in fact is not mentioned at all.
Marion is the only named Carruthers’ witch identified from 1658 onwards by Ancestry but does that mean there were none beforehand, certainly not. Those that were poor, infirm, deemed different and those vulnerable in xsociety and mainly but definately not all women, were accused of witchcraft and often killed in its name. However, in order to genuinely identify one of our own who suffered such a fate, good research is necessary.
Therefore lets look at two individulas claimed to be witches by others, and more importantly to this research, Carruthers. One must realise that although their may be tenuous links going back with our name, the indicvidual could just as easily be claimed by other surnames. As such we really have no real historical right to add them to our stable and list them as Carruthers. Here are two typical examples.
Lady Janet Douglas
The first we had previously analysed, based on a claim being made, linking her to our family. This was so full of holes it led to a blog being written specifically on Lady Janet Douglas, who was in fact burnt at the stake as a witch. The accusation was more for spite and political reasons than supernatural ones, but the reserch showed that she was definitely not a Carruthers.
Her father was George Douglas, Master of Angus, her mother was Elizabeth Drummond. Her grandfather was Archibald Douglas 5th Earl of Angus and her grandmother was Elizabeth Boyd, daughter of Robert Boyd, 1st Lord Boyd.
The second is Catheryn Carlyle, who it is claimed lived in the 16th century, with her criminal case for witchcraft being mentioned in the Edinburgh Medical Journal.
Two points need to be raised;
- Firstly Catherine was the daughter of William Carlyle and Janet Maxwell, not a Carruthers.
- Secondly the Edinburgh Journal of Medicine was first published in 1855. It was the Journal of the Edinburgh College of Physicians, which merged with others of this ilk to become the publication of today; the Scottish Medical Journal. It did however trace its beginnings back to 1733 and the Medical Essays and Observations of the medical college in Edinburgh, but covered articles and reviews of a medical nature, which would in themselves further the study of medicine.
As such, this effort to simply tag Carruthers onto a name to fill a void though weak investigation of the facts or stretches of the imagination, is simply not adding to or in fact helping with the accurate historical research of our family in any real or meaningful way.
Until further research is carried out, ideally by an independent academic authority with robust evidence to back it up, Carruthers seems fortunate in that we do not have a list of our ancient kin who underwent such a horrific ‘judicial’ process. Our thoughts therefore have to go to those who did and may they eventually gain peace and solice through an official Pardon from the Scottish Government.
It is well known that as a family Carruthers were linked with the Scottish Church, and it is now strongly believed that the use of the fleurs de lis on our arms in the latter years of Carruthers of Mouswald, rather than representing an obscure french connection, reflected the religious connotations that the fleurs de lis had and underlined, along with our angelic crest, our strong beliefs and our links to the church if the day.
These efforts to link individuals to our family by mistake or false claim
one has to assume, has got to be down to naivety or simply very bad research,
for whatever reasons.
As such please be careful what you read and in fact what you believe
relating to Carruthers. We have as a Border family a very rich history, both in
Scotland and abroad without having to make things up. Sadly, as a medium sized
Border surname, not all famous people, royalty or those who simply have made a
difference, not all are of our name, which is one we at the society are very
Promptus et Fidelis