James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, after the childless death of Elizabeth I. He is most often remembered for being the first Stuart king of England, and the first monarch to rule a united England and Scotland. Another important fact about James I is that he was incredibly paranoid about witches, and hunted them fervently.
James had a very tragic early life, and it would have been triggering for later events. When he was only one year old his mother was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland, and he became an infant king (interestingly his mother, Mary Stuart, was only six days old when she became queen). He would never see his mother again, and she was executed (in England by Elizabeth I) for treason. James was raised by his uncle, Mary’s bastard half brother (also named James). The politics, and religious upheaval of Scotland during his childhood obviously impacted James I. However, his killing of thousands, based on paranoia and lack of understanding is unforgivable.
James Stuart would write a manifesto about evil magic, entitled Demonologie first published in 1597. James first began to believe that witches were out to get him after bringing his new wife, Anne of Denmark, home to Scotland via boat. During their sea journey the weather turned foul, and they both almost died. This would lead to King James getting increasingly paranoid over his belief that the witches of his homeland were out to get him.
The Scottish witch hunts would ensue based on this paranoia. Agnes Sampson was a great healer known as the “Wise Wife of Keith.” Poor Agnes was brought in on charges of purported witchcraft, and although she was known for her abilities to help people using the healing arts, she was never known to hurt anyone. Under torture Agnes Sampson gave names of other witches, who would also be arrested. She would eventually be garroted and burned at the stake on January 28, 1591.
James would continue his zeal in hunting witches when he became king of England. The King James Version of the Bible (which is named for James I), unsurprisingly, has the passage “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” in Exodus 22:18.
England’s Stuart era came to a very hostile and bloody start for women who were accused of witchcraft (although by most accounts the Scottish accused still had it worse). I hope that you have enjoyed learning a bit about the early English and Scottish witch-hunt, led by King James I! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the page is an illustration from Demonologie. I found the image on executedtoday.com.
- After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England by Leanda de Lisle
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