Nicola Sturgeon has issued a posthumous public apology to the thousands of people in Scotland who were executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

Some 2,500 Scots, most of them women, were killed as part of these witch hunts and the First Minister says the misogyny shown then is part of the injustice that women in 2022 still have to put up


Among the most famous victims of the witch trials was Margaret Barclay, who was arrested along with three others in Irvine in 1618. It was claimed she and her ‘accomplices’ had cursed the Irvine ship ‘The Gift Of God’ causing it to sink in the English Channel.

Two of her co accused killed themselves in prison after torture. Margaret faced what was called ‘the gentle torture’ - having heavy weights placed on her legs until she confessed.

According to the famous author Sir Walter Scott, at her trial Margaret retracted her confession, stating: “All I have confessed was in agony of torture , and before God, all I have spoken is false and untrue.”

Nevertheless, she and her surviving co-accused Isobel Crawford were then strangled before being burned at the stake in Irvine.

Ms Sturgeon’s apology came on International Women’s Day where she was addressing a petition to officially pardon those who were convicted and persecuted as a result of the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

The First Minister said: “Those who met this fate were not witches, they were people - and they were overwhelmingly women. At a time when women were not even allowed to speak as witnesses in a courtroom, they were accused and killed because they were poor, different, vulnerable or in many cases just because they were women.”

According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, between the 15th and 18th centuries at least 2,500 people were executed as a result of a law Ms Sturgeon described as a “egregious historic injustice.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “Fundamentally, while here in Scotland the Witchcraft Act may have been consigned to history a long time ago, the deep misogyny that motivated it has not.

“We live with that still, in everyday harassment, online rape threats and sexual violence.”