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Barons Courts' Absolute Pardon to 81 Witches 'Attracts' Media Attention

Hocus pocus it is not!

On July 27th 2004 the Barons Courts in their Trinity Session granted their Absolute Pardon, quashing the original sentences, to 81 individuals put to death in Prestonpans for witchcraft. Many of them were also sentenced for treason against the person of King James VI, and that the Barons Courts can never pardon, the offence being wholly reserved to the Monarch. As such, HM The Queen was subsequently approached at Buckingham Palace to ask her to review the cases and grant her Pardon as well for treason.

The rationale is alarmingly simple since the treasonable witchcraft alleged mainly involved invoking storms at sea and in the Firth of Forth as James VI sought to bring his proxy wife Anne back from Denmark to Scotland in 1589 and 1590.

Click on all images to enlarge

In the light of our modern day understanding of meteorology that is a treasonable offence no human is capable of committing. And such grounds are a valid basis for a Pardon.

The Courts Pardon, and the Petition to HM The Queen, have attracted considerable media interest. Dolphinstoun has been interviewed for radio and tv and Prestoungrange for the press. In particular, the Scottish Sunday Express gave extensive coverage on October 24th as shown below which in its Opinion column characterised what the Courts are addressing as: "a load of hocus pocus".

Getting the Facts Straight

It is useful to have the opportunity in NewsNet here to state the facts of the case since tabloid News Sheets are traditionally more concerned with the story line than with factual accuracy.

1. Scholarship at St Andrew's University must be at a very low ebb these days if one of its lecturers in history, specifically Dr Peter Maxwell-Stewart, dismisses the Pardon as: "a nonsense. At best it's sentimentality run riot.... there's a high likelihood they were guilty anyway." Guilty of creating storms at sea?

2. The editor of the piece suggests that Barons Courts have no authority in modern times. He is correct in the sense that until the Barons Courts at Prestoungrange & Dolphinstoun were 'fenced' this year for their Final Trinity Session no such Court had sat in Scotland for over a century. But the Courts' jurisdiction is clearly there to be seen on the Statute books and in a millenium of custom and practice decisions, although it is to be abolished by Act of the Scottish Parliament on November 28th 2004. Not only do our Courts have de jure authority [excepting the charges of treason] but they have a far greater 'moral' authority as they act to redress 81 instances of self-righteous, hypocritical, outrageous verdicts given some 400 years ago in the name of Scots justice in Prestonpans and its vicinity.

3. The Courts' Pardons for witchcraft were actually granted by the Courts on July 27th 2004. What is taking place on Hallowe'en, and what will take place in each succeding year at this time, is a proper remembrance of those terrible times and their barbarity including the torture used in the name of the Courts to force confessions.

4. This year Roy Pugh, Suitor to the Courts on Witchcraft and author of the leading study in the field in East Lothian, will be giving facsimiles of the Absolute Pardon to such descendants of those so deeply wronged as care to receive them. There is every intention to continue the fun of Hallowe'en at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg but at the same time to remember the horrors which were committed against 'so called witches' in the name of a barbaric law, enacted under Mary Queen of Scots, until its repeal in 1735. If this is what officials at the Scottish Executive meant when they said: " week's pardons from [the Barons Courts] could only be ceremonial", then they've almost got it right - and from November 29th 2004 they'll be 100% correct. If they don't like it and cannot wait five weeks, then their correct route of appeal is to Court of Session.

Published Date: October 28th 2004

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