THE HISTORY of the Forfar “witches” will be heard on the international stage later this summer.
Local woman Judith Glendinning, a PhD student at Dundee University, has had her paper, ‘O wicked, thou shalt assuredly die: The Forfar Witches and the Dangers of Non-Conformity within a 17th Century Godly Community’, selected to be presented at a major international conference at the University of Lancaster.
Although Judith’s area of expertise is the poetry of Mary Queen of Scots, she also researches and writes about the Angus With Hunts as a sideline to her PhD work. It was through her interest in the Angus witches that encouraged Judith to enter a paper for the Lancaster University conference on a whim so she was thrilled to find out that it had been accepted.
Judith explains why she became so fascinated by the witches: “I live near Forfar and am fascinated by the history of my local area especially in connection with the Witch Trials, which took place in the 17th Century.
“Many records and place-names from the period still exist in the town and the townspeople are still fascinated by the stories surrounding the lives of the accused women - I wanted to bring these stories to light.”
The following synopsis details the 20-minute paper which Judith will present at the conference in August: “During the early 1660s the largest town in the county, Forfar, was home to around 1000 residents 42 of which were tried for the crime of Witchcraft, with at least seven being executed. This is a staggering figure, given the overall number of residents and one cannot fail to be curious as to why so many women fell victim to persecutions of this nature, in such a short space of time and in such a small geographical area.
“The women involved in the Forfar Witch Trials were not cunning-folk. They were however, almost certainly viewed as being outwith the Protestant, Godly Community. They were troublemakers in that they refused to live within the confines of accepted societal norms. They drank; they danced; they committed adultery and in turn were accused of malefice by the local minister and their fellow townspeople, many losing their lives as a consequence.”
Judith has answered questions such as ‘Did witchcraft really exist?’ and ‘How significant was the withdrawal of Cromwellian Forces from the town in sparking the Forfar Witch Trials and what type of women were accused of such crimes?’
Judith added: “It is often assumed that those accused were herbalists, cunning-folk, cure-wives or charmers however this was not the case and as my paper will demonstrate this common misconception is just that, a misconception. Cunning-folk were in fact, mainly exempt from persecution with the result that their methods and herbal recipes survive to this day.”
The conference which Judith will attend aims to mark the 400th anniversary of the trial and execution of witches in Lancashire and finding so many similarities between the Forfar Witches and their counterparts south of the border is what brought Judith her success.