The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Scotland’s Experience with Female Leadership and its Effect on Witchcraft Accusations



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In the pre-modern era, Scotland experienced twelve times the number of witchcraft accusations and executions per head, when compared to their neighbor, England. This study will provide a gendered perspective on what made Scotland different. The focus will be on female leadership, set against the backdrop of religious reform. The events surrounding the regencies of Margaret Tudor and Mary of Guise, and the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots generated instability. Their perceived failures led the new Scottish Protestant Kirk to use them as scapegoats, fostering an environment that allowed for all women to be blamed for any hardship in a quest to avoid repeating the instability the Kirk associated with the rule of women. The moral regulations imposed by the Kirk, defined as an “obsession with sex” began the quest for their “Godly state.” The Kirk’s moral discipline, aimed mainly at women whom they perceived as more liable to sin than men, began after Mary, Queen of Scot’s abdication, and led to more than four-thousand accusations of witchcraft, with women accounting for more than ninety-three percent. This research was taken directly from source materials available on specific witchcraft trials, and the words of those most principally involved in the events between 1502 and 1625, specifically Mary, Queen of Scots and John Knox. Quotes from ambassadors to the Scottish court and excerpts from personal letters written by Scottish nobility are used liberally to gain an understanding of the view of those surrounding power in Scotland. Several secondary interpretations of witchcraft in Scotland exist, including impressive overviews written by Christina Larner, Brian Levack, and Julian Goodare. None, however, mesh together the importance of the role of the female leader in Scotland, and how the Kirk’s use of moral discipline, aimed primarily at women, helped further the witch hunt.



Witchcraft, Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots, Scottish Reformation