• STV
  • MySTV

'Scotland's last witch' burnt alive almost 300 years ago

Janet Horne was one of more than 3000 women killed after being accused of witchcraft in Scotland.

Almost 300 years ago, the last woman to be accused of witchcraft in Scotland was burnt alive.

Janet Horne, an older woman with a daughter and a husband, had become a victim of superstition and whispers in the Sutherland town of Dornoch in 1727.

It is thought Janet had been a ladies' maid and had travelled to Europe, possibly to Italy with her mistress.

Upon her return, she settled in Kintradwell with her husband and daughter, who had three fingers which were fused together. This defect, whether from birth or accidental, began to cause her neighbours to whisper.

"I don't know if that was something from birth, it possibly was an accident, we're not really sure," explains Lynne Mahoney, curator at History Links Museum.

"But the neighbours accused Janet of turning her daughter into a pony and having the pony shod by the devil so that she could ride to the covens on her daughter's back and practise witchcraft."

Janet was one of thousands of people in Scotland who were persecuted, tortured and burned alive after being accused of witchcraft during the 16th and 17th century.

Now the locations and stories of their executions are available to explore through an online map created by the University of Edinburgh.

The study has also attempted to piece together records ascertaining their fates and found a total of 3141 accused witches across the country.

The map proves Scotland was a dangerous place to be accused of being a witch, with five times the number of executions taking place than in the rest of Europe.

"I think it would have been a really frightening time, because if you were slightly different, or you were using herbs to heal, anything like that that people would consider not the norm, then you would be under suspicion really of witchcraft," Ms Mahoney said.

Witch: Janet Horne was sentenced to death in 1727.
Witch: Janet Horne was sentenced to death in 1727. STV

There have also been reports that Janet may have been suffering from dementia and that she wasn't fully aware of the pressure which was mounting upon her thanks to her family's supposed differences.

"I think [Janet's] daughter's hand problem confirmed in the minds of the local people that there was something about the black arts here," Ms Mahoney added.

Both Janet and her daughter were arrested and taken to the Tollbooth in Dornoch and imprisoned.

It would be Janet's next move, a seemingly small mistake that would seal her fate.

'If you were slightly different, or you were using herbs to heal, anything like that that people would consider not the norm, then you would be under suspicion really of witchcraft.'
Lynne Mahoney, curator at History Links Museum

"When Janet went to trial, she was asked to say the Lord's Prayer in Gaelic," Ms Mahoney said.

"Now she made one mistake, instead of 'who art in heaven', she said 'who wurt in heaven' and this was enough to condemn her to death."

Women accused of being witches were subject to abject torture.

They were made to stay awake for days on end in order to extract confessions or thrown into water bound by ropes to test their powers.

For Janet, she was humiliated by being covered in tar then rolled in feathers and made to parade through the town.

"The humiliation of that alone is enough to kill you probably, she was an older lady and if she did have dementia, then this must have been the most frighteningly horrific thing for her," Ms Mahoney said.

Janet was taken to the Dornoch Links, which at the time was a piece of waste ground and was burnt to death in a barrel of tar.

'Some stories say that when she got to the place she was to be burned, there was already a fire there and she warmed her hands and said 'what a bonny blaze' because she didn't really understand what was going on.'
Lynne Mahoney, curator at History Links Museum

Ms Mahoney said there are numerous stories about Janet's final moments and what she may have been thinking staring at the flames.

"Some stories say that when she got to the place she was to be burned, there was already a fire there and she warmed her hands and said 'what a bonny blaze' because she didn't really understand what was going on.

"Others say that she said 'Poor Dornoch, pity you tonight'. She was probably thinking 'you don't know what you're doing'."

Just nine years after Janet's death, the witchcraft acts were repealed in Scotland.

The Witches Stone which lies in the gardens of a cottage in Dornoch marks the place of her execution and serves as a reminder of Scotland's brutal past.

Download: The STV News app is Scotland's favourite and is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from Google Play. Download it today and continue to enjoy STV News wherever you are.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
ShowHide
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.