A Terrible and True History

After moving to Malmö, Southern Sweden, four years ago, I noticed that my daily cycle route to the studio would take me past a small park with a stone monument. On closer inspection I discovered that this monument was to the memory of the women executed for witchcraft on that spot from 1543 to 1663. Further research led to discover a particular case, replete with transnational political conspiracy theories, with connections to Scotland, where I grew up.

In September 1589 Princess Anne of Denmark set off from Copenhagen towards Edinburgh where she was to marry King James the VI of Scotland (later also the first of England). Unfortunately, a great storm meant the fleet had to turn around a lay over in Oslo. The disappointed James the VI set off to Oslo and then carried on with Princess Anne to Denmark where they were married and spent the winter in Helsingore. During this period reports of witchcraft trials in Trier, Germany had arrived to Denmark. Consequently, a rumour circulated that witches had been responsible for the storm and that it was a political conspiracy against King James himself.  This led to a series of witchcraft trials in Copenhagen, and in Malmö which was then a part of the Danish Kingdom. When James the VI returned to Edinburgh with his bride in the spring, he personally oversaw more trials for the same case, in which women from North Berwick were accused of having conspired with the Danish witches. The case sticks out as crossing national boundaries and revealing how ideas of pacts with the devil spread from Germany, to Denmark, to Scotland. King James VI became obsessed with witchcraft and later wrote the book Daemonologie, in 1597.

© Sigrid Holmwood