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TITLE
Petition and Information against Rory MacDonald (extract)
EXTERNAL ID
Z_GB232_L_INV_HC_8_7
DATE OF IMAGE
1754
PERIOD
1750s
SOURCE
Highland Archive Centre
ASSET ID
5744
KEYWORDS
court papers
court records
Petition and Information against Rory MacDonald (extract)

This is a copy of the first page of a petition against Rory McDonald, Torlamurich, dated 1754 at Edinburgh. No more of the petition has survived. He is accused of torturing an old woman in order to force a confession of witchcraft. The petition is by the Lords Justiciary Gilbert Elliot of Minto, Alexander Fraser of Strichen, Partick Grant of Elchies and Hugo Dalrymple of Drummore.

The accused is held at Fort William garrison as a result of a warrant issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Inverness. He is alleged to have beaten an old woman and "barbarously put the soles of [her] feet before a fire in order to exhort an Confession from her that she was a witch, and which cruel usage occasioned her death." His defence is that the original Warrant does not specify the woman's name, the time of the alleged torture nor the place, and so he asks to be released on bail. This document is the beginning of the new warrant issued to rectify these omissions and tantalisingly begins to outline the details of the allegation. The old woman involved was Kathrine MacKinnon, alias Nien Eachain vic Doil Kir, (a traditional, Highland form of identification, correctly nighean Eachain mhic Domhnall Ciar, literally, daughter of Hector son of dark Donald) who had come to the house of the accused in Skye in the Spring of 1747.

It appears from other papers in the archive (L/INV/SC/6/60) that this Rory, or Roderick, MacDonald was a tacksman in Skye and in 1754 stood accused of other crimes including assault and wearing Highland Dress, which was banned after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. As tacksman he was likely to have been related to the chief of clan Donald and would have had a position of some standing in the community, not only as a man of authority but as one with significant responsibilities towards his tenants.

Torture as a means of obtaining confessions of witchcraft was hardly new in the Highlands, or anywhere else in Europe, but in 1662 restrictions were placed on the methods used to obtain confessions, including the prohibition of torture. As a result, fewer cases were brought to trial and fewer of them resulted in execution. Belief in witchcraft did not disappear and as late as 1727 the sheriff depute of Dornoch had an old woman strangled at the stake and burned in a barrel of tar for turning her daughter into a pony. In 1736, an Act of Parliament abolished the statutes against witchcraft in Great Britain.


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Petition and Information against Rory MacDonald (extract)

1750s

court papers; court records

Highland Archive Centre

Inverness County Sheriff Court Records

This is a copy of the first page of a petition against Rory McDonald, Torlamurich, dated 1754 at Edinburgh. No more of the petition has survived. He is accused of torturing an old woman in order to force a confession of witchcraft. The petition is by the Lords Justiciary Gilbert Elliot of Minto, Alexander Fraser of Strichen, Partick Grant of Elchies and Hugo Dalrymple of Drummore.<br /> <br /> The accused is held at Fort William garrison as a result of a warrant issued by the Sheriff Substitute of Inverness. He is alleged to have beaten an old woman and "barbarously put the soles of [her] feet before a fire in order to exhort an Confession from her that she was a witch, and which cruel usage occasioned her death." His defence is that the original Warrant does not specify the woman's name, the time of the alleged torture nor the place, and so he asks to be released on bail. This document is the beginning of the new warrant issued to rectify these omissions and tantalisingly begins to outline the details of the allegation. The old woman involved was Kathrine MacKinnon, alias Nien Eachain vic Doil Kir, (a traditional, Highland form of identification, correctly nighean Eachain mhic Domhnall Ciar, literally, daughter of Hector son of dark Donald) who had come to the house of the accused in Skye in the Spring of 1747.<br /> <br /> It appears from other papers in the archive (L/INV/SC/6/60) that this Rory, or Roderick, MacDonald was a tacksman in Skye and in 1754 stood accused of other crimes including assault and wearing Highland Dress, which was banned after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. As tacksman he was likely to have been related to the chief of clan Donald and would have had a position of some standing in the community, not only as a man of authority but as one with significant responsibilities towards his tenants.<br /> <br /> Torture as a means of obtaining confessions of witchcraft was hardly new in the Highlands, or anywhere else in Europe, but in 1662 restrictions were placed on the methods used to obtain confessions, including the prohibition of torture. As a result, fewer cases were brought to trial and fewer of them resulted in execution. Belief in witchcraft did not disappear and as late as 1727 the sheriff depute of Dornoch had an old woman strangled at the stake and burned in a barrel of tar for turning her daughter into a pony. In 1736, an Act of Parliament abolished the statutes against witchcraft in Great Britain. <br /> <br /> <br /> For further information about this item and the collection to which it belongs, please <a href="mailto: archives@highlifehighland.com">email</a> the Highland Archive Service