TODAY Justice Secretary Jack Straw was presented with a petition calling for a posthumous Royal Pardon of those men and women who were executed as witches. The petitioners are calling for Britain to follow the example set by the Swiss government earlier this year when they pardoned Anna Geoldi, the last witch to be executed in Western Europe.
The petition, which has been organised by Angels Fancy Dress, calls for the official pardon of the over 400 people who were executed under accusations of witchcraft in England and more than 2000 in Scotland. Even after the witchcraft laws were changed in 1735 those accused of being practitioners of the craft faced prison under the fraud laws.
Emma Angel, head of Angels Fancy Dress, says: “We decided to launch this initiative because we felt that it was time that the sinister associations held by a minority of people regarding witches and Halloween were tackled head-on – children and adults should be permitted to dress-up as witches without being stigmatized… We were gob-smacked to discover that though the law was changed hundreds of years ago and society had moved on, the victims were never officially pardoned”.
Historian John Callow- who specializes in 17th century politics and witchcraft and has backed the campaign-says: “ The figure of the witch still has the power to inspire and repel in roughly equal measure – a terror to some, a sadly misunderstood heroine to others.
“Crops failed, butter failed to churn or cattle sickened and the blame was often settled on witches…Against such a background judiciaries across the British Isles were compelled to act.
“Of course, today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil… After the passage of some 400 years, it seems time to recognize the witch trials as fabrications of the most dangerous – and tragic- kind.”
This is not the U.K’s first witchcraft pardon petition; earlier this year a petition was given to the Scottish Parliament, asking for the last witch who was imprisoned to be pardoned. You may be forgiven for thinking that this trial took place in the 16 hundreds or even farther back, but Helen Duncan spent 9 months in Holloway Prison in 1944 for fraud. It now appears that Mrs Duncan had stumbled across military secrets and was silenced and discredited in the easiest way available.