Witchcraft and Family: What Can Witchcraft Documents Tell Us About Early Modern Scottish Family Life?

Witchcraft and Family: What Can Witchcraft Documents Tell Us About Early Modern Scottish Family Life?

Martin, Lauren

Scottish Tradition, Vol. 27 (2002)


It is difficult to document family life for the average early modern Scot. Diaries, letters and other personal and business correspondence relating to family life survives for high ranking members of Scottish society such as kings, queens, nobles and merchants. Ministers and other religious figures have left us some writings about their faith that may be fruitfully used for understanding how families worked and what people thought about them. But these sources were usually written by educated men and may not reflect the bulk of society, including most women, who could not write. Wills, testaments, deeds, sasines, estate management, baronial, and burgh court records provide much concrete detail about land holdings and the physical make-up of communities, but they can be barren on cultural detail and emotional life. They too are skewed towards men.

The commissariat records have been used to good effect to study divorce, but the documents do not survive for most of the early modern period. The processes of Kirk Session and Presbytery investigations of ‘disciplinary’ infractions (including adultery, fornication, speech crimes, marital discord, popular festivals and rituals, penny-weddings and lyck-wakes) tell us about normative rules. The frequency of punishment, fines and penance suggests that people’s everyday behaviour usually fell short of those rules. Although their survival is patchy for the early part of the early modern period, they record some of the daily chatter of everyday life, and as such are an invaluable source for family studies.

Click here to read this article from Scottish Tradition

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons