During the 17th century
many women were tried and executed as witches.
The 1660's saw the last great witch hunts. 300
people were executed as witches during that time.
In Forfar 9 women were executed as witches between
1661 and 1663. All of them were accused by Helen
Helen Guthrie was, in her own words, a very wicked
and drunken woman. She had killed her own half
sister when they were children. Helen learned
her craft as a witch from Janet Galloway in Kirriemuir.
In Forfar she and her friends soon gained a sinister
reputation for dancing drunkenly in the churchyard
at midnight. The coven boasted of evil deeds:
Helen admitted to wrecking ships with the devil
in Barry Bay; Isobel Shyrie claimed she caused
the death of Baillie George Wood by supernatural
means and John Tailyeour was believed to have
ruined the miller's field of corn by transforming
himself into a pig and running amok.
Helen's 13 year old daughter Janet was also accused
of witchcraft. Helen assisted the witch hunters
in their campaign by giving evidence against her
friends. She became a "supergrass".
Helen spent 2 years in Forfar's tollbooth with
her daughter Janet and other suspected witches.
By 1663 the Council's will to execute witches
was spent. Helen was a self-confessed murderer
and witch, and as such she was tried and executed.
She was strangled and her body was burned to ashes
in a barrel of tar, in the Scottish tradition.
The fate of Helen's daughter Janet is not known.
Janet was still imprisoned in the tolbooth in
1666 without a trial.