Scottish Archive Network Exhibitions
Other Exhibitions
Helen Guthrie 1663
Jean Cuthbert 1680
Christian Speid 1760s
Margaret Scott 1770s
Anne Anderson 1770s
Anne Wyllie 1782
Margaret Speid 1840s
Jemima Hay 1873
Miss Dick 1873
Hannah MacEwen 1882
Isa Cunningham 1916
Betty Jamieson 1931
Business Woman 1948
  Helen Guthrie - A Wicked Woman, Forfar 1663

Picture of a witch

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 Guthrie.

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.

Angus Archives F1/5/35

Photograph of 'branks' - a bridle used to restrain a witch