On 28th of August 2008, the Swiss Parliament granted an official pardon to Anna Goeldi who in 1782 was the last person to be executed as a witch in Western Europe.
It is time the British government followed this example and offered a symbolic pardon to those people who were punished for witchcraft in Britain between the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Century.
To this end, Angels, the UK’s largest Halloween retailer, has consulted with historian and witchcraft expert John Callow to prepare eight historical test cases that aim to remove the suspicion and fear that continues to surround these innocent women (and one man).
Along with this historical evidence, a petition of over 1700 names has been presented to Justice Minister Jack Straw MP asking him to recommend the Queen issues a posthumous pardon.
Angels would like to thank everyone who added their name to the petition.
We will post news of the government’s response on this site when it is received.
Historical Background to Witchcraft
Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General
Over 400 women were executed in England alone following accusations of witchcraft. These women – often on the margins of society on account of their sex, poverty and age – found themselves used as the outlet for a wide range of unrelated social issues, from religious tension sweeping the nation during the Civil War to more localised problems such as crop failure. Often it was enough for a child to fall ill for a local woman to become the subject of a whispering campaign that could lead to an accusation of witchcraft. During the period, trials were conducted using official assizes presided over by the same circuit judges that tried people charged of non-supernatural crimes. They often used evidence obtained by duress or torture to justify the death sentence.
By allowing popular hysteria to be channelled through official legal channels, the governments of the day were highly complicit in the resulting deaths. This was partly acknowledged when previous legislation was repealed by the Witchcraft Act of 1735, although this stopped short of pardoning those who had suffered. It is time our politicians fully acknowledged the victims’ innocence by granting an official pardon.
Historical Test Cases
St Osyth, Essex 1582
East Lothian, Scotland 1591
Pendle, Lancashire 1612
Wapping, London 1652
Bideford, Devon 1682
Bideford, Devon 1682
Bury St Edmunds, 1645
Click to read their stories.
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. The Swiss have led the way on this one, and I really hope that we can encourage the government here to follow suit.”
For further information on Pardon the British Witches, please contact:
Benjamin Webb / Toby Guise
Phone 07930 408 224 / 07814 223 530
John Callow, historian of the period and co-author of Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
“The figure of the witch still has the power to inspire and to repel in roughly equal measure – a terror to some, a sadly misunderstood heroine to others.”
“Of course, today we are well aware that these individuals were neither capable of harmful magic nor in league with the devil. At the time, poverty was endemic – charity was breaking down and aggressive begging, accompanied by threats or curses, was common.”
“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. The results were perjury and delusion on a grand scale, resulting in nothing less than legalised murder. After the passage of some 400 years, it seems time to recognise the witch trials as fabrications of the most dangerous – and tragic – kind.”