Semester of Graduation

Summer 2021


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



In 1590 King James VI of Scotland was the supposed target of diabolical witchcraft; the North Berwick witches were accused of attempting to sink the ship carrying James and his new bride from Copenhagen back to Edinburgh following their marriage. This event set off a widespread witch-hunt in Scotland, one that James took a personal and vested interest in. The hunt continued through 1597, occurring across multiple Scottish locales, resulting in judicial statute rearrangements, and famously inspiring James’ treatise Daemonologie. In addition to Daemonlogie, James also wrote multiple treatises on the theory of divine right in the midst of the 1590s witch-hunts.

James’ pursuit of witchcraft can be carefully explained through an examination of Scotland’s history from 1560 to 1590. The Reformation Rebellion in 1560, which deposed the Regent Queen Mary of Guise and the subsequent failed reign of Mary Queen of Scots enabled a new Protestant Scottish Church to establish a dominant role of authority and facilitate unanswered questions over who held spiritual supremacy in Scotland. King James VI inherited a Kingdom that was rife with factionalism and a stubbornly independent Church. It was only through James’ navigations of these intricate religiously political situations that he began to formulate theories of divine right and a clear opposition to his divinely appointed monarchial authority. Thus when suspected witchcraft was brought before him in 1590, he pursued it with a fervor of divine retribution. In so doing, James was able to eliminate political dissension, assert his divinely ordained authority, and settle the question of Scottish religious hierarchy.

James provides historians with three important treatises that he wrote at the end of the 1590s that idealize his role in Scottish history and thus this thesis will focus primarily on how James envisioned his own personal history, taking over a nation with a lost spiritual identity and rampant factionalism, and how his interpretation of these events transpired into two nation-wide witch-hunts.

Committee Chair

Stater, Victor L.