401 B.C.E.: Clearchus of Sparta 1927: Rajendra Lahiri

1594: Alison Balfour

December 16th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1594, Alison Balfour was burned as a witch on the strength of a confession extracted under the hideous torture of her family.

Balfour had been implicated in a plot — probably entirely fictitious — to poison the tyrannical young Earl of Orkney, with some misshapen blob of wax appearing as evidence of her communion with the infernal.

She was tortured, but she denied the charges.

Her 81-year-old husband was tortured in front of her, but she denied the charges.

Her son’s feet were crushed in front of her, but she denied the charges.

When at last her seven-year-old daughter was put to thumbscrews in front of her, she broke down and “confessed.”

Before her execution, she renounced her confession in heartbreaking words to be read in the original records:

sche … declarit and tuik upoun hir saull and conscience, as sche wald ansuer att the day of judgement … that sche wes als innocent and wald die als innocent on ony point of Wichcraft as ane barne new borne … the tyme of hir first Depositioun sche wes tortourit diverse and severall tymes in the Caschielawis, and sindrie tymis takin out of thame deid,* … as lykewyis hir guidman being in the stokis, hir sone tortourit in the Buitis, and hir dochtir put in the Pilliewinkis, quhairwith sche and thay wer swa vexit and tormentit, that pairtlie to eschew ane gretar torment and pwneischement, and upoun promeis of hir lyffe, and guid deid be the said Personne, falslie, aganis hir saull and conscience, sche maid that Confessioun, and na uthirwyis.

Just two years later, another supposed perpetrator of this same plot was acquitted in Edinburgh — the evidence of Balfour’s case thrown out as unreliably obtained under torture.

* “taken out of them dead” — i.e., unconscious

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Innocent Bystanders,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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