MacDonald, Stuart 1957–

views updated

MacDonald, Stuart 1957–


Born 1957. Education: Guelph University, B.A., 1981, M.A., 1982, Ph.D., 1999; Knox College, M.Div, 1985.


Office—Knox College, 59 St. Georges St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 2E6, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]


Ordained Presbyterian minister, 1985. Knox College, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, associate professor, 1996—.


Back to Lochaber: A Search for Historical Events, Travels, Tales, and Customs, photographs by Andrew McKenna, Pentland Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1994.

The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710, Tuckwell Press (East Linton, Scotland), 2002.


Stuart MacDonald is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a professor of church and society at Knox College at the University of Toronto. His book The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710 presents historical data in a new context. Narrowing his discussion of witch hunts to the Scottish county of Fife allows him to analyze trends that reveal how and why women were accused of witchcraft and prosecuted for their alleged crimes. The book includes graphical data and maps that chart the trials of witches over time and place. The county of Fife is divided into four Presbyterys—geographical areas similar to parishes, to which most witch-hunts were confined.

MacDonald's research shows that most alleged witches were accused of malefice, not of consorting with the devil. Furthermore, their arrests and trials were usually headed by the church courts, not the local nobles, and did not involve any torture other than sleep deprivation. Under duress, however, the women often gave confessions. Moreover, MacDonald shows how witch-hunting went into decline when coalitions of church officials and landowners, lords, and other esteemed citizens fell apart. He also distinguishes between witches and charmers—those who practiced magic (often in the form of healings) and who were treated leniently by church officials—although he acknowledges that the two categories sometimes overlapped. The rule of thumb, however, was that a witch intended to cause harm and a charmer intended to heal. Lauren Martin, writing in the International Review of Scottish Studies, called the book "useful and readable." Linda J. Dunbar's review in Albion stated that "for those seeking historical argument this book comes alive in its closing chapters which consider torture; government and popular understanding of witchcraft, and the stereotypes accused in Fife; and lastly, those who initiated and/or perpetuated the witch hunts in Fife."



Albion, spring, 2004, Linda J. Dunbar, review of The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710, p. 186.

English Historical Review, November, 2003, Brian P. Levack, review of The Witches of Fife, p. 1390.

International Review of Scottish Studies, Volume 28, 2003, Lauren Martin, review of The Witches of Fife, p. 122.

Times Literary Supplement, March 7, 2003, review of The Witches of Fife, p. 30.

About this article

MacDonald, Stuart 1957–

Updated About content Print Article