Bothwell School of Witchcraft
The story behind Bothwell School of Witchcraft begins in late 16th Century England during the height of the persecution of witches. Many high-profile witch trials took place throughout Europe, and indeed the New World of America, during the early modern period. Many resulted in the burning of the accused witches at the stake. In Britain, the advent of King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) saw an increase in these brutal trials.
The most notable of this time was the North Berwick Witch Trials in 1590. King James had just married his new wife, Princess Anne of Denmark. During his return voyage he experienced extreme storms, forcing the Scottish and Danish fleet to moor in Norway for weeks while the weather abated. The Admiral of the Danish fleet claimed the storms were caused by witches in Denmark whom he had angered. Upon hearing of the successful trial of the witches in Denmark, and their subsequent fiery execution, James VI launched his own investigation into the presence of witchcraft in his own court, as many Scottish nobles were implicated in the Danish trials.
Hundreds of people were implicated in the hearings and suspected of witchcraft. Many of the accusations were extracted from a maid, who was caught by her master sneaking out during the night and using her healing powers. Under torture she confessed to being a witch and gave the names of other witches she knew. One of those implicated was Francis Stewart, the 5th Earl of Bothwell. Previously, he had been tried for treason for a rebellion he had instigated against King James, but his sentencing was deferred. However, upon being named as a witch, Bothwell was immediately arrested and charged with high treason for using sorcery to bring about the King’s death.
Sir Francis managed to escape Holyrood House and fled persecution, while the others implicated were horrifically tortured and confessed to being witches. At the King’s command, they were strangled and burnt alive. Many warrants were issued for the apprehension of Bothwell, but he evaded capture. He managed to smuggle himself back into Holyrood and ‘convinced’ the King to pardon him and return his estates, however, when his charms wore off the King later revoked this pardon and forced Bothwell into exile. After fleeing to England and initially receiving a warm welcome, calls for his arrest were later echoed by the English Crown of the time, Queen Elizabeth I. This forced him to retreat further into Europe. Non-magic folk believe Bothwell later died in poverty in Naples, but the students of magic at Bothwell School of Witchcraft know a much different story about their founder…
Bothwell: A Sanctuary
Francis Stewart had backing in England from those who supported his rebellion against King James VI. During his trial, Francis regularly transported himself to one of his patrons’ castles in England; a major factor in why he was able to escape capture so easily. Initially his plan was to use a mind-altering charm on the King to grant him a full pardon so he could return peacefully to his estates in Scotland. While originally successful, Francis was forced to retreat again when the effect of his charm wore off and the King immediately revoked his exoneration. Using magical misdirection and cunning, Francis managed to convince the Crowns of both Scotland and England that he had fled to Europe.
After grabbing what he could from his lands in Scotland, Francis Stewart was forced to settle in England to hide from the Crown. He placed many charms and spells on the castle he took refuge in so it wouldn’t be seen by non-magic folk. Here he decided to devote the rest of his life to cultivating his penchant for magic and wrote many books on the subject.
However, in 1603, ten years after the horrific Berwick Witch Trials, Queen Elizabeth I died and left no heir to the throne of England. The Queen’s right hand man, Robert Cecil, had secretly been keeping correspondence with James during the Queen’s twilight years. On the day of her death, James VI of Scotland was immediately declared the new King of England, becoming James I; King of England, Scotland and Wales. James’ obsession with the persecution of Witches had become fiercer over the years. After the Berwick Trials he wrote “Daemonologie”, a work which denounced Witches as servants of the devil and promoted the practice of witch hunting.
Fearing these practices would soon become more prevalent in his new home of England, Francis felt compelled to seek out other magic folk and bring them to his castle. He set up the Bothwell Sanctuary for Witches and Sorcerers, using his previous title to name the sanctuary as a mockery to his exile. This proved a difficult mission as those who were gifted often hid their talents or wouldn’t dare speak of their abilities in public. Francis was forced to use stories and rumours tohunt down witches before the angry mobs did. He transfigured himself into the form of his familiar, a fox, in order to hide himself from the public. As he gathered followers, he was able to teach others the art of shapeshifting and used their help to sweep the nation and rescue those that he could, fearing they would become subject to the same gruesome torture of his fellows in Scotland. Up and down the country the King’s own guard of witch hunters tried to capture this mysterious fox “daemon” but Francis always managed to escape.
Francis taught all those at the sanctuary to use their magical abilities, using the knowledge he had gained himself while studying the art over the years. He also provided them with a home in the castle where they could be themselves, secure from the King’s elite witch hunters, who often used crude magic themselves to trick those with magical abilities into revealing themselves. After just a few years, many of his students developed their own specialisms in magic and devoted themselves to their chosen arts, developing original spells and literary works. Using their combined talent and power, Stewart and his colleagues managed to develop The Seeing Stones, whose purpose was to reveal those with magical ability. The Seeing Stones made it much easier to sweep the country and rescue those fearing prosecution under the reign of James I. Francis Stewart then turned the sanctuary into the Bothwell School of Witchcraft, inducting children deemed of age into his school each year, and teaching them to control their magical abilities. From there the school grew into a center of magical excellence and forever a safe haven for magic folk.