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Myths and Legends
Sawney Bean: Scotland's Hannibal Lecter

King James VI
The story unfortunately falls down, as there is no official record of there ever being an Alexander Bean anywhere. Not surprising in an era before censuses you might think, but there are absolutely no records of the trial or execution of the Beans, something which surely would have aroused great public interest.

This leaves us with the question of why anyone would make up such a horrific story, and who would be behind it? While the tale undoubtedly had currency around Ayrshire as a bogeyman type tale, the story first appears in print in pamphlets printed in Eighteenth Century England. This was the time of the Jacobite risings and Scots were regularly portrayed in a bad light in the English press at this time, either ridiculing them or giving a sinister edge to the Scottish character.

The story of Sawney Bean would have been a godsend to anti-Scottish propagandists south of the border, eager to portray their northern neighbours as ignorant and capable of any depravity. As Fiona Black notes in The Polar Twins:

"The monstrous figure of Sawney, as written history, was probably an English invention. Cannibalism has a long history as a means of political propaganda used by a dominant culture against those they want to colonise; as an English invention Sawney may be considered as a colonial fiction written to demonstrate the savagery and uncivilised nature of the Scots in contrast to the superior qualities of the English nation."

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Your comments

1 Jan Gillies from Logan, Cumnock, East Ayrshire - 19 December 2003
"Great story, hard to believe but probably true, even if there is no documented proof."

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