On the trail of the Pendle Witches
Witches lived at a turbulent time in England's history. It was an era
of religious persecution and superstition. James I was King and he lived
in fear of rebellion.
He had survived the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where the Catholic plotters
had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an attempt to destroy
his Protestant rule. His fear and angerbrought a backlash of harsher penalties
against anyone keeping the Catholic faith. His suspicious nature led to
an obsession with witchcraft.
England was a country divided and the county of Lancashire, which had
long been a Catholic stronghold, was under the eye of suspicion. The Earl
of Derby had described the county in 1583 as 'this so unbridled and bad
an handful of England'. The confession by two of the gunpowder plotters
that they were going to start a rising in Lancashire against the King
added to Lancashire's reputation as a dangerous, lawless place.
In 1612 the King ordered Justices of the Peace in Lancashire to report
anyone who did not take Protestant communion in church and prosecute them.
The dividing line between magic and religion was not clear cut in the
spoke of Catholic practices as a form of conjuring, and considered their
prayers as charms. King James was obsessed with witchcraft and his book
Daemonology showed local magistrates what to look for when tracking down
witches after making the practice of witchcraft a capital offence. Local
magistrates became zealous in their pursuit of witchcraft, knowing that
convictions would find them favour with the King.
When the Pendle Witches were put on trial a London court clerk, Thomas
Potts was asked to make a record of the trial to send around the country
as a warning and a guide on finding evidence of witchcraft. The document
was dedicated to Sir Thomas Knyvett - the man who arrested Guy Fawkes
in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament in the year 1605.
The events of 1612
Two rival peasant families live on the slopes of Pendle Hill. They are
led by two old women called Demdike and Chatrox. The men of their families
are dead, leaving them in poverty to beg and find work where they can.
Many local people live in fear of them, believing them to have special
March 18th 1612
Alizon Device, grand-daughter of Demdike, is begging on the road to Colne.
A pedlar refuses her some pins and she curses him. Suddenly a black dog
appears and she orders it to lame the pedlar who collapses, paralysed
on the left side.
March 30th 1612
Alizon Device is hauled before the Justice Roger Nowell and confesses
to witchcraft. Forced to give an account of her family's activities she
tells how Demdike had been asked to heal a sick cow which then died. She
also told Nowell that Demdike had cursed Richard Baldwin after which his
daughter fell sick and died a year later. Describing her family's feud
with the Chattox family she reports how Chattox turned the ale sour at
an inn at Higham and bewitched the landlord's son to death using a clay
April 2nd 1612
Nowell orders Demdike, Chattox and her daughter Ann Redfearrn to give
evidence. Demdike confesses to evil deeds, claiming that the Devil came
to her in the shape of a little boy called Tibb. She had met him in a
quarry near Newchurch and he had sucked her blood leaving her 'stark mad'.
April 3rd 1612
Nowell sends Demdike, Alizon Device, Chattox to Lancaster Castle to await
trial for witchcraft.
Good Friday 1612
Twenty people gather at Malkin Tower, home of Demdike and the Devices.
They feast on stolen mutton and make a plot to blow up Lancaster Castle.
They also plan to kill Thomas Covell, the Keeper of the Castle, and free
the imprisoned women.
Late April 1612
An investigator is sent to Malkin Tower. Human bones are unearthed, stolen
from graves in Newchtirch, and a clay image is also found. Nowell sends
for James and Jennet Device and their mother Elizabeth for questioning.
James confesses to causing the lingering death of Anne Towneley by slowly
crumbling a clay image of her after she had accused him of stealing peat
for his fire. Nine-year-old Jennet names the people who were at the Good
Friday gathering including Alice Nutter, a gentlewoman of Roughlee. Nowell
sends the supposed witches to join those already at Lancaster Castle.
Demdike dies in prison, before the trial.
August 17th 1612
The trial opens at Lancaster Castle. The accused are not provided with
a defence lawyer. Nowell produces Jennet as a witness and she gives evidence
against her own family and other villagers. Her mother Elizabeth Device
is dragged from the court screaming at her daughter and shouting curses
at Roger Nowell. The judge decides to test Jennet's evidence by holding
an identity parade in court at which Jennet goes up and takes Alice Nutter
by the hand, identifying her as one of those present at the Good Friday
gathering. Alizon Device faints when confronted with the pedlar she is
said to have lamed, but when she is revived confesses her guilt. Chattox
weeps as she hears the evidence against her and asks God for forgiveness.
She pleads for mercy to be shown to her daughter, Ann Redfearn. The judge
finds them all guilty but admits that he is moved by "the "ruine of so
many poore creatures at one time".
August 20th 1612
Chattox, Ann Redfearn, Elizabeth, James and Alizon Device, Alice Nutter,
Katherine Hewitt, Jane Bulcock and her son John are hanged in Lancaster
in front of huge crowds.
The Witches came from Pendle, near Bowland Forest.
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