Pendle Witches

In 1612, England's most famous witch trial took place at Pendle in Lancashire.

The major characters are the Device family from Pendle:

who lived at Demdike's home, Malkin Tower, and their neighbours:

Also appearing in the story

The two families were in feud with each other. Elizabeth Device's husband – and Alizon and James's father – had paid an amount in oatmeal to the Whittle's and when he stopped paying in 1601, he had died mysteriously.

The incident which sparked off the witchcraft trial started on 18th March 1612 when John Law, a pedlar from Halifax, was travelling near Colne. Near Rawden Forest, he met Alizon who asked him for some pins. He refused to give her any. Immediately afterwards, she cursed him and he suffered what we would now diagnose as a stroke. He was taken to a nearby inn and Alizon begged his forgiveness for her actions.

Law's son Abraham, took the matter up with the law and reported the incident to Roger Nowell.

Nowell was an ambitious and zealous Protestant and eager to bring witches and Catholics to justice in line with the wishes of King James I.

Nowell interviewed Alizon. She confessed to bewitching Law – claiming that she had sold her soul to the Devil had told him to make John Law lame for calling her a thief. At the same time, Alizon accused Chattox of killing 4 people and of making clay figures. In response, Chattox accused Demdike of witchcraft.

Nowell arrested Alizon, Demdike, Chattox, and Anne Redferne.

In an attempt to root out Catholics, Nonconformists and witches, JPs had been instructed to record the names of people who failed to attend church at the appointed times. On Good Friday 1612, Elizabeth held a party at Malkin Tower, at a time when people should have been in church. Her son James even stole a sheep to feed to guests. Amid rumours of a witches' coven, the local constable arrested 8 people, comprising everyone at the party and others who were implicated by those who were there. These included members of a local Catholic family: Alice Nutter, her sister-in-law, her nephew, and a friend. A large number of counter-accusations were made and everyone was accused of plotting to kill a man. They were taken to Lancaster Castle.

For 4 months, the 20 ft by 12 ft cell at the Castle held

All but 2 were tried at the Lancaster Assizes on 18th and 19th August 1612. 3 women from the village of Samlesbury, Lancashire, who had been accused of practising witchcraft, were tried at the same time.

When Alizon was charged with witchcraft, her daughter Jennet gave evidence and Alizon screamed out in protest when Jennet entered the court. Jennet asked that her mother be removed from the court, and climbing on to a table, denounced Elizabeth and James as witches. James also denounced his mother as a witch.

The jury believed Jennet's story and all her family, several neighbours and others were found guilty of causing death or harm of 10 people by witchcraft.

Of the 11 accused – 9 women and 2 men – 1 was found not guilty, and were found guilty and hanged on Gallows Hill on 20th August 1612.

The case set a precedent for allowing child witnesses to testify in court.

Ironically, Jennet herself was later accused on the evidence of a child witness.

In November 1633, 10-year-old Edmund Robinson, arriving home late and dirty, told his parents that he had been collecting berries when he saw 2 dogs turn into a woman and a horse. The pair then took him on a fantastic ride to a house where witches were celebrating. His father took him around local churches in an effort to identify witches in the congregations. 20 witches were found and sent for trial in February 1634. One of these was Jennet Device charged with bewitching Isabel wife of William Nutter.

At the trial, 17 were found guilty but the officials were uncomfortable about this and appealed for further and higher legal advice. 4 of the accused were taken to Fleet Jail in London. Jennet and others stayed behind, a total of 15 months imprisonment, during which several died of jail fever.

Jennet and the other prisoners were all acquitted when Edmund Robinson eventually cracked and said that he had been inspired to fabricate his story by the Pendle Witch Trial. It transpired that his father had been blackmailing women, and if they refused to pay, were exposed as witches by Edmund

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:04 / 12th May 2021 / 7875

Page Ref: MMP1023

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