I learnt about the Pendle Witches when I was young, the trials took place in 1612 and because I am from Lancashire it was something we were told about. However it wasn’t until I got older I began to find more interest in it.
There were in total twelve accused who lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, they were charged with the murder of ten people by the use of witchcraft. Two were tried at Lancaster Assizes, one was tried at York and another died in prison. Of the eleven that went on trial tend of them were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials were particularly unusual at the time due to the number of those hung at once, and during the early 15th and 18th Centuries when trials of witchcraft were a feature fewer then 500 in total were executed.
Six of the witches came from the same two families, Elizabeth Southerns (Aka Demdike), her daughter Elizabeth Device, her grandchildren James and Alizon Devic; Anne Whittle (aka Chattox) and her daughter Anne Redferne. The others accused were Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Gray and Jennet Preston.
Pendle Hill makes for a beautiful backdrop of scenery, the accused lived around the area which at the time was well regarded as a pretty lawless land – “fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity, where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people”.
Henry VIII had dissolved the local Abbey at Whalley leaving them with no church influence until the Roman Catholic rise in 1553 with Mary’s views leading the way, after this Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 and Catholic Priests were forced into hiding. In remote areas like Pendle they did continue to practise their Mass in secret.
In early 1612 every Justice of the Peace in Lancashire was ordered to compile a list of anyont that refused to attend English church, take communion or had committed a criminal offence at that time. Roger Nowell, Read Hall on the edge of Pendle Forest was the Justice of the Peace at that time. During this he investigated a case brought to him by the family of John Law, a pedlar who stated he had been injured by Witchcraft.
Demdike herself had been regarded as a witch for around 50 years and some of the deaths the witches were accused of had come to play before Nowell even took his interest but the event of the Pedlar, John Law, seems to have triggered the events that led up to the trial. Alizon Device had asked the pedlar for some pins, Law was reluctant perhaps as they were known to be useful in their magic. Not long adter Law’s son saw him fall, (probably a stroke given his age), he managed to stumble up and get ot an inn. Alizon seemingly convinced of her own powers then confessed and asked for his forgiveness.
Alizon, her mother and brother were summoned before Nowell and Alizon confessed to selling her soul to the Devil, she states she told him to lame Law and her brother also stated her sister had bewitched a local child. Elizabeth was not as forthcoming but revealerd her mother, Demdike, had a mark on her body where the devil had sucked on her blood.
When questioned about Chattox it seems that Alizon had a chance for revenge, there is a suggestion in the evidence that this bad blood may go back to sometime around 1601. A member of the Chattoz family broke into the Malkin Tower (stealing around a £100 worth of goods). Now having been questioned it meant that Alizon accused Chattox of murdering four men by witchcraft and that her father was so frightened of Chattox he had paid 8 pounds of oatmeal per year to prevent any attacks. The oatmeal had been handed over yearly until the one before John’s death and on his deathbed he had told them it was Chattox that caused it and why.
Nowell summoned the other family, Demdike and Chattox were both blind and in their eighties but still came to bring him many damaging confessions. Chattox said 20 years before the event she had given her soul to something to get revent and would lack for nothing. Anne did not confess but Demdike said she had made clay figures. Another witness blamed her brothers illness on Anne Redferne over a disagreement.
This would probably have been the end when half of them were dragged away to the assizes but then a meeting was arranged by Elizabeth Device at the Malkin Tower (home of the Demdikes) was held. James Device stole a neighbour’s sheep, word of the party reached Nowell. Nowell and another magistrate, Nicholas Bannister, wanted to determine what had happened. As a result of their inquiry eight more were accused of the crime. Elizabeth, James, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John and Jane Bulcock, Alice Gray and Jennet Preston. Jennet lived across the border and was sent to York for trial. The rest went to join the first four at Lancaster Goal.
Malkin Tower is believed to have been near Newchurch in Pendle and was demolished soon after the trials. In December 2011 Water Engineers unearthed a 17th Century cottage with a mummified cat in the walls that might well have been the Malkin Tower.
Some of the accused seem to have believed in their guilt, like Alizon but others protested their innocence to the end. Everyone but Elizabeth Southerns died by hanging but she died waiting for trial, Alice Grey however was found not guilty.
Jennet Preston herself was tried and pleaded not guilty but had appeared a year before Judge Bromley accused of murdering a child by witchcraft. The damning evidence then came in the form of her going to see Lister’s body who bled in front of them as she turned up. She was found guilty and hanged.
The prosecutor was Roger Nowell (I am sure you can see where this is going!) and the judges were Altham and Bromley. Nione year old Jennet Device was a witness which was not permitted in many trials, but Kind James has allowed it in the case of witchcraft. Everyone was once again brought forward to give their evidence. Chattox broke down in tears of confession about the murder of Robert Nutter and called on God to be merciful to her daughter Anne Redferne.
Elizabeth was charged with the murders of James and John Robinson, alongside this of working with Alice Nutter and Demdike in order to murder Henry Mitton. It also wasn’t like to help the case she had a deformity that meant her left eye was set lower than her right. Jennet accused her mother and shouted and yelled, she also said that her mother had a familiar called Ball who was a brown dog. Ball had been the one sent out to help with various murders. Elizabeth was also found guilty.
James Device tried to sell out his mother, and then protest his innocence against the crime of murdering both Anne Townley and John Duckworth. He however had made an earlier confession to Nowell that was read out, Jennet then said that her brother talked to a black dog, he was found guilty.
On the same day that Anne Redferne was tried so were the three Samlesbury Witches, the evidence of her involvement with the murder of Robert Nutter was insufficient and Anne was the one that got away. The second day however she was not so lucky, she refuted her guilt during the second trial about Robert Nutter but in the end she too was brought to the gallows.
Jane and her son, John Bulcock from Newchurch in Pendle were both accused of despatching Jennet Deane and denied being at the meeting at Malkin Tower. Yet again little Jennet came through and identified them saying John had roasted the stolen sheep for the Good Friday meeting. Guilty as charged.
Alice Nutter was a comparitively wealthy woman who made no statement before or during her trial, she merely submitted not guilty. Mitton’s death was supposedly caused by her, Demdike and Elizabeth Device. The only evidence given was by James Device saying that Demdike had told him about it. Alice may have been at the Malkin Tower on her way to an illegal Catholic meeting but if she wanted to use the meeting to say she wasn’t there she didnn’t to avoid incriminating the other’s at that meeting. Alice was found guilty.
Katherine Hewitt was charged and found guilty of the murder of Anne Foulds, she was the wife of a Clother from Colne, she had attended the meeting at the Tower with Alice Grey and according to James Device both Hewitt and Grey said they had killed a child from Colne. Jennet again (aren’t her and Hames so lovely?) confirmed her presence at the meeting. Alice Grey managed to escape the guilty plea.
Alizon Device, who started the whole thing via the John Law encounter was charged with causing harm by witchcraft. She was uniquely accused by her victim directly and seems to have believed in her own guilt. She broke down and confessed, another one for the guilty pile.
Should you like a very interesting (but quite heavy going) read about this in the form of a great novel, I would highly recommend Robert Neill’s book Mist Over Pendle which I read so many times I’ve now had to go and get a second copy. Oh what a shame a drive out towards my birth place!