Snitches Get Stitches, Or In 1612 They Get Accused Of Being Witches

Let's spill some tea about what happens when two families have a feud that lands them in the middle of the most significant witch trials in English history.

As I get back to the hills and chills of my beloved Pendle, I wanted to reminisce a bit about the greatest inspiration of the Pendle Wick witchiness: the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 (an iconic year of with trials, apparently.) So, sit back, grab a cuppa, and let’s get nerdy about a town getting twitchy over women getting (supposedly) witchy!


The trials of the Pendle Witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history and some of the best recorded of the 17th century.
The twelve accused lived in the area surrounding Pendle Hill in Lancashire, charged with the murders of ten people by witchery. 
In a series of trials known as the Lancashire witch trials, all but two were tried at Lancaster Assizes on Aug.18 and 19th, 1612, along with the Samlesbury witches and others. One was tried at York Assizes on July 27, and another died in prison. Of the eleven who went to trial – nine women and two men – ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.


Six of the Pendle witches came from one of two families, each at the time headed by a woman in her eighties: Elizabeth Southerns (a.k.a. Demdike), her daughter Elizabeth Device, and her grandchildren James and Alizon Device; Anne Whittle (a.k.a. Chattox), and her daughter Anne Redferne. The others accused were Jane Bulcock and her son John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Gray, and Jennet Preston. The outbreaks of witchcraft in and around Pendle may demonstrate the extent to which people could make a living by posing as witches. Many of the allegations resulted from accusations that the Demdike and Chattox families made against each other. Perhaps because they competed- both trying to make a living from healing, begging, and extortion.
The accused witches lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, a county which, at the end of the 16th century, was regarded by the authorities as a wild and lawless region: an area "fabled for its theft, violence, and sexual laxity, where the church was honored without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people."
In 1562, early in her reign, Elizabeth passed a law, An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments, and Witchcrafts (5 Eliz. I c. 16). This demanded the death penalty, but only where harm had been caused; lesser offenses were punishable by a term of imprisonment. 

 

EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE WITCH TRIALS 

One of the accused, Demdike, had been regarded in the area as a witch for fifty years. Some witches' deaths were blamed for what had happened many years before Roger Nowell started to take an interest in 1612. The event that seems to have triggered Nowell's investigation, culminating in the Pendle witch trials, occurred on March 21, 1612.

On her way to Trawden Forest, Demdike's granddaughter, Alizon Device, encountered John Law, a pedlar from Halifax, and asked him for some pie.  A few minutes after their encounter, Alizon saw Law stumble and fall. Perhaps because he suffered a stroke, he managed to regain his feet and reach a nearby inn. Initially, Law made no accusations against Alizon, but she appears to have been convinced of her own powers. When Abraham Law took her to visit his father a few days after the incident, she reportedly confessed and sought forgiveness.

Alizon Device, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James were summoned to appear before Nowell on March 30, 1612. Alizon confessed under torture that she had sold her soul to the Devil and told him to lame John Law for calling her a thief. Her brother, James, stated that his sister had also confessed to bewitching a local child. Elizabeth was more reticent, admitting only that her mother, Demdike, had a mark on her body. Many, including Nowell, would have seen as having been left by the Devil after he had sucked her blood. When questioned about Anne Whittle (Chattox), the matriarch of the other family reputedly involved in witchcraft in and around Pendle, Alizon perhaps saw an opportunity for revenge. There may have been bad blood between the two families, dating from 1601, when a member of Chattox's family broke into Malkin Tower, the home of the Devices, and stole goods worth about £1 ($1.37), equivalent to about £121 ($166.12) as of 2021. 

Alizon accused Chattox of murdering four men by witchcraft and killing her father, John Device, who died in 1601. She claimed that her father had been so frightened of Old Chattox that he had agreed to give her 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of oatmeal each year in return for her promise not to hurt his family. The produce was handed over annually until the year before John's death. John claimed that Chattox had caused his sickness on his deathbed because they had not paid for protection.

On April 2, 1612, Demdike, Chattox, and Chattox's daughter, Anne Redferne, were summoned to appear before Nowell. Both Demdike and Chattox were by then blind and in their eighties, and both provided Nowell with damaging confessions. Demdike claimed that she had given her soul to the Devil 20 years previously. Chattox that she had given her soul to "a Thing like a Christian man" on his promise that "she would not lack anything and would get any revenge she desired." 

Although Anne Redferne did not confess, Demdike said that she had seen her making clay figures. Another witness, seen by Nowell that day, Margaret Crooke, claimed that her brother had fallen sick and died after a disagreement with Redferne. The witness also claimed that he had frequently blamed her for his illness. Based on the evidence and confessions he had obtained, Nowell committed Demdike, Chattox, Anne Redferne, and Alizon Device to Lancaster Gaol. The women were to be tried for maleficium - causing harm by witchcraft – at the next assizes.

MEETING AT MALKIN TOWER 

The committal and subsequent trial of the four women might have been the end of the matter had it not been for a meeting organized by Elizabeth Device. The four met at Malkin Tower, the home of the Demdikes, held on Good Friday, April 10, 1612. To feed the party, James Device stole a neighbor's sheep.

Friends and others sympathetic to the family attended, and when word of it reached Roger Nowell, he decided to investigate. On April 27, 1612, an inquiry was held before Nowell and another magistrate, Nicholas Bannister, to determine the purpose of the meeting at Malkin Tower, who had attended, and what happened. 

As a result of the inquiry, eight more people were accused of witchcraft and committed for trial: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey, and Jennet Preston. Preston lived across the border in Yorkshire, so she was sent for trial at York Assizes; the others were sent to Lancaster Gaol to join the four already imprisoned there.

Malkin Tower is believed to have been near the village of Newchurch in Pendle, or possibly in Blacko on present-day Malkin Tower Farm's site and to have been demolished soon after the trials.

THE WITCH TRIALS

The Pendle witches were tried in a large group trial of so-called witches, including the Samlesbury witches (Jane Southworth, Jennet Brierley, and Ellen Brierley). The charges against the Samlesbury witches included child murder and cannibalism. The group also included Margaret Pearson, the so-called Padiham witch, facing her third trial for witchcraft, this time for killing a horse. And Isobel Robey from Windle, accused of using witchcraft to cause sickness.

Some of the accused Pendle witches, such as one Alizon Device, seem to have genuinely believed in their guilt. Still, others protested their innocence to the end. Jennet Preston was the first to be tried at York Assizes.

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY OF THE LANCASHIRE WITCH TRIALS

Witches have inspired Pendle's tourism and heritage industries in modern times, with local shops selling various witch-motif gifts. Burnley's Moorhouse's Brewery produces a beer called Pendle Witches Brew. A Pendle Witch Trail runs from Pendle Heritage Centre to Lancaster Castle, where the accused witches were held before their trial. The X43 bus route run by Burnley Bus Company has been branded The Witch Way, with some of the vehicles operating on it named after the witches in the trial. Pendle Hill, which dominates the landscape of the area, continues to be associated with witchcraft and hosts a hilltop gathering every Halloween.

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