The Pendle Witches Story
Pendle Hill rises majestically above an ancient hunting ground, once the home of wolves and wild boar, a wild and mysterious place. Beneath the hill lie pretty villages which tell a story of intrigue and witchcraft nearly 400 years old. Many novels have been written about the world famous Pendle Witches but reality in this case turns out to be stranger than fiction.
The Pendle Witches lived in the early 1600s at a time of religious persecution and superstition.The protestant king, James I, had just survived the Catholic gunpowder plot. Catholics and those suspected of witchcraft (sometimes thought to be one and the same) came under more scrutiny than ever, and the king brought in the death penalty for those found guilty of witchcraft.
It was a dangerous time for two Pendle families, led by two wily old matriarchs,Demdike and Chattox. Long since widowed, their existence depended on exaggerating the cures they offered to local villagers. It would prove to be their undoing.
On a cold lonely road to Colne on a March day in 1612 a man collapses to the ground paralysed. His name is John Law, a pedlar from Halifax. Just moments before Demdike’s granddaughter, Alison Device, had cursed him.He would not give her the pins that her grandmother wanted for a spell. Abraham Law, the pedlar’s son, hauled Alison in front of local magistrate, Roger Nowell. Alison, overawed by the situation, confesses and incriminates both her grandmother, Demdike, and her local rival, Chattox.
The two are interrogated at Ashlar House, and, perhaps wishing to enhance their local reputation, try to outdo each other with their stories, including the story of meeting the devil in the quarry. On April 3rd 1612 Demdike, Chattox,Device, and Redfearn are committed for trial for witchcraft at Lancaster Castle.
On Good Friday the Demdike and Device families meet at Malkin Tower and feast on stolen mutton. Later when Nowell hears of this meeting he sends a local constable, Henry Hargreaves to Malkin Tower.There are accusations that they were plotting to free the imprisoned women and blow up the castle.
The constable finds human bones and teeth stolen from a graveyard at St Mary’s and a clay image. James Demdike confesses to using the image to cause the death of Anne Townley. The others at the alleged “Witches Sabbath” meeting are all rounded up and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle.
On August 17th the trial began. The prosecution’s star witness was nine year old Jennet Device who in court identifies those who attended the Good Friday meeting, including her mother Elizabeth and Alice Nutter.This evidence, the confessions already given, and the vigour of the prosecutors, keen to ingratiate themselves to James I, meant that the trial was over after just three days. All the accused swung from the gallows, except for Demdike, who died as a prisoner before the trial.
Ten amazing witch facts
- The word witch comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Wicca” or “Wise one”.
- Wicca used their “magic” in pagan rites to bring good harvests.
- By the 14th Century people saw a sinister side to witchcraft.
- Unmarried or widowed women would use their reputation as healers to earn a living.
- In the 15th Century witches were portrayed flying, astride wolves, goats and even a shovel, before the broomstick became a common image.
- It was thought that the sound of church bells could bring down flying witches.
- One technique, to prove whether a person was a witch, “swimming” or “ducking”,was explained in a book written by James I.
- James I also recommended looking for the devil’s marks on suspected witches.Marks such as birthmarks could be seen as the devil sealing his covenant or compact with the suspect.
- The Witch’s hat was an exaggeration of 17th Century Puritan hats. Points were associated with the horns of the devil.
- Matthew Hopkins was dubbed the English “Witchfinder General” after starting his work in 1645. He was responsible for the hanging of 68 witches.