This was just one of the ridiculous pieces of evidence against the “Pendle Witches”.
A Wretched Life
They were hanged for the crimes of witchcraft, but in particular, the forging of clay images, inducing madness, and murdering 16 people over a 20 year period. The case today would get laughed out of court. But those times were very different. Superstition was a way of life.
As with the Salem witch trials, once one person was accused of witchcraft, nobody was safe – all were suspect. Six of the accused in this matter stemmed from two rival families – both families were known to dabble in the mystical arts – providing poultices, curses and herb lore for the locals.
This was followed by other charges, such as bewitching neighbours, horses and food and included truly serious charges like murder.
This was an age when anything which may have happened to go wrong would be blamed on witchcraft.
Did your cattle sicken for unknown reasons and die?
It must’ve been cursed by a jealous witch.
Did the river overflow and ruin your crops?
A witch was obviously responsible.
These witches needed to pay! And for ten of them, pay they did.
The heads of this ‘coven’ were Elizabeth Southerns – also known as ‘Old Demdike’ and Anne Whittle, also known as ‘Chattox’.
The official description of these poor old women is as follows:
“Description of the Witch Demdike. She was a very old woman, about the age of four score years, and had been a witch for fifty years. She dwelt in the Forest of Pendle, a vast place, fit for her profession: What she committed in her time, no man knows. Thus lived she securely for many years, brought up her own children, instructed her grandchildren, and took great care and pains to bring them up to be witches. She was a general agent for the Devil in all these parts: no man escaped her, or her furies, that ever game them any occasion of offence, or denied them anything they stood need of: and certain it is, no man near them, was secure or free of danger.
Description of the Witch Chattox. This Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, was a very old withered spent and decrepit creature, her sight almost gone: a dangerous witch, of very long continuance; always opposite to old Demdike: for whom the one favoured, the other hated deadly: and how they envy and accuse one another in their examinations, may appear. In her witchcraft, always more ready to do mischief to mens goods, than themselves. Her lips ever chattering and walking: but no man knew what. She lived in the forest of Pendle, amongst this wicked company of dangerous witches.”
Extract from “The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster”, 1613, Thomas Potts (Clerk of the Court)
It is thought that had Old Demdike not organised a meeting in her home with all of the accused, than only four may have been charged and tried with Witchcraft. But due to the suspicious nature of the people in the county, this was seen as collaboration and conspiracy. To further complicate matters one of the accused, James Device, stole a neighbours sheep to cook for dinner at this meeting.
Judged Guilty and Executed
- Chittox broke down in court and admitted her guilt. She called on God for forgiveness.
- Elizabeth Southerns was found guilty of committing two murders on her own, and the joint murder of another. The main witness against her was her nine year old daughter, who she cursed when she saw her enter.
- James Device was found guilty of murder.
- Anne Redferne was acquitted of one murder, but found guilty of another.
- Jane Bulcock and her son John Bulcock were found guilty of one count of murder.
- Katherine Hewitt was found guilty of one count of murder.
-Alison Device, the person whose actions first set off the witch hunt, was found guilty of witchcraft.
- Alice Nutter was unique in this trial, in that she was the wife of a young, tenant yeoman farmer. The only thing she said during her trial was that she was not guilty. The only evidence against her was hearsay, and yet she was still found guilty of murder.
- Isabel Robey was found guilty of witchcraft.
- Old Demdike died of sickness in the dungeon of Lancaster Castle while awaiting her trial.
- Margaret Pearson was not executed. Instead, she was sentenced to be pilloried (attacked/ridicule publicly) on four consecutive market days in different villages, and then to serve one year in prison. Spreading out her punishment meant that more people around the county would know of her crimes, making her a virtual leper when she was released from prison.
The ten Pendle Witches found guilty were taken to the Lancaster Gallows Hill on 20 August 1612 and hanged by the neck until they were dead – which would’ve taken quite some time. They basically would’ve died of strangulation and not of a broken neck – and all because of jealously, dislike and bad temperaments. Elizabeth Southerns was particularly suspect because she was ugly – having one eye lower than the other – a dead sign of witchcraft if you ask me. Humankind can truly be appalling at times.
Their final resting place has never been found.
Put together by Ashley Hall 2013