Pendle is well known for its story of witches in the Seventeenth Century. But far from being a story of the occult, it is a tragic mix of rivalry, ambition, officiousness and injustice. Whatever reputation for magic the main players may have had stems from country lore and superstition. Sadly it coincided with a religious climate that was intrigued by witchcraft and fed by continental writings of witchcraft.
The story of the Pendle Witch Trials
With the ascension to the throne of King James I, came a new wave of persecution against those thought to be practicing witchcraft.
The incidents that occurred in Pendle involved mainly the Devices who lived in Malkin Tower and the Chattox family of Fence who had a long standing feud between them.
The first accusation of witchcraft occurred when Alizon Device begged from a peddler. The peddler refused to give her anything. Alizon was then alleged to have cursed him after which he promptly collapsed with a stroke. The peddlers son accused her of witchcraft
On 30th April 1612 Alizon she was called in front of local magistrate Roger Nowell at Read Hall together with her Mother Elizabeth and brother James. Under interrogation, Alizon confessed that it was her who had caused the peddler to collapse, and then went on to claim that her grandmother Demdike had often asked her to allow a demon in the form of a black dog to come to her. On hearing this, Nowell asked to hear some accounts of witchcraft. Her brother, an uneducated and possibly backward man who also eked out a living as a beggar, was called to the stand. Under probable provocation from Nowell, James said that he had known Alizon to perform acts of witchcraft. Elizabeth then implicated her own mother, saying that Demdike had a witch mark on her left side, regarded at the time as sure proof of a witch. Alizon also made many accusations against Old Chattox, including the murder of four men, one of them being Alizon's father.
Alizon was detained in prison, while Chattox, Demdike and Anne Redfearn were ordered to meet with Nowell. On 2nd April, Demdike confessed to the crime of witchcraft and indicted Chattox and Anne Redfearn were also involved. Norwell imprisoned the four of them at Lancaster Castle to await the judges at the August assizes. Nowell probably thought that the case was now finished with.
Nowell came to hear that a meeting of witches in Malking Tower took place on Good Friday. Nowell called for James, Jennet and Elizabeth Device, and listened to Jennet's claim that 20 witches had gathered at the house to plot murder. Amongst those accused by Jennet were members of the Device and Demdike families. Alice Nutter was also accused. She was a landed lady whose family had also fallen out with the Chattox family. The main aim of the meeting it was claimed, was to plot to blow up Lancaster Castle, kill the governor, and rescue the women held there.
Nowell imprisoned those that had been accused who had not escaped. The trials began on Monday August 17th. Evidence was mainly depended on the testimony of Jennet Device, who accused her own mother Elizabeth of witchcraft as well as others. Elizabeth, on hearing her daughter's accusations pleaded guilty to the claims. At the trials, all of the people accused were claimed to have taken part in several murders as a result of practicing witchcraft. After the trial, the accused were urged to confess their sins. They were then sentenced to be hung.
They were all taken out and hanged on Thursday August 20th, the entire trial taking only three days.
Jennet escaped accusation at the time of this trial, but returned to Lancaster Castle 21 years later facing accusations of witchcraft.