9 Crazy Facts About the Pendle Witches

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In the summer of 1612, the Pendle Witches were found guilty of murder and witchcraft and executed at Gallows Hill, in one of the best-recorded witch trials in history.

10 Crazy Facts About the Pendle Witches

Read more about the Pendle Witches, and 19 other stories in Bizarre True Crime Volume 9!

The trials took place in Lancaster

Lancaster has a long and dark history and wasn’t granted city status until 1937, its castle was still being used as a prison as recently as 2011.

The city had a grim reputation for carrying out executions and is second only to London for the most people executed in England, giving it the unfortunate moniker of ‘the hanging town’.

Perhaps the best known of the witch trials from that period was the 17th Century trials of the Pendle witches.

The case of the Pendle Witches was documented at the time

In a rare move at the time, the entire trial and case were documented in a book titled, ‘The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.’ The spelling is as it was back then.

It was written by the clerk of the court, Thomas Potts, and due to its detailed account of the trials, the legend of the Pendle witches is not so much legend, but fact, at least, in relation to the trial itself.

The notion that the 10 people executed from the trials were real witches depends very much where one stands on the spectrum of the occult or paranormal.

12 people were accused of witchcraft

In 1612, the Pendle witch trials took place, in which 12 people were accused of witchcraft, who lived in and around the Pendle Hill region of Lancashire.

In total, they were charged with the murders of ten people using the dark magic of witchcraft.

One died in prison while awaiting trial, and of the 11 remaining witches, only one was found not guilty. The other 10 were executed by hanging.

Most of the witches were from two rival families

Six of the 11 witches on trial came from two rival families, the Demdike’s and the Chattox’s, who were overseen by two elderly widows.

Elizabeth Southerns was known as Old Demdike and had been known as a witch for over 50 years, which makes it surprising that she wasn’t executed sooner.

Old Demdike’s rival was Anne Whittle, known as Mother Chattox, and they fought with each other over business in the village, as both families were offering similar services.

The warring witches caused the trials themselves

Many of the accusations of witchcraft came from members of both families, as they sought to stop the competition, so, in some way, the trials were caused by themselves.

The event that led to the Pendle witch trials took place on 21st March 1612, when Old Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, was out walking in Trawden Forest.

She approached a street seller named John Law, and asked him for some pins, which were sometimes used in witchcraft to treat a variety of ailments.

Law refused to sell her the pins and carried on his way but a few moments later, he collapsed. Alizon watched as he managed to get back to his feet and stumble into a local Inn.

She believed she had caused the man to fall down with her powers and thought she was more powerful than she first realised. Though, in reality, John Law may have suffered a mild stroke.

The John Law incident caught the attention of the courts

As word got around that Old Demdike’s granddaughter had used witchcraft on another person, the story caught the attention of Roger Nowell, who was the justice of the peace for Pendle – a judicial officer of a lower court.

Alizon, her brother James, and their mother Elizabeth Device were summoned by Nowell to appear in court on 30th March.

There, Alizon confessed she had sold her soul to the Devil and used her connection with the dark lord to make John Law fall to the ground.

Elizabeth confessed that her mother, Old Demdike, had a mark on her body that was left by the Devil sucking her blood.

Alizon quickly realised that instead of giving up her entire family, she could also get the Chattox family charged with witchcraft – and an opportunity for revenge to incriminate the Chattox family.

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Ole Demdike died in the horrific conditions of Lancaster Castle

On 2nd April 1612, Old Demdike and Mother Chattox were taken from their home and appeared in court, along with Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redferne.

Both matriarchs were blind and in their eighties, a noble age in the 17th Century. Both women confessed to selling their souls to the devil but that the other was responsible for deaths in the region.

The following day, after hearing all the evidence and statements, Nowell and the judge detained Alizon, Anne, Old Demdike and Mother Chattox and set a date for trial.

While awaiting trial, Old Demdike died in the dungeons of Lancaster Castle, unable to live with the dark, damp conditions.

Jennet Device gave up her mother and all the witches

The pendle witch trials took place between 17th and 19th August 1612, and ultimately rested on the evidence given by nine-year-old Jennet Device, who was allowed to testify as witch trials fell under different rules than other trials.

She identified all the people who had attended a murder meeting at Malkin Tower and gave evidence against her own mother, Elizabeth.

‘My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she calls Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do, and she answered that she would have him help her to kill.’ – Jennet Device

When Elizabeth heard her daughter testify against her, she had to be physically removed from the court as she was screaming and cursing at her daughter with a maniacal look on her face.

On 20th August 1612, Alizon, Elizabeth, and James Device, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John and Jane Bulcock, and Mother Chattox were led to an open field and hanged at Gallows Hill in Lancaster.

Lancaster is now the city of witches

In Lancaster today, over 400 years later, the Pendle witches remain a big draw to the city and are responsible for increased tourism to the area.

The city is home to the Pendle Witch Trail which leads to Lancaster Castle, a local bus called The Witch Way, a beer called the Pendle Witches Brew, and an annual Halloween gathering on Gallows Hill, where the witches were executed.

The Pendle witch trials are one of the most recorded witch trials in history and shows just how far the establishment went to rid witches from the land.

Read more about the Pendle Witches, and 19 other stories in Bizarre True Crime Volume 9!

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