Hi everyone welcome back to part two of the script for Episode 1 of the podcast. You can catch the episode here! https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-3dtwh-bf85d9
Check out the previous post , last week for part one of this essay.
ill met by moonlight, John Law…
In March 1612 Justice Roger Nowell was visited by a pedlar named John Law. Law claimed he had been hexed by a witch, causing him to fall ill.
On the 21st March, Law was travelling through Trawden Forest when he crossed paths with Alison Device, a young woman of repute in the area as the granddaughter of Elizabeth Southerns – an elderly wise woman known as ‘Old Demdike’. Her whole family were outsiders, presumed to be witches. Device asked Law to sell her some pins. Law refused – maybe because metal pins in 17th century England were expensive and he didn’t believe she had the money, or maybe because witches used pins to cure warts, for divination, and to cast love spells.
Whatever the reason Law told Device it was not worth the bother of unpacking half his bag on the roadside for so small a sale. They argued for a while, Alizon claiming Law called her a thief, then went their separate ways. Seconds later Law collapsed. John Law struggled back to his feet and stumbled into a nearby inn.
The best guess these days is he suffered a minor stroke, but to add context it was almost half a century before a Swiss doctor called Johan Wepfer began to unravel what caused these apoplexies- as they were then called. There was no real understanding among experts, let alone everyday people to explain what happened to John Law.. so magical thinking did not seem unreasonable. At first John Law didn’t believe he had been hexed, but in the following days his son Abraham convinced him this is exactly what had happened.
Alizon Device, on the other hand needed no convincing. From a family of wise women, folk healers with a magical edge, she truly believed she had supernatural powers, and that day had caused the devil to strike John Law down. When Abraham Law came round and took her to see John. Alizon broke down and confessed to hexing him, and begged him for forgiveness.
On the 30th March 1612 Alizon, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James were summoned to appear before Justice of the Peace Roger Nowell.
Now if you’re thinking poor Alizon and her family, about to face some Kangaroo court over this nonsense… well… fair enough, but what unfolded next might stretch your sympathies a little. The Demdikes are not the easiest of families to warm up to.
At the summons Alizon fessed up to hexing John Law, stating immediately after their fight, the devil appeared to her in the form of a black dog and asked what he should do?
“What canst thou do at him?” she asked the dog.
The dog answered “I can lame him”. Alizon thought this was a fantastic idea… then 300 yards down the road John Law fell.
Alizon went on to implicate her grandmother, Old Demdike, in the killing of a cow through witchcraft. Her brother James added to their troubles, claiming Alizon had bewitched a young child. Elizabeth mostly stayed silent but when pushed admitted Old Demdike had a strange mark on her, of the type the devil leaves when he sucks your blood.
Next Alizon, maybe hoping to take the heat off of her, maybe out of revenge for a previous dispute turned in another family of wise women from the town, the Chattoxes.
Ten years earlier a member of the Chattox family had broken into the Devise home and stolen from them. Under questioning Alizon accused the matriarch of the family, Anne Whittle, of the murder of 4 men, including her own father, John Devise.
On 2 April 1612 Old Demdike, Anne Whittle and her daughter, Anne Redferne were brought in. Demdike and the elder Chattox quickly confessed to being witches. Redferne refused to say anything, but old Demdike claimed she’d seen Anne Redferne making clay figures, something like voodoo dolls. Another witness, Margaret Crooke, backed this up, claiming Anne Redferne killed her brother by witchcraft after an argument.
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty” bringing it back to Bertrand Russell. Would people, in a simpler time be a little terrified at these alleged serial killers turning each other in like this? Honestly, crazy as it all seems now, I could see fear directing a judge into an atrocious ruling. We’ll come to this, but first let’s take a quick ad break.
(Short excerpt from Ishtar’s ‘Space Radio’)
Hi folks welcome back. Where we left off Alizon Device, old Demdike, old Chattox and Anne Redferne had faced justice Roger Nowell on what began as a single charge of witchcraft, and quickly indicted themselves in multiple acts of murder and malice. On April 10th 1612 friends and family got together to discuss what to do now, and the suitably witchy sounding Malkin Tower.
I come Malkin Towers…
The name Malkin tower immediately makes me think of witchcraft. My reasoning there’s a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where one of the witches calls to her familiar “I come Greymalkin”. Truthfully grimalkin is a medieval word for cat, and malkin can mean cat, a woman from a low born family, a weakling or even, a mop. I Google image searched Malkin tower and come across a lone tower on a windswept looking hill. Desolate and spooky it looked exactly like the kind of place where wise women would brew potions … then I began to dig a little to find it was a Victorian folly called ‘Blacko tower’ Malkin tower, the home of Alizon’s grandmother old Demdike was demolished long ago, was probably a normal old cottage, the exact location lost to history.
On the 10th April Alizon’s mother Elizabeth called friends and family to malkin tower to plan to save their loved ones. The meeting could have gone unnoticed but for James Device stealing a neighbour’s sheep to provide food. The neighbors reported the theft, and meeting to justice Nowell…who concluded the meeting must have been a coven of witches. He arrested eight more people for witchcraft, following an inquiry on April 27th 1612. Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston were all brought in. Preston would be tried separately – she lived across the border and fell under the jurisdiction of York.
A digression into being buried alive…
Jennet Preston faced the courts first, at the York Assizes on 27th July. Presiding judges were witch hater James Altham and the desperate to re-locate Sir Edward Bromley. Preston had previously beaten a charge of using witchcraft to kill a child in 1611. She was now charged with the murder of a nobleman, Thomas Lister, four years earlier.
On his death bed, surrounded by family and friends, Lister had cried out
“Jennet Preston lyes heauie vpon me, Preston’s wife lies heauie vpon me; helpe me, helpe me“
What damned Jennet Preston was when she was viewing Lister’s body, laid out in state, he began to bleed profusely. Superstition has it if a corpse bleeds in someone’s presence the deceased is pointing out their murderer from the other side.
Now keep in mind the test for death at this time was to listen for a heartbeat and check for signs of breathing, and this was rarely done by an actual doctor, we shouldn’t be too surprised people occasionally got buried alive… well possibly more than occasionally – we mostly know just the near misses. A few decades after Thomas Lister in 1661, Lawrence Cawthorn, a butcher from London was accidentally buried alive. He had fallen ill and, his landlord knowing he would inherit Cawthorn’s possessions if he died in his property – sent him off to be buried. As the last sod of earth was loaded on the coffin all in attendance could hear Cawthorn screaming so quickly dug him back up, but not quite quickly enough – they opened the coffin to find he had shredded his shroud and beaten his face to a pulp trying to break the coffin open with his head.
Alice Blunden of Basingstoke was buried in 1674 and was far luckier. A group of children heard her screams, and people were able to dig her out in time. The Irish philosopher John Dun Scotus was accidentally buried alive in 1308, only discovered years later from deep scratch marks on the inside of the lid. I digress but to me at least it makes sense the rumours of Mr Lister’s death were greatly exaggerated, and it makes none that he bled on command to indict his killer.
It also strikes me as odd this incident only came up in 1612. Jennet Preston strongly proclaimed her innocence but was found guilty. She was executed by hanging on 29th July 1612. The others all went to trial at the Lancaster Assizes on the 18th – 19th August 1612.
The Pendle witches weren’t the only witch trial that day; The Salmesbury Witches were charged with using witchcraft to murder, and with cannibalism. Sir Edward Bromley was presiding judge. The court clerk was a man named Thomas Potts. Potts would gain fame from the book he wrote on the trial, The wonderful discoverie of witches in the countie of Lancaster – to this day the main source of information on the Pendle and Salmesbury Witches.
The Salmesbury Witches.
The Salmesbury Witches were three women – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley – who were accused of murdering and eating a baby. Their accuser was a 14 year old relative of the Bierleys, Grace Sowerbutts. They were also accused of using witchcraft to make Grace’s life hell. They all proclaimed their innocence.
Their trial began with a prepared statement from Grace Sowerbutts. Grace claimed her grandmother, Jennet, Aunt Ellen and Jane Southworth could transform themselves into dogs. That they had “haunted and vexed her”, in her own words, for years. These vexings took the form of magically picking her up and dropping her atop a haybail by her hair, and hypnotically convincing her to drown herself.
Grace had also claimed they took her to the house of a Thomas Walshman and his wife, taking their baby outside, then sucking the child’s blood. The baby died the following night. Grace claimed her grandmother and aunt had then stolen the child’s corpse, to cook and eat the body.
Thomas Walshman took the stand, and confirmed he had a child who died suddenly. There was an uproar from the public gallery.
“If what this girl says is true then we need to know more, bring her back up and examine her further”
Under further examination Grace lost it and broke down. Her tale unravelled and a distraught Grace finally started to tell the truth. The Salmesbury witches had all been Catholic, but converted to the Anglican church. They were much happier with the church of England. Jane Southworth’s uncle, Christopher Southworth, sometimes aka Christopher Thompson, was a Catholic priest, who covertly ran his own church. When the ladies converted they had a falling out, and he began to plot revenge on them. His plan, to get 14 year old Grace to make the accusation.
Why Grace went along with it isn’t clear, and what happened to her and Christopher has been lost to history, but the Salmesbury Witches were released without charge.
The Pendle witches were not so lucky. They, for one had their own accusatory minor to deal with – 9 year old Jennet Device – Alizon’s sister- was called as a key witness. Even in 1612 the evidence of a child so young was banned, except, thanks to James I, in the case of witch trials. A number of the accused were known Wise Women – pagan folk healers.. Of course a number of guilty pleas had been made already too. Old Demdike, in her 80s when taken into custody, died before the trial started.
The Pendle Witch Trials…
First up was Anne Whittle. Accused by Alizon of murdering four men she pled not guilty on the charge of killing Robert Nutter. Unfortunately she had made a confession earlier, which was read out to the court. A boarder at her house was also called to the stand. He stated he recalled Nutter claiming she turned his beer sour before he died. A tearful Anne broke down in court, admitted guilt, and begged God’s forgiveness.
Elizabeth Device, Alizon’s mother, was accused of the murders of two men by herself, James and John Robinson, and of helping Old Demdike kill Henry Mitton. She plead not guilty. 9 year old Jennet Device was called in to give evidence and Elizabeth lost all composure and had to be escorted out, screaming at Jennet to stop what she was doing before she signed the family’s death warrant. Unfortunately no one challenged the child’s evidence – Jennet told the court Elizabeth had been a witch for 3 or 4 years, and had a familiar – a brown dog called Ball, who she called on to hex her victims.
Her son James also gave evidence against Elizabeth, though accused of being a witch himself, pleading not guilty to the murders of Anne Townley and John Duckworth. Jennet took the stand again to accuse James. Elizabeth and James Device were both found guilty.
Anne Redferne, daughter of Anne Whittle, also known as Chattox was found guilty the following day of the murder of Robert Nutter’s father, Christopher, based on the evidence of the now deceased Old Demdike. The Bulcocks, Jane, and her son John were up next. They were dragged into this mess because they had attended the Malkin tower meeting- something they denied. Again 9 year old Jennet Device gave evidence against them and they were found guilty of the murder of a woman called Jennet Deane.
Alice Nutter, who had come to the malkin towers meeting to support the family found herself entangled with the murder of Henry Mitton. She was also found guilty. Katherine Hewitt and Alice Grey, both also attendees at the Malkin towers meeting were accused of killing a child called Anne Foulds. Hewitt was found guilty, while Grey was let go, found not guilty.
Finally it was Alizon Device’s turn. The woman who started the whole witch hunt off by wishing ill on the pedlar John Law. This was pretty much a non event. Device sincerely believed she had harmed Law and tearfully confessed to hexing him that day in the forest. She was found guilty. All but Alice Grey were sentenced to hang, a sentence carried out the following day. When I mentioned to my mum I was doing a podcast on the Pendle witches she was particularly interested in the testimony of young Jennet, and said she learned at school Jennet Device gave evidence to get in with the in crowd… sold out her family to be popular. It backfired, she was shunned the rest of her life. I couldn’t find this in the sources, maybe it had become a cautionary tale not to dob your parents in for stuff? Who knows? It does seem very possible though.
There is evidence though a Jennet Device faced a witch trial herself in 1634. Accused by a ten year old boy, Edmund Robinson, she was found guilty of the murder of Isabel Nutter…. The same Nutter family who allegedly lost several family members to the older Devices…. The boy’s evidence was later found to be false, but she seems to have spent the rest of her life in jail regardless. Sir Edward Bromley’s work did please the king, and he got his promotion in 1616.
So that was the tale of the Pendle witches, I hold to my interpretation that it was the result of a combination of primitive superstition, political opportunism, petty revenge, and possibly a need by some young, unreliable witnesses to fit in and/ or be agreeable to authority figures. While, in my opinion there was all kinds of crazy in play here it is also worth noting that in 1998 when it came before parliament to pardon the Pendle Witches, British Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to do so.
On 27th August 2008 the Swiss Parliament ruled the 1782 beheading of Anna Goldi – generally accepted as the last execution for witchcraft in Europe – a miscarriage of justice, and exonerated her. This prompted supporters of the Pendle witches to try again, but yet again the British Government refused to overturn the convictions.
I hope you found this episode interesting. Please subscribe to our podcast, give us a positive review on whatever podcaster you are listening in on. Please share our podcast round with anyone you know who likes history and strange tales. Please follow us on the Tales of History and Imagination podcast Facebook page, more social media pages coming soon – and drop me a line. Music has been provided by Ishtar, who incidentally had a song about Pendle Hill in their set in the mid to late 2000s, research, writing and all that production stuff by me. Thanks for listening, and I will see you in two weeks for more tales of History and Imagination.
[Outro music- ‘Space Radio’ by Ishtar]
This Tale is part two of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.