Who Were the Pendle Witches?

Who Were the Pendle Witches?

Article covering the quite astonishing events of 1612, when ten (probably innocent) people were found guilty of witchcraft, and met a rather tragic end.

Who were the Pendle Witches?

Why were the Pendle Witches accused?

Let’s take a closer look…


Guilty

Back in 1612, people had a pretty rough time of it – most of them lived in extreme poverty and under constant threat.

Alison Device was a member of a family that made it’s income through begging. One day, she noticed a wealthy looking man by the name of John Law, and tried her luck by asking him for some money.

He was not up for hand outs – so he told Device to be on her way.

As he walked away from the angry female beggar, he collapsed to the ground. This was apparently enough for a charge of witchcraft to be laid on Alison Device.

This seemed to be the starting point of the Pendle Witches case – it was followed by other charges, such as bewitching neighbors, horses and food and included truly serious charges like murder.


Witchcraft

A short time after this incident, the ‘Witches of Pendle Forest’ were rounded up and taken to court (Elizabeth Southerns, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alison Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Katherine Hewitt, Isabel Robey and Margaret Pearson).

Elizabeth Southerns and Anne Whittle were singled out as the ringleaders of this sacred coven, and given the nicknames of  ‘Old Demdike’ and  ‘Chattox’.

pendle witches trail

The courtroom described Old Demdike as an old lady that had been a witch for over 50 years, and had carried out her demonic deeds in the nearby Forest of Pendle.

They also claimed that she had brought up her own children and instructed her grandchildren to become efficient in the dark arts.

Witch Chattox (Anne Whittle) was accused of being the main partner in crime of Old Demdike (Elizabeth Southerns). She was described as being a half-blind and decrepit creature that also roamed the nearby forest.

Shortly before the group were arrested, Elizabeth Southerns had a meeting in her house with all of the accused. It is now thought that this was the main reasoning behind the accusations put on the group.

Unfortunately, James Device stole a sheep from a local farmer and it was consumed at this meeting – this only served to fan the flames of the situation.


The Twisted Verdicts

It all gets pretty mad and ridiculous from this point – ten of the accused were eventually found guilty of being witches (Old Demdike died of sickness in the dungeon of Lancaster Castle while awaiting her trial and Margaret Pearson was sentenced to be pilloried).

The ten ‘guilty’ Pendle Witches were transported to the Lancaster Gallows Hill on the 20th of August, 1612, and executed. They were hanged by the neck until dead (this was a gruesome form of hanging – the effect was more like strangulation).

pendle witches way

This whole incident came about through local jealousy and general dislike – human nature.

It turns out that Elizabeth Southerns was labeled as the main head of this group, due to her ugly looks – she had one eye lower than the other (so she must have been a witch!!!!).

If you have any thoughts or opinions on the tragic trail of the Pendle Witches, please leave them in the comment section below.

8 comments on “Who Were the Pendle Witches?

  1. Hello and thank you for this unique and interesting story. It was quite the nice read. It is just sad to see what was enough to charge a woman for witchcrafting back in the day. It was a sad times for human rights and woman rights in general. 

    I am really glad we improved our way of living, human rights and democracy. No ones ego should stand in front of justice or god forbid human life.

    Very thoughtful story.

    Strahinja.

    1. Hi Strahinja,

      Yeah thankfully things have changed these days, and superstition doesn’t rule the roost any longer. It is sad to hear how these women were treated way back when. 

  2. Hi

    Interesting article on the infamous Pendle Witches. 

    It is crazy, and fortunate, how much society has changed since then. Calling anything incomprehensible as witchcraft is rather ignorant but in hindsight it is understandable.

    This might be a stupid question to ask but I noticed some male names in the list of accused witches? 

    Thanks

    1. Hi Louis, 

      Yeah there are some male names in there, but one can only speculate as to why they were charged – maybe they were relatives/husbands of the accused?

  3. It’s totally scary how things like this used to happen so easily. People were so quick to accuse for ridiculous things. And there was really no defense you could give if you were accused, apart from insisting that you’re not a witch but it’s just your word against others. I like roaming around the woods so I wonder if I had lived back then, maybe someone would have accused me of witchcraft. Granted both my eyes are completely level as far as I know so I’ve got that going for me.

    1. Yeah that’s it Mariah – the more you insisted you were not a witch back then, the more people believed you were one. It was a catch 22 if you were accused – end of the story for you I’m afraid! 

      P.S. Great to hear that your eyes are level! 🙂

  4. Such a fascinating story.  I am a fan of unexplained mysteries.

    Women back then had to be very careful at what they did, who they talked to and where they went.  At any time a man could say she is a witch for anything and she would be branded a witch.  Amazing.

    I have never heard of this tale or the town of Pendle.  It is in England, but I don’t know where.

    Being as it didn’t take much to be called a witch, were there any more cases in Pendle?

    1. I think it pretty much diluted after these trials Stew – if the ‘authorities’ did come forward with more witch claims, then they would have looked like they were wrong the first time around…

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