You’ve most likely heard about the Salem Witch trials in Massachusetts, but long before that, there were the Pendle Witch trials in England. The Pendle Witch trials are one of the most famous and well-documented cases of witch trials in English history.
During the summer of 1612, twelve people from Pendle in Lancashire were accused of witchcraft and held as prisoners in Lancaster Castle. Out of the twelve, nine were sentenced to death after being found guilty. Only one person was found not guilty.
In 1563, witchcraft was made illegal in England. For the next three centuries, the people of England were gripped with an intense fear of witches since their practices went against their religious beliefs.
Over the course of that time period, they held witch trials in an effort to rid their towns of witches. Historians believe that 500 to 1,000 people were executed for this crime throughout the years.
The Pendle witches came from two local rival families, the Demdike family and the Chattox family. The two families were headed by two elderly matriarchs, Elizabeth Southerns, also known as “Old Demdike,” and Anne Whittle, or “Mother Chattox.”
Both of the women were widows, and their families lived in poverty. It was no secret that the women were witches. They were known as the village healers and dealt with herbs and medicines. This fact was widely accepted by the villagers. So, how did it all start?
The story began when Alizon Device, Old Demdike’s granddaughter, publicly cursed a peddler named John Law when he refused to give her some pins. Shortly after being cursed, he suffered a stroke. Alizon was arrested and confessed to using her powers to harm the man, truly believing that she had cursed him.
Upon further questioning, she accused Old Demdike, Chattox, and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfern, of being witches, too. The four women were called before Justice of the Peace Roger Nowell.
There, Alizon claimed she had sold her soul to the devil, and her brother James confessed that she had cursed a local child before. Elizabeth Device, Alizon’s mother, denied the accusations that she herself was a witch.