The Witch Story ~ Introduction


The story of the 1612 Pendle witch trials is a complex tale of social tensions, interfamilial accusation and fantastic statement; this being the case, it will be useful to include here a condensed account of the events. In 1861 Chapman and Hall published Witch Stories, an account of the Pendle witches written by E. Lynn Linton. Here the author sums up the series of events of 1612:



The Witches of Pendle


   In Pendle Forest, a wild tract of land on the borders of Yorkshire, lived an old woman about the age of fourscore, who had been a witch for many years, and had brought up her own children, and instructed her grandchildren, to be witches. “She was a generall agent for the Deuill in all these partes;” her name was Elizabeth Southernes, usually called Mother Demdike; the date of her arraignment 1612. She was the first tried of this celebrated “coven,” twenty of whom stood before Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, charged with all the crimes lying in sorcery, magic, and witchcraft.


     Old Mother Demdike died in prison before her trial, but on her being taken before the magistrate who convicted them all, Roger Nowell, Esq., she made such a confession as effectually insured her due share of execration, and hedged in the consciences of all who had assailed her from any possible pangs of self-reproach or doubt.


     About twenty years ago, she said, she was returning home from begging, when, near a stone pit in Newchurch-in-Pendle, she met a spirit or devil in the shape of a boy, with one half of his coat brown and the other half black, who said to her, if she would give him her soul, she should have all that she might desire. After a little further talk, during which he told her that his name was Tibb, he vanished away. For five or six years Mother Demdike never asked any kind of help or harm of Tibb, who always came to her at “daylight gate” (twilight); but one Sabbath morning, she having her little child on her knee, and being in a light slumber, Tibb came to her in the likeness of a brown dog, and forced himself on her knee, trying to get blood from under her left arm. Mother Demdike awoke sore troubled and amazed, and strove to say, “Jesus, save my child,” but could not, neither could she say, “Jesus, save myself.” In a short time the brown dog vanished away, and she was “almost starke madde for the space of eight weekes.”


      She and Tibb had never done much harm, she said; not even to Richard Baldwin, of Wheathead, for all that he had put them off his land, and taken her daughter’s day’s work at his mill without fee or reward, and when she, led by her grandchild Alison (for she was quite blind), went to ask for pay, gave them only hard words and insolence for their pains, saying, “Get off my ground, witches and whores - I will burn the one, and hang the other,” and bidding them begone. She confessed though, after a little pressing, that at that moment Tibb called out to her, “Revenge thee of him!” to whom she answered, “Revenge thou either of him or his!” on which he vanished away, and she saw him no more. She would not say what was the vengeance done, or if any. But if she was silent, and not prone to confession, there were others, and those of her own blood, not so reticent.


      Elizabeth Device her daughter, and Alison and James and Jennet Device, her grandchildren, testified against her and each other in a wonderful manner, and filled up all the blanks in the most masterly and graphic style. Alison said that her grandmother had seduced her to the service of the devil, by giving her a great black dog as her imp or spirit, with which dog she had lamed one John Lawe, a petty chapman (or pedlar), as he was going through Colne Field with his pack at his back. Alison wanted to buy pins of him, but John Lawe refused to loosen his pack or sell them to her; so Alison in a rage called for her black dog, to see if revenge could not do what fair words had failed in. When the black dog came he said, “What wouldst thou have me to do with yonder man?” To whom she answered, “What canst thou do at him?” and the dog answered again, “I can lame him.” “Lame him,” says Alison Device; and before the pedlar went forty yards he fell lame.


      When questioned, he, on his side, said, that as he was going through Colne Field he met a big black dog with very fearful fiery eyes, great teeth, and a terrible countenance, which looked at him steadily then passed away; and immediately after he was bewitched into lameness and deformity. And this took place after having met Alison Device and refused to sell her any pins. Then Alison fell to weeping and praying, beseeching God and that worshipful company to pardon her sins. She said further that her grandmother had bewitched John Nutter’s cow to death at Bull Hole in Newchurch, and Richard Baldwin’s daughter on account of the quarrel before reported, saying that she would pray for Baldwin, “both still and loud,” and that she was always after some matter of devilry and enchantment, if not for the bad of others then for the good of herself.


      Alison once got a piggin full of blue milk by begging, and when she came to look into it, she found a quarter of a pound of butter there, which was not there before, and which she verily believed old Mother Demdike had procured by her enchantments. Then Alison turned against the rival Hecate, Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, between whom and her family raged a deadly feud with Mother Demdike and her family; accusing her of having bewitched her father, John Device, to death, because he had neglected to pay her the yearly tax of an aghendole (eight pounds) of oatmeal, which he had covenanted to give her on consideration that she would not harm him. For they had been robbed, these poor people, of a quarter of a peck of cut oatmeal and linens worth some twenty shillings, and they had found a coif and band belonging to them on Anne Whittle’s daughter; so John Device was afraid that old Chattox would do them some grievous injury by her sorceries if they cried out about it, therefore made that covenant for the aghendole of meal, the non-payment of which for one year set Chattox free from her side of the bargain and cost John’s life.


      She said, too, that Chattox had bewitched sundry persons and cattle, killing John Nutter’s cow because he, John Nutter, had kicked over her canfull of milk, misliking her devilish way of placing two sticks across it; and slaying Anne Nutter because she laughed and mocked at her; slaying John Moor's child, of Higham, too by a picture of clay—with other misdeeds to be hereafter verified and substantiated. So Alison Device was hanged, weeping bitterly, and very penitent.


     James Device, her brother, testified to meeting a brown dog coming from his grandmother’s house at Malkin Tower about a month ago, and to hearing a noise as of a number of children shrieking and crying, “near daylight gate.” Another time he heard a foul yelling as of a multitude of cats, and soon after this there came into his bed chamber a thing like a cat or a hare, and coloured black, which lay heavily on him for about an hour. He said that his sister Alison had bewitched Bulcock’s child, and that old Mother Chattox had dug up three skulls, and taken out eight teeth, four of which she kept for herself and gave four to Mother Demdike; and that Demdike had made a picture of clay of Anne Nutter, of Newchurch, and had burned it, by which the said Anne had been bewitched to death.


      Also she had bewitched to death one Henry Mitton, of Roughlee, because he would not give her a penny; with other iniquities of the same sort. He said that his mother, Elizabeth Device, had a spirit like a brown dog called Ball, and that they all met at Malking Tower; all the witches of Pendle—and they were not a few—going out in their own shapes, and finding foals of different colours ready for their riding when they got outside. He then confessed, for his own part, that his grandmother Demdike told him not to eat the communion bread one day when he went to church, but to give it to the first thing he met on the road on his way homewards. He did not obey her, but ate the bread as a good Christian should; and on the way he met with a thing like a hare which asked him for the bread; but he said he had not got it; whereupon the hare got very angry and threatened to tear him in pieces, but James “sained” (crossed) himself, and the devil vanished.


      This, repeated in various forms, was about the pith of what James Device confessed, his confession not including any remarkable betrayal of himself, or admission of any practical and positive evil. His young sister Jennet, a little lassie of nine, supplied the deficiencies. She had evidently been suborned and gave evidence enough to have hanged half Lancashire. She said that James had sold himself to the devil, and that his spirit was a black dog called Dandy, by whom he had bewitched many people to death; and then she said that she had seen the witches’ meetings, but had taken no part in them; and that on Good Friday, at Malkin Tower, they had all dined off a roasted wether (sheep) which James had stolen from Swyers, of Barley; and that John Bulcock, of Mosse End, in Newchurch, turned the spit. She said that her mother Elizabeth had taught her two prayers, the one to get drink and the other to cure the bewitched. The one to get drink was a very short one, simply—“Crucifixus, hoc signum vitam eternam, Amen;” but this would bring good drink into the house in a very strange manner.


The other, the prayer to cure the bewitched, was longer:—


Vpon Good Friday, I will fast while I may,

Vntill I heare them knell,

Our Lord’s owne Bell, Lord in his messe

With his twelve Apostles good,

What hath he in his hand?
Ligh in Leath wand:
What hath he in his other hand?
Heaven’s doore key.
Open, open, Heaven doore keyes,
Steck, steck, hell doore.
Let Crizum child
Go to it Mother mild.

What is yonder that casts a light so farrandly?

Mine owne deare Sone that’s nail’d to the Tree,
He is nail’d sore by the heart and hand,
And holy harne Panne.

Well is that man
That Fryday spell can,
His Childe to learne
A Crosse of Blewe, and another of Red,
As good Lord was to the Roode.

Gabriel laid him downe to sleepe
Vpon the grounde of holy weepe;
Good Lord came walking by,
Sleep’st thou, wak’st thou, Gabriel?

No, Lord, I am sted with stick and stake,
That I can neither sleepe nor wake:
Rise up, Gabriel, and goe with me,
The stick nor the stake shall never deere thee,
Sweete Jesus our Lorde. Amen.


     On such conclusive testimony as this, and for such fearful crimes, James Device was condemned “as dangerous and malicious a witch as ever lived in these parts of Lancashire, of his time, and spotted with as much Innocent bloud as euer any witch of his yeares.” Poor lad!


     O Barbarous and inhumane Monster, beyond example; so farre from sensible vnderstanding of thy owne miserie as to bring thy owne naturall children into mischiefe and bondage, and thyselfe to be a witnesse vpone the gallowes, to see thy owne children, by thy deuillish instructions, hatcht vp in villanie and witchcraft, to suffer with thee, euen in the beginning of their time, a shamefull and untimely Death!


      These are the words which Thomas Potts addresses to Elizabeth Device, widow of John the bewitched, daughter to old Demdike the “rankest hag that ever troubled daylight,” and mother of Alison and James the confessing witches; mother, also, of young Jennet of nine, their accuser and hers, by whose testimony she was mainly condemned. Elizabeth was charged with having bewitched sundry people to death, by means and aid of her spirit, the brown dog Ball, spoken of by James; also she had gone to the Sabbath held at Malking Tower, where they had assembled to consult how they could get old Mother Demdike, their leader, out of prison, by killing her gaoler and blowing up the castle, and where they had beef and bacon and roasted mutton—the mutton that same wether of Christopher Swyers’ of Barley, which James had stolen and killed; with other things as damnable and insignificant. So Elizabeth Device, “this odious witch, who was branded with a preposterous marke in Nature even from her Birth, which was her left Eye standing lower than the other, the one looking down the other looking up,” was condemned to die because she was poor and ugly, and had a little lying jade for a daughter, who made up fine stories for the gentlefolks.


     Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, of West Close, was next in influence, power, and age to Mother Demdike, and she began her confession by saying that old Demdike had originally seduced her by giving her the devil in the shape and proportion of a man, who got her, body and soul, and sucked on her left ribs, and was called Fancie. Afterwards she had another spirit like a spotted bitch, called Tibbe, who gave them all to eat and to drink, and said they should have gold and silver as much as they wanted. But they never got the gold and silver at all, and what they ate and drank did not satisfy them.


      This Anne Whittle, alias Chattox, was a very old withered, spent, decrepid creature, her Sight almost gone; A dangerous Witch of very long continuance; always opposite to old Demdike; For whom the one fauoured the other hated deadly: and how they curse and accuse one another in their Examinations may appear. In her Witchcraft always more ready to doe mischiefe to men’s goods than themselves; Her lippes ever chattering and talking; but no man knew what. She lived in the Forrest of Pendle amongst this wicked Company of dangerous Witches. Yet in her Examination and Confession she dealt always very plainely and truely; for vpon a speciall occasion, being oftentimes examined in open Court, she was neuer found to vary, but alwayes to agree in one and the selfe same thing. I place her in order next to that wicked Firebrand of mischiefe, old Demdike, because from these two sprung all the rest in order; and even the Children and Friendes of these two notorious Witches.


     Nothing special or very graphic was elicited about old Chattox. She had certainly bewitched to death sundry of the neighbourhood, lately deceased; but then they all did that; and her devil, Fancie, came to her in various shapes—sometimes like a bear, gaping as though he would worry her, which was not a pleasant manner of fulfilling his contract—but generally as a man, in whom she took great delight. She confessed to a charm for blessing forespoken drink; which she had chanted for John Moore’s wife, she said, whose beer had been spoilt by Mother Demdike or some of her crew:—


Three Biters hast thou bitten,
The Hart, ill Eye, ill Tonge;
Three Bitter shall be thy boote,
Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost,
a God’s Name

Five Paternosters, five Avies,
and a Creede,
For worship of five woundes of our Lord.


     Of course there was no help or hope for old Chattox if she said such wicked things as these. The righteous justice of England must be satisfied, and Anne Whittle was hung—one of the twelve who sorrowed the sunlight in Lancaster on that bloody assize.


     Her daughter, Ann Redfearne, was then taken, accused of making pictures (dolls) of clay and other maleficent arts; and she, too, was hanged; and then well-born, well-bred, but unfortunate Alice Nutter—a gentlewoman of fortune living at Rough Lee, whose relatives were anxious for her death that they might come into some property—Alice Nutter, whom one would have thought far removed from any such possibility, was accused by young Jennet of complicity and companionship, and put upon her trial with but a faint chance of escape behind her. For Elizabeth Device swore that she had joined with her and old Demdike in bewitching the man Mitton, because of that twopence so fatally refused; and young Jennet swore that she was one of the party who went on many-coloured foals to the great witch meeting at Malking Tower; and so poor Alice Nutter, of Rough Lee, the well-born, well-bred gentlewoman, was hanged with the rest of that ragged crew; and her relations stood in her place, quite satisfied with their dexterity.

     Then there was Katherine Hewitt, alias Mouldheels, accused by James Device, who seemed to think that if he had to be hanged for nothing he would be hanged in brave company, and, by sharing with as many as could be found, lessen the obloquy he could not escape; and John Bulcock, who turned the spit, and Jane his mother, for the same crimes and on the same testimony; for the added crime, too, of helping in the bewitching of Mistress Dean, of Newfield Edge, about which nefarious deed other hands were also busy; and Margaret Pearson, delated by Chattox as entertaining a man spirit cloven-footed, with whom she went by a loophole into Dodgson’s stable in Padiham, and sat all night on his mare until it died.


      She was also accused by Jennet Booth, of Padiham, who went into her house and begged some milk for her child; Margaret good-naturedly gave her some, and boiled it in a pan, but all her reward was that Jennet accused her of witchcraft, for there was, said she, a toad at the bottom of the pan when the milk was boiled, which Margaret took up with a pair of tongs and carried out of the house. Of course the toad was an imp, and Jennet Booth was quite right to repay an act of neighbourly generosity by accusation and slander. Margaret got off with standing in the pillory in open market, at four market towns on four market days, bearing a paper on her head setting forth her offence written in great letters, about which there could be no mistake; after which she was to confess, and afterwards be taken to prison, where she was to lie for a year, and then be only released when good and responsible sureties would come forward to answer for her good behaviour.


     And there was Isabel Roby, of St. Helens, who bewitched Peter Chadwick for jilting her, and in the spirit pinched and buffeted Jane Williams, so that she fell sick with the impression of a thumb and four fingers on her thigh; and Jennet Preston, of Gisburn, who had attended the Good Friday meeting and who was afterwards hung at York for the murder of Thomas Lister of Westby Hall—for Master Thomas in his last illness had been for ever crying out that Jennet Preston was "lying heavy upon him", and when she was brought to see the body it gushed out fresh blood when she touched it, which settled all doubts, if there had been any. So the famous trial of the Pendle Witches came to an end; and of the twenty who were accused twelve were hanged while the rest escaped only for the present, many of them meeting with their doom a few years afterwards.





















Pendle Witches.net
Pendle Witch Story
Pendle Witch History Blog
Pendle Witch publication history
Pendle Witch history timeline
Fact and Fiction
Fact and Fiction
Pendle Witch Charms