Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill which is also called Penhul is a popular location for many visitors due to its history and fantastic views over Lancashire. At the summit of the hill a Bronze Age burial site has been discovered. The leader of the Quaker Movement George Fox visited Pendle Hill in 1652 it was documented in his own autobiography. In 1661 Richard Towneley conducted his barometer experiements on Pendle Hill. The most famous history at Pendle Hill is the alleged witchcraft and witch trials that are well documented from 1612. The hill continues to be associated with witchcraft today and every Halloween a large number of visitors clmb the hill wanting to experience the supernatural.

The most notorious witch trial of the 17th century is the legend of the Pendle witches and their dark tales of imprisonment and execution at Lancaster Castle. Twelve people were accused of witchcraft and one died while in custody. Eleven went to trial only one was found not guilty and of the ones accused six of the eleven witches came from two rival families, the Demdike family and the Chattox family. The unusual trial documented in an official publication The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by clerk of the court Thomas Potts. In England over the centuries only 500 people were tried for witchcraft and so the Pendle Witches accounted for only two percent of those who went to trial.

The Demdike family and The Chattox family, both headed by two older poverty stricken widows Elizabeth Southern who was known as Old Demdike and Anne Whittle who was known as Mother Chattox. Old Demdike had been known as a witch for fifty years and was accepted in the village life and in the 16th century there were village healers who practised magic and dealt in herbs and medicines. At this time the reason for the witchcraft being reported in Pendle is because of the large amounts of money people could make by posing as witches. This was when witchcraft was not only feared but also fascinated everyone from common village folk to King James I. The King had been greatly interested in witchcraft even before he came to the throne in 1603. He wrote a book called Daemonologie where he instructed his readers to condemn and prosecute both supporters and practitioners of witchcraft. Due to the kings scepticism of the king it reflected in the feelings of unrest about witchcraft among all common folk.

In 1612 the kings views were imposed on the law and so the Justice of the Peaces in Lancashire were instructed to prepare a list of people who refused to attend church or communion as this was a ciminal offence. The people of Pendle Hill opposed the closure of nearby Cistercian Abbey so reverted straight back to Catholicism from when Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553. The region of Lancashire was classed as the place where the common people honoured the chuch without much understanding as to why. This is why it left unease that the two judges made their investigations and sentenced the Pendle witches.

The story began with an arguement between Alizon Device and a pedlar named John Law. Alizon was either travelling or begging on the road to Trawden Forest. After passing John Law she asked him for some pins and he refused so it is said that Alizon cursed him. John Law suffered a stroke a little time after this and so Alizon and her powers were blamed for this. When the matter was brought before Justice Nowell, Alizon confessed that she had told the Devil to lame John Law. After further questioning Alizon accused her grandmother, Old Demdike, and also members of the Chattox family, of witchcraft. These accusations especially on the Chattox family seem to be an act of revenge. The families had been feuding for years after an incident where a member of the Chattox family broke into Malkin Tower home of the Demdikes and stole goods. Further to this incident John Device who was the father of Alizon blamed the illness that led to his death on Old Chattox, who had threatened to harm his family if they did not pay a fee for protection on an annual basis.

Other accusations were made about the death of four other villagers and witchcraft was blamed and said to have been performed by Chattox. James Demdike confessed that Alizon had also cursed a local child some time before. Elizabeth confessed her mother had a mark on her body supposedly where the Devil had sucked her blood and left her mad. When questioned both Old Demdike and Chattox confessed to selling their souls and Anne who was Chattox's daughter was seen to create clay figures. After hearing all the evidence Alizon, Anne, Old Demdike and Old Chattox were detained by the judge to await trial.

The matter would have ended there had it not been for the meeting held at the Demdikes property by Alizon's brother James Device after he was caught stealing a sheep from a neighbour. People who had sympathy for the family came however this information reached the judge and he had no option to look into the matter and from this eight further people were put up for trial.

These trials were held at Lancaster in August 1612 but Old Demdike died before she reached trial in the dungeons. The key supplier of evidence at the trial came from a nine year old Jennet Device. She told who attended the meeting at Malkin Tower and against her mother, sister and brother. Some of the Pendle witches were genuinely convinced of their guilt whereas others fought to clear their names. Alizon Device believed in her own powers and was the only one on trial who was faced with one of her victims, John Law. When John entered the court Alizon fell to her knees and confessed.

The declarations made by two families claiming they had powers of witchcraft backfired and wild accusations escalated and thus fuelling general unrest and fear of witchcraft across the country therefore making this the biggest and most notorius witch trial.

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