Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Pendle Witches

Today I went for a walk in the shadow of Pendle Hill, and found myself, as I often do in that area, dwelling on the sad story of the Pendle Witches.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the House of York by the way. I'm pretty inventive when it comes to making links of that sort, but this is an exception.

For those of you who don't know the story, this was possibly England's most famous witchcraft case, early in the 17th century, before the Civil War. Thirteen people were arrested, mostly women, mostly poor, and ten were hanged at Lancaster. One died in jail. One, Alice Nutter, was a gentlewoman.

I should love to know what really happened. The cynical part of me wonders whether it was nothing more than an imaginative way to cut the Poor Rate. We shall never know. It's interesting that (in England at least) witchcraft (in itself) was not a capital offence until late Tudor times. The few medieval witches that caught it were executed for treason or murder, not witchcraft per se. No, it was the 17th century that was the real heyday for this sort of persecution.

There's a decent but elderly novel by Robert Neill called Mist Over Pendle * that tells the story. However Neill has no sympathy whatever for the 'witches' - he depicts them as an evil crew.

* Published as The Elegant Witch in the US I'm told. Hideous title!


Lady D. said...

Yes, the Pendle Witches are quite a mystery. I remember seeing the paranormal program Most Haunted do a show from there (in the days when I actually believed they didn't fake it!!!) and it was all a bit sensationalised - crew members fainting all over the place etc.

I'm sure though that there is an interesting story behind it all.

diane said...

hello i have visited pendle hill and the surrounding area many times now , it is one of the most lovely places you could ever wish to visit. i have a dog that i take with me on the walks though i must say that has i aproached one of the mentioned farms he became quite alarmingly frightened and started to yelp and started trying to climb up me and i can tell you usually he isnt afraid of noting, so you work that one out!

s.i.t said...

Hi am a member of s.i.t the supernatural investigations team. and we are starting to look in to the reports forom pendel hill about people and animals feeling unhappy , scared and as if being watched. i noticed that Diane had stated that her dog was acting strange as she aproached one of the farms if she could let us now what farm it would be great ethere leave it here or contact us at

John Foelster said...

Great merciful Satan, Nutter was REAL? I thought she was the imaginative creation of Sir Terry Pratchett (4th funniest British Terry after Jones, Gilliam and Spike Milligan) and Neil Gaiman.

Interesting that Thomas Knyvett was involved in this piece of nasty business, probably wouldn't make him any more loved in the circles of various historical fiction advocates than his arrest of Guy Fawkes or his wounding of Edward de Vere. (And you know let's just not open the Edward de Vere can of worms.)

As to the paranormal investigation angle... I'll just mention my affection for Richard Dawkins and say good luck with that. :)