Discovering the Real Pendle Witches

In August 1612, the Pendle witch trials took place in Lancaster, Lancashire. 80 years before the notorious Salem witch trials, these trials against a group of people from a remote area of Northern England set precedents that stretched all the way to Massachusetts and beyond.

My debut novel, The Hellion, is based on some of those who found themselves accused during the trials.

The People Behind the Pendle Witch Trials

Much information is available about the political history of the trials. The king at the time, the lawmakers, the prosecutors and the scribes are all well known and well documented. What is often overlooked in stories of horror such as this one is the victims. The people who lost their lives are overshadowed by the power balance.

It’s natural (though frustrating) that we wouldn’t know as much about these people as we do about the men at the the top of the pile. Often illiterate, certainly without access to record makers, the poor of Pendle would have lived their lives in utter obscurity compared to the ruling classes in London, and even Lancashire.

However, we are lucky – in a way – that such comprehensive records were kept of the trials themselves. From these, we know the names of the accused, where they lived, who they were related to, and – from the often heated exchanges – an idea of their characters.

Malkin Tower and the Devices

Some of the accused lived in a home called Malkin Tower. This gives us an immediate insight into them and how they lived. Although it may sound grand, Malkin Tower was a nickname. Malkin was an old word meaning slovenly or slatternly, and the ‘Tower’ part was likely a joke. The fact that the house had been given this name, that it was widely used – even in official court documents – suggests that it was somewhat infamous. The occupants stated that it was their address – did they encourage the use of the name?

As well as this, we learn a little about what they were like from the things they said in court. From a combative and well-worded speech given in defence, to a sorrowful and genuine confession of guilt, when we read carefully we can find out what they were like, and what they thought of the charges brought against them.

When we take these reactions and consider them within the wider religious and cultural background, we can ascertain much more about their lives.

Reading About the Pendle Witches

It was an honour to research some of the accused for The Hellion. To learn about their lives, and imagine how they may have lived, was a privilege. You can find The Hellion for sale on the Book Depository (for worldwide free delivery), Amazon (for the paperback, ebook and audiobook), and any other good bookshop. You can also request it from your local independent bookshop.

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The Mysterious Story of Edmund Robinson

The Mysterious Story of Edmund Robinson

The Pendle Witches, Jennet Device and Edmund Robinson
In February 1634, a trial took place at Lancaster Assizes. Twenty people had been arrested on suspicion of witchcraft, and seventeen were found guilty.

Twenty-two years earlier, the notorious Pendle witch trials took place, leading to the deaths of eleven people. 

So why aren’t the trials of 1634 as infamous as those in 1612? The story is a particularly strange one. 

In November 1633, a ten-year-old boy was late home, bedraggled and dirty. When he was scolded by his parents, he told them an unsettling story. He had been collecting berries when he came across two greyhounds. Being a playful young boy, he tried to make them chase a hare, but they wouldn’t – in fact, they began to transform. One became a woman, the other a boy. As Edmund watched in horror, the woman turned the boy into a horse. She grabbed him and put him on the horse, and they cantered to Hoarstones.

When they arrived, they entered a barn which was filled with witches – about sixty, according to Edmund. There were ropes hanging from the ceiling. The witches pulled them and the most incredible food rained down upon them. Edmund was terrified about what would happen to him, so he ran away.

That wasn’t the end of his adventures. On his way home, he met a boy with cloven hooves and they got into a fight. That’s why he was so disheveled.

Astonishingly (or not, as we will find out later), Edmund’s parents believed this account. His father took him on a three-month tour around the local area. Edmund would visit the churches and point out any witches in the congregation that he recognised from his frightening experience. By February, twenty people were arrested and the trial began.

Child testimony in witchcraft trials was an accepted form of evidence. This came from the Pendle Witch Trials in 1612, where the star witness was a nine-year-old girl called Jennet Device. Based on this precedent, the magistrates were happy to accept Edmund’s evidence and the evidence of many local people who came forward. 

Of the twenty people who had been arrested, seventeen were found guilty. Here is where the story becomes even stranger. One of those convicted was called Jennet Device. Was it the same Jennet Device from the Pendle witch trials? No one knows for certain, but her age was right, her name was right and the location was right. It may very well have been the same person.

Had these seventeen people gone to the gallows, these would have surely become the most infamous witch trials in England. Fortunately, times had moved on since 1612 and there was enough scepticism about Edmund’s account for a re-examination to take place. In July 1634, before a Justice of the Peace named George Long, Edmund admitted that he had made the whole thing up to avoid punishment from his mother.

Not only this, but it was later discovered that Edmund’s father had been blackmailing local women. Those who didn’t pay would be ‘uncovered as witches’ by Edmund.

The seventeen people were acquitted. Unfortunately, though, it is unlikely to have been a happy ending. At that time, it was a requirement to pay for your time in prison and if you couldn’t pay, you had to stay. It’s unlikely that most of those arrested would have been able to pay the fees, and records from Lancaster Gaol show that Jennet Device was still residing there in 1636.

Was that the end to child testimony in witchcraft cases? In England, yes, mostly. Overseas? No. The precedent of using child testimony made its way to America, and was used during the Salem witch trials. 

Thank you for reading. The story of Jennet Device and the Pendle witch trials features in my novel, The Hellion.

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