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.
Requests for interviews, discussions, book club meets, signings etc are welcomed. I’d love to hear from you- just enter your details below. Looking forward to hearing from you!