Pendle’s existence seems almost irrevocably synonymous with the witch trials that took place there at the early part of the seventeenth century and the concept of real, practicing witches is fascinating. That said, the tragedy that unfolded in those dark days seems to have had more to do with rivalries and mistrust than casting spells.
The fact that witches existed seems hardly in contention; whether they practised any kind of occult craft, especially of the dark, ‘eye of newt’ variety, seems less clear. What is known is that many people feared them. In the wake of the gunpowder plot England had a king in the form of James l who was now ever cautions and fearful of a Catholic uprising, a fear that spread out amongst his people resulting in mistrust and persecution. To fan the flames of this heady state of paranoia was the publication of his own work on the denizens of the underworld: Daemonologie. Although a dissertation on a number of dark arts themed subjects it acted, essentially, as a guide to ridding the world of witches and their familiars by justifying their eradication.
Not only did the victims of supposed witchcraft believe in its veracity but certainly in the case of Alizon Device, so did the witches themselves.
Following an altercation between Alizon and a peddler named John Law the man was taken ill, and when Alizon saw him a few days later she apparently confessed to cursing him and begged for forgiveness.
John Law himself had made no complaint against the girl but his family had already decided upon her guilt and had made an official complaint to the justice of the peace, Roger Nowell. Alizon, along with her brother James and her mother were summoned to appear before him and once again she confessed to witchcraft and selling her soul to the devil, claiming that she had cursed the peddler for accusing her of being a thief.
Howell also questioned her about members of the Chatox family, who were also thought to be practising witchcraft in the area and had burgled the family home of Alizon a number of years before. This resulted in a number of accusations, notably that they had murdered four people and that the matriarch of the family, Anne, had bribed Alizon’s father for oatmeal with threats against the family.
if things weren’t strange enough an even more perverse scenario took place when Alizon’s grandmother, Elizabeth Southerns (also known as Demdike) along with two members of the Chattox family, subsequently appeared before Nowell.
Demdike and Anne Chattox were both in their eighties and blind. However, this did not prevent them from being equally as forthcoming as Alize and owning up to all sorts of damned activities including selling their souls to the devil.
As a result, all four women were committed to Lancaster Gaol to await trial for causing harm by witchcraft.
While locked up, an incident took place that escalated the proceedings. A gathering of sympathetic parties was organised by Alizon’s sister Elizabeth at Malkin Tower, the family home. Nowell found out about this (possibly as a result of Alizon’s brother James stealing a sheep to feed everyone) and clearly suspicious of the reasons behind such a gathering decided to investigate. As a result, a further eight people were sent to trial.
With the exception of Jennet Preston, who was tried at the York assizes, all the accused were tried at the Lancaster Assizes and, unusual even for the time, the primary witness was Alizon’s nine year old sister, Jennet. Her age would normally have prevented her from giving evidence but the Daemonologie allowed the rules to be bent for witchcraft trials and her testimony allowed all but one to be condemned to death, including her own mother, brother and Alizon. Nine were hanged at Gallows Hill on 20th August 1612. Alizon’s grandmother died in prison while awaiting trial.