The Pendle Witches - A Guide for Kids
Updated: Aug 21
In the summer of 1612, 12 people from Pendle in Lancashire were accused of witchcraft and imprisoned at Lancaster Castle. Of these 12 people, 9 were sentenced to death after being found guilty of performing witchcraft. Discover who the Pendle Witches were and find out all about their story, right here, right now!
When was Witch Hunting Popular? And why?
Witchcraft was made illegal in England in 1563. English people at this time were very religious and felt that witches were anti-Christian. Not only did people believe that witches were real but they were also very scared of them!
For the next three centuries, the people of England held witch trials to try to rid their towns and villages of people they felt were working for the devil. Historians believe that somewhere between 500 and 1000 people were executed after being found guilty of witchcraft in England during this time.
Who Were the Pendle Witches?:
Finding out who the Pendle Witches were can be very confusing because there were a lot of people involved. We’ve written out a list of names so you can get a better idea of who was who.
The Pendle Witches were mostly made up of two local families (who were constantly falling out with each other) and their friends. These two families were headed by two elderly widows called Elizabeth Southerns, known as “Old Demdike” and Anne Whittle, known as “Chattox”.
The Demdike Family:
Elizabeth Southerns – known as "Old Demdike", head of the Demdike family. Accused of witchcraft.
Elizabeth Device - Demdike’s daughter. Accused of witchcraft.
Alison Device – one of Elizabeth Device’s daughters. The first to be accused of witchcraft.
James Device – Elizabeth Device’s son. Accused of witchcraft.
Jennet Device – Elizabeth Device’s other daughter. Jennet was not accused of witchcraft and in fact gave evidence against her own family members in their trial.
John Device – Elizabeth’s husband and father to Alison, James, and Jennet. John died in 1601 – the family believed Chattox had used witchcraft to kill him.
The Chattox Family:
Anne Whittle – also known as "Chattox". Head of the Chattox family. Sworn enemies of the Demdike family. Accused of witchcraft.
Anne Redfern – one of Chattox’s daughters. Accused of witchcraft.
Other Members of the Pendle Witches:
The following people were all friends of the Demdike family who were accused of witchcraft after attending a meeting at Demdike’s home, Malkin Tower.
Jane Bulcock and her son John Bulcock
Katherine Hewitt – known as “Mould-Heels”
Alice Nutter – a religious woman from a rich family
Jennet Preston – originally from Yorkshire (why does this matter? You’ll find out later).
How Did It Start?:
The incident began when Alison Device publicly cursed a travelling man after he refused to sell her some pins. He suffered a stroke shortly after Alison had cursed him and reported her as a witch. Alison Device was arrested and confessed to harming the traveller using her powers of witchcraft.
Alison also accused Demdike, Chattox, and Anne Redfern of being witches too. All three women were also arrested and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle with Alison Device.
The Meeting At Malkin Tower:
After the news of the arrests reached the Demdike family, a meeting was organised at the Demdike’s family home, Malkin Tower. The family and their friends went to the meeting and discussed plans to free the 4 accused women from Lancaster Castle.
The authorities looked into what happened at the Malkin Tower meeting and arrested 8 more people who went to the meeting: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston. They were sent to Lancaster Castle to be imprisoned with Demdike, Alison Device, Chattox, and Anne Redfern. Now 12 people had been arrested for witchcraft from Pendle.
The trials of the Pendle Witches took place on 18th & 19th of August 1612. The accused people were not allowed a lawyer to defend them or to call any witnesses to plead their case.
There was very little evidence against any of those who were arrested. But this didn’t stop the supposed witches from pointing the finger to accuse each other of many different crimes by witchcraft, including murders that had happened years before (such as the murder of John Device, Alison’s father), cursing innocent villagers, making clay models (like voodoo dolls) and even having marks on their bodies from the devil.
The heaviest evidence against the accused witches came from 9 year old Jennet Device, Elizabeth Device’s youngest child. Jennet appeared as a witness against her own family and condemned them and their friends to their deaths.
In total, 9 of the 12 people who were arrested were found guilty of witchcraft at Lancaster Castle:
Elizabeth Device, Alison Device, James Device, Chattox, Anne Redfern, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Katherine Hewitt, and Alice Nutter.
They were sentenced to death and were walked across the city of Lancaster from Lancaster Castle - where they were imprisoned - to the moors above the city. Here, they were hanged.
What Happened to the Other 3 of the 12 Arrested People?
Demdike never made it to the trial. The ghastly conditions at Lancaster Castle Prison were so terrible that she died in her prison cell.
Jennet Preston was from Yorkshire so when she was arrested she was imprisoned and tried in Yorkshire instead (I told you you'd find out later on why this mattered!). Sadly, the change in location made no difference to Jennet's fate, she too was found guilty and was hanged.
Alice Grey was the only person out of the 12 Pendle Witches who was found not guilty and was free to go.
Was Anybody Else Accused of Witchcraft with the Pendle Witches?
The Pendle Witches weren’t the only group to be arrested and tried for witchcraft at Lancaster Castle in the summer of 1612 – 5 other people joined them. These were:
The Samlesbury Witches – Another group accused of witchcraft, this time from Samlesbury. Originally 8 people were accused but only 3 came to trial alongside the Pendle Witches: Jane Southworth, Eileen Brierley, and Jennet Brierley. The judges found no evidence against the 3 women and declared them not guilty.
Isobel Robey – a woman from Windle who was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged alongside the Pendle Witches.
Margaret Pearson – known as the Padiham Witch. Margaret was found guilty of witchcraft but was not sentenced to death. Instead, she had to stand with her head and hands in the stocks (or a “pillory”) for several days at different market towns across Lancashire.
How Do We Know So Much About the Pendle Witches?
The judges at Lancaster Castle in 1612 asked the clerk, Thomas Potts, to make a journal of all the remarkable things that had happened in the trial of the Pendle Witches that summer. So he did. Thomas Potts’ book “The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster” was published in 1613. Check out the title page of the original edition below: