As a historian, one of my areas of interest is the history witchcraft and the witchcraft trials of the past. Since it’s local to me, I’ve always been interested in the Pendle Witch Trials.
I have performed a number of paranormal investigations on Pendle Hill (the area where the ‘Pendle Witches lived). And I’ve captured some amazing evidence. Including an eerie photo and some chilling EVPs.
There are a number of Alices who were accused of witchcraft. Perhaps the most intriguing Alice was Alice or Alison Device. Alison was the 18-year old granddaughter of Elizabeth Demdike. Demdike was an 80-year-old blind woman who lived in Malik Tower. Apparently, her neighbours had long been believed her to have been a witch (for some 50 years!) It was believed Demdike had trained her daughter and grandchildren in the art of witchcraft.
One day as Alison Device travelled through Trawden Forest, she encountered a peddler named John Law. Alison reportedly asked for some pins from Law. Pins were rather expensive and often used, or believed to have been used in magical spells. Whether Alison had begged for the pins or had offered to buy them is not clear. Law however refused and attempted to continue his journey.
Moments later, Law stumbles and it is believed he suffered a stroke. Alison believed that she was the cause of the affliction. According to Law’s son, Abraham, Alison came to visit his father confessing to placing a spell on his father and to ask for his forgiveness.
Abraham Law then told a Protestant Magistrate, Roger Nowell of the incident. Nowell summoned Alison for questioning.
Alison confessed to crimes of witchcraft. She admitted that she had sold her soul to the devil 2 years previously. She claimed her familiar, a black dog had maimed Law.
Alison told Nowell that she came from a family of witches. She had been taught by her grandmother, Elizabeth Demdike, a very powerful witch. Alsion gave evidence of her grandmother’s powers – she had once placed a curse upon a farmer who had ordered Demdike off his land. His daughter fell ill and died within the year. She had also turned milk into butter without touching it. Demdike was immediately called in for questioning.
Demdike confessed to selling her soul to the devil some two decades earlier. She claimed a spirit regularly visited her and sucked her blood. She also confessed to making clay figures and using them to harm her enemies (something akin to a voodoo doll). Alison’s mother, Elizabeth Device and her brother, James were later summoned. They both confessed to practising witchcraft (although more reluctantly than Alison and Demdike).
Alison then turned her accusations on other members of the community. Anne Whittle (Chattox) was an old enemy of Demdike. The story goes that some years prior to the trial, Anne had stolen clothes and food from the Demdike/Device family. Alison accused Anne of murdering four men and also her father, John Device. Anne also confessed to practising witchcraft. She was hanged alongside her daughter, Anne Redfearn who was found guilty of the same charge.
The Fate of the Demdike/Device Family
The case against the Demdike/Device family was assisted with evidence from an eye-witness. This person was not a stranger, rather a member of their own family. 9-year-old Jannet Device (Alsion’s sister) testified against all the aforementioned members of her family.
Alison, along with her grandmother, mother and brother were found guilty. All were executed with the exception of Demdike who died whilst awaiting trial.
The name Alice Nutter is predominant in any narrative of the Pendle Witch Trials. She came from a relatively wealthy landowning family who owned property around Pendle Hill. At the time of her arrest, she was a wealthy widow, around the age of 70. The mother of a number of children with good prospects.
Alice was accused of attending a ‘witch meeting’ on Good Friday in 1612. This meeting allegedly took place at the home of Elizabeth Demdike. Not only this, but Alice was also accused of causing the death of a local man, Henry Milton.
The 9-year-old, Jannet Device, once again played a key role in the Pendle Witch Trials and sealed a ‘witches’ fate. She claimed she was present at the witches meeting and accused Alice of participating in the coven. Throughout the 2 day trials, Alice acted in accordance with her station in life – demur and respectable. She said nothing throughout the trial, except to enter a plea of not guilty.
Alice Nutter was hanged along with 9 others (including the Devices) at Gallows Hill, Lancaster on 20 August 1612.
One other Alice appears in the Pendle Witch Trials. During the imprisonment of Alison Device and Demdike, a witches meeting was apparently called at Malkin Tower. The attendees plotted to rescue the witches from prison. James Devices confessed to attending this meeting and identified those who attended. He claimed that Alice Grey was present and that at the meeting, she confessed to killing a child.
Alice was tried alongside the other accused but found innocent and released.
So Were the Alices Really Witches?
It would appear as though Alison Device believed herself to be a witch. She also firmly appears to have believed she came from a long line of powerful witches. However, Alison may have felt compelled to confess. She was undoubtedly put under an enormous amount of pressure to do so.
Alison’s family were extremely poor. They had no real occupations except for begging. Living on the periphery of the community, this family made for an easy target during the Witch Hunt hysteria of the early 17th century.
Of the other Alices, they appear to have been dragged into the Pendle Witch Trials by the hysteria of the day. Certainly, a jury today would find little evidence for any crimes against them. But we must understand these trials against the backdrop of early 17th century England. Religious tensions were high. Suspicions grew between Catholics and Protestants. King James I was interested in witchcraft. He had published a book in 1597, entitled Daemonologie, the subject of one chapter was witchcraft.
All it takes is a grudge, a feud between 2 families. Or even jealousy. A peculiar individual, or family, who don’t quite adhere to the social conventions of the time. To be turned away or abused while begging. They might then utter some words or ‘curse’ the person who refused them assistance. It could be immediately following the incident or even some years later, an incident occurs in the ‘cursed’ individual’s life. A member of their family dies or they befall some other misfortune. They then cast their mind back to the ‘curse’ or mumblings uttered and accusations fly!
Perhaps the Demdike/Device family were really witches – what do you think?