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Lancashire Witches

Updated on May 16, 2012

Although the Pendle Witches are probably the best known of the witches tried for practising witchcraft in Lancashire in the 17th century, there were others who deserve our attention due to the ordeal they went through and in some cases the terrible punishments they received.

The 1612 Witch Trials

The main cluster of witch trials in Lancashire took place in 1612. James 1st had been on the throne since 1603. A staunch protestant, he was intolerant of Catholics and witchcraft. He had even published a treatise on the occult called ‘Daemonologie’ and passed an act of parliament condemning those convicted of witchcraft to death.

The Gisburn Witch

Strictly speaking not a Lancashire witch at all; Jennet Preston lived in Gisburn, which in 1612 was in Yorkshire (a county boundary change in 1974 means Gisburn is now in Lancashire). However, Roger Nowell heard evidence that she had been at a meeting with the Pendle Witches. Because she was from Yorkshire her case was heard at the York Assizes on July 27th 1612. She was charged with murder by Witchcraft of a man who had died four years earlier and the jury were also told about her meeting with the Pendle Witches. She was found guilty of causing death by witchcraft and hanged.

Knowing that a woman, who had met with them, had been found guilty and hanged just days earlier must have been terrifying for the Pendle witches.

The Southworth family crest.
The Southworth family crest. | Source

The Samlesbury Witches

These were three women from Samlesbury who were tried for witchcraft in the middle of the Pendle witch trials. They were:

Jane Southworth – a widow. Her dead husband was the son of the owner of Samlesbury Hall.

Jennet Bierley

Jennet’s daughter Ellen Bierley.

The three women were accused by 14 year old Grace Sowerbutts, of child murder, cannibalism, orgies with spirits or devils and attending a witch’s sabbat (meeting). Grace was Jennet’s granddaughter and Ellen’s niece. According to Thomas Potts the court recorder, all who heard the evidence were appalled and convinced of their guilt. An unusual aspect of the case is that it is the only one where orgies and cannibalism are offered as acts of evidence of witchcraft, which had never been associated with British witches before.

Crucially, during the trial, Jennet was found to have been ‘groomed’ by a priest to testify against these women and they were found ‘not guilty’. The priest was known to have travelled through Europe and is likely to have picked up his knowledge of witchcraft practices from there.

Thomas Potts included the Samlesbury witch trials in his book the wonderful discoverie of witches in Lancashire. The suspicion is that he did this to highlight how fair the trials were and how determined the judiciary were to distinguish between innocent people who were falsely accused and the truly guilty.

Samlesbury Hall

Samlesbury Hall looks much as at did in 1612 at the time of the Lancashire witch trials.
Samlesbury Hall looks much as at did in 1612 at the time of the Lancashire witch trials. | Source
Samlesbury Hall parlour fireplace, would almost certainly have been familiar to Jane Southworth, widow of the owner's son.
Samlesbury Hall parlour fireplace, would almost certainly have been familiar to Jane Southworth, widow of the owner's son. | Source

The Padiham Witch

Margaret Pearson from Padiham was accused of killing a horse by witchcraft. Evidence was given by Chattox of Pendle (herself accused of witchcraft) and another Padiham resident. Margaret was found guilty and given a punishment of one year in prison and 4 days in pillory. The pillory was two blocks of wood, one on top of the other with holes for the occupant’s arms and neck. Once fastened down the occupant would be stuck in there and the object of ridicule to passers-by.

Punishment by Pillory

The pillory and stocks were common punishments in Britain in the 1600s. Pillories were wooden blocks with arm and neck holes trapping the occupants in place whereas stocks had leg holes. They were usually in a busy place such as a market so that the prisoner could be humiliated in public - hence the phrase 'he was the laughing stock' and the verb pilloried.

The Windle Witch

In 1612 Windle was still in Lancashire. (it is now part of Merseyside, which didn’t exist as a county in 1612.)

Isobel Robey from Windle was accused of causing sickness (not death) by witchcraft. It was claimed that two of her victims had called upon wise men to break the spell. In spite of the fact that one of the wise men had concluded that Isobel Robey wasn’t a witch the evidence convinced the judge at the trial and she was found guilty of causing sickness through witchcraft and hanged alongside the Pendle witches.

Huncoat Stocks

The Stocks at Huncoat, Lancashire. The earliest recorded use of the Stocks in Huncoat was 1535. With four leg holes this would have held two prisoners.
The Stocks at Huncoat, Lancashire. The earliest recorded use of the Stocks in Huncoat was 1535. With four leg holes this would have held two prisoners. | Source

The Home Locations of those Accused in the 1612 Lancashire Witch Trials.

show route and directions
A markerpadiham -
Padiham, Lancashire, UK
get directions

Margaret Pearson's home

B markerPendle -
Pendle, Nelson, Lancashire BB9, UK
get directions

The home of 9 people accused of witchcraft.

C markersamlesbury -
Samlesbury, Lancashire, UK
get directions

The home of Jane Southworth, Jennet and Ellen Bierley

D markerWindle -
Windle, Merseyside, UK
get directions

The home of Isobel Robey

E markerGisburn -
Gisburn, Lancashire BB7, UK
get directions

The home of Jennet Preston

The 1633 Pendle Witch Trials

In 1633 at least 17 Pendle inhabitants were taken into prison and then tried at Lancaster having been accused of witchcraft. A lot of the evidence came from an 11 year old boy. Interestingly, one of the accused was Jennet Device, whose evidence had condemned her own brother, sister, mother and grandmother to death during the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612.

In February 1633, 17 of those accused were convicted of witchcraft and a report sent to King Charles 1st who had succeeded the throne from his father James 1st in 1625. He summoned four of these down to London, including Margaret Johnson who had freely admitted to being a witch.

The boy and his father and uncle were also brought down to London. Further questioning lead the boy to reveal that his evidence was false and his father had encouraged him to make the story up. Since physical examinations of the accused had also failed to reveal evidence that they were witches, they were acquitted.

This whole process was painfully slow – the medical evidence was dated July 1635 and in 1636 it is known that some of the original 17 were still being held in Lancaster Prison.

References

The Pendle Witch-Trial 1612 by Rachel A.C. Hasted 1993

The Wonderful Discovery of Witchesmodernised by Robert Poole 2011

The Trials of the Lancashire Witchesby Edgar Peel and Pat Southern 1985

Devilish Practices by Richard Macsween 2012

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    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      WOW! This stuff totally fascinates me! What a horrid time to live in if you differ from the others. My goodness, the pictures you posted creeped me out!

      Great work, voted up and awesome. Keep'em coming!

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      We really do have a scary history. A great hub and fantastic images. Samlesbury Hall looks amazing. The stocks gave me a bit of a chill, though. Voted up.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Spooky,creepy, scary and really really interesting. Imagine being on trial for witchery!

    • Fennelseed profile image

      Annie Fenn 5 years ago from Australia

      This is fascinating, though reading this makes my skin creep! Fear is a powerful weapon against those who do not conform. I would not have liked being live during this time either. Thank you for this insightful and scary read. My votes and best wishes to you, Nettlemere, and sharing!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These are interesting stories, Nettlemere, and I enjoyed looking at the photos too. It must have been a scary time to be alive during the events that you describe!

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you, Alicia, Fennelseed, Rebecca, Allie, Melovy and Mmargie. The 1600s must have been an alarming time to live - especially when a change of King could mean that all you believed in could suddenly be considered to be completely wrong and result in persecution.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Amazing information. The USA was going through such things as well, and of course, Joan of Arc was a witch from France...As far as I know, her visions were caused more from ergot(bad wheat) baked in bread. It amazes me what people in general can conjure up, and don't require the help of witches to do that.

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      A thoroughly interesting read!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      These legends would make a great tour all by themselves - there is so much history to see, the tragedy is fascinating, and the settings are intricate and amazing. Thanks for sharing this - I know we all grew up hearing about trials and tortures of women (usually) who were thought to be witches, but your information brings it to life for us.

      As Margie said - this would have been a time of terror.

    • Heather Jacobs profile image

      Heather Jacobs 4 years ago

      Very interesting hub! How scary it must have been to be accused of being a witch. I remember visiting a site in the Netherlands where they burned witches – how creepy!

      I love the picture of the fireplace, it is gorgeous!

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you Heather - it is a rather outstanding fireplace. I was quite amazed by it. I think it must have been top designer gear back then!

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