The Famous Witch Trials of Lancaster

Jamie HarperLancaster Student Life

Lancaster is rich in culture and history, making it the perfect hotspot for anyone interested in the arts and humanities! It is perhaps most famous for the Witch Trials in 1612, which is still talked about to this day. The Pendle Witches as they were known, lived during the 16th and 17th century. When King James reigned in 1603, an Act was passed for anyone found to be ‘making a covenant with an evil spirit, using a corpse for magic, hurting life or limb, procuring love or injuring cattle by means of charms’, imposing the death penalty.

 

As well as the Pendle Witches, the Samlesbury Witches were also tried at the same time but were later acquitted. The prisoners were denied any form of legal counsel or witnesses to help their case. The trial took place in August 1612, headed by Judge Bromley and Judge Altham. The court found a total of ten individuals guilty of witchcraft and were sentence to death. They were all hanged on the moor above the town. They included:

Anne Whittle
Ann Redfearn
Elizabeth Device
Alice Nutter
Alison Device
James Device
Katherine Hewitt
Jane Bulcock
John Bulcock
Isobel Robey

 

Research shows a lack of consistency with witness reports at the time, with many statements being exaggerated or even fabricated or based on rumour. One 80-year-old prisoner, sadly died in the Castle, awaiting trial, while another was sentenced to be pilloried in local market towns, before completing a year in prison. The conditions of prisoner cells and sentencing were a far cry from what we have now.

 

Pendle Hill in Lancashire attracts thousands of visitors every year and is especially popular during the Winter Solstice and Halloween. There are also a number of museums throughout Lancashire, with interesting facts on the Pendle and Samlesbury Witches.

 

Lancaster Castle now provides tours for visitors, where you can learn more about the Witch Trials and the history of the castle, as well as seeing the exact cells the prisoners were remanded in, and the actual markings on the cell walls from the Pendle Witches! The tours are great for all the family, with Lancaster Castle regularly holding events to celebrate the city’s history. Thankfully, Lancaster and our court system has come a long way since then, so if you do find yourself enjoying a spot of potion making in your spare time, I wouldn’t worry too much!