The journey to the gallows

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1597: James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, writes Daemonologie, instructing his followers that they must denounce and prosecute any supporters or practitioners of witchcraft.

1603: King James I, who was intensely interested in Protestant theology, focusing much of his curiosity on the theology of witchcraft, takes to the throne.

1604: A law was enacted imposing the death penalty in cases where it was proven that harm had been caused through the use of magic.

Early 1612: Every justice of the peace (JP) in Lancashire was ordered to compile a list of those who refused to attend the English Church and to take communion.

March 21, 1612: Alizon Device encountered John Law, a pedlar from Halifax, and asked him for some pins.

He refused, and a few minutes later, Law stumbled and fell in pain, perhaps from a stroke, but he managed to get to a nearby inn.

Initially Law made no accusations against Alizon, but when Abraham Law took her to visit his father a few days after the incident, she reportedly confessed to bewitching him and asked for his forgiveness.

March 30, 1612: JP for Pendle Roger Nowell summoned Alizon Device, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James to Read Hall.

Alizon confessed that she had sold her soul to the devil, and that she had told him to lame John Law after he had called her a thief.

Elizabeth admitted that her mother, Demdike, had a mark on her body, something that many would have regarded as having been left by the devil. Alizon also accused Anne Whittle (Chattox) of murdering four men by witchcraft, and of killing her father, John Device, who had died in 1601.

April 2, 1612: Demdike, Chattox, and Chattox’s daughter Anne Redferne, were summoned to appear before Nowell.

Both Demdike and Chattox were blind and in their eighties, and both provided Nowell with damaging confessions.

Nowell committed Demdike, Chattox, Anne Redferne and Alizon Device to Lancaster Gaol, to be tried for causing harm by witchcraft at the next assizes.

April 6, 1612: Meeting at Malkin Tower, the home of the Demdikes, organised by Elizabeth Device.

Friends and others sympathetic to the family attended, and word reached Roger Nowell, who decided to investigate.

April 27 1612: An inquiry was held before Nowell and another magistrate, Nicholas Bannister, to determine the purpose of the meeting at Malkin Tower, who had attended, and what had happened there.

As a result, eight more people were accused of witchcraft and committed for trial.

These were Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Gray and Jennet Preston.

Preston lived in Gisburn, then in Yorkshire, and was sent for trial at York Assizes; the others were sent to Lancaster.

July 27, 1612: Jennet Preston was charged with the murder by witchcraft of a local landowner, Thomas Lister of Westby Hall, to which she pleaded not guilty. But she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

July 29, 1612: Jennet Preston was executed at the Knavesmire, the present site of York Racecourse.

August 18 – 19, 1612: Lancaster Assizes; Nine of the accused – Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock and Jane Bulcock – were found guilty of witchcraft, following the trial and after the evidence of nine-year-old Jennet Device. Elizabeth Southerns died while awaiting trial. Alice Grey was found not guilty.

August 20, 1612: The accused were hanged at Gallows Hill in Lancaster.