The 1612 Pendle Witch Trials are possibly the most notorious and well documented of witchcraft persecution cases in England during the widespread moral panic of witchcraft sweeping across Early Modern Europe. Of the twelve accused, 10 men and women were found guilty of practicing witchcraft in Lancaster and York courts.
There are many potential causes of the Pendle Witch Trials. Politically, the area surrounding Pendle Hill in Lancashire, which constitutes modern day Burnley, Blackburn and Accrington, were seen as lawless and wild places where deviant behaviour and lack of religious morality was rife. For this reason, people in this area were plausiblybelieved to be practicing morally repugnant witchcraft. Some claim that people could make a substantial living out of providing magical service for local peoples, perhaps contributing to the outburst. This occurred against the backdrop of the reign of King James I, where interest in witchcraft and persecutions as a punishment of it became the social norm due to the king’s obsession with witchcraft, to the extent of creating a handbook on how to ‘deal’ with witchcraft cases, Daemonologie.
The trials took place in two different locations; Jennet Preston was tried at the York Assizes on the 27th July whilst the rest of the accused (Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redferne, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock and Jane Bulcock) were tried at Lancaster Assizes on the 18th to the 19th August. Of the 12 accused of witchcraft, only one was found not guilty and one died before sentencing. The ten found guilty were sentenced to death by hanging.
The charges brought against the accused were typical of witchcraft accusations during the Early Modern period. They included the murder of ten people by witchcraft, practicing maleficium and other spell casting, the keeping of demonic familiars which in this case was often in the form of dogs, and partaking in Sabbat at Malkin Tower where an infant was sacrificed.
The Pendle Witch Trials have plenty in common with witch trials spanning across Europe as the entire continent was caught up in the witch craze of the Early Modern Period. An example of a prevalent feature of European witchcraft trials included the accusation of infanticide during the witches’ Sabbat as a sacrifice to Satan. This was an accusation made both at Pendle and various other trials including the Mora witch trial in Sweden. In terms of the accusations, family feuds were seen as possible reasons for the accusations of witchcraft in both the Pendle and Salem witch trials.
The Pendle witch trials were a fundamental example of the witch craze of early modern Europe and the deadly consequences of Europe’s obsession with a perfectly moral society.