I mentioned yesterday that it’s the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trial, where 16 people were executed for witchcraft after months of accusations and trials. The event was touched off by an incident where a woman, Alizon Device, asked a pedlar for some pins (both expensive and possibly magical), he refused, and then shortly thereafter fell down dead. Device was accused of having bewitched him, and apparently she believed in her own powers.
The description in Thomas Potts’ Discovery of Witches, written in 1613, is fascinating. It eventually led to a trial involving 20 people (16 women), with accusations and counter-accusations and deep belief that everything that went awry in the area came from witchcraft:
Did the cattle sicken and die? The witch and the wizard were the authors of the calamity.
Did the yeast refuse to ferment, either in the bread or the beer? It was the consequence of a ‘bad wish’.
Did the butter refuse to come? The ‘familiar’ was in the churn.
Did the ship founder at sea? The gale or hurricane was blown by the lungless hag who had scarcely sufficient breath to cool her own pottage.
I wanted to know more about this, so I found an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary, at a nearby Stately Home called Gawthorpe Hall.
It was a nice enough little exhibit, with some tidy little explanations and a few really, really creepy artifacts. I’ll spare you all the posting of the cat skeleton unearthed in the wall of a cottage recently. There were many talismans and charms to ward off witchcraft, including putting shoes in the wall of the house, special hearth drawings, and filling sticks and glass containers with different amulets and potions and minerals.
It was a smallish exhibit, and a strangely boring stately home, since no one appeared to have lived there for about half its 500 year existence. The propaganda skips over a mysterious gap of 140 years: “after the death in 1669 of Col. Richard Shuttleworth, none of the family lived at Gawthorpe until the early 19th century.” An empty pile.
We walked among the rose garden for a while, and admired the view, and I thought among the dissonance of spending Canada Day in a Lancashire stately home, and then I lost my iphone. The end.