*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 18th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today we go back to the year 1612 in England. If you listened to the show on Monday, you might remember that it was in 1611 that the King James Bible was first published- so we are in Protestant, Stuart England.

And we are headed to the region known as Pendle Hill in Lancashire- this is important as it was a traditionally Catholic region, thus suspect under the reign of a Protestant. Furthermore, perhaps you remember the Gun Powder Plot (that’s the deal with Guy Fawkes and “Remember, Remember the 5th of November”). This was the failed Catholic plot to kill the Protestant King and Parliament.

One more fun fact about King James- he had a number of curious hobbies and interests that included demonology. He, in fact, wrote a book on Demonology wherein he wrote about the practices of witches and claimed, notably, that witchcraft was treasonous as an act against the King and state.

So- putting all of that together, we are now ready to tell the story of the Pendle Witch Trials- perhaps, along with the Salem Witch Trials across the Atlantic as the most infamous of all witch trials.

In Pendle Hill in Lancashire, there were two families that made a living with a combination of begging and cunning. “Cunning” means something particular: the matriarchs of the families were “Cunning” women, that is, practitioners of magic but a benign kind- usually good for cures and fortune telling. By 1612 these women, Demdike Device and Chattox Redferne, were both in their 80s and blind, but a new local statute put their families under the microscope.

Starting in that year, the local justice of the peace was tasked with taking roll of who was at church and who partook of the Eucharist. The local justice of the peace was a fervent protestant and took his job quite seriously. There would be increased scrutiny on non-Protestants.

The Granddaughter of Demdike Device, Alizon, is said to have asked a local peddler for metal pins. When he refused, Alizon confessed to having cursed him under her breath. When he suffered what seems like a stroke, she was stricken with fear. She asked for forgiveness, and this led to her being arrested along with her brother and mother.

Alizon confessed to being a witch (and really fast: hopefully, we have seen enough of the criminal justice system and false confessions to not be surprised an impressionable young girl could be convinced to confess). She implicated her brother and mother, who were both arrested. Chattox Redferne and members of her family were implicated and arrested as well.

Soon, several local Catholic families, including the Redferne and Nutter families, gathered at the Lancashire jail to commiserate with the accused. This led to an accusation that a coven was being held, and more were arrested.

And thus, what would be the trial of the century in Lancashire began on this the 18th of August in 1612. Once again, it would be the confession of a young girl that would turn the tide- this time, young Jennet Device, the 9-year-old daughter of Elizabeth and sister of Alizon.

Her testimony included examples right out of popular witchcraft handbooks- from flying ponies to clay figurines used to curse locals. She furthermore accused the accused of plotting to blow up the castle and kill the governor- thus stoking more anti-Catholic sentiment. The accused were all condemned and hanged two days later.

Ironically, 20 years later, Jennet Device would be accused of witchcraft. Still, fearful of the hysteria that ensued years prior, the privy council demanded physical evidence and eventually acquitted Jennet of wrongdoing.

This example of anti-Catholic hysteria, the use of children, and spectral evidence would help to transform the British legal system in a way parallel to the later Salem Witch Trials.

Today we remember the Pendle Witch Trials, which began on this, the 18th of August in 1612.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 71:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
 let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
 turn your ear to me and save me.

Be my rock of refuge,
 to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
 for you are my rock and my fortress.

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
 from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
 my confidence since my youth.

From birth I have relied on you;
 you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
 I will ever praise you.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who remembers the 5th of November- not for Guy Fawkes but for the birthday of Kevin Jonas- the oldest of the Jonas brothers and his favorite. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who remembers the 5th of November as the birthday of Peter Noone of Hermans Hermits- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.