The story of the most disturbing witch trial in British history and how a young girl's testimony sent her mother, brother, sister and many of her neighbours to the gallows.
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'It's 1612 and a woman is in a courtroom.
'She's accused of killing three men through witchcraft.
'She's presented with a confession that she denies.'
But then a girl is brought to testify against her.
The girl bursts into tears as the woman screams at her desperately.
And the woman is removed back to the dungeons.
'Once the girl has her audience, she jumps up onto a table,
'and calmly denounces the woman as a witch.
'She's the woman's own daughter, and she's nine years old.'
Jennet Device was a key witness in a trial
that would lead to the execution of ten people,
including all members of her own family.
But then 20 years later, Jennet herself would come to be
standing in the dock, charged with the same offence.
'Jennet, a nine year old beggar, was part of a bigger story.
'of justices, clerics and physicians. even the King himself.
'Someone who should have been lost to history has lived on,
'because of her chilling role
'in one of the most disturbing witch trials on record.
'This is a story about fear, politics
'and religion, science and magic.'
But, to me, as a poet,
it's also about words and stories, and just how powerful they can be.
The two trials that shaped the life of this little girl
are emblematic of a much bigger story -
the transition between
a pre-modern world and our supposed age of reason.
And yet our fear of evil has never really gone away.
Neither, some say, has evil itself.
'Fear of evil was endemic in England 400 years ago,
'when King James I was on the throne.
'James was living in fear of Catholic rebellion
'in the aftermath of the gunpowder plot.
'Recently arrived from Scotland, he was on the throne in a strange land.
'And some parts of his new kingdom were particularly troubling.'
Lancashire was a long way from London in many ways.
Described by somebody at the time as "a dark corner of the land",
it had a reputation for disobedience -
full of troublemakers and subversives.
'And this area, not far from where I live,
'dominated by the strange brooding presence of Pendle Hill,
'was almost beyond the back of beyond.
'Today it's established an odd niche by trading on its dark past.
'In 1612 the nine-year-old Jennet Device
'lived in obscurity at her grandmother's house, Malkin Tower.'
Malkin Tower. It sounds grand, but it really wasn't.
Malkin was actually a 17th century word meaning "slattern" or "slut"
and it was still being used in these parts in the 20th century.
The house was also, and even less grandly,
referred to as Mocking Tower,
and according to some people, and not to put too fine a point on it,
"mocking" is a local word for "shit".
'Nobody knows for sure where the house would have stood,
'but recent research suggests it may have been on THIS site.
Jennet and her family survived mainly by begging,
and by doing odd jobs for neighbours.
But the family did have one other source of income,
and I suppose a kind of power.
Jennet's grandmother was well-known locally as a Cunning Woman.
And everyone knew her as Old Demdike.
The role of the Cunning Woman is an incredibly valuable one,
especially for poor people who don't have recourse say to doctors.
And there's all sorts of modern roles rolled up into one,
social worker and policewoman, and doctor -
all those things that give people
a kind of security about their otherwise anxious lives.
But it's rather an ambiguous role because to be a Cunning Woman
the authorities would call it witchcraft really.
So Cunning Women can get into trouble with the law
if they fall out with their clients.
To Jennet and her family,
it was a fact of life that a person might have the power to heal
or harm through the use of charms, or spells.
To them it wasn't mumbo-jumbo. It was real. It happened.
Witches are people who do bad things,
Cunning Women are people who do good things.
Cunning Women cure you and find your lost stuff -
witches steal stuff from you and make you sick or kill you.
'At Malkin Tower, Jennet lived with her grandmother,
'her mother Elizabeth,
'and her elder sister and brother, Alizon and James.
'There were no adult men.'
Elizabeth's husband had died 11 years earlier
and nine-year-old Jennet wasn't his child.
She grew up knowing that she was the runt of the litter
and the bastard daughter of the house.
I think that would have made her feel isolated and different.
'In the later investigations, it became clear
'that Jennet's world was populated by demons.
'Jennet's grandmother was not the only
'Cunning Woman in the neighbourhood.
'Old Chattox, the head of a nearby household,
'was a rival for her business,
'and the Devices believed her to be a witch.
'For some years,
'Elizabeth's husband had been making payments of oatmeal to Chattox.
'The year the payment was not made, he died.'
At most times in history,
such family squabbles would have passed by unnoticed.
But these weren't usual times.
England around 1600 is a country in the grip of conversion experience.
Officially it had turned Protestant
about 40 years before,
but it had taken two generations for that really to sink in.
So round about 1600 a lot of the English are in the grip
of enthusiastic Protestantism for the first time.
'And now that England was Protestant,
'Catholics were increasingly feared as seditious and evil.'
The idea that there are people out in Lancashire
who are adhering to old religious ways
can be transferred quite easily to the idea that these people
are actually dangerous dissenters who need to be suppressed.
To devout English Protestants, the Bible brackets idolaters,
heathens, sorcerers together.
So Catholicism, which is itself to Protestants a demonic religion,
can come to look very closely related to witchcraft.
These were nervy, apprehensive times at court and throughout the country.
And in that climate of fear,
it didn't take much to arouse suspicion.
On March 18th 1612, Jennet's teenage sister, Alizon Device,
was out and about, walking down a lane.
Along the way, she met a pedlar.
And being a beggar, she asked the pedlar for some pins,
but he wouldn't open his pack and he walked on.
For Alizon, this would have been an everyday experience.
Probably several times a week,
people would brush past her, or ignore her.
And she probably responded to their rudeness by cursing them.
'On March 18th,
'she cursed the pedlar. And the curse seemed to work
'because he fell to the floor,
'and unable to speak or move he was eventually carried to a local inn.'
And Alizon was terrified because she knew she had bewitched him.
She rushed to his bedside and begged for his forgiveness.
'From the legal records, we've a very detailed description
'of the pedlar's condition following his collapse.'
"His head is drawn awry, his eyes and face deformed,
"his speech not well to be understood,
"his arms lame, especially the left side." What would you say
that was a description of?
I think there's very little doubt that those symptoms
reflect the fact that he has had a stroke.
The face being awry, the left arm not working,
I mean something coming on that suddenly really can only be a stroke.
Alizon seemed convinced that she had caused this stroke
through bewitching him, and blamed herself and agonised over it.
Is there any logic in that?
From the description,
it does sound as though the two events were significantly linked.
Looking at it as a scientist, yes, the curse,
causing him to become very upset, and to put the blood pressure up,
and to cause him to have a stroke.
Exactly the same situation these days could happen
as a result of road rage,
or an argument, or some devastating piece of medical information
being given to somebody, can result in people having a stroke.
What's so striking for me is that Alizon was in no doubt that
she'd nearly killed a man and perhaps she really had.
It was her fear and her own contrition that would directly lead
to her downfall and that of all her family as well.
'The consequences of Alizon's curse spiralled out of control
'when the pedlar's outraged son
'reported the incident to the ambitious local magistrate,
England has Justices of the Peace dotted all over the place
and they're the men who dispense the law.
Some of them aren't very good, some of them are very lazy,
some of them are EXTREMELY zealous indeed.
Roger Nowell is one of those zealous types.
He's ambitious, he's a Protestant,
and he sees that actually his route to success in his career is to
go out and identify non-conformists, that could be witches
or it could be Catholics, and bring them to justice.
'Roger Nowell began investigating.
He interviewed Alizon Device who,
'in her need to unburden herself, confessed to everything.
'But she also accused her neighbour, Chattox, of bewitching
'and killing four people, and of "making clay figures".'
Alizon seems to have been seriously spooked
by what she'd done to the pedlar.
I think it's likely that her little sister Jennet
would have been pretty freaked out by it too.
'Alizon's statement escalated the investigation.
'Chattox and her daughter were very ready to point the finger back
'at the Device family, and accused Granny Demdike of witchcraft too.
'Nowell realised that he was no longer investigating
'a single incident,
'but was now heading up a major witch-hunt
'rooting the evil out of Pendle.
'On April 2nd, Nowell made his first arrests.
'Jennet's sister and granny, as well as her neighbours Chattox and Anne
'were all shipped off to distant Lancaster Castle to await trial.
'Roger Nowell was confident
'that these arrests would please the King.
Just a year before the arrests in Pendle, the King James Bible
'was published and laid out in stark words,
'"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
'I've come here to Oxford in search of a book.
'Not the King James Bible, but a book James wrote himself.'
James I has a reputation as an avid witch-hunter,
and participates personally in trials up in North Berwick,
and he believes that witches are trying to kill him.
In fact that the witches tried to sink the boat
that he was bringing his wife,
Anne of Denmark, back on their honeymoon.
He writes a slim, exciting book called Daemonologie,
which is unique among heads of state, in being a sole-authored work
upon the nature of hell and what to do about it.
And it's pretty popular.
It's readable, it's concise, it's learned,
it's actually a rather clever piece of work
and it's a mandate to the British to hunt witches.
This is an original, 1597 edition of James' Daemonologie,
it says here at the beginning,
because of, "The fearful abounding at this time in this country,
"of these detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters."
James is very much a product of the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland.
Presbyterian ministers who brought James up as Presbyterian
in a bid to counteract the influence of his Catholic mother,
told him stories all day about the power of the Devil.
They deliberately scare him and it works.
You can scare a child very easily.
They talk him into feeling that he's surrounded by witches.
The Daemonologie might seem a bit like
the ramblings of a paranoid man.
But, as the saying goes, just because you're paranoid,
it doesn't mean that they're not out to get you.
'The religious tensions in England had reached boiling point
'just seven years earlier, when the King
'and his entire Parliament had very nearly been blown up by Guy Fawkes
'and his team of Catholic terrorists in the failed Gunpowder Plot.
'And although Fawkes had been captured,
'some of the conspirators were still at large.'
It's perfectly reasonable for an early modern monarch
to be paranoid about people trying to kill them.
And James is one of those monarchs there's no shortage
of potential conspiracies out there.
He's got a dad who's been strangled after an attempt to blow him up,
a mother whose head has been hacked off in an English prison,
and there have been at least two attempts
to kidnap him, maybe one to murder him.
No wonder he's scared.
And shortly after he arrives in England,
some of his Catholic subjects try to blow him to smithereens
along with the rest of Parliament.
He's a king who's exceptionally nervous of conspiracy.
The plotters who were caught were trying to flee to safety.
And the place where they expected to find it was Lancashire.
'In March 1612, local JPs had received an order
'from London that they were to compile a report of all those
'who refused to take communion in church,
'in an effort to root out the Lancashire Catholics.
'It was a crude, but hopefully effective, loyalty test.'
"All those that do not come to the church and there communicate
"must be presented and further proceeded against.
"Fail not herein at your peril." And here, look,
one of the order's signatories was Roger Nowell.
There's no question about it,
on Good Friday 1612, every loyal subject should have been in church.
Instead, at Malkin Tower,
Jennet's mother threw a party
and to feed the guests, her brother stole a sheep.
'Of course, there would be friends absent from the gathering.
'Alizon and Granny Demdike, along with the neighbours,
'were now awaiting trial in Lancaster Castle.'
What happened in that house on that day would become
the subject of intense scrutiny over the following months.
There were guests at Malkin Tower. Was it an Easter party?
Just friends round for lunch?
Was it a solidarity meeting of those relatives of the prisoners
held in Lancaster Castle?
Or was it a gathering of witches?
'The local constable hears a whisper that there's a meeting of witches
'at Malkin Tower, and arrives suddenly at the door with his men.'
'with echoes of the recent Gunpowder Plot, they would be accused
'of conspiring to blow up Lancaster Castle, and to murder its gaoler.'
Everyone present was arrested,
but the family at Malkin Tower did not come quietly.
They told the constable that there had been more people at the party
who had left already, "You'll never guess who you just missed."
'And so the others implicated were also arrested.
'They were all accused of plotting to kill a man by witchcraft.'
By the time he'd finished, Nowell had sent another eight people
to join the original four in Lancaster Castle.
It was all going so much better than he could've hoped.
'Unlike some of the people detained,
'Jennet Device was definitely at Malkin Tower
'on Good Friday 1612, but she wasn't taken away with the others.
'The people rounded up at the party
'were from the lowest possible walks of life.
'But the others arrested were different.
'Alice Nutter was from a respectable, land-owning family
'and was arrested with her sister in law, her nephew and a friend.
'The Nutters are still in the area.
'Colin Nutter lives here, and many other relatives live nearby.
'and always have.'
Colin, as a Yorkshireman, I think I'm right in saying
that there aren't many Nutters in Yorkshire
-but there quite a few here, aren't there?
Oh, yes, there's quite a lot of them here.
How did somebody like Alice Nutter
come to be caught up in the witch trials?
I think she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Alice Nutter.
What would Roger Nowell's motivation have been?
The Nutters at that point were a strong Catholic family.
And, er, I think he would curry favour with the King
and the powers that be if he's catching Catholics as well, you see?
She had two relatives who were priests,
who were hung drawn and quartered -
one of them in Tyburn and one in Lancaster.
So as far as Nowell was concerned,
-she was just another troublemaking Catholic then?
And she'd have been used as a pawn for his own ends really.
It seems pretty unlikely to me that Alice Nutter
and her friends spent Good Friday
eating stolen mutton at "shit towers" with the local beggars,
but whatever the truth they were rounded up, arrested
and taken to Lancaster Castle.
'has remained a working prison right up until Spring of 2011.
'This is still known as The Witches Tower.'
The castle is huge
but the cell that they were held in wasn't.
Inside it were all of Jennet's family -
her gran, her mother, her brother, her sister,
plus all the neighbours - Chattox, Anne, Isobel Robey,
Margaret Pearson, Alice Nutter,
John and Jane Bulcock and Katherine Hewitt -
plus eight other prisoners
in a space 20' by 12'.
20 people in all.
'As for Jennet, we don't know where she spent the four months
'that her family were imprisoned.
'It's possible that she lived under the protection of Roger Nowell,
'as she was about to become crucial to the case he was building.
'The magistrate would have been well aware of
'the King's thoughts on witch-hunting.'
'Right at the end of his Daemonologie
'King James wrote something that became especially relevant
'for the case of the Pendle Witches.'
And here it is.
Here's what the King says. "In my opinion,
"barnes or wives or never so diffamed persons..."
That's children, women and liars all lumped in together.
"..may of our law serve for sufficient witnesses and proofes
"in matters of high treason against God."
That's telling Nowell, and other magistrates in the country,
two really important things.
That witchcraft is treason
not just against the King but, by extension, also against God himself.
And secondly, he's saying the law
should allow children to testify in court.
'And it wasn't just Nowell
'who was influenced by King James's Daemonologie.
'It would influence the professional justice system.'
Everything we know about this whole story comes from one book
The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.
It was written by one Thomas Potts,
while serving as clerk to court when the prisoners went on trial
'He kept his notes of the trial
'and wrote them all up to demonstrate the rigour
'of the trial proceedings.
'He also dedicated the book to his patron, Thomas Knyvet.
'Knyvet was the man who arrested Guy Fawkes.
'Potts was making a clear connection for the reader between witches
'and Catholics as traitors or terrorists.'
The whole book is an exercise in political brown-nosing.
Nonetheless, it represents an extraordinarily detailed account
of a 17th century witch trial.
LOW MURMUR OF VOICES
'In the courtroom of Lancaster Castle,
'on the 18th August 1612,
'the trial of the Pendle Witches began.
'The room is still a working court.
'In 1612 it wouldn't have looked much like this.'
Nonetheless there was a judge - in fact two judges in this case -
a jury, witnesses, and the defendants.
And all the while, Thomas Potts was scribbling the verbatim notes
which would become his best-selling book.
The outcome of the trial was far from being a foregone conclusion.
Probably less than half of accused witches actually are convicted
And the set of records that we have, which are very reliable
for this, suggest that it's actually more like a 75% acquittal rate.
'Whatever the odds, for Jennet's sister
'whose curse had started the whole affair, things didn't look good.'
Poor Alizon Device. She didn't even want to defend herself.
She was completely convinced of her own guilt.
Her words had caused the pedlar to collapse, and that terrified her.
She was asked in court if, through her magic powers,
she could restore the pedlar to his health and strength,
but regretfully she said that she couldn't.
She did say though, and others agreed with her,
that her grandmother would have been able to help him.
'But in the four months of waiting for the trial to begin,
'Granny Demdike had died in the tiny, filthy cell.'
Thomas Potts had some sympathy for Alizon.
He liked his witches desperate and contrite. Her mother was neither
and Potts was vile about her.
'He wrote that, "This odious witch was branded with a preposterous
'"mark in nature, which was her left eye standing lower than the other,
'"the one looking down, the other looking up,
'"so strangely deformed as the best that were present
'"did affirm that they had not often seen the like."'
400 years ago it wasn't common
for a witness to be brought to testify in the courtroom itself.
But on 18th August 1612, a star witness
was being prepared to take the stand.
'Elizabeth Device was furious and protested her innocence.
'But then her nine-year-old daughter, Jennet,
'was brought to testify against her.
'Elizabeth was distraught. She yelled at her desperately.
'Jennet burst into tears. She was only a little girl after all
'before turning to the judge,
'and asking that her mother be taken away before she'd speak.'
'Once Elizabeth had been silenced,
'and Jennet had her audience, she jumped up onto a table,
'and calmly denounced her own mother as a witch.'
MURMUR OF VOICES
When I was a probation officer, many moons ago,
I spent a lot of time sitting in the crown courts of Lancashire,
lot of them old and intimidating cock-pits like this.
And some of the cases involved evidence from children.
And, of course, the legal system these days
is very sensitive in its handling of young people.
We'll never know why Jennet Device said what she said,
but, standing on the table, centre-stage in the middle of this
moral and political and legal drama, I can't help think
that she was reciting her lines.
My mother is a witch,
and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit
in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball.
The dog did ask what she would have him do, and she answered
that she would have him help her to kill John Robinson of Barley.
James Robinson. Henry Mitton.
Jennet went on to describe the meeting at Malkin Tower
on Good Friday.
At 12 noon, about 20 people came to our house.
My mother told me that they were all witches.
She described the food they ate,
and named six people she'd seen there,
whose names she knew as well as her mother and brother.
There's a kind of a paradox surrounding
the evidence of children in the courtroom.
On the one hand, they're seen as unreliable because they're so young.
But on the other hand, they're seen as pure witnesses of the truth.
And so that in somebody like Jennet Device,
there's something horrific about exploiting a child who's so young,
and I think people may have felt that at the time too.
But at the same time, she could well be the means to cracking open
this secret ring of witchcraft.
It wasn't just Jennet who testified against Elizabeth.
Her son James denounced her too.
'He said that three skulls had been robbed
'from graves at the New Church in Pendle,
'and four of the teeth then kept at Malkin Tower.
'Four teeth were then presented in court,
'which had been found at Malkin Tower by the constable,
'alongside a clay figure,
'all buried together in the ground.'
But giving evidence against his mother wouldn't help him
because Jennet turned on her own brother too.
'Jennet said that James had been a witch for three years.
'She'd seen his "spirit" kill three people.
'She then went on to recite charms
'she said she'd heard her brother use.'
Upon Good Friday, I will fast while I may.
A cross of blue, and another of red.
As good Lord was to the rood.
Gabriel laid him down to sleep upon the ground...
What we've got here
is a series of half-understood,
maybe quarter-understood, recollections of prayers,
practices, rites of popular Catholicism,
and a bit of a play text...
..That I can neither sleep nor wake. Rise up Gabriel that I may...
..all swirled together,
into something that would sound impressive to a listener,
as a healing charm.
..Sweet Jesus, our Lord, amen.
Potts was impressed by Jennet's testimony.
In fact, he seemed to relish her calm, clear and chilling account.
"Although she were but very young, yet it was wonderful to the court,
"with what modesty, government, and understanding
"she delivered this evidence against the prisoner at the bar,
"being her own natural brother."
An adult would know that what they were saying
was likely to lead to mum and grandma being hanged.
I don't think Jennet did really know in the way an adult would know.
I think she only knew it intellectually, not emotionally.
And that's why, I think, her mother screams at her in the way she does.
I think her mother is desperately trying
at least to make her realise what she's done.
She's clearly a rather odd child. She's extremely articulate.
She clearly doesn't like her family.
She's a bit different from the others.
We don't know who her father was.
She's the only illegitimate child
and, clearly, either she's really terrified of the magistrates
and determined to save herself at all costs,
or, more probably, it gives her a chance
for all sorts of concealed resentments and animosities
against her family to explode lethally.
We need to imagine that she believes in the reality of witchcraft,
and that these people really are witches,
and that she seeks to distance herself from them.
Of course she's also been put under a great deal of pressure.
It may be direct pressure.
It may just be the atmospheric pressure of the courtroom,
the tension of all these men around her,
telling her that, in fact, the witchcraft is taking place,
and that she's the lynchpin in punishing it.
It wasn't just her own family Jennet was prepared to denounce as witches.
'Alice Nutter and her friends were more well-to-do,
'and the judge was more demanding of evidence against them.
'He arranged identity parades,
'mixing them in with other prisoners from the castle.
'One by one, Jennet picked them out.'
You were there on Good Friday.
You had on the prettiest dress.
You ate the mutton.
You were sitting right by me.
'In an attempt to catch her out, the judge then asked,
'"Did you see Johanna Style?"
-'A made-up name.'
-No, sir. I never heard of her.
Most of the early modern witch-hunters rely on the Bible,
and, or, the texts by the great continental demonologists
as their texts.
The Lancashire witch trials are really unusual
in that they ignore these pretty well completely,
and fasten on the King's own book, King James's Daemonologie.
In a way, that's extremely rare. They're plainly ticking boxes.
King James says witches use body parts for evil magic.
Body parts are found at the Lancashire witches' property.
They make clay images -
whoops, that's what Lancashire witches are supposed to be doing.
Children are extremely useful as witnesses.
Wow! We suddenly have Jennet.
What these people are doing is looking upwards to the monarch
as their fount of wisdom.
'The evidence against the prisoners had stacked up perfectly.'
We tend to assume that witchcraft was just one big delusion,
and therefore that the witches
who were convicted were, in fact, innocent.
But accused witches believed in witchcraft too,
and I think it's improbable to think
that witches never tried to use magic in order to kill somebody.
Well, today we prosecute people and punish them
if they attempt a crime but are unsuccessful.
So, the witches of 1612, by that measure, were they innocent?
By the end of the two-day trial,
the jury had decided that all of Jennet's family,
and most of her neighbours,
were guilty of causing death or harm by witchcraft.
Ten people were sentenced to hang
'The day after the trial, the ten convicted prisoners
'were brought to a place still known as Gallows Hill.'
This was a piece of State theatre - the moment when the majesty of God,
and the majesty of the law, were very much focused on this one event,
and everybody could see the power of it.
At the critical moment the witch was led out,
forced to climb the ladder,
the noose put over her neck. At that moment, the crowd went rather quiet.
They didn't die from having their neck broken,
but from slow strangulation that might take as long as 20 minutes.
In fact, there are accounts of friends and family
coming forward and pulling on the legs
of the poor person being executed in order to hasten their end.
Condemned prisoners were expected to make one final confession.
It was a last chance to save their souls,
though not of course their lives.
We're told that Elizabeth and Alice Nutter NEVER confessed,
not even with their dying words.
I think it's probably very likely,
based on the standards of the day,
that Jennet would have been encouraged to be there, too.
A lot of history's most ghastly locations
are completely transformed now.
This is a park where kids come to play football
and do whatever kids do in parks these days.
For me, the most chilling thought about what happened here
was the idea that Jennet might well have been watching the hangings.
And the last thing that Elizabeth might have seen
as she looked from the gallows might have been
the face of her daughter, the child who'd put her there.
We don't know anything
about what happened to the orphaned Jennet Device
in the years that followed the execution of her entire family
and most of her neighbours.
It's difficult to imagine anybody wanting to take her in.
But it could be argued that they weren't her last victims.
'Thanks to Potts's published account,
'Jennet's influence would travel far beyond Lancashire.
'Although there had been earlier cases
'of children being heard as witnesses in witch trials,
'the law stated that children under the age of 14
'were not credible witnesses as they could not be sworn under oath.
'But that was set to change.'
Imagine you're a 17th century JP or magistrate.
You're not trained in the law like the judges are,
but you need to investigate, question witnesses,
and compile a case for the Assize.
What you need is one handy book that gives you all the basics,
something that you can just pull off the shelf whenever you need it.
'The Country Justice is that book.
'It's by a man called Dalton, and was first published in 1618.
'This handbook was used by all magistrates both here
'and in the colonies in America.'
You've got some people accused of witchcraft.
So you look up "Advice On Witnesses" - see page 541...
And here it is.
"For children, I find in the book of the Discovery of Witches
"at Lancaster Assizes..." That's Thomas Potts's book.
"..that the son and daughter..." That's Jennet and James.
"..of Elizabeth Device, a witch..." Here we go.
"..the one about nine years of age,
"the other of 14, did, upon their oaths,
"give open evidence against their mother,
"then prisoner at the bar."
So, what Jennet did in 1612 ended up giving a precedent to magistrates,
not just here, but across the Atlantic,
to seek the testimony of children in trials of witchcraft.
And, before we say that this is outrageous,
let's remember that today there are still trials
which rely on child testimony due to lack of alternative witnesses.
Today, the testimony of children as young as three
has been used in criminal trials.
The law says that they have to understand the questions put to them
and to give answers which are understandable.
'And the most extraordinary thing was that Jennet herself
'would come to fall victim to the very precedent she set.
'In November 1633, 22 years after the nine-year-old Jennet
'testified against her family,
'a ten-year-old boy from Pendle came home late one evening,
'and told his parents a very strange story.'
Edmund Robinson explained that the reason he was late
was that he'd been picking berries.
'And, while gathering berries,
'he said he'd seen two greyhounds.
'"I tried to get them to chase a hare, but they didn't run,
'"so I beat them with a stick.
'"One of the dogs turned into a witch,
'"and the other into a boy.
'"She then turned him into a horse.
'"The witch took me away on the horse to that house, Hoarstones,
'"and their barn was full of witches,
'"maybe 60 of them.
'"From the ceiling there were all these ropes hanging down,
'"and they were pulling on the ropes,
'"and amazing food came falling down.
'"I was frightened so I ran away, and they chased me for ages.
'"Before I got home I met a boy with cloven hooves.
'"I fought him - that's why I'm so scruffy.
'"It's not my fault!"'
All of which seems to have been accepted
as a genuine reason for lateness. Somewhat surprisingly!
'After hearing this story,
'the boy's father took him from village to village,
'to stand in the churches and point out the witches he had seen.
'For three months.'
The curate of a local church described seeing Edmund at work.
'"The boy was brought into the Church of Kildwick,
'"and was set upon a stall to look about him,
'"which moved some little disturbance
'"in the congregation for a while.
'"And after prayers, the people told me that it was the boy
'"that discovered witches."
'On the evidence of Edmund's bizarre story,
'about 20 people were imprisoned and put on trial in February 1634.'
One of them was called Jennet Device -
accused of killing Isabel, wife of William Nutter.
I can see absolutely no reason
to think that it's not the same Jennet Device,
from the earlier Lancashire trial, that's accused by Edmund Robinson.
The fact that someone of the same name
appears as a suspect in the second trial,
with some of the same families involved, in the same place,
I think is very suggestive.
I think really that there's no reason to suspect that it's not her.
Again, it's the stories the children tell
that have such an incredible power.
Not only Edmund's story in 1633,
but the words Jennet used back in 1612 have returned to haunt her.
She'd been a witness for the crown as a nine-year-old,
and had been spared the noose.
But this time, surely, she'd hang?
'Yet these were different times, and England had changed since 1612.'
When we look back
into the 17th century,
we think of what happened before the 17th century.
We think of a world
where witches were persecuted,
where people relied on what others said,
everybody was suspicious, everybody was uncertain.
It was a time of great political and religious uncertainty.
And then, when you look forward to the 18th century,
you've got a sense of order and stability.
So the 17th century WAS a period of transition.
'When Thomas Potts wrote his book,
'he thought he'd be pleasing the King with his account.
'But James's continued interest in witch trials
'led him to become more sceptical.'
Something very important happens at Leicester in 1616.
A boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, claims that he's bewitched,
the case goes to trial, and nine women are hanged.
Well, the following month James I goes to Leicester,
he interviews the boy, and discovers that he's lying.
Then, as a consequence, the judges are very soundly rebuked
and this goes out as a message to other judges
to be very, very cautious in witchcraft cases,
particularly if your star witness happens to be a child.
'And, by the time Edmund told his story in 1633,
'a new king was on the throne.
'Charles I was even more doubtful about witch-hunting
'than his father had become.
'His attitude towards religion was so different from his father's
'that many suspected him of being a Catholic.
'His wife certainly was.'
Crudely it's true that the most radical Protestants,
the people we call Puritans,
are the most concerned about the Devil and demons.
And, as Charles I is a king who is deeply suspicious of Puritanism,
he's pretty suspicious of accounts of demons.
So, here we are, 22 years later, back in the courtroom.
Just as before, a jury listened to a child telling stories of witches.
But this time, Jennet was in the dock.
'And, just as before, the jury believed the child to be honest,
'and the prisoners evil.
'On Edmund's testimony, 17 people were found guilty,
'and should have been sentenced to death.'
But, in this new kind of England,
this changed England,
the judges weren't happy with these verdicts,
and the matter was referred to London -
to the King and the Privy Council.
'Four were sent from Lancashire to London.'
But not Jennet.
She was one of those who waited behind in the castle,
where several prisoners had already died of gaol fever
during the 15 months they'd spent there.
'London in 1634 would have been another world
'for the women of Lancashire. When they arrived
'the four were held in the Fleet Gaol. While they were there,
'a pair of playwrights immediately produced a play called
'"The Witches of Lancashire",
'featuring the story told by little Edmund.'
They got the play on stage so quickly
that, while the women were behind bars,
on show to the public for a penny or two,
the piece was already being performed.
Londoners could go to the gaol in the morning to gawp at a witch,
or a Northerner,
and then see a play about them in the afternoon.
It was the complete entertainment package.
ACOUSTIC MUSIC PLAYS
The Devil take these curs - will they not stir?
I'll see if I can put spirit into you
and put you in remembrance what "halloo, halloo" means.
One of the greyhounds turned into a woman, and the other into a boy!
You have served me well to swinge me thus!
You young rogue, you have USED me like a DOG!
Are not you a witch?
The power of stories never ceases to amaze me.
A young lad in rural Lancashire tells his tall tale,
the next minute it's a play in London.
'It's interesting that, although in 1634,
'most people still believed in witches,
'they were able to laugh at them.
'That would never have happened in 1612.
'This new way of looking at the world
'was also apparent in the advances being made by scientists
'which would, over the century,
'transform our understanding of nature.'
Scientific research and experimentation
didn't banish a belief in witchcraft and superstition overnight.
Far from it.
But it did provide serious tools
for trying to tell the innocent from the guilty.
These were applied in 1634
to those women from Lancashire accused of witchcraft.
This was one of the earliest ever cases
of what came to be known as forensic science -
science relating to the law courts.
The 1612 trial
represents an older way of thinking
where everything was based on credulity, superstition,
everybody willing to believe everything nasty that was said.
By the time you get to 1634,
although it's absolutely by no means a scientific era,
it seems as though people are behaving in a more rational way,
and demanding what we would think of as scientific, forensic,
What is shifting in the 17th century,
slowly, and by fits and starts,
is a belief that you have to demonstrate something physically.
And if you can't demonstrate it in medicine,
you cannot use it as evidence.
In other words, there may be an invisible world
of spirits around you, but you have to prove physical effect
in order to bring them into a law court.
'King James had written in his Daemonologie,
'that one good way to identify a witch
'was to look for "witches' marks" -
'a place on the body where you could see a teat
'that had been used by the Devil to suckle.'
All the accused people from Lancashire
were examined for these marks, including Jennet.
Here, it says they found,
"Jennet Device - two paps or marks in her secrets".
I think "secrets" means probably exactly what you think it means.
The other four people brought to London
also had their marks listed.
For example, Margaret Johnson -
"One mark or pap betwixt her seat and her secrets."
'Now, King Charles wanted his own, trusted physician, William Harvey,
'to re-examine the women.'
William Harvey is one of the great medical Brits of all time.
He is most known for discovering how blood circulates through the body.
He takes up his place with the likes of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren
as one of the new, forward-looking people of the 17th century,
who are plugging into a European will to do things better than ever before.
'Harvey was sent on more than one occasion
'to examine witches on the King's orders.'
There was a village witch who had a toad as her familiar.
Not an unfamiliar situation.
William Harvey caught the toad,
and dissected the toad,
and then showed the dissection to the witch
to prove to her that it was just a normal toad -
that there was nothing supernatural about it.
And the woman flew at him and tried to tear his skin off with her nails.
"You've killed my toad!"
She wasn't in the slightest bit grateful
that he'd brought science and rationality to her aid.
From her point of view, he'd killed her pet,
and probably removed the foundation stone of her business.
Here in London, Harvey recruited
five physicians and ten female midwives
to conduct the examination.
This time, almost all of the previously suspicious marks
were deemed to be "nothing unnatural".
And this is actually the way in which witch-hunting becomes undone.
It's not so much people going in straight for the core,
and saying, "We don't believe in witchcraft."
It's people saying, "We need to be careful about how we prosecute
"because standards of evidence needed to be raised."
And if you raise a standard of proof high enough in witch trials,
they come to an end altogether.
According to William Harvey and his scientific team,
there was no physical evidence against any of the prisoners.
Everything now rested solely on the evidence of the child.
In 1612, Jennet Device had been unflappable in court -
cool and consistent.
But, in 1634, under examination from the Privy Council
and Secretary of State, ten-year-old Edmund Robinson cracked.
'He said that the story he told was inspired by
'stories he'd heard about the Device family.
'He had heard the neighbours talk
'of a witch feast that was kept at Mocking Tower in Pendle Forest
'about 20 years since.
'Cross questioning established that Edmund's father
'had been blackmailing the women,
'getting his son to accuse any who refused to pay.
'The Robinson family had some fine new cows!
'Jennet and the other prisoners were acquitted of witchcraft.'
For me, the story is remarkable
because the tale told by Jennet in 1612 had such resonance
that it took on a life of its own in Pendle, and refused to go away.
Edmund accused Jennet of witchcraft
precisely because her story had been so convincing and so compelling.
Her own words were almost the death of her.
'Since the time of Jennet Device,
'we have become less credulous of magic,
'and more rigorous in our demand for empirical evidence.
'In our modern, technological age, we pride ourselves
'on our rationality and scientific understanding of the world.'
But some things don't change.
Many people still believe in evil,
though where that evil occurs tends to change from year to year,
from community to community -
Many still consider such evil to be the work of the Devil.
Believe it or not,
the Church of England continues to perform exorcisms.
'Now, as then, we have fear,
'and at times of crisis, fear still leads to miscarriages of justice.'
When we hear a story, like the Lancashire witch trials
from the first half of the 17th century,
it's easy to feel distance from this strange alien world,
where people believed things that we don't believe,
and acted in ways that we might consider to be barbaric.
But, of course, in the post 9/11 world,
the era of the War on Terror,
it's still quite easy to build policy on paranoia,
and therefore to over-react in certain situations
and to infringe civil liberties in the name of security.
So, in situations where we do feel threatened by the enemy within,
people around us who might be trying to undermine Western civilisation,
we can easily find ourselves behaving
in ways which are frighteningly similar
to the ways in which some of those people behaved in Pendle
in 1612 or 1633.
So, what about Jennet Device,
the Lancashire child at the heart of this story?
Did she walk away from two witch trials unscathed?
'In the prison records of 1636,
'Jennet and some of the others acquitted of witchcraft
'were still imprisoned.
'Lancaster Castle inmates had to pay for their board,
'and stay until the debt was cleared.
'Which, for someone like Jennet, might have been impossible.
'There are no more records of Jennet Device after 1636.
'But we do know that her legacy lived on.
'3,000 miles from Lancaster, 19 people were hanged in 1692.
'These witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts,
'were perhaps the most infamous in history.
'Most of the evidence was given by children.
'On the Salem magistrates' table was Dalton's Country Justice,
'suggesting children were suitable witnesses in trials of witches,
'and citing Jennet Device, 1612.'
400 years ago, the idea of witches in one's midst
must have been terrifying,
but, for us today, I think it's the enigma of Jennet Device herself
which we find so disturbing.
We'll never know why she said what she said,
but that desire to believe her
was borne out of the kind of wild and irrational fear
that can turn neighbour against neighbour,
and relative against relative,
and can make, well, demons out of all of us.
Maybe it's because our protective instincts are so strong,
and our imaginations so powerful,
but we still struggle to control that fear during times of crisis,
times when the truth can be the hardest thing of all to divine.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.
E-mail [email protected]
Simon Armitage presents the extraordinary story of the most disturbing witch trial in British history and the key role played in it by one nine-year-old girl. Jennet Device, a beggar-girl from Pendle in Lancashire, was the star witness in the trial in 1612 of her own mother, her brother, her sister and many of her neighbours and, thanks to her chilling testimony, they were all hanged. Armitage explores the lethal power and influence of one child's words - a story of fear, magic and demonic pacts retold partly with vivid and innovative hand-drawn animation. He discovers how Jennet's appearance in the witness box cast its shadow way beyond Lancashire, impressing lawyers, politicians, clerics and even King James I himself, and setting a dark precedent for child testimony in witch trials as far away as America. Finally, in a dramatic twist to the tale, he reveals how, 22 years after the original trial, Jennet's own words were very nearly the death of her - when she herself was put on trial, accused of being a witch by a 10-year-old boy.
With the help of historians Malcolm Gaskill, Diane Purkiss and Ronald Hutton, Armitage attempts to get inside Jennet's head and understand how the illegitimate and illiterate youngest child of a family of beggars could become both pawn and player in a much bigger story of 17th-century religion, power, law, science and the monarchy. What made Jennet speak out so everyone she knew would die? And how did the courts decide to admit her evidence and allow her example to create a precedent for accepting the testimony of other child witnesses who wanted to send their neighbours to the gallows?
Although the events in this film may date back 400 years, its issues resonate today as much as ever - when to believe our children, how the police and the court system should handle child witnesses and above all how, in times of crisis, fear of evil can easily lead us to behave in ways which may corrode the very values that we most wish to protect.