A CAMPAIGN has been launched to officially pardon the Pendle Witches.
Burnley-based brewery Moorhouses is launching a petition to clear the nine women and one man hanged following their trial at Lancaster Castle in 1612.
David Grant, managing director at the brewery, said the group should be pardoned to coincide with this year’s 400th anniversary of the trial.
And the campaign has been backed by Pendle Witches expert Simon Entwistle, who conducts guided walks around Pendle Hill focusing on the history of the witches.
“If it is ever going to happen then this is the year to do it,” said Mr Grant.
Two poverty stricken families, who were led by two old women Chattox and Demdike, were at the centre of the trial, which begun when Alizon Device, Demdike’s granddaughter, confessed to witchcraft after cursing a pedlar.
The trial was held after 17 people died mysteriously in the villages around Pendle Hill.
Mr Grant said that he believed the 10 people were made an example of and should be pardoned.
He said: “Having read a lot about the trial and the history I think they were made an example of, I think they were just herbalists.
“They were convicted on the evidence of a young girl. The King at the time was keen to come down on what he perceived as witches.
It is said that King James 1, the King at the time, was obsessed with witchcraft and many local magistrates would find witches guilty on flimsy evidence to find favour with him.
Mr Entwistle said: “I am delighted to be involved with the campaign. The story of the Pendle Witches is a fascinating story.
“I think the guilty party are more the prosecution and King James I, who was paranoid about witches. The local magistrates wanted to curry favour with the king.
“Some people admitted to witchcraft but there were also many innocent people dragged in just to make up the numbers.”
The legend of the Pendle Witches has spawned its own tourism industry and attracts many visitors to areas including Pendle Hill, Barley, Roughlee and Newchurch-in-Pendle.
Mr Entwistle said: “I find it a real travesty of justice. The history of the Pendle Witches brings in millions of pounds in tourism to East Lancashire.
"I regularly conduct tours with Asian tourists who know an awful lot about the witches and who spend lots of money over here.
“In my view it is the prosecution that was guilty of murder here.”
If it is launched an online Government petition would require 100,000 signatures for the issue to be debated in the House of Commons.
The story began on March 18, 1612, when Alizon Device was begging on the road to Colne.
A pedlar refused her some pins and she was said to have paralysed him with a curse.
Two weeks later she confessed to witchcraft and also incriminated Demdike and Chattox. Demdike confessed shortly after and a group was charged with witchcraft and sent to Lancaster Castle.
On Good Friday 1612 a party gathered at Malkin Tower, Demdike’s home, plotting to free the imprisoned women.
Investigations took place around the tower later in April and three more of the Device family, as well as Alice Nutter from Roughlee, were taken away and imprisoned.
Demdike died in prison before the trial began on August 17.
The following day 10 people were found guilty, and eight acquitted, and on August 20 they were hanged at Lancaster in front of huge crowds.
Moorhouses has a long history with the Pendle Witches and has named several of its real ales after them, such as Blond Witch and Pendle Witch.
Mr Grant said: “We are putting it all together now, we need to be up and running by April as that is when they were arrested.
“We are going to test out the water first. It is not a campaign to upset people and we are mindful of family that is still around.
“We are putting an argument together for the campaign but it depends on public feeling.
“We don’t know what the reaction will be until we get it in the public domain and on social networks.”
In 2004 a successful campaign was launched to get pardons for 81 women executed in the Prestonpans area of Scotland during the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The crime of being a witch was abolished by the 1735 Witchcraft Act but did not grant posthumous pardons.
About 400 people were executed in England following accusations of witchcraft and about 2,000 in Scotland.
Why the Pendle Witches might have been guilty
A number of the witches, such as Alizon Device, seem to have genuinely believed in their own guilt. They actually confessed before, or during, the trial.
Jennet Device, nine, was a key witness for the prosecution. She identified those who attended a significant meeting at Malkin Tower on Good Friday, and also gave evidence against her mother, brother and sister.
Many of the allegations also resulted from accusations made by the Demdike and Chattox families against each other.
Why the Pendle Witches mighthave been innocent
The witches were convicted during a time obsessed with the pursuit and punishment of witchcraft, with King James I particularly obsessed.
Because of the King’s obsession, many magistrates were keen to find favour with him and found witches guilty.
Eighty-one witches convicted in the Scottish city of Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, in the 16th and 17th centuries, were pardoned in 2004.
The pardons noted that witches’ examinations were “conducted in an atmosphere of terror” and “confessions were extracted by hideous torture”.