ON this day in 1612 (20 August), the Pendle Witches were executed after being accused of witchcraft.

The tragic story is one that the people of Lancashire know well – but how much do you know about Jennet Device?

She was instrumental in the notorious witch trials of the 16th century when twelve people were accused of witchcraft.

Jennet was a key witness in the trials and many historians argue that her testimony led to the death of her family members and neighbours.

In a sick twist, Jennet was accused of witchcraft more than 20 years after accusing her own family.

Her name has also been mentioned as a key contributor to changing the status of child witnesses, which at the time was forbidden for those 14 and under.

The clerk of the court, Thomas Potts, wrote a book of all the notes he made of the trial, which became a bestseller and spread the story far and wide.

In The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, Potts talked about Jennet’s account.

The story of Jennet Device was also explored in a 2011 documentary narrated by Simon Armitage, called ‘The Pendle Witch Child’.

Lancashire Telegraph: An illustration of Ann Redferne and Chattox, two of the Pendle witches, from Ainsworth's novel The Lancashire Witches, published in 1849. (Photo: The Lancashire Witches, Wikimedia Commons)An illustration of Ann Redferne and Chattox, two of the Pendle witches, from Ainsworth's novel The Lancashire Witches, published in 1849. (Photo: The Lancashire Witches, Wikimedia Commons)

Jennet lived with her mother Elizabeth, her grandmother Demdike, older sister Alizon (or Alison) and brother James at Malkin Tower near Pendle Hill.

The family survived mainly by begging and doing chores for neighbours.

The villagers knew the grandmother as a ‘cunning woman’ who used ‘magic’ to cure ailments – they could have gotten in trouble with the law if their clients fall out with them.

Historians believe that Jennet’s upbringing could have made her resentful towards her family as she was an illegitimate child, her father unknown.

Speaking in The 2011 Pendle Witch Child documentary, Professor Malcolm Gaskill of the Univeristy of East Anglia said: “She grew up knowing she was the runt of the litter and illegitimate daughter of the house… I think that would have made her feel isolated, different, even cursed”.

On March 18 1612, her sister Alizon Device was out begging on the road to Colne when she met John Law – little did she know that this fateful meeting would spark such a historic witchcraft court case.  

According to the Lancaster Castle website, Alizon’s confessed to witchcraft in her own testimony saying her ‘familiar spirit’ in the shape of a dog appeared to her and asked if she would like him to harm Law.

Law fell to the ground in what modern medicine would describe as a stroke - but in the 16th century it was perceived as witchcraft from Ms Device.

She admitted her part in his illness, begging to be forgiven - something he granted.

Law’s son Abraham took the matter to Roger Nowell had become involved, and he was far from satisfied. He took the matter to the local magistrate, Roger Nowell, who interrogated suspects.

By the end of April, 19 people were arrested and sent to Lancaster Castle where they would await their trial.

The first day of the trial took place on Tuesday 18th August.

Jennet’s mother, Elizabeth Device, was accused of three counts of murders, her son James was accused of two, while Alizon was to stand trial for what she had done to John Law five months before. 

Lancashire Telegraph: Site in Pendle were witches were said to have held covenSite in Pendle were witches were said to have held coven

Elizabeth’s turn to defend herself came and she denied the accusations against her.

However, the prosecution had one key witness against her - her own daughter, Jennet.

According to witnesses at the hearing, Elizabeth began shouting in anger at her daughter and Elizabeth had to be removed from court.

In her accusation Jennet said she saw her mother’s spirit appear in the form of a brown dog and planned to kill various members of the community.

Significantly, she also spoke of a witchcraft gathering held at their house, Malkin Tower, naming six people she saw there – including their mother and brother.

According to an essay by Christine Goodier on the Lancaster Castle website, she also said plots were discussed detailing a plan to blow up the castle and kill the Governor, Thomas Covell, in order to free those imprisoned there.

Henry Hargreaves, the parish constable, took Elizabeth Device’s son to the house.

Under the constable’s supervision he unearthed a wax figure and some teeth - which was considered to be sufficient evidence of witchcraft.

Jennet also spoke about witches riding on ponies and flying off on them.  

Elizabeth was found guilty of the crimes after the damning testimony.

Jennet said her brother, James, had been a witch for three years and that she saw his spirit kill people.

Lancashire Telegraph: Lancaster Castle, where the Pendle witches were heldLancaster Castle, where the Pendle witches were held

It wasn’t her own family she condemned; the courts set up identity parades and Jennet picked out the witches one by one at the Good Friday gathering.

Anne Redfearn had already been acquitted of one murder but Jennet said she was present at the Malkin Tower gathering.

Alizon Device was the last of the Pendle Witches to be tried.

John Law forgave her for ‘bewitching’ him but she was still found guilty of witchcraft after telling to court she was unable to cure him.

On August 20th 1612 ten condemned prisoners, including all of Jennet’s family and some of her neighbours were taken to the moors above the town, still known as Gallows Hill, and hanged.

Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redfearn, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Alice Nutter and Katherine Hewitt were all killed that day.

Elizabeth and Alice never confessed to witchcraft- even in their dying words.

However, more that 20 years later in November 1633, a boy named Edmund Robinson accused Jennet and 16 others of witchcraft too.

Jennet was accused of killing Isabel, wife of William Nutter.

They were found guilty by a jury but the judges were not happy and it was referred to the Privy Council - physical evidence was demanded.

Edmund eventually admitted lying because of the stories he had heard about the Pendle Witches trial.

Jennet was acquitted but was not allowed to leave Lancaster Castle until she had paid for her board for the time she had spent there on trial.

The last known record of Jennet Device was in 1636.

However, her legacy lives on in the legal system.

At the Salem Witch trials in America, which were considered to be the most infamous in history, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft.

According to the 2011 Pendle Witch Child documentary, most of the evidence was given by children and Jennet’s court case was cited as potential reason for this.

If you want to learn more about the Pendle Witch trial, Lancaster Castle is open 9:30-5 every day, and there is no need to book a ticket to enter the courtyard.

A spokesperson said: "Our 45-minute guided tours of the courtyard, courtrooms and Shire Hall are currently free.

"Visitors are recommended to book a slot online, however capacity has recently increased so there is the opportunity to join a tour on the day.

"Tour bookings can be made by speaking to our tour guides; they can be found in the ticket office, situated underneath the clocktower in the main courtyard.

"Our resident embroidery expert Sara Dennis has also recently opened a walking exhibition at the Castle dedicated to the Pendle Witch story, which is situated on the ground floor of the medieval Well Tower (also known as the ‘Witches Tower’).

"Directly below this room is a cell which supposedly held the accused for the three months before their trial."


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