mythologisation of Dick Turpin (in his novel Rookwood , 1833) and Jack Sheppard (in his novel Jack Sheppard , 1838) and who gave new life to the legend of Herne the Hunter (in Windsor Castle , 1843). But significantly the only one of his forty novels to remain continuously in print to this day is TheLancashireWitches (1849), in which he turned his mythmaking talents to the subject of the 1612 Pendle witch trials.
TheLancashireWitches was in many ways a labour of love, a celebration of his native county, its landscape, its people and its
In a sense the fictionalising of theLancashirewitches began even before the trials. If the witches of 1612 were (as Stephen Pumfrey argues above) the first example in fact in England of an alleged devilish confederacy, the first example in fiction came six years earlier with the most famous witches of all: the ‘weird sisters’ in Shakespeare’s 1606 play Macbeth. Richard Wilson here shows how far the connections extend, in a chapter rich in both historical and literary references. In the first part of the chapter, Wilson inspects the
This book is a major study of England's biggest and best-known witch trial, which took place in 1612, when ten witches were arraigned and hanged in the village of Pendle in Lancashire. In it, 11 experts from a variety of fields offer surveys of these events and their meanings for contemporaries, for later generations, and for the present day. Chapters look at the politics and ideology of witch-hunting, the conduct of the trial, the social and economic contexts, the religious background, and the local and family details of the episode.
It is probably true to say that a clearer memory remains of theLancashirewitches of 1612 than of any of the other people who were tried and executed for witchcraft in early modern England. To an extent unique for England, theLancashirewitches have been appropriated by the tourist and heritage industries. In Newchurch village, in the heart of the Pendle country, the visitor can call in at ‘Witches Galore’, a shop easily identifiable by the life-size figures of witches that are placed outside it, and buy model witches, and maps, posters
James I’s Daemonologie and The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches
rested upon their belief that they knew James’s policy on witchcraft in 1612, and transformed theLancashirewitches to fit it. If so, although we cannot extract James’s policy from The Wonderfull Discoverie , we can analyse the reaction to it of some very interested and informed contemporaries.
The Wonderfull Discoverie is not an innocent text, and not just because of Potts’s selective representation of the judicial process. It was carefully crafted to confirm James’s Daemonologie . In doing so, it transformed theLancashirewitches in
’s ‘weird sisters’, theLancashirewitches, it was alleged, had come together at ‘a special meeting’, and ‘according to solemn appointment, solemnized this great festival day … with great cheer, merry company, and much conference’. 5 Never before had it been alleged in England that witches gathered for ritual meetings, according to a recent study of the case by Jonathan Lumby; 6 yet it was precisely by weaving ‘Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine’ in tri-fold collusion that Macbeth’s witches generated a compound malevolence that far exceeded the powers conjured by
Contemporary witchcraft and the Lancashire witches
’s Aradia (1899), and folk customs to assert her theory that the witch-cult contained the vestigial remnants of a pre-Christian European fertility religion perhaps first developed in Egypt, which she called ‘Dianic’. 2 Murray used theLancashirewitch trials as part of her evidence, arranging the witches into three covens of thirteen (i.e. thirty-nine persons) 3 and characterising the meeting at the Malkin Tower as a sabbat. She also made explicit links between age-old practices and witchcraft, which Gardner believed ‘was directly descended from the Northern European
That the trial of theLancashirewitches is so well known is largely because we have unusually good evidence for it, in the form of Thomas Potts’s 1613 book The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. The three chapters in this first section re-examine the events of 1612, which have been often summarised but rarely analysed. They all combine a close reading of Potts’s text with evidence from other areas to place it in a particular context: the politics of witch-hunting and royal patronage (Pumfrey); the literary
Reconstructing justice in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches
On 16 November 1612 Thomas Potts, a court clerk at that summer’s Lancashire witch trials, sat in his lodgings in London’s Chancery Lane putting the finishing, and slightly desperate, touches to the enormous work The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches , which he had been put in charge of compiling and editing. Potts said that he had ‘taken paines’ over the account of theLancashirewitches, reconstructing from memory their activities and their trials, at the behest of their judges and ‘for the benefit of my Countrie’ (a3). He was to say
The drama was, as A. M. Clark has called it, a piece of ‘dramatic journalism’ 15 and the King’s Men (the theatre company of which Shakespeare had formerly been a member) certainly appreciated the value of a newsworthy scoop. On 20 July 1634 they petitioned the Lord Chamberlain to stop the performance of another play on witchcraft ( Dr Lambe and the Witches ) ‘to the prejudice of their designed Comedy of theLancashirewitches, & desiring a prohibition of any other till theirs bee allowed and Acted’. 16 It probably opened on 11 or 12 August, and certainly no later