The Other Pendle Witch Trial

August 18th 2018 marked the 406th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials at Lancaster Castle in 1612. It is an anniversary which always causes me to pause, and one which I never forget. Growing up in Lancashire, I was captivated from a young age by tales of the Pendle witches. For a child there is, after all, something irresistibly and gruesomely fascinating about the likes of Old Demdike and Chattox doing their worst with magical misdeeds before meeting their own horrible fate. As I got older my interest developed into something altogether more academic, with a dissertation on the subject for my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University and, of course, several works of historical fiction since then! Over the years, the Pendle witches have been a big part of my intellectual and creative life.

Although perhaps not as widely known internationally as other later trials, notably those which occurred in Salem in 1692/3, there is no doubt in my mind that across the breadth of English history the 1612 trials have grown in stature and notoriety over the years. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that 1612 has become the stuff of legend, or that it contributes enormously to the cultural and artistic life of the north of England, and of course to tourism and the economy. This activity and interest in the trials reached fever pitch in 2012 for the fourth centenary, with commemorative activities, events, sculptures and new works of literature and scholarship on the subject, and such activities have continued ever since; for example, this year there was a family weekend of events at Lancaster Castle.

What is less well-known, however, is that a second round of witch trials occurred in Pendle in 1634. In late 1633, a boy named Edmund Robinson gained local fame and notoriety as a witch-finder. It seems that upon returning home later than expected one day in early November, he told his father a tale;  a story of his abduction by witches, of women turning into animals and of a great, unholy Sabbath. The story quickly spread around the local area and the boy became something of a celebrity. Edmund’s father, perhaps sensing there was fame and fortune to be found in such a reputation, began charging people to see his son’s ‘performances’ and taking him on a tour of the local churches.

It was only a matter of time, of course, before a story of this magnitude reached the local Justices of the Peace and in February 1634, young Edmund finally told the story to the authorities. As part of his deposition, Edmund gave a considerable list of local people who he claimed had been involved in his fantastical tale.

One of the names which appeared on Edmund’s list was that of Jennet Device.

We don’t know for certain, of course, if this Jennet Device was the same Jennet who had been the star witness of the 1612 trials; however, to imagine that it might have been is truly the stuff of stories. My second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, is a story woven on the supposition that it was the same Jennet, that in 1634 events in Pendle came full circle, that the witness became the accused.

As in 1612 the accused, including Jennet, were found guilty at the Lancaster Assizes. However, in a move which signaled how times were beginning to change, the judges deferred sentencing to seek further advice from the authorities in London. The Privy Council duly dispatched the Bishop of Chester to undertake a further investigation into the case. They also requested a number of the accused be sent to London for further examination. Four women were sent on the long journey south, where they were subjected to a physical examination by the king’s physician, further questioning, and an interview with King Charles I himself. We can only imagine how utterly terrifying and bewildering that experience must have been.

The Privy Council’s intervention led to the 1634 case falling apart, with the authorities ultimately finding that the story was a fabrication exploited for financial gain and ordering the arrest and imprisonment of Edmund Robinson’s father as a result. The accused were all acquitted, allegedly pardoned by their monarch, and their four representatives were sent home to Lancashire. However, the ending of the story is not a happy one: despite the acquittal many remained in prison, probably as a result of being unable to pay the debts they had accrued after so many months of being unjustly detained at His Majesty’s pleasure.

The tragedy of the 1634 case is that whilst the changing attitudes of the London authorities were able to prevent this tale ending at the gallows, the accused were nonetheless undone by poverty and powerlessness, by being at the bottom of the social heap and by being without the means to free themselves from a justice system which was always stacked against them. It may be less well-known that its 1612 counterpart, but in many ways the story of the 1634 trials is no less poignant. I hope that when the fourth centenary comes around in sixteen years’ time, the other Pendle witch trials will be given the recognition they deserve.

More information about my second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, which focuses on the 1634 trials, can be found here

 

Witches of Pendle Sale – The Final 24 Hours!

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A final reminder that my Witches of Pendle e-books are half price until the end of October – in other words, for another twenty four hours. So, don’t delay – grab your copies now!

Both novels are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers.

The Witches of Pendle… and Zombies

Today I am pleased to bring you a brand new short story. The story is based on my second Witches of Pendle novel, A Woman Named Sellers, and is a bit of Halloween fun! In this piece we meet the novel’s protagonist Jennet Sellers, alone in her cottage, and surrounded by bloodthirsty zombies as they scratch and bang at her door…

Without any further ado, this is The Witches of Pendle… And Zombies 

The sound began as it always did: quietly, a tentative scraping noise creeping into the night-time silence. Jennet sat alone in the dark, listening, her heart pounding in time with the rhythm of the fingernails as they were dragged again and again over the coarse wooden door. Putrid bile rose from her gut, bubbling upwards as the sound came again and again, louder and louder, building to a menacing crescendo.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Fear overwhelmed her. She wished that she had the nerve to light a candle. She wished that the noise would stop. More than anything, she wished that William was with her. Like everyone else he had disappeared, leaving her all alone in their humble barn, forced to fend for herself. She tried not to think about what might have happened to him; she tried not to imagine those blade-like fingernails wrapped around his neck. She felt certain that he was dead, that she would never see him again. Despite her terror, she felt the warmth of tears pricking in the corners of her eyes.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

“Grace, go away!” she cried out, desperation ringing out on the quavering notes of her voice.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Thud.

Jennet jolted at the sudden bang, biting her lip hard to prevent herself from screaming.

“Stop it, Grace. Just go away!” she cried, burying her head in her hands.

It was hopeless. She knew it wasn’t Grace, not really. She had come to realise that whatever the creature was that stood at her door, it hadn’t been Grace for a long time.

Faces appeared like shadows at the windows. So many awful faces, their features contorted, their expressions rabid, their pallor ghost-white in the moonlight. Jennet swallowed hard. Ghosts – yes, that was exactly what they were. They were ghosts of her past. She forced herself to look at them, to recognise them. One by one, she breathed their names into the darkness. Grace Lund. Alice Holgate. Jennet Preston. James Device. Alison Device. Grand-mama. Mama…

They were no longer themselves, but she had known them once. She had known them and she had wronged them. She had betrayed them, she had abandoned them, she had caused them pain.

She had killed them.

Jennet swallowed hard. She had spent so many years trying to run from her past. So many years hiding, so many years denying who she was. But those faces at the window knew the truth. They knew, and now they were here for their revenge.

Faces became fists, a frenzied blur of hands hammering on the windows, the door, the walls. Jennet watched in horror as the wooden door shook violently, its rickety hinges straining with the effort of keeping those abominations outside. It wouldn’t be long until her defences were breached. It wouldn’t be long until they were inside.

It wouldn’t be long until they had her in their grasp.

Unable to bear it any longer Jennet screwed up her eyes, shutting them tightly. She clasped her hands together in prayer, trying to stiffen her resolve, trying to suppress her sheer terror at her impending doom. There was no escape from this. Night after night these creatures had come for her; they had taken the man she loved, they had trapped her and now there was no choice but to submit to her fate.

“Our Father, which art in Heaven…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…hallowed be Thy name…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…Thy Kingdom come…”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

“…Thy will be done…”

The cry of surrendering hinges forced Jennet’s eyes to burst open. Instinctively she fell backwards as a creature lunged for her. It looked like Mama – the same red hair, the same distinctive green eyes set unevenly on its thin face. But she knew it wasn’t Mama. It couldn’t be; Mama had died a long time ago, and it had been all Jennet’s fault. The creature grunted, its tongue lolling thirstily, blood pouring from its mouth, its nose, its ears. Jennet shrieked as it grabbed her, baring a set of wolf’s teeth, as sharp as knives, ready to sink into her flesh. She closed her eyes again. This was it, she told herself. This was the end. It would all be over soon.

The sound of a swinging blade swept past her ears, followed by a pained cry and a dull thump on the ground. The sound repeated again and again, all around her, echoing like music in the darkness. And then, silence. It took Jennet a moment to realise that the creature had relinquished its grip upon her, that all the banging and scratching had ceased. Even when she did realise, she didn’t believe it. This was her mind playing tricks on her, she told herself. Surely, she was dying. Surely, the creatures had won. In the darkness and the silence, she sat and waited, not daring to open her eyes.

“Jennet?” A familiar voice called to her. A voice she thought she would never hear again.

Jennet held her breath. It couldn’t be him. He was dead. She knew that he was dead.

“Jennet? It’s me. Open your eyes.”

He lit a candle and held it up to her face. “See? It’s me. It’s all over now.”

Her eyes flickered open, her vision blurry as it struggled to adapt to the candle’s glow.

“William? Is it really you? You came to get me?”

He smiled, that handsome, familiar grin lingering upon his lips. “Of course,” he replied. “I promised that I’d never leave you.” He shuddered, surveying the gruesome scene around them. “In the name of our Lord, what were those things?”

“My past, I believe,” Jennet murmured her reply.

William frowned. “Well they’re gone now.” He held out his hand, helping her to her feet. “Come on, let’s go.”

As they headed out in the dark night, Jennet glanced over her shoulder, casting her eyes over those shadowy ghosts one last time.

“The past is never gone,” she whispered to herself. “Just buried, that’s all.”


Don’t forget The Gisburn Witch and A Woman Named Sellers are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers and are £1.99 until the end of October.

Halloween Chills and Magic Circles

At the beginning of October, I announced that my Witches of Pendle series is half price on ebook for the whole month of Halloween!

To continue the Halloween celebrations, today I’m pleased to bring you an extract from the first book in the series, The Gisburn Witch. In this chapter, Jennet and her new friends Elizabeth Device and Old Demdike go in search of a magic circle, said to have been used by a powerful cunning man. The women find themselves in woodland as the evening draws in and darkness and strange spirits abound…


Southern Pendle Forest, Near Huntroyde Hall

April 1597

“Are you sure we should be looking for this?” Jennet asked. Her earlier excitement had been replaced by nerves, and she kept glancing over her shoulder anxiously. The evening seemed unusually dark for the time of year, even by the standards of the Pendle countryside where day could often become night with remarkable rapidity. The weather was also beginning to turn, and Jennet noted the force with which the wind was toying with the tall trees overhead, teasing apart the delicate branches so that they appeared to swirl against the backdrop of the fading light. Although much of what was known as Pendle Forest had long ceased to be covered with the thick foliage to which it owed its name, this particular area did contain some small areas of woodland, and it was one of these little woods that Jennet and her two companions now sought.

“Mother is determined to find his circle,” replied Elizabeth. “Anyway, we’ve come too far to turn back now. Look, over there you can see the light from Huntroyde. We must be close.”

Jennet nodded. Elizabeth was right: ever since Edmund Hartley’s execution a month ago, the talk of the forest had been filled with tales of the bewitching and the magical, and through these tales Elizabeth’s mother had heard about a magical circle used by Edmund to ward off those who would do the devil’s work. Old Demdike had not been able to curb her curiosity and according to Elizabeth she had talked of little else these past weeks. With good reason, Jennet had thought, when Demdike had enthusiastically recounted the full tale to her during their journey. The recent events at Huntroyde Hall were nothing short of fascinating.

Two years earlier, a cunning man of high repute, Edmund Hartley, had been brought to Huntroyde to cure the two Starkie children, John and Anne, of the bewitchment which had taken hold of them in the form of seizures. After administering certain charms and remedies, Edmund appeared to have been successful, and the children were cured until about six months ago when their symptoms returned. In making more strenuous attempts to cure the children permanently, Edmund had created a circle so powerful that he could use it to command spirits to help him identify and defeat the witch who was cursing the children. The circle had ultimately proved to be his undoing, as he involved his employer, Master Nicholas Starkie, in the ritual and in the end, when Starkie decided that it was Edmund who was bewitching his children, he brought the story of the circle as evidence against him. Invocation of the spirits was, of course, punishable by death and Edmund was sent to the gallows. However, none of this had seemed to deter Old Demdike’s enthusiasm and she was determined to find the circle. Jennet was not certain of the exact purpose of her quest, although she suspected that the aged cunning woman hoped that, through mere contact with this magical artefact, she might emulate a practice which had previously been beyond her powers.

“Ah!” exclaimed a voice. “Here it is!”

Jennet peered in front of her, forcing her eyes to focus in the dim light. In the dusk she could just see a circle carved in the dirt and not much more. She could see Demdike slowly and deliberately bend down and trace her fingers over the ground. The old lady’s eyesight really was poor and Jennet reflected that it was nothing short of miraculous that she had managed to locate the circle this evening, which really showed her determination to find it.

“A circle made up of four parts, just as I thought.” Demdike spoke affirmatively.

“Should you touch the circle, Mother?” asked Elizabeth. Jennet could sense her growing reservations about their expedition.

“Perhaps not lass, but its magic is spent, I am sure of that.”

The conversation was interrupted by the sudden and fierce howling of the wind and the three women shivered with the realisation of the growing cold.

“Let’s return home,” said Elizabeth. “I feel a chill in the air, and we don’t want to get ill. Besides, I left John with the children and he will be wondering where I am by now. Have you seen all you need to see, Mother?”

In the dark Jennet sensed the old lady nod in agreement and the women turned to follow their path back home. As they did so, they heard the sharp and urgent sound of twigs breaking underfoot. Fearing their discovery on Starkie land, Jennet tried to stifle a gasp as she turned to see who was there. To her surprise, she could not decipher any human shadows in front of her. Instead, in front of the circle, where they had been standing moments earlier, were two eyes, glowing green and staring intently at her. By now the light had almost faded from existence, but Jennet could just about make out four legs and a creature which was just about the size of a dog. She breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s just a dog,” Jennet informed the others. “It’s nothing to worry about.”

“A black dog,” replied Demdike.

 

The three women returned to Malkin Tower late that evening, much later than Jennet had anticipated; in her ignorance of Pendle’s exact geography she had not realised just how far away Huntroyde Hall would be from her new friends’ home. At this late hour, it was impossible to return to Gisburn tonight, in the dark and unaccompanied. Her companions realised this and upon arriving back at Malkin, they offered her some blankets so that she might stay the night. The three children and John, Elizabeth’s husband, were sleeping and for the first time Jennet was able to appreciate the peace and calm of this house, alone and isolated as it was on the Blacko hillside.

Jennet was tired and weary from another long walk, yet also elated, fuelled by the adrenaline of their venture. Her two companions had talked of nothing but the strange black dog they encountered at Edmund Hartley’s circle all the way home. It had just looked like an ordinary dog to Jennet, but Old Demdike seemed quite fixated upon it, as though it held some significance to the remains of the ritual she had examined, as though it had held the key to what had happened to Edmund Hartley. The more Jennet thought about it, the more it unnerved her, and the less inclined she felt to ask about it, even now in the safety of Malkin Tower.

“Won’t your husband worry?” asked Elizabeth, interrupting Jennet’s thoughts and clearly concerned for her new friend.

“Probably,” replied Jennet. “But he would be more concerned if he discovered I walked home alone, in the dark. If you don’t mind the best thing for me to do is to stay here for tonight.”

“Of course we don’t mind,” replied Elizabeth, kindly.

Both women glanced at Old Demdike, who was muttering to herself about the evening’s events.

“What is it, Mother?” asked Elizabeth.

The old woman appeared to be wild with her ideas. Jennet was momentarily concerned by her incessant mumbling, as though she was suffering a sort of madness. Hearing her daughter address her, Old Demdike looked up and remembering they had company, she composed herself.

“The sight of that black dog is troubling my mind,” she replied, with a hint of weariness. Clearly the afternoon’s events were beginning to tell on her physical and mental state.

“But surely, it was just a black dog? An animal from the nearby estate perhaps and it had simply lost its way and found itself in the woods?” asked Jennet.

Demdike looked at Jennet and released a sharp intake of breath, appearing to physically deflate as she did so.

“It’ll be difficult for you to understand, Jennet, I know. But you have to believe me when I tell you that it was not a mere black dog that startled us all tonight.” Old Demdike lowered her voice to a whisper. “Some say that the Starkie children are troubled still, even now that Edmund Hartley lies cold in the ground and despite the efforts of the two preachers who have been brought to Huntroyde to cast out their demons. I have heard that they are menaced by animal spirits and mainly by a black dog.”

Jennet gasped. “So it is true, then? Edmund Hartley was a witch? He brought the devil to Huntroyde to torment the children after being employed to help them?”

“Many folk around these parts think so, no doubt the Starkies do too,” replied Demdike. “I have my own theory: the black dog is one of the animal spirits that Edmund Hartley invoked to counter the magic of the witch who was attacking the Starkie children. However, because this spirit was attached to Edmund Hartley, because Hartley was his master and Hartley is now dead, the spirit remains here still, haunting the lives of those responsible for his master’s death.”

Jennet was incredulous. “And we saw it tonight?”

Demdike laughed. “Fear not, Jennet. The spirit has no business with us, you can sleep soundly.” The old woman yawned. “Speaking of which, I am exhausted and you must be too. We should all get some rest.”

Demdike turned to head towards her bed then quickly turned back to Jennet as though she had forgotten something.

“Oh, Jennet?” she said.

“Yes?” replied Jennet, half-yawning herself.

“I have something to help you with your troubles,” said Demdike, giving Jennet a meaningful stare.

The old woman handed Jennet a piece of cloth, inside which something was wrapped. Jennet gasped as she opened the piece of cloth, for inside was a small object, modelled in clay and shaped like a man’s penis.

“What am I to do with this?” Jennet asked, barely able to whisper.

“Place it under your pillow and sleep with it there every night. Once you are with child, leave it under your pillow until after the child is born. I gathered from your words to my daughter earlier that you have suffered the loss of many children. This will help you, as long as you don’t remove it until after you are safely delivered from child-bed,” Demdike advised in a very matter-of-fact manner, as though she might be a physician offering a remedy to a patient.

Jennet nodded in response. It was the strangest-looking item and indeed the strangest idea that she had ever heard. She could only imagine what William would say when he saw it. She couldn’t imagine what he would say if it actually worked.

“Thank you, this is very kind of you,” she replied, with genuine gratitude.

“It’s no trouble, Jennet,” Demdike said kindly. “You came with us tonight, hardly knowing either of us, and facing considerable danger, yet you came nonetheless. I doubt my daughter would ever have agreed to come with me if it hadn’t been for you. This is my way of thanking you.”

Demdike glanced at Elizabeth, who had been listening quietly and who smiled in agreement. Jennet nodded again. Without a further word between them, the three women retired to their beds, exhausted by the day’s events. That night, Jennet dreamt of the child she wanted, the child she had dreamt of many times before, the daughter with the brown curls in her hair, the freckles on her nose, a nose which wrinkled when she laughed. This time, however, the dream seemed different: they were running through the grounds of Westby Hall, laughing, and the girl was so vivid that Jennet could almost touch her. When she awoke, instead of sobbing as she normally did, Jennet smiled. This time she felt sure that the girl would be born, and that she would live.

The Gisburn Witch and A Woman Named Sellers are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers and are £1.99 until the end of October.

50% off The Witches of Pendle Series Ebooks for October

Background of this banner is based upon a section of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pendle_Hill_01.JPG by Immanuel Giel Licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License / CC-BY-SA-4.0Background Photo by Immanuel Giel / CC-BY-SA-4.0

October – the month of Halloween, of ghouls and witches and things which make you scream!

Now admittedly, the ‘witches’ in my books are far from frightening. Nonetheless, to celebrate Halloween I’m pleased to announce that for the month of October, both ebooks in my Witches of Pendle series are half price! That’s 50% off The Gisburn Witch and 50% off A Woman Named Sellers.

Both novels are available from Amazon  and most other ebook retailers. Grab yours now!

A Woman Named Sellers reviewed by The Historical Novel Society

I am so delighted that the Historical Novel Society has reviewed my second novel, A Woman Named Sellers.

If you’d like to read the review, follow the link below:
Historical Novel Society – A Woman Named Sellers Review

A Woman Named SellersA Woman Named Sellers
Released: 31st May 2016

Twenty years after the first witch trials, is history about to repeat itself in Pendle?

Following the sudden death of her father, Jennet Sellers arrives in Barley to live with the Holgates, her relatives whom she barely knows. Grieving, and thrown into the turmoil of her new, cramped household, she finds solace in new friendships and in her attraction to the handsome, charismatic stonemason from Cumberland, William Braithwaite.

However, Jennet has a secret; a terrible, guilt-ridden secret which has haunted her since childhood. As Jennet finds herself falling in love with William, her life also begins to unravel, threatening to remove her thin veil of anonymity and reveal who she really is. Then, when a little boy starts telling tales about witches, suddenly Jennet finds that she is in the middle of a painfully familiar situation which puts not only her life at risk, but also threatens the lives and happiness of those she loves the most.

A Woman Named Sellers is a novel about love, forgiveness and atonement which asks, is it ever possible to escape your identity and your past?

Witches of Pendle Giveaway

I’m pleased to announce that I’m hosting a giveaway via Goodreads. One lucky entrant will win a paperback copy of each of the books in the Witches of Pendle Series. This includes a copy of my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch, along with a copy of the second book in the series, A Woman Named Sellers. You have to be in it to win it, so click on the link below…

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Woman Named Sellers by Sarah L. King

A Woman Named Sellers

by Sarah L. King

Giveaway ends December 18, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

A Woman Named Sellers Released a Day Early

I had originally planned to released A Woman Named Sellers exactly a year after the release of my first novel, The Gisburn Witch. However, it appears that a mistake by my husband, who helped set up the publishing on Amazon for me, has resulted in the book being released a day early.

I will just have to roll with this slight change to my plans as thankfully the book was ready to be published anyway. It has been an enjoyable 12 months of writing and editing, and I am very pleased with the final result.

Anyway, I had better spend the rest of the post plugging my book so that everyone will go out and buy it!

A Woman Named SellersA Woman Named Sellers
Released: 31st May 2016

Twenty years after the first witch trials, is history about to repeat itself in Pendle?

Following the sudden death of her father, Jennet Sellers arrives in Barley to live with the Holgates, her relatives whom she barely knows. Grieving, and thrown into the turmoil of her new, cramped household, she finds solace in new friendships and in her attraction to the handsome, charismatic stonemason from Cumberland, William Braithwaite.

However, Jennet has a secret; a terrible, guilt-ridden secret which has haunted her since childhood. As Jennet finds herself falling in love with William, her life also begins to unravel, threatening to remove her thin veil of anonymity and reveal who she really is. Then, when a little boy starts telling tales about witches, suddenly Jennet finds that she is in the middle of a painfully familiar situation which puts not only her life at risk, but also threatens the lives and happiness of those she loves the most.

A Woman Named Sellers is a novel about love, forgiveness and atonement which asks, is it ever possible to escape your identity and your past?

Available at: Amazon / iTunes / iTunes UK / Smashwords / Kobo

A Woman Named Sellers Release Date

I’m delighted to announce that my second novel, A Woman Named Sellers, will be released on 1st June 2016.

The novel will be available in both paperback and e-book format.

This book will come out a year to the day after I released my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch, and it is the second book in my Witches of Pendle series. The story takes place twenty years after the infamous Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 and follows Jennet Sellers, a woman with a dark past who finds herself caught up in the witch trials of 1634.

I’m so proud of this book and can’t wait to put it out there. Roll on 1st June!

Sellers Release Banner

Cover Reveal: A Woman Named Sellers

I am very excited and proud to finally reveal the cover for A Woman Named Sellers. The cover image is from SelfPubBookCovers.com/diversepixel.

It is a beautiful image which suits the story so well. I cannot wait to see it on the front of the first paper copy!

A Woman Named Sellers