In the febrile religious and political climate of late sixteenth-century England, when the grip of the Reformation was as yet fragile and insecure, and underground papism still perceived to be rife, Lancashire was felt by the Protestant authorities to be a sinister corner of superstition, lawlessness and popery. And it was around Pendle Hill, a sombre ridge that looms over the intersecting pastures, meadows and moorland of the Ribble Valley, that their suspicions took infamous shape. The arraignment of the Lancashire witches in the assizes of Lancaster during 1612 is England's most notorious witch-trial. The women who lived in the vicinity of Pendle, who were accused, convicted and hanged alongside the so-called 'Salmesbury Witches', were more than just wicked sorcerers whose malign incantations caused others harm. They were reputed to be part of a dense network of devilry and mischief that revealed itself as much in hidden celebration of the Mass as in malevolent magic. They had to be eliminated to set an example to others.
In this remarkable and authoritative treatment, published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the case of the Lancashire witches, Philip C Almond evokes all the fear, drama and paranoia of those volatile times: the bleak story of the storm over Pendle.
‘Philip C. Almond does an excellent job of disentangling facts and revealing motivations.’ -TLS
'The Lancashire witch trials of 1612 are the most famous in English history, and now probably the most intensely studied. It is very much to Philip Almond's credit that he manages to find fresh and interesting suggestions to make about them, from a new and close reading of the records. In doing so, he shows the same intense capacity to engage with early modern people, as distinct personalities, that has characterised all of his previous work. This is history at its most vivid: a consistently exciting read.' -Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol, and author of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
‘The Lancashire witch-trials of 1612 represent of the most mysterious and misunderstood episodes from seventeenth-century England. With great skill and care, Philip Almond dispels myths and disentangles a series of complex and overlapping stories to present a gripping narrative about paranoia and power. One of the most fascinating aspects of the case, superbly plotted in this book, is the way that at a precise moment in England’s history the neighbourhood squabbles of a remote community collided with political anxiety at the heart of government. Almond reconstructs these events sensitively and judiciously. The sympathy he shows to the women who died is fitting, but does not obstruct an understanding of the accusers’ motives, their fears and their determination to purge society of evil, however misguided these motives seem today. An ability to make sense of a past realm of reality, and such a strange one as this, is in the finest tradition of historical writing.’ -Malcolm Gaskill, Professor of Early Modern History, University of East Anglia
‘The Lancashire witch trials of 1612 are England’s Salem, yet too few of us know they occurred. In this alert and able study, Philip Almond sets out to correct that, telling the story straight and with great thoroughness and good sense. He has in doing so cast fascinating light on one of the darkest moments in our history.’ -Diane Purkiss, Fellow in English, Keble College Oxford, and author of The Witch in History: Early Modern and Late Twentieth Century Representations
‘...the most detailed and historically accurate account of the extraordinary 1612 trials that gripped Britain.’ -The Daily Express