Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pendle - in non-fiction

                        We have seen that Thomas Potts The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster (1613), is the primary source of our information about the trial. The second outbreak of witchcraft, in 1633, is reported by Dr John Webster of Clitheroe in his The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft of 1677, but his book is not a historical work, it is a theological examination of the evidence upon the very existence of witches. 

The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft - John Webster - 1677

This second outbreak is fully reported, using Webster as source, in the extensive study by Dr Thomas Dunham Whitaker, the 'History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honour of Clitheroe, in the Counties of Lancaster and York’, of 1801. But Whitaker makes no reference to the 1612 trials, which for an antiquarian of his calibre is uncanny. He must have had no knowledge whatsoever of the events, as if he had heard even a rumour, it is certain he would have investigated it. 

History of the Parish of Whalley - T D Whitaker - 1801

The revised 4th edition of 1872-6, edited by J G Nichols and P A Lyons, does include a full account and has a footnote: -  
“It is rather strange (remarks Mr. Crossley) that Dr. Whitaker, to whom local superstitions were, always matters of the strongest interest, and welcome as manna to the sojourners in the wilderness, should have been ignorant, not merely of Master Potts's discovery, but even of the fact of this trial of the witches in 1612: and that notwithstanding the pamphlet had been already reprinted in the Somers Collection of Tracts.” 

History of the County Palatine - Edward Baines - 1836

In History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster 2 vols. (1836), Edward Baines has an extremely detailed account of the trials, and cites Potts as his source. And then, barring fictional works and entries in general works about witchcraft and folklore, there is next to nothing dedicated to the Lancashire witches, other than The Trial of the Lancaster Witches (1929) by G B Harrison, which is largely a reprint of Potts. 

The Pendle Witches - W Bennett - 1957

In 1957, Walter Bennett wrote a slim pamphlet for Burnley Libraries and Arts Committee entitled The Pendle Witches. It is an interesting little introduction, although not without some minor errors, and can be read in less than an hour. Now this isn’t going to be a comprehensive examination of all the literature that has followed since, but I will point to some other works. 

The Trials of the Lancashire Witches - Edgar Peel and Pat Southern - 1969

The Trials of the Lancashire Witches by Edgar Peel and Pat Southern (1969) is a nice study, set largely in chronological order of events, and places the trials against the greater seventeenth century background. It’s a little dated now, and would benefit from a revised edition, but it’s a good place to start if you’re interested. 

The Pendle Witches - Richard Catlow - 1976

Another shorter booklet called The Pendle Witches by Richard Catlow appeared in 1976, based on a series of articles from the Burnley Express newspaper, and interesting mainly for some excellent, if at times dated, photographs of the Pendle district. 

The Pendle Witch Trial 1612 - R A C Hasted - 1993

An excellent general history is Rachel Hasted’s The Pendle Witch Trial 1612, (1993), a short (fifty-odd pages) but well-written book, which draws heavily on Potts (and that is a Good Thing), and this may well be the best introduction to the new reader on the subject, although it too has its errors (the author conflates the father and son Thomas Listers in the case of Jennet Preston, for instance). 

The Lancashire Witch Craze - Jonathan Lumby 1995

Much more scholarly, but eminently readable, is Jonathan Lumby’s The Lancashire Witch-Craze (1995), which breaks the events down into small, individual topics and incidents. Lumby also examines the particular case of Jennet Preston in detail, which is very interesting indeed, and the footnotes add to the depth of this book. Recommended.  

The Lancashire Witches - ed. Robert Poole - 2002

The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (2002) edited by Robert Poole is another scholarly work, a collection of essays on specialised aspects of the trials and their aftermath, and so maybe is a little too specialised for the general reader. It is accessible, please don’t be put off, but it is an academic work and not a general history. 

Wicked Enchantments - Joyce Froome - 2010

Finally, Wicked Enchantments: A History of the Pendle Witches & their Magic (2010), by Joyce Froome, who is assistant curator at the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Devon. Froome is keen to place the witches in a tradition of Wicca, and is very good on spells, charms and cunning folk. There are some errors – for some reason Froome has Malking Tower instead of Malkin Tower throughout, for example – but on the whole it is a welcome addition to the literature, with a pleasingly different slant on the subject, although I imagine Dr John Webster of Clitheroe might beg to differ.

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