The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy is a remarkable new book by John A. Clayton, focusing on the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. He has undertaken extensive research to achieve what seemed impossible, bringing valuable new evidence to light. It was the largest witch trial in England at that time, surpassed only by Matthew Hopkins’ reign of terror as the Witchfinder General nearly four decades later.
No legal records have survived, but the Lancashire case was so sensational that a court clerk, Thomas Potts, was commissioned to write a pamphlet defending the hangings of eleven witches, mostly frail and elderly women. Designed to exonerate the judges from criticism, his account has perpetuated the myths surrounding magic and witchcraft.
In the first half of his book, Clayton details the history of Pendle Forest from the Norman Conquest until the reign of James I. He traces the lineage of Lancashire’s landowning gentry, many of whom were instrumental in the accusations of 1612. Clayton paints a picture of a rising gentry, stopping at nothing in their quest to gain more land. The contrast between their acquisitive lifestyle and the primitive conditions endured by the peasantry is shocking.
The network of intermarriages and family feuds sowed the seeds of resentment among the common people, and in the latter part of the book Clayton probes the forgotten history of those accused of witchcraft. They were part of a vanishing culture, and their closeness to nature and old-time religion made them vulnerable to the forces of change. The term ‘conspiracy’ is over-used but appears to be apt in this case.
For those with a casual interest in the story, this book might be too in-depth. But anyone with a passion to know more about the history of Pendle and the fate of its witches will find it a richly satisfying and definitive study, taking us to the heart of the matter and asking all the right questions, while keeping its enduring intrigue alive for generations to come.
Visit John A. Clayton’s website here
Read more about the Pendle Witches here