Medieval Dungeon - Torture

The First Witch Trial In The British Isles

In the history of witch trials, we can go as far back as the beginning of Christianity and later on Catholicism. Being part of the church didn’t even ensure your safety among your people. History is cruel to those who dare be just a little different.

Women And Witchcraft

Throughout history, we have read about the various women who, back in the early days, suffered persecution and accusation of witchcraft. When anything wrong seemed to happen, they were the ones to blame. 

The women were at fault, and they viewed it as suspicious if it happened more than once. The suspicion turned towards the idea that the female must be at fault and a witch.

Pagan - Altar - Witchcraft
Pagan – Altar – Witchcraft

The Witch Of Kilkenny, Ireland

One of the earliest witch trials in the British Isles was that of Alice Kyteler, known as ‘The Witch of Kilkenny, Ireland.’ Dame Alice Kyteler was born in 1280 and was a member of a noble family in Kilkenny. 

Alice was married four times, and each husband died under mysterious and unfortunate circumstances. After her fourth husband, Sir John le Poer, died, Alice’s children accused her of poisoning him and using sorcery to kill him. I bet she was thinking, ‘Thanks, my beloved children, aren’t you supposed to have my back?’

Poison Ring
Poison Ring

Alice’s children brought the case to Bishop de Ledrede, who investigated the accusations. He found that Alice and her followers strongly rejected the Christian religion, so something evil was afoot. 

He claimed that Alice and her followers dismembered animals at crossroads and handed them to the devil for sacrifices. He also accused them of making horrible witches’ brews with entrails of birds, dead men’s fingernails, naughty children, and the skulls of thieves. 

When It Comes Back Threefold

The bishop then wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland. At the time, Roger Outlawe, who sounds like he could be a villain, had Alice arrested. However, what the bishop didn’t realise and would put a pin in the bishop’s plan, was that Chancellor Roger Outlawe was Alice’s brother-in-law. 

Knight Hall
Knight Hall

He had nothing against Alice. In fact, he quite liked her. What happened next had the bishop arrested by Sir Arnold le Poer, another of Alice’s brothers-in-law. 

The bishop spent seventeen days in prison. The bishop was more determined to bring Alice to justice when released. He made it his personal goal to get Alice to her knees and justice for her four husbands and children.

Fool Me Once Shame On You

Dame Alice Kyteler was a resourceful woman. She grew up in a world of noblewomen surrounded by wealth. Alice knew how to blend in when coming close to being burned at the stake. 

With the money she had accumulated from her past husbands, she fled to England in 1325. Allegedly, she changed her name and embraced a new identity, as they did not hear from her again. Her brothers-in-law and a couple of her children who stood by her weren’t as lucky. 

Torture Wheel - Städtisches Museum Zittau
Torture Wheel – Städtisches Museum Zittau

These members, including her right-hand maidservant Petronella de Meath, were accused of heresy. They ended up flogged and burnt at the stake in 1325. 

This was one of the very first cases of a person charged with witchcraft in Europe. Petronella was the first person in Ireland to burn at the stake for heresy. 

According to historical records, this was the first case of witchcraft in condemning someone to burn at the stake in Ireland. This trial served as the precedent for future witchcraft and heresy cases, including the execution. The act of burning witches in Ireland lasted until 1895.

A Story Worth Retelling

Europe and the United Kingdom are home to some of the best literature. They feature the story of Dame Alice Kyteler in several novels, plays, and poetry, including a poem from William Butler Yeats titled Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.


But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon.
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks. 

— WB Yeats, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen (1921)

Paula Phillips

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