WITCHES OF IRELAND PART 1 – ALICE KYTELER, THE BLACK WIDOW OF KILKENNY

alice

Long before the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, attention was brought to bear on the small medieval town of Kilkenny in the Kingdom of Ossory.  One of the earliest ever recorded witch trials took place in the early 14th century against a local businesswoman and serial bride by the name of Alice Kyteler – and what a sensational trial it was.

So who was the local entrepreneur and femme fatale who caused uproar in the Irish legal system and brought the Ecclesiastical authorities of Ireland to their knees?

THE BLACK WIDOW

Alice Kyteler’s family were Flemish brokers and they had settled in Kilkenny sometime towards the end of the 13th century with just one child, a daughter.  Alice learned the ropes of the family business and grew up to be very shrewd, so it came as no surprise that her first husband was an affluent local businessman and financier by the name of William Outlaw.

Believed to have married in 1280 when Alice would have been only sixteen or so, they went on to have a son, also called William.  The banker’s wife groomed her son for great things and by an early age he had gained positions of authority within the local community.  By 1302 William’s father was dead and Alice was already onto her second marriage.  Husband number two was another moneylender by the name of Adam le Blund, from the market town of Callan on the Kilkenny/Tipperary county borders.

Both parties were already wealthy before the union, however marriage brought them a new level of power and prosperity.   The couple’s wealth and status had left feelings of acrimony running high in the parish and rumours had already began to circulate that Alice’s first husband had not died from natural causes.  The locals were convinced that Alice and Adam had in fact, committed murder.

The fire of fear and distrust aimed at Alice Kyteler was beginning to take hold, however it would appear that Alice and the events surrounding her insisted on adding fuel to the growing flames.  In 1307, Adam le Blund relinquished all legal entitlement to his own wealth and gave what was effectively full Power of Attorney to his stepson William, together with the complete nullification of William’s debts agreements.  This incident was deemed all the more suspicious as Adam had offspring of his own from a prior marriage and was in seemingly good mental and physical health.  Two years later he was dead.

1309 saw Alice wed for the third time.  Richard de Valle was an affluent landowner from the neighbouring county of Tipperary and once again the marital union was short lived.  A seemingly fit and well Richard died mysteriously, leaving all his wealth to Alice.  The son of the unfortunate deceased, also called Richard, kept hold of the assets and was the subject of legal proceedings, as the widow demanded her rightful wealth.

By the time Alice Kyteler married yet another wealthy landlord, Sir John le Poer, the local rumour mill was in overdrive and the whispering of foul play continued.  In frighteningly similar circumstances to her first three husbands, John’s health began to decline, in spite of his relatively young age.   John’s finger nails and toe nails were discolouring and falling out, he was rapidly going bald, and the little hair he had left was devoid of pigmentation.  As his ailments increased and his already poor health took a decided turn for the worse, two game changing events took place.  First of all, with no regard for his own blood kin, John made a will bequeathing all his money and assets to Alice and her son William.  The second, fearing for his life, John turned to the church for help. By 1324 he was dead and the whispers had turned to shouts of witchcraft.

KYTELER’S INN

kytelers-inn

Despite marrying prosperous landowners, Alice insisted that she remain in her birthplace on St. Kieran’s Street in Kilkenny.

As a rich wife and ultimately an incredibly wealthy serial widow, Alice did not need to work, however her focus was on building and maintaining a thriving business.  She continued with her practice of moneylending, made easier by having the perfect location to conduct her affairs.

Kyteler’s Inn wasn’t just any old hostelry. It was a meeting place for local businessmen who all vied for the attention of the bewitching Alice, showering her with gifts and money.   It should therefore come as no surprise that this was the very place Alice set eyes on her ill-fated husbands to be.

Whilst the attention of so many of the wealthy local male population was scintillating for Alice, she was a canny businesswoman first and foremost.  She hired the most luscious and alluring of young women to work in her premises, enticing men from their wives and responsibilities and spending their money in Kyteler’s Inn, making her establishment the most successful in Kilkenny.

It was also here in the inn that Alice was said to work her sorcery and that her patrons were bewitched by Alice and her alleged coven.

SORCERY, THE CHURCH AND THE LAW

Contrary to popular belief, the Church often turned a blind eye to sorcery, accepting that some forms of Malficium were minor offences and that the medical benefits offered by those who practiced such arts outweighed the ‘crime’.  As such, any issues relating to witchcraft were dealt with by the local authorities and not the Church, except in the case of direct heretical doctrine.

Unfortunately for Alice, this all changed when Pope John XXII came to the Papal Throne in 1316.  He was genuinely terrified of witchcraft and was convinced his life was in jeopardy, leading to the granting of sweeping powers to his Inquisitors.

Pope John XXII published a definitive list of practices that would constitute heresy and subsequent prosecution by the Church, particularly in relation to demon worship and pacts with the devil.

pope-john-xxii

Unfortunately for Alice, this canon law reached Ireland and in particular, Richard Ledrede, the Bishop of Ossory.

ACCUSATIONS, ARRESTS AND ABSCONDING

Whether out of bitterness of being cheated from their respective inheritance or genuine concern that Alice Kyteler was indeed a witch, the children of her last three deceased husbands joined together and called upon the assistance of Richard Ledrede.

Richard was a devout Christian and fanatical with seeking out and punishing heretics.  He was unhappy that respect for the Church and canon law were fading and that the law of the land took precedent.  He had the necessary background to implement Church doctrine and proceed with charges of heresy against Alice and her son William Outlaw, however he was up against resistance from local law enforcement and Alice’s very powerful contacts.

Having heard the allegations from Alice’s stepchildren, Ledrede went ahead and charged Alice, her maid Petronella and her son William with heresy.  The charges included denying the Faith, desecration of the church with black magic rituals, sorcery, demonic animal sacrifice, murder, controlling members of the local community with potions and spells and fornicating with a demon known by many names including Robin Artisson, in exchange for power and prosperity.

Richard’s first attempt at arrest was thwarted by the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlaw, a relative of Alice’s first husband.  He advised Ledrede that there could be no warrant issued for the arrests without the accused having first been excommunicated for at least 40 days and a public hearing.  Meanwhile the well timed intervention of another relation by marriage, Sir Arnold de Poer, senior steward of Kilkenny allowed Alice to flee to Dublin and saw the imprisonment of Richard Ledrede.

While Richard was in prison, the whole of the diocese of Ossory saw an embargo on funerals, baptisms and marriage.  As the majority of the population believed in Hell and eternal damnation, the public outcry was too much and the Bishop of Ossory was released.

Incarceration left Ledrede incensed and he heightened his efforts to prosecute Alice, her son and maid by involving the Justice of Ireland, who insisted upon a full witch trial.

William Outlaw pleaded guilty to the charges of heresy, illegal money lending, adultery and perverting the course of justice.  His punishment was to attend three masses a day, donate to the poor and agree to reroof the cathedral with lead.

WITCH

In the meantime, Alice had absconded and the trial continued in her absence.  The alleged depths of her depravity and heresy began to be revealed to the court.  The witch Kyteler was said to have used a human skull to brew her potions, with ingredients including parts of corpses, the innards of fowl, worms and insects and the clothing of deceased infants.  The concoctions were said to rouse her innocent victims to do her bidding, with acts of love, hatred or murder.

Alice and her coven were said to have conducted black masses in the churches, sacrificed and dissected livestock to bargain with demons at crossroads and Alice herself was accused of continued carnal relations with a powerful demon in order to maintain her position of influence over the local community.

The final accusations were of the murder of each of her four husbands.  Evidence regarding her last husband, John le Poer was put forward.  He had no nails, they were ripped from their beds and left bleeding, all bodily hair had fallen out and he was completed withered away to a skeleton at the time of his death.

While Alice had disappeared, some say to England with the help of her well positioned male acquaintances, her maid was not so fortunate.

Petronella de Meath was tortured repeatedly in Kilkenny Jail until she confessed to being a witch and a member of the coven of Alice Kyteler.  On 3rd November 1324, Petronella was the first woman in Ireland to be burned at the stake as a witch.

burning-at-the-stake

THE LEGACY OF ALICE KYTELER

So what of Alice? Well Alice Kyteler was never heard of again – whether she used witchcraft to cloak her whereabouts or was helped abroad by calling on infatuated men of position we will never know.

What we do know, is that the accusations and the trial were very real indeed.  They remain documented as they have been for centuries and the trial changed the balance of law and power back in favour of the Church.

The most exciting revelation of this account is that the locations remain.  The Jail still stands, bars on windows.  As you stand on the street, peering into the eerie darkness of the cold, cramped cells, a shiver runs up your spine at the realization there could be something ethereal staring back at you, perhaps the tormented blackened soul of Petronella de Meath.

Kyteler’s Inn is still the most famous hostelry in Kilkenny and the spirit of Alice is said to remain, watching over her establishment and the revelers within for eternity.

So was Alice Kyteler indeed a witch, or just the most successful and richest business woman in medieval Ireland? Perhaps if you come across her in Kyteler’s Inn, you can ask her yourself!

alice-sculpture

I shall leave you with Alice, immortalised in the words of W. B Yeats:

"A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
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."

 

 

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL – 7 TRANSATLANTIC TALES OF TERROR!

As 4th July celebrations are well under way and the United States of America celebrates Independence since 1776, I took a look at 7 infamous creepy connections between the USA and Ireland and the UK.  Each starts or ends in America and each case is more chilling than the next!

Typhoid Mary, New York

Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone in 1869 and left to begin a new life in America at the age of 15.  With a nature talent for cooking, she began to take up placements in wealthy homes as a cook – and that’s when her reign of terror began.

Based in New York, from 1901, Mary left a trail of sick and dead as she moved from post to post.  Impossible to trace as she would leave as soon as typhoid took hold, she eventually changed her name as she continued to spread the disease and avoid detection.

Typhoid Mary was quarantined for the last time in 1915 and sent to Riverside Hospital on Brother Island in New York, where she remained until her death in 1938.  While only 3 deaths were officially attributed to this silent killer, many more have been linked.  Typhoid Mary continues to haunt Brother Island, proclaiming she has done nothing wrong.

Bridget Sullivan, maid of the infamous Lizzie Borden, Massachusetts

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden

Bridget Sullivan was a 26 year old maid from Ireland and working for the Borden family in Fall River, Massachusetts.  In 1893 she was the star witness for the prosecution in the case against Lizzie Borden – on trial for the gruesome murder of her father and stepfather.

Both were axed multiple times in the family home, the motive being Lizzie resented a will change in favour of her stepmother.  Due to a lack of evidence, Lizzie was acquitted.

The murder house is now a B & B and is such a hotbed of paranormal activity that Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters TV Shows have filmed here.  Disembodied voices and apparitions are rife, however the most meaningful sighting is that of Bridget Sullivan doing her chores and trying to speak – perhaps to say what really happened that day.

RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

RMS Queen Mary

The Queen Mary was a Cunard Cruise Liner built in England to compete with European superliners.  Her maiden voyage was her assigned route between Southampton and New York in 1936.  With the outbreak of the Second World War she was seconded to military service and used to ferry and deploy Allied Forces.

After more than 30 years of service, including wartime, the Queen Mary left Southampton for the last time and docked in Long Beach.  In 1971 she was officially opened as a tourist attraction and then a year later as a hotel.

In recent years she has been the subject of several paranormal investigations including television’s Ghost Hunters.

Listed in Time Magazine as one of America’s Top Ten Haunts, RMS Queen Mary is subject to the sounds of ghostly child laughter and the apparition of a sailor killed in the engine room.  There are also reports of unidentified spectres and the spirits of crew members who died when the Queen Mary collided with the HMS Curacoa just off of the coast of Ireland.

With almost 50 official deaths on board in her lifetime and more still undisclosed by the military, the British ship Queen Mary may well be one of America’s most haunted places.

Francis Tumblety, suspect in the Jack the Ripper Murders, New York and Maryland

Francis Tumblety, Jack the Ripper suspect

Francis Tumblety, Jack the Ripper suspect

Francis Tumblety was an Irish born American citizen who practiced as a doctor of sorts.  With a seeming distaste for women, he gained wealth and social standing but not without incident, as he was arrested for being involved in the Lincoln assassination.

It was while he was in London in 1888 however, the murders of five prostitutes took place that were attributed to the unknown killer labelled Jack the Ripper, and Tumblety was a prime suspect.

Having been arrested for an unconnected charge by the Metropolitan Police, he absconded and fled back to the United States once he discovered he was being investigated for the Whitechapel Murders.

The matter was publicised and Scotland Yard pursued Francis, however no extradition ever took place – Jack the Ripper was never caught.

Doctor Crippen, Murderer, Michigan.

Dr. Crippen

Hawley Harvey Crippen was a homeopathic medical practitioner in the United States.  Upon the death of his first wife, he moved to New York and remarried Cora Turner.  Together they moved to England in 1895.

Unable to sustain a decent career as his time was spent socialising and managing his wife’s failing stage career, they moved to an address in Holloway, London and took in lodgers to supplement their paltry income.

Following a January party at their home in 1910, Cora disappeared, with Crippen claiming she had returned to the U.S.

On further investigation, Scotland Yard began to suspect Crippen of foul play but there was no evidence and no body.  Spooked by the enquiries, Crippen went on the run and boarded a ship called the Montrose, bound for Canada.

Following a further extensive search of the house, human remains were discovered, buried beneath the cellar.  A wanted notice had been put out for the fugitives and the captain of the Montrose recognised Crippen and his lover.

A wireless telegram was sent to Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector Dew in charge of the case pursued on a faster ship arriving ahead of the Montrose.

Crippen was arrested and returned to London, where he was convicted and hanged on 23 November 1910.  His waxwork is one of the most notable exhibits in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors in London.

Goody Glover, Witch, Boston, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Witch Trial

Massachusetts Witch Trial

Ann ‘Goody’ Glover was born in Ireland and during the time of the Cromwellian wars was arrested alongside her husband because of her Catholic faith.

The pair were sent to Barbados as slaves, where her husband died, tormented for his religion.  Ann and her daughter found themselves in Boston in 1680, where she took work as a servant in the home of John Goodwin.

In 1688, as the maniacal puritan obsession with wiping out sorcery was beginning to take hold, the children of the house all took ill.  The doctor attending stated that it could only have been caused by witchcraft and Goody was accused.

The eldest daughter stated that she became sick immediately after an argument with the housekeeper.  At trial Ann Glover refused to speak anything other than Irish and as such her testimony was invalid and further proof that she was a witch.

Goody Glover was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to hang in November 1688.  While undoubtedly mentally unwell, in later years the Irish Catholic was deemed to be have been persecuted for her faith and on the 300th anniversary of her execution was memorialised and given her own commemorative day on 16th November in recognition of the injustice done.

Roanoke, the Lost Colony, North Carolina

Lost Colony of Roanoke

During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh was tasked with founding a settlement on the east coast of North America.  In 1584, the first meetings took place with local natives on Roanoke.

The first attempt at settling were fraught with battles with indigenous dwellers and the lack of a relief fleet.  Finally Sir Francis Drake rescued the remaining settlers and returned to England.

In 1587, led by the artist and appointed Governor John White, 115 British men, women and children, including his own granddaughter arrived at Roanoke to create a new colony.  When they landed, they discovered that the few settlers who had remained previously had disappeared, only a single human skeleton remaining.

Terrified they tried to reboard the ship, however the Captain refused them passage and insisted they remain behind as instructed.  As unrest continued, Governor White returned to England to beg for leniency and the return of the settlers.

Due to the Spanish war and bad weather, White was unable to return to Roanoke until the summer of 1590, where he found nothing.  Not one colonist, one tool, the fort completely dismantled.  The men, women and children of the Roanoke British Colony had completely vanished.

The only clue was the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into a tree.  Both English and Spanish forces began a hunt for the lost settlers, carrying on until at least 1600, believing the colony to have relocated, however they were never found.

Theories of slaughter by natives, integration with locals or relocation abounded, however no bodies, evidence or artefacts were ever found.  To this day the 115 remain the lost Colonists of Roanoke.

Happy 4th July!