Paula reviews 'Daughter of Pendle' by Rowan Scot-Ryder
This story is set in the early 17th century in Lancashire in
the north west of England. Anyone who has grown up in this area (like me) knows
the story of the ‘Pendle Witches’, a group of women who were found guilty of
witchcraft and hanged.
Pendle Hill is a long, low hill about 1,800 feet high which
dominates the landscape of the eastern part of the county. In the 17th century,
it was covered with more forests than today, and was surrounded by small
villages, some with less than a dozen cottages. The area was said to be wild
and lawless, and superstition was rife. Anyone who was ‘different’ was open to
suspicion, including those who mixed potions of herbal remedies for the poor
families who had no recourse to any other medical help.
In addition, King James I, convinced that he was being
plotted against by witches, enacted a law imposing the death penalty on any
practitioners of witchcraft or the ‘magical arts’. Of course, the local
justices of the peace were only too anxious to obey the king’s demands and,
hopefully, to earn promotion by doing so.
As Rowan says in her introduction to the story, history is written
by the accusers, and not the accused i.e. in this case, the official record of
the trial. Rowan, however, looks at the ‘other’ side of
the story, mainly through the eyes of eleven-year-old Jennet Devize.
When her family was accused of witchcraft, Jennet stood up in the crowded court
room at Lancaster Assizes, and denounced them all. History has portrayed her as
a vindictive child from an abusive family – but is there another explanation?
Jennet Devize is the last of the Demdike clan, and a true
daughter of Pendle.
Known for centuries as the child of witches, she spoke
against her whole family at the Lancaster Assizes in 1612, condemning them to
death. What was the truth behind her betrayal? What happened after the trials?
Could she build a life and be loved, become a mother and a
healer, or would the accusation of witchcraft follow her forever?
This story was a fascinating
glimpse of Jennet’s family and the events leading up to the trial, as well as
the aftermath for Jennet during the next 25 years, based both on fact and also
on Rowan’s vivid, but very believable, imagination. I felt I got to know the
characters well, and I was transported back to the days when belief in
witchcraft was very strong. And, believe me, the last line of dialogue will
bring goosebumps to every reader who has heard or read anything about 17th
century accusations of witchcraft .