Alice Kyteler

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Dame Alice Kyteler (1280 – later than 1325), was an English noblewoman who was the earliest person accused and condemned for witchcraft in Ireland.[1][2] She fled the country, but her servant Petronilla de Meath was flogged and burnt on 3 November 1324.

Life[edit]

Kyteler was born in Kyteler's House, County Kilkenny, Ireland, the only child of a Flemish family of merchants settled in Ireland since the mid-late thirteenth century. [3][4]

She was married four times, to William Outlaw, Adam le Blund, Richard de Valle and lastly to Sir John le Poer.

First husband c.1280–85 - William Outlaw, merchant and moneylender of Kilkenny

Son: William Outlaw, was mayor of Kilkenny in 1305. Daughter: Rose?

Second husband (by 1302) Adam Blund of Callan, moneylender

Third husband (by 1309): Richard Valle, a landholder of County Tipperary. After Valle's death c.1316 Alice took proceedings against her stepson, Richard, for the recovery of her widow's dower.

Fourth husband (c.1316-24) John Poer.[5][6]

In 1302 she and her second husband were briefly accused of killing her first husband. Kyteler also incurred local resentment because of her vast wealth and involvement in moneylending. When her fourth husband John le Poer became sick in 1324, he expressed the suspicion that he was being poisoned. After his death, the children of le Poer and of her previous three husbands accused her of using poison and sorcery (maleficarum) against their fathers and of favouring her first-born son William Outlaw.

In addition, she and her followers were accused of:


-denying the faith of Christ and the Church

-cutting up animals to sacrifice to demons at crossroads

-holding secret nocturnal meetings in churches to perform black magic

-using sorcery and potions to control Christians

-possession of a familiar, Robin Artison, a lesser demon of Satan

-murder of husbands[4][7]

Trial[edit]

Richard de Ledrede,Bishop of Ossory, was hugely concerned with the laws of the church and morality. When the case was presented before him in 1324, he seized the opportunity, and directed his considerable skills to tackling what he considered the important issue of witchcraft. Although there was never a huge quantity of witch-hunt cases in Ireland, fear of witchcraft remained strong in other places for a considerable period.[8]

After Ledrede's initial attempts to have Kyteler arrested, Kyteler called on the assistance of powerful friends, and the bishop found himself jailed by Sir Arnold le Poer, the Seneschal of Kilkenny and had to endure questioning. This was a serious action and on Ledrede's release he renewed his efforts to have Kyteler imprisoned.

The bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Utlagh (Outlaw), demanding that she should be arrested. However, Ledrede's use of the decretal designed to protect the faith Ut inquisitions (1298) demanded secular powers should concede to churches wishes, and this point of law became a thorny issue throughout the trial.[7] Another issue arose for Ledrede in that Kyteler was related to the Chancellor (possibly her first husband's brother) and he asked the bishop to drop the case. A delay in proceedings (the Chancellor insisted the accused by excommunicate forty days before arrest) allowed Alice to flee to Rodger Outlaw and led Ledrede to accuse him of harboring heretics.

After some months of stalemate, one of Kyteler's servants, Petronella de Meath, was tortured, and confessed to witchcraft, implicating Kyteler. Sensing the momentum was with the bishop, kyteler fled the country, presumably to the Kingdom of England. She appears no further in contemporary records. The Bishop continued to pursue her lower-class followers, bringing charges of witchcraft against them. Petronella de Meath was flogged and burned at the stake on 3 November 1324. Petronilla's daughter, Basilia, fled with Kyteler to England. Kyteler's son, William Outlaw, was also accused inter alia, of heresy, usury, perjury, adultery, and clericide. After "recanting", William escaped relatively lightly, being ordered to hear three masses a day for a year and to feed the poor.

Significance[edit]

In the late thirteenth and fourteenth century, heresy was understood as evidence of the struggle with the devil. As intellectual developments about the dangers of witchcraft were articulated by the papacy in Avignon, this case stands as a significant practical example of how such arguments could pan out in the real world.[4]

Pope John XXII listed witchcraft as a heresies in his bull Super illius specula. Kyteler's trial was one of the first European witchcraft cases and followed closely on the election of Pope John XXII (1316–1334) to the papacy.[7]

Incubus[edit]

This case appears to contain the first recorded claim of a witch lying with her incubus. Annales Hiberniae state that: Ricardus Ledered, episcopus Ossoriensis, citavit Aliciam Ketil, ut se purgaret de heretica pravitate; quae magiae convicta est, nam certo comprobatum est, quendam demonem incubum (nomine Robin Artisson) concubuisse cum ea ...

i.e. that Kyteler had intercourse with the demon named Robin Artisson.

Literary references[edit]

"Lady Kyteler" figures in William Butler Yeats' poem "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.[9]


The Stone, a novel about the times of Alice Kyteler was published in 2008, written by a Kilkenny woman named Claire Nolan. A musical version of The Stone, based on Nolan's book, with music and lyrics by Jason Paul Ryan and Tom Bolger, premiered in Kilkenny in 2011.

Robin Morgan wrote a novel, The Burning Time (Melville House, 2006; ISBN 978-1-933633-00-8) about Alice Kyteler.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Davidson, Sharon, and John O. Ward, trans. The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler: A Contemporary Account (1324). Asheville, N.C.: Pegasus Press, 2004.
  2. ^ Wright, Thomas, ed. A Contemporary Narrative of the Proceedings Against Dame Alice Kyteler, Prosecuted for Sorcery in 1324, by Richard de Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory. London: The Camden Society, 1843.
  3. ^ Chapter 2: "Dame Alice Kyteler, the Sorceress of Kilkenny.", Irish Witchcraft and Demonology, by St. John D. Seymour, B.D. (1913)
  4. ^ a b c McAuliffe, Mary (2001). "From Alice Kyteler to Florance Newton: Witchcraft in Medieval Ireland,". The History Review XII: 40. 
  5. ^ "Oxford DNB". 
  6. ^ Curran, Bob. A Bewitched Land: Ireland’s Witches. Dublin: O'Brien, 2005.
  7. ^ a b c Williams, Bernadette (1994). "The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler". History Ireland 2 (4): 20-24. 
  8. ^ "The Burning Times". BBC News. 
  9. ^ Yeats, William Butler. "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen". Poem Hunter. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  10. ^ "Kyteler Extract The Burning Time". feminist.com. 

Further Reading[edit]

Brennan, James, 'Bishop Ledrede and the trial of Alice Kyteler: a case study in witchcraft and heresy in medieval Kilkenny'in John Bradley, Diarmuid Healy and Anne Murphy (eds), Themes in Kilkenny's history: a selection of lectures from the NUI Maynooth - Radio Kilkenny academic lecture series 1999 (Kilkenny, 2000), 37-46.

Davidson, L. S. and J. O. Ward, The sorcery trial of Alice Kyteler (1993)

Flood,John, 'Hidden in his story: the ladies of Kilcash' in Journal of the Butler Society, 4:2 (2000), 280-291.

Neary,Anne, ‘The origins and character of the Kilkenny witchcraft case of 1324’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 83C (1983), 333–50 ·

External links[edit]