Alice Kyteler

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Dame Alice Kyteler (1280 – later than 1325), is said to have been 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 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 incurred local resentment because of her vast wealth and involvement in moneylending. When her fourth husband, John le Poer, fell ill 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 obsessed with the laws of the church and morality.[8] When the case was presented before him in 1324, he seized the opportunity to tackle what he considered the important issue of witchcraft.[9]

Ledrede made initial attempts to have Kyteler arrested, and Kyteler called on the assistance of powerful friends. The bishop was jailed and questioned by Sir Arnold le Poer, Seneschal of Kilkenny. 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. Ledrede's use of the decretal designed to protect the faith Ut inquisitions (1298) demanded that secular powers should concede to church wishes, and this point of law became a thorny issue throughout the trial.[7] 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 40 days before arrest) allowed Alice to flee to Rodger Utlagh; Ledrede accused 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. Kyteler fled the country, it is said to England. She appears no further in contemporary records. The Bishop continued to pursue her working-class associates, 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. Kyteler's son, William Outlaw, was also accused inter alia, of heresy, usury, perjury, adultery, and clericide. William "recanted" and was 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 considered as evidence of the struggle with the devil, with the "dangers" of witchcraft voiced by the papacy in Avignon.[4]

Pope John XXII listed witchcraft as a heresy in his bull Super illius specula. Kyteler's was one of the first European witchcraft trials, and followed closely on the election of this pope (1316–1334).[7]

Incubus[edit]

The case appears to involve 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 ... – that is, that Kyteler had intercourse with a demon named as "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.[10]

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.[11]

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. ^ edited by Karl Reichl, Medieval Oral Literature [1]
  9. ^ "The Burning Times". BBC News. 
  10. ^ Yeats, William Butler. "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen". Poem Hunter. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "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]