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Dame Alice Kyteler (1263 – later than 1325) was the first recorded person condemned for witchcraft in Ireland. She fled the country, but her servant Petronilla de Meath was flogged and burned to death at the stake on 3 November 1324.
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 de Valle, a landholder of County Tipperary. After de 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.
In 1302, Kyteler and her second husband were briefly accused of killing her first husband. She 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 and undermine/overpower the church
- using sorcery and potions to control Christians
- possession of a familiar, Robin Artison, a lesser demon of Satan
- murder of husbands
Richard de Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory, sought to uphold the laws of the church and morality. When the case was presented before him in 1324, he began his larger project of addressing witchcraft.
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. Kyteler was related to the Chancellor (he was probably her first husband's brother) and he asked the bishop to drop the case. A delay in proceedings (the Chancellor insisted the accused be excommunicated 40 days before arrest) allowed Alice to flee to Roger Utlagh; Ledrede accused him of harboring heretics, but a commission cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Alice and her accomplices were accused of and investigated on seven accounts:
- Committing heresy
- Sacrificing to demons
- Communing with demons
- Magically excommunicating/usurping the church
- Making love and hate potions to corrupt Christians
- Murdering her past husbands
- Engaging in a sexual affair with a demon
After some months of stalemate, one of Kyteler's servants, Petronilla de Meath, was tortured, and confessed to witchcraft. Her confession detailed her involvement, along with Alice's, in six out of seven of the above listed crimes. It would seem, although her testimony was likely forced and unreliable, that the accusers gained most of their information from this confession. Although the testimony did implicate Kyteler to performing heresy, questions concerning Petronella's credibility come into light, especially when examining the contents of her confession. In Ledrede's retelling of Petronilla's confession, he writes:
On one of these occasions, by the crossroads outside the city, she had made an offering of three cocks to a certain demon whom she called Robert, son of Art (Robertum filium Artis), from the depths of the underworld. She had poured out the cocks' blood, cut the animals into pieces and mixed the intestines with spiders and other black worms like scorpions, with a herb called milfoil as well as with other herbs and horrible worms. She had boiled this mixture in a pot with the brains and clothes of a boy who had died without baptism and with the head of a robber who had been decapitated ... Petronilla said she had several times at Alice's instigation and once in her presence, consulted demons and received answers. She had consented to a pact whereby she would be the medium between Alice and the said Robert, her friend. In public, she said that with her own eyes she had seen the aforesaid demon as three shapes (praedictus daemon tertius), in the form of three black men (aethiopum) each carrying an iron rod in the hand. This apparition happened by daylight (de die) before the said Dame Alice, and, while Petronilla herself was watching, the apparition had intercourse with Alice. After this disgraceful act, with her own hand she (Alice?) wiped clean the disgusting place with sheets (kanevacio) from her own bed.
It is said Kyteler fled to England. She appears no further in contemporary records. The Bishop continued to pursue her working-class associates, bringing charges of witchcraft against them. Petronilla de Meath was flogged and burned at the stake on 3 November 1324. Petronella'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.
Chronology of events
- c.1280—Alice Kyteler marries her first husband William Outlaw.
- 1302—Alice and her second husband, Adam le Blund, are accused of homicide.
- c.1316—Alice's third husband, Richard de Valle, dies and she sues his heir for the widow's share.
- 1317 April—Pope John XXII appoints Richard Ledrede as bishop of Ossory.
- October—Ledrede arrives in Ossory and holds a synod.
- 1320 August—John XXII sends a letter to the justiciar of Ireland regarding complaints of harassment and imprisonment made by Ledrede.
- 1324? -- Ledrede accuses Alice Kyteler and her associates of witchcraft and heresy.
- March/April—Arnold le Poer imprisons Ledrede for 17 days.
- Dublin parliament; the magnates, including Arnold le Poer and Maurice FitzThomas, swear to discipline their own people and followers (lineages).
- Arrest of heretics by Ledrede.
- November—Petronilla of Meath burnt for heresy and witchcraft.
- William Outlaw's penance payment is guaranteed by the magnates.
- 1325 January -- Alexander Bicknor deserts to the queen's party while on an embassy to France.
- 1326—The feud between the le Poers and Maurice FitzThomas worsens.
- Maurice FitzThomas and John le Poer, baron of Donoil, are allowed four months to discipline their followers; Arnold le Poer goes to England.
- 1327 January—Deposition of Edward II by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.
- 1327/8 -- Ledrede appeals to Isabella and is given permission to come to court but fails to use it, later claiming that Bicknor and Outlaw had closed the ports against him.
- Arnold is confirmed as seneschal of Kilkenny and given custody of Kilkenny castle.
- The "Munster war" breaks out between the le Poers and Maurice. A jury later claims Ledrede attended a meeting to coordinate Maurice's "rebellion."
- Ledrede alleged to have instigated an attack on the le Poer castle of Moytobir.
- 1328 -- Adam Duff O'Toole burnt for heresy
- Justiciar orders the magnates to stop fighting
- Arnold returns. Ledrede charges him with heresy and has him imprisoned in Dublin castle.
- Ledrede sends a petition to court complaining of his treatment by Arnold.
- The justiciar, Thomas FitzJohn, sends the king an indictment of Ledrede by the people of Ossory, seizes his temporalities and summons him to Dublin.
- 1329 January—Roger Outlaw purges himself at the Dublin parliament of Ledrede's heresy accusations.
- March—Arnold dies in prison.
- Archbishop Bicknor summons Ledrede to Dublin to answer charges of aiding and abetting heretics.
- June—Ledrede flees Ireland and England, ignoring a royal summons to appear before the king. Writs are issued for his arrest.
- Edward III warns John XXII against Ledrede. Bicknor excommunicates Ledrede.
- 1330 October—Edward III seizes control from his mother and Mortimer. He sends further letters warning the pope against Ledrede.
- 1331 May—At the request of the papacy, Edward III restores Ledrede's temporalities.
- 1332—The cathedral roof paid for by William Outlaw collapses during a storm.
- A jury accuses Ledrede of having conspired to support Maurice in his "rebellion" of 1327.
- The dean and chapter claim Ledrede purged himself of rebellion at the Kilkenny parliament of 1328.
- 1333—Ledrede returns to England; the Pope urges Edward III to assist him and other Irish prelates against heretics.
- John XXII writes to the archbishop of Cashel ordering him to promulgate in his province a processus pontificum against heretics.
- 1335 November—Pope Benedict XII writes to Edward III on behalf of Ledrede.
- 1339 June—Edward III orders the writs against Ledrede to be revoked.
- September—Edward III orders the escheator of Kilkenny to obey the writ issued in July restoring Ledrede's temporalities.
- Roger Outlaw dies while holding office as deputy judicier; Bicknor succeeds him.
- 1341 February—Ledrede sends a petition to the king claiming that Bicknor had planned to murder him in 1329.
- 1343—Bicknor is cited by the papacy for impeding Ledred in his prosecution of heretics.
- Ossory is exempted from the jurisdiction of Dublin. The papacy orders an inquiry into Bicknor's protection of heretics.
- 1347 April—Ledrede receives a royal pardon and secures his temporalities back from the king; he returns to his diocese.
- 1349 July—Death of Alexander Bicknor.
- Restoration of Ossory to the jurisdiction of Dublin.
- 1351—Ledrede refuses a royal tax on the clergy, the 1347 pardon is revoked and the temporalities resumed.
- 1355—Ledrede is granted a royal pardon and his temporalities restored. He is accused of instigating a violent attack on a priory.
- 1356/7 -- The English chancellor, John Thoresby, archbishop of York, drafts a letter to the pope asking for Ledrede's removal, accusing him of senility, madness, and persecuting his parishioners.
- 1360—Ledrede dies.
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.
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).
Kyteler's 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".
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.
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 premiered in Kilkenny in 2011.
A short story by Emma Donoghue, 'Looking for Petronilla', tells the story of Alice Kyteler and her maid. The story appears in the collection The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (Virago, 2002).
The Kyteler Witch, is a novel that explores the relationship between Petronella de Meath and her employer Lady Alice Kyteler, written by Candace Muncy Poole, 2014.
- Kyteler's Inn - pub in Kilkenny which markets itself using Kyteler's name
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