The Witch of Kilkenny

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  • Moments in Kilkenny History

Dame Alice Kyteler

Dame Alice Kyteler was born in 1280 into a noble Kilkenny family. She was married four times, and each husband died. On the death of her last husband, Sir John le Poer, Alice's children accused her of using poison and sorcery to kill him. They brought their case before the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, in 1324 in the hope that their mother would be arrested and they would gain her fortune.

Bishop de Ledrede investigated these accusations by visiting Alice and speaking to her children. According to the Bishop, Alice and her followers rejected the Christian faith. He claimed that they dismembered animals at crossroads and offered the pieces to demons. He also accused them of making horrible witches' brews, which included the entrails of roosters, worms, dead men's fingernails, and naughty children, which they cooked in the skull of a thief.

Burnt at the Stake

The bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlawe, to have Alice arrested. This backfired on the bishop, as the Chancellor was Alice's brother-in-law and would do nothing against her. Ledrede himself was then imprisoned by Sir Arnold le Poer, the seneschal of Kilkenny and another brother-in-law of Alice's. 
After seventeen days in prison, the bishop was released and carried on with his mission to have Dame Alice tried for heresy.

Dame Alice eventually fled to England in 1325 and was never heard from again. Bishop de Ledrede continued to pursue her followers. He accused Alice's maidservant, Petronella de Meath, of heresy, and had her flogged and burned at the stake in 1324. This was one of the first cases of a person being charged with witchcraft in Europe, and Petronella was the first person in Ireland to be burned at the stake for heresy.