Acknowledging the Annals: A New Perspective on Witchcraft in the Alice Kyteler Trial



 
 Acknowledging the Annals: A New Perspective on Witchcraft in the Alice
Kyteler Trial

Session:Politics, Condemnation, and Sorcery in the Fourteenth Century

By Vanessa R. Taylor, Catholic Univ. of America

This paper dealt with the witch trial of Alice Kyteler.

The trial of Alice Kyteler was a turning point in how heresy and witchcraft were defined by the Medieval Church in the 14th century.

The general public supported Alice. There were 7 charges laid against her and her accomplices; she was accused of making sacrifices to demons and of murdering her 3  husbands. Alice was accused of poisoning her husbands – the 4th husband appears to have been rescued by the Church, yet sources do not indicate that he participated in her trial.

This trial should be considered the cultural construction of the witch trial – that which upon future trials were modelled, and which helped cement the stereotype of the witch.

No one had suffered the penalty of death prior to Alice’s assistant Petronella.  Alice was accused of having a host with the devil’s name inscribed on it; host desecration was also a accusation leveled at Jews, and conisdered and act of sacrilege. There was also an early description of what appears to be a witch’s broom that later became a synonymous symbol of the witch. Alice was accused of incubus (sex with the devil or demons). The accusations were considered serious and not far fetched in the minds of her chroniclers. Chroniclers often built on each others work; one can look at these types of chronicles of witch trials as a genre. Alice was deemed a witch, not a heretic – this is an important distinction as her trial was the turning point in differentiating between heresy and witchcraft.

Her trial was not so much a template, but more a guide for future witch trials. Certain characteristics emerged that place a definition of witchcraft well before the 15th century. The stereotypes used in later trials were already established in the 14th century.

What was the outcome of this trial? Alice fled but her servant, Petronella, was burnt at the stake on November 14, 1324.