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Some Irish History



Alice Kyteler, convicted witch


Kilkenny Ireland, 1324 —

Dame Alice le Kyteler was accused of witchcraft, found guilty, and sentenced in court of law to burn at stake. She didn't, though; she escaped before the fire and slipped out of history.

Kyteler was a wealthy and powerful woman. Her father, a merchant of Anglo-Norman descent, built the Kyteler house in 1300. It's big for any age. Alice was rich and well-connected - and had powerful enemies.

The facts of her case are hard to find and there are different versions, a story based upon small-town gossip and treachery 700 years ago.

Alice's first husband, William Outlawe, died while married to her — as did three others. People developed suspicions. Not everybody liked her, either. Apparently she had learned about the money-lending business from her first husband, and she practiced it skillfully. A lot of people were indebted to her.

Then, she arranged herself as the sole beneficiary of the estate of the final husband, John Le Poer. He had three children — she disinherited them.

When Le Poer began suffering a mysterious wasting disease, he and the children began to think that Alice was doing something. Whether or however she was involved in the deaths of her husbands was a speculation. People talked.... With former husbands dead; with William le Poer ill and the doctors unable to name the disease; and with his offspring bereft of their financial heritage.... they and he accused Alice of witchcraft.

The story goes that le Poer and his children went to Alice's seaside home (yes, she was wealthy) and found "terrible items" implicating her in the practice of dark arts. The details in various accounts expand to a catalogue of gruesome and sacrilegious pieces of evidence: body parts of an unbaptized infant; evil powders; communion wafers imprinted with satanic images; the fingernails and toenails of corpses boiled in the skull of a robber; candles made of human fat. Alice must have been busy, if the reports were all true.

The le Poer family put the terrible items into crates and brought the crates to the Bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledrede.

Witchcraft had just begun to become an obsession amongst some in the Catholic Church, which was the dominating institution in Ireland as in most of Western Europe. Alice was in trouble.

Alice's powerful enemies insisted that she was a witch — but she had powerful friends as well. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland was her brother-in-law. Her son William, dear to her, was a friend of the treasurer. She had enough power that when Bishop Ledrede came to investigate her, she had him imprisoned in the castle.

The Dean of St. Patrick's cathedral in Dublin was outraged by Alice's imprisonment of the Bishop — and it was outrageous. There followed a power struggle.

Bishop Ledrede came out of 17 days in jail with a renewed interest in the prosecution of Ms. Kyteler.

The result was a conviction — of Alice, her son William, and ten others.

Alice's maid Petronilla died by burning, after a severe beating. William was sentenced to hear mass three times daily for a year, to feed some people, and to reroof Saint Canice's cathedrala job that he did poorly. The other nine took their place amongst bit-players in history.

Alice disappeared before the execution, and her fate is obscure.