The Witch of Knaresborough By ….. Catherine Cavenidish
My novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches.
Needless to say, as mine is a horror novel, my witches are a pretty evil bunch –
powerful too. But back in fifteenth century Yorkshire, not all that far from Pendle, lived a witch of a very different sort.
In 1488, some say in a cave near the Petrifying Well, a young girl gave birth to an illegitimate daughter: one who would be called Ursula Sontheil but whom history would remember as Mother Shipton.
Mother Shipton was not exactly England’s answer to Nostradamus, but she developed a reputation for her prophecies.
These involved not just the local people around and about Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, where she lived, but also the great and good of her time.
One of the most famous of these was the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who had never actually visited that city. Mother Shipton predicted he never would. In an attempt to dissuade her from repeating these assertions, the somewhat rattled Wolsey sent three lords to Knaresborough to see her. They told her in no uncertain terms that one of Wolsey’s first acts on reaching York would be to see her burn for witchcraft. She laughed in their faces. After all, why should she be scared? He would never get there in order to carry out his threat.
The Archbishop was furious
and made haste to travel up from London and prove her wrong. But, just ten miles south of the city, he was arrested for treason and Mother Shipton’s prophecy was fulfilled.
Many of her other predictions are legendary – and, shall we say – subject to a certain amount of embellishment and creative interpretation. Did she really predict the advent of ships, submarines, motor transport and airplanes?
In water, iron then shall float
as easy as a wooden boat…
Through towering hills proud men shall ride, no horse or ass move by his side. Beneath the water, men shall walk, shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk. And in the air men shall be seen, In white and black and even green.
Around the world men’s thoughts will fly, quick as the twinkling of an eye
Indeed, if all the interpretations are to be believed, she predicted the French Revolution, the rise of Nazism, Benjamin Disraeli and just about every disaster – man-made or otherwise – since the year of her birth. She may have even predicted the European Union (although I don’t see any reference to Brexit!)
Whether true or not, you can today visit the famous Petrifying Well and the cave where she was reputedly born. The Petrifying Well is said to be unique and, if you take along a teddy bear, leave it there and return five months later, it will have turned to stone. Although, if you can’t wait that long you can always buy one in the shop ( ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’!)
She may have got some things wrong though – including the date of the end of the world which she allegedly gave as ‘eighteen hundred and eighty one’, (however, it is entirely possible that the inclusion of any such date was added by someone else, after her death. One of a number of examples of the embellishment I mentioned earlier.)
As 1881 passed and the world carried on, some versions then amended the date, while others dropped it, although I do have a recollection of it being in the little book of her prophecies given to me when I was about eight or nine. That would have been in the early Sixties and I vaguely remember something about ‘nineteen hundred and ninety one’, but my memory could be faulty on this. Mother Shipton was said to have married a man called Toby Shipton at the age of 24 and she lived to be 72, just as she had predicted. Her prophecies and legend live on. Was she really able to see hundreds of years into the future? Or was she just an eccentric, old, poetic witch, mentally a little flaky, but excellent with herbal cures and potions?
We will probably never know…unless we live to see the fulfilment of her prediction of the future after the apocalyptic end of the world:
… the land that rises from the sea will be dry and clean and soft and free
of mankind’s dirt and therefore be, the source of man’s new dynasty.
And those that live will ever fear the dragon’s tail for many year
but time erases memory
You think it strange? But it will be!
Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.
Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.
Hands up. I am a big fan of the kind of horror Catherine Cavendish
serves up in spades. A rich blend of good old spine tingling horror usually served in a historical sauce but with a dash of the present day sprinkled in. The Pendle Witches are well documented. We know their stories, how it happened and the awful ends that befell them. What Catherine Cavendish does so successfully is transport us to that time to try and get to the real story of people who played with fire in their every day lives and suffered the consequences, James by obliging Mistress Towneley in more ways than one, Alizon, by believing a little too deeply in her powers. People who lived in that atmosphere of fear and superstition. But there’s another story and that is that of the recently widowed Laura Phillips and it’s set in the present day.
I won’t spoil things by saying what the link is but the meld is seamless. Hats off to the author for pulling it off.
I turned the pages of this book knowing that eventually I would come to the words, the end, never wanting to reach them.
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Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.
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