Alice Kyteler was an Irish woman whose legacy would endure as the first woman convicted of witchcraft in Ireland. She was brought to trial in 1324
Kyteler was a wealthy woman in her 40’s at the time of the trial. She was born in 1280 in Kilkenny, and she seems to have been the only child of an established family of merchants. Her father was a banker, and Alice seems to have been taught her father’s trade and to have continued it as an adult. It’s likely that this would’ve earned the ire of some townspeople, as money-lending was almost always a male occupation.
Alice Kyteler was married for the first time (of what would be 4 marriages) in 1299 or so, to a much older man than herself, named William Outlawe. The two had a son, William Junior, and the family seemed to be prospering quite well. With the profits from her banking business, Alice built an inn–a very successful one. But William Outlawe died rather suddenly, and not long thereafter Alice Kytler married her second husband, Adam le Blund. In 1302, Kyteler and her new husband were arrested and charged with killing Kyteler’s first husband, but there seems to have been a lack of evidence and the two were let go.
But in any case Alice’s second marriage was a short one, as Adam le Blund died during a drinking spree just a few years after their marriage. Alice Kyteler was married for a third time to a local landowner, Richard de Valle. But if William and Adam had not lasted long, neither did Richard; he died after dinner one night just a few years into his marriage to Alice.
All 3 of the men left Alice their entire estates, and this turned out to be a sticking point for the children Adam le Blund and Richard de Valle both brought to their marriages with Alice Kyteler. Both men had been widowers upon their marriage to Alice, and so two sets of children had been disinherited by her. In addition to the inheritance trouble, there were also accusations that Alice had always favored her biological son William Outlawe above her stepchildren and that he had financially benefited from the deaths of their fathers as well.
Alice Kyteler’s fourth marriage to Sir John le Poer would prove to be her undoing, though. When Sir John became ill in 1324, he began to suspect that he was being poisoned. When he died, the children of Sir John and of Alice’s previous husbands banded together and accused Alice Kyteler of using poison and sorcery against their fathers, of favoring her firstborn son, and of conspiring with followers to deny the Christian faith, sacrifice animals, have intercourse with demons, and blaspheme the holy spirit. These claims were brought before Richard de Ledrede, the Bishop of Ossory.
For Richard de Ledrede, the case presented a prime opportunity both to go on a witch hunt, which he’d been wanting to do, and to put to bed his trouble with the locals, who resented his authority because he was an Englishman. But this turned out to be more difficult than he’d expected. Bishop de Ledrede brought charges against Alice Kyteler, but her influence in the community led instead to two months in the Kilkenny jail for the bishop, who refused to drop the charges. He did at least succeed in having Alice Kyteler excommunicated from the church.
In return, Alice Kyteler threatened to sue Bishop de Ledrede for slander and defamation of character and opined that because sorcery was a secular crime, the church courts did not have jurisdiction over her. The result was a months-long stalemate that was broken when one of Alice’s servants, who had also been accused and imprisoned, was whipped and confessed to witchcraft, implicating Alice and her first-born son in her confession.
Petronella, the servant who had confessed, was burned at the stake for her crimes–the first recorded death of its kind in Ireland. William, Alice’s son, was to make reparations for his crimes by feeding the poor and going to mass 3 times a day for a year. Alice was officially convicted of the crimes brought against her, and she was set to be burned at the stake. But she escaped from captivity, taking Petronella’s daughter with her. From there we don’t know what happened to her.
Legend says that Alice Kyteler escaped to England and lived to old age.
And isn’t it pretty to think so?