Devon Witches

The Mystery of Alice Molland

When I began writing ‘The Black Hours’ I read many accounts of horrible trials, terrible persecutions and much suffering, mainly inflicted on poor, vulnerable women who have largely been forgotten and denied justice. These women, accused and executed for witchcraft, are all too often merely names on a long list. Their sufferings have become scary stories; the fact they were human beings, with hopes, dreams, fears and families somehow disregarded. Now we picture witches as ugly old hags, flying on broomsticks with cats in tow, casting spells and causing misery.  I wanted to pay homage to these forgotten women in some small way, and decided to name the characters in my book for those that had suffered in reality. So Alice Pendle’s surname is in honour of the Pendle witches, who will be the subject of a future post, and her Christian name is in honour of a certain Alice Molland, reputed to be the last person to be executed for witchcraft in England.

Alice was one of the ‘Devon witches’ also known as the ‘Bideford witches’ commemorated by  a plaque in the ruined gatehouse of Rougemont Castle in Exeter. As can be seen from the plaque, Alice was executed three years after Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles. The trial of the first three women is well documented and has been extensively written about. There has even been a campaign to have them pardoned. Temperance was accused of causing death through witchcraft, while Susannah and Mary faced charges of causing illness in the same way. Under terrible pressure and no doubt utterly terrified, the women blamed each other for their alleged crimes. Not surprisingly, they were all found guilty and were hung in 1682.

Alice Molland plaque

Little is known about Alice, however. In most articles she is merely an afterthought in the last lines. And despite the plaque, her death is sometimes stated as having occurred in 1684. I have been unable to find out exactly what she was accused of, whether she confessed, or even how old she was and whether she had any children or a husband to mourn her passing. If you happen to visit the castle, then please consider spending a moment or two to pause at the plaque, and spare a thought for poor Alice Molland and the many others like her, forgotten by history, her story lost to us. And if anyone knows any more about her, I would be delighted to hear from you.