Dame Alice Kyteler
Alice was born to wealthy Norman parents in 1263.
Her first husband was William Outlawe, a local banker and they had a son, also called William, who was to feature strongly in the saga of her life. Her husband became ill and died suddenly within a few years of marriage.
Shortly after the death of William Outlawe, Alice married her second wealthy husband, Adam de Blund of Cullen who soon also died suddenly and mysteriously.
Alice was now substantially wealthier and married Richard de Valle and the pattern continued with his early, sudden and mysterious death.
It was the fourth husband of Kilkenny’s ‘Merry Widow’ however who unwittingly began a chain of events that would lead to Alice being convicted on charges on witchcraft before an ecclesiastical court. Some years after his marriage to Alice, landowner Sir. John de Poer showed signs of illness. His hair and nails fell out and he became weak and sickly. Shortly before he succumbed to death, he changed his Will to the benefit of Alice and her son William, an act which resulted in anger and resentment among his other family members. Armed with rumours (which may have been false and inspired by local jealousy), they brought charges of witchcraft and sorcery against Alice before the English-born Franciscan Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Lederede. They claimed that Alice had ‘bewitched’ her husband and forced him to change his Will. His Lordship convened a Court of Inquisition which included five Knights and several Noblemen which heard evidence that Alice headed a coven of witches and had sex with a demon called Artissen, who is sometimes depicted as Aethiops, the mythical founder of Ethiopia.
What followed next was a legal and political battle in which Bishop Lederede tried, but failed, to get the Temporal Authority to arrest and condemn Alice, her son William Outlawe and several of her friends and servants. The Bishop was himself arrested and imprisoned in Kilkenny jail, but on his release he continued his campaign, demanding that Alice appear before him. She wisely refused and promptly left for England, returning a year later to Dublin where she urged the Archbishop to condemn the Bishop of Ossory for unlawfully excommunicating her. A showdown between the Commissioner and Bishop Lederede took place in Dublin and ended with the Bishop returning to Kilkenny from where he demanded that Alice be arrested.
Alice was held in the dungeons of Kilkenny Castle where in those medieval times, for one to be found guilty of witchcraft was a most serious offense and one that carried the sentence of death. Dame Alice and her disciples were condemned to be whipped through the streets, tied at the back of a horse and cart after which Alice, as chief priestess and instigator would be burned at the stake.
But by the political power of the Chancellor of all Ireland, her former brother-in-law Roger Outlawe, her escape was organised. Her guards were beaten senseless and Dame Alice was released from the dungeons beneath Kilkenny Castle and freed from the sentence of death that hung over her.
The Kilkenny Witchcraft Trials did however take place. William Outlawe was convicted and ordered by Bishop Lederede to attend three Masses every day and to give alms to the poor. He was also made to repair the roof of St. Canice's Cathedral as punishment. This light sentence was in sharp contrast to the torture handed out to less wealthy friends of Alice, including her maid Petronella who was tortured, whipped and finally burned at the stake in front of a large crowd outside the Tholsel on the 3rd of November 1324.
Alice disappeared from history following her second escape to England in 1324.
A verse from W.B. Yeats' 'Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen'.
Gravestone of Jose Kyteler, father of Alice. It was discovered on High Street in 1894. Click to expand.
Kyteler's Inn, owned and run by Dame Alice Kyteler until she fled in 1324. It still runs today as a place of food and drink.