Kilkenny is an old Norman medieval city in the southeastern part of Ireland, and
it is well known for its 13th and 14th century buildings and narrow alleyways. It
has a small population today, around 20,000 but it has two cathedrals, one Church
of Ireland and the other Roman Catholic. The Church of Ireland is called St Cannices,
while a nearby RC Church is also called St Cannice.
Dame Alice Kyteler (rhymes with Hitler) was an Irish noblewoman in Kilkenny in the
fourteenth century. Between 1324 and 1325 she and her son, William Outlawe (Uitlagh
in Gaelic) with ten other men and women, were accused of sacrificing to demons and
casting all manner of wicked spells on people—especially the local bishop.
Dame Alice Kyteler was born at Kyteler's House, Kilkenny, where her father carried
on a banking business, around the year 1280, so she was already well into middle
age by the standards of the time when the witchcraft episode occurred. Her family
came to Ireland after the Norman conquest of 1169. When her father died in 1298,
Alice, who was an only child, inherited his business and properties.
After his death she married one of his former associates, William Outlawe, who was
also a highly successful banker from Coal Market Street and like her father, of Norman
stock. This man was the brother of Roger Outlawe, Chancellor of all Ireland, whose
position and power could one day play a dramatic part in the saga of witchcraft and
heresy for which she would be charged, found guilty and sentenced to death.
William Outlawe was twenty years older than Dame Alice when they married in 1299.
She bore a son for him a year later, who for the sake of clarity here, will be called
William Junior, although that term was not in use in Dame Alice's day. Shortly after
that, Dame Alice decided to build an addition to their house extending it to Kyron
Street (St. Kieran Street) and develop it as an inn which still stands today.
Alice was a good looking, highly sophisticated woman, who could manipulate men into
giving her lavish gifts of money and jewels. Because of this, Kyteler's Inn soon
became the rendezvous for wealthy men, both young and not so young, who craved for
the attention of the alluring Dame Alice.
But there was a darker side which was beginning to manifest itself in rumor and hearsay,
of Satanic rites, practiced by their fascinating host. These rumors were spurred
when William Outlawe Senior died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. It was
said that upon forcing open a cupboard in the basement, he had discovered a terrible
assortment of "Maleficia"- jars and bowls of evil smelling entrails of cocks and
eyes of ravens, horrible worms and sprays of deadly night-shade, dead men's hair
and fragments of unbaptized babies, cooked in a pot made from the skull of a beheaded
Months later, Dame Alice married another banker from Callan, named Adam Le Blont.
It is believed she had a daughter by Le Blont whom they called by the unusual name
of Basilia. In 1310 Dame Alice was once again a widow as Le Blont died after a "drinking
spree". As her first husband Outlawe had left her a wealth of money and property,
so too did Le Bont leave her all he possessed.
Dame Alice was fast becoming one of the wealthiest women in Kilkenny and if gossip
were to be believed, the most wicked woman alive. She had gathered a bevy of young
maidens around her to help with the running of the inn which was the busiest in Kilkenny.
But reports were rife that they were also used as participants in Dame Alice's experiments
in demonology. One maiden is particular, pleased her more than all the others. She
was named Petronella of Meath. Petronella would eventually pay the ultimate price
for her expertise in the art of witchcraft and necromancy.
Dame Alice married her third husband in 1311. He was a wealthy landlord who owned
extensive properties in and around Clonmel. His name was Richard De Valle. Richard
departed the land of the living long before his appointed time. It seems he grew
suddenly ill while in the prime of life and died after a sumptuous supper. He had
bequeathed all his land and properties to Dame Alice in his last will and testament.
She was now one of the wealthiest persons in the province of Leinster. Only the princes
of the Church could command greater wealth and resources.
All the while, Dame Alice had been indulging herself deeper and deeper in the art
of demonology. Her favorite demon was Robin, Son of Artisson, who was also her lover.
And she presided over nightly gatherings at the crossroads where living animals were
cruelly dismembered and offered to demons.
The "narrative" is a Latin manuscript which was written during the time of the Kyteler
Excommunication. The manuscript was published in 1843 under the title Contemporary
Narrative of the Proceeding Against Dame Alice Kyteler, Prosecuted for Sorcery in,
1324 by Richard de Ledrede, Bishop of Ossary. Forty pages of close packed print is
proof positive of the terrible events that necessitated the inquisition (Harley MS
641 British Museum).
Dame Alice married her fourth husband around the year 1320. This man was also of
Norman stock as were his predecessors. John Le Poer had been a constant customer
over many years at Kyteler's Inn and had fallen into the snare of Dame Alice's spell,
wherefore it was claimed she could infatuate men and bring them to such a state of
mind that they gave her all the riches they possessed.
John Le Poer was brother of Arnold Le Poer, Seneschal or Major-domo of Kilkenny.
By 1323, John found himself suffering from many different sicknesses. Although he
was only middle-aged, he became feeble and slow. His hair fell out in patches and
what remained turned silvery grey and his finger nails fell out. [NB. - These symptoms
almost sound like thalium poisoning as practiced by Graham Young and certain other
20th century poisoners. If so, Dame Alice was most certainly ahead of her time! -
Fearing that it was Dame Alice's doing, he went just before he died to the Friars
at Saint Francis's Abbey for help. They in turn contacted Richard de Ledrede, Bishop
of Ossory, giving him full account of Dame Alice's coven of witches and her alleged
responsibility for the deaths of her four husbands. Also there was the charge that
she abjured the faith and claimed that Christ was a mere man who was justly put to
death for his own sins.
Richard de Ledrede made every attempt to have this coven of witches arrested but
was hindered because they were very influential people. Remember Dame Alice's former
brother-in-law was Roger Outlawe, Chancellor of Ireland and in the frequent absence
of any other authority from London, the de facto ruler of the English Pale, the small
area of central and eastern Ireland where English law and custom held sway.
The Bishop did, however hold an inquisition in 1324, at which she was found, by common
agreement of all the judges, secular and religious, to be guilty of witchcraft and
magic, of heresy and of having sacrificed to demons. For all of which she and her
faction of sorcerers were excommunicated from Mother Church and their goods confiscated
and they were to be handed over to the secular authority.
But this was easier said than done. It was, in fact, the Bishop who was arrested
and put under lock and key in Kilkenny jail. And there he remained for seventeen
days on bread and water. This scandalous treatment, says the Narrative, was something
unheard of in Ireland until then.
It was only after John Darcy the Lord Chief Justice travelled from Dublin to Kilkenny,
that the Bishop was released. Darcy proceeded to examine the facts put before the
inquisition and declared the sentence just and proper. And so the tables were turned
once again on Dame Alice.
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 to the
But by the political power of the Chancellor, her former brother-in-law Roger Outlawe,
her escape was organized. 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.
But her hand-maiden, Petronella of Meath wasn't so lucky. To placate the howling
mob that had gathered around the huge bonfire in front of the Tholsel, in the centre
of Kilkenny, Petronella would be sacrificed in place of Alice. Already badly shaken
from the whippings, she confessed her guilt to everything she was charged with. She
told them it was at Dame Alice's instigation she had denied that Jesus Christ was
the son of God; also that she had called up demons and received responses from them
and performed many abominations of the flesh.
But she rightly claimed that Dame Alice's demonic powers by far exceeded her own
and she begged for mercy. She got none. Petronella of Meath, was burned alive at
the stake before a brutalized, chanting mob, as she screamed in vain for her mistress
to come to her aid. But Dame Alice had begun a new life in far off London, never
again to set foot in her native Kilkenny.