When Kate Kutas began the painstaking process of researching her family’s links to the man who condemned 10 so-called witches to death 400 years ago, there was a startling surprise in store.
As a youngster, Kate’s grandfather was stark in his opinions of the Pendle witches and keen to point out the family’s links to Roger Nowell, the magistrate who famously sentenced the suspects to hang.
Kate and her sister grew up listening to accounts of how the family were linked to Nowell through their ancestors on her father’s father’s side.
But nothing prepared her for a startling discovery when she started to research her dad’s mother’s family line.
Shockingly it revealed her great great grandmother, Isabella Gabbott, was related to Alice Nutter, one of the most famous Pendle Witches, who Nowell condemned to death.
Records show Isabella came from Roughlee Manor, the rural home where the rich widow lived, surrounded by wealthy land that belonged to her estate after her husband died.
Kate, 48, has spent the last 10 years on and off using the internet to track down the truth behind the family history, and has found compelling evidence to support the link.
This month marks 400 years since Roger Nowell made the first arrests in the case.
The mum-of-two says: “It is quite exciting to think of our links on both sides, especially as this year marks the 400th year since the trials.
“But in another way it is bittersweet because Alice Nutter, I believe, was a innocent old woman who was used as a political pawn because it was seen as a bad thing for a woman to have land and wealth at that time.
“She had been left Roughlee Manor and the lands when her husband died and other people wanted to get their hands on it.
“My sister has already visited the Pendle Witch trail and says it chilled her to the bone, when you realise what they went through. To think one of our relatives walked to her death on the same route.”
Speaking from her home in Northamptonshire, Kate said she plans to visit Lancashire with her sister and mother this summer to further her research.
She said: “We are going to be visiting lots of churches to try and clear up the links before the 18th century because the internet is helpful to a point, until you get back to around the 1700s, when it becomes sketchy.
“A lot of records before that are based in churches so it’s going to take a lot of trawling papers.”
Kate, who has been married for 27 years to Matthew, a furniture agent, adds: “It’s quite strange because we discovered my mother was adopted at birth, and when we traced her birth brother he came from Colne, which is near Pendle so it’s very spooky.”
Their visit comes as thousands of other visitors entranced by the tragic tale of the Pendle Witches are expected to descend on the county to mark 400 years since the trials.
The trials of 1612 are among the most famous in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century.
The 12 accused lived around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of 10 people by the use of witchcraft – all but two were tried at Lancaster Assizes in August 1612.
Of nine women and two men who went to trial 10 were found guilty and hanged at Lancaster.
Six of the Pendle witches came from one of two families, each headed by women in their 80s at the time of the trials – Elizabeth Southerns, also known as Demdike, her daughter Elizabeth Device, and her grandchildren James and Alizon Device as well as Anne Whittle, known as Chattox, and her daughter Anne Redfern.
The other accused were Jane Bulcock, her son John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Gray, and Jennet Preston.