The Kilkenny courthouse, also known as Grace’s Castle or Grace’s Courthouse, held the witch trial in 1324 against Alice Kyteler and acquaintances, and today is a major tourist attraction in Kilkenny. Although there was much opposition to Bishop Ledrede’s arrest requests, Ledrede did succeed in bringing William Outlaw and Alice’s maid, Petronilla de Midia, to trial. It was almost unheard of for the state courts to offend and criticize a church official as Roger Outlaw and Arnold le Poer did, and the high court in Dublin ultimately allowed the Bishop to proceed with his trial. Alice Kyteler however fled from Ireland, most likely to England or Flanders as historians suspect, and was never heard from again. The Dublin high court officials travelled to Kilkenny where the trials were to take place. Le Poer, the king’s chancellor, stayed at William Outlaw’s house while in Kilkenny until Ledrede’s formal accusation of heresy and arrest of William.
While imprisoned in the Kikenny courthouse, William Outlaw and Petronilla de Midia were exposed to the papal decree’s inquisitorial procedure. Torture was sanctioned in the Church’s decree, and Bishop Ledrede used this to his advantage to gain confessions from the accused. Torture was not a legal means of extracting confessions under state laws, and Ledrede abused his ecclesiastical power and used torture in the trials regardless of this. He ordered Petronilla be whipped 6 times, yet even after receiving this punishment she was still burned at the stake. William Outlaw on the other hand was able to reduce his sentence of imprisonment to penance with the help of his influential friends.
The outcome of this trial reveals just how unjust the court systems at this time really were. Although torture was not a legal inquisitorial method in the secular courts, it was considered lawful in the ecclesiastical courts. Because both courts came together for the crime of witchcraft Ledrede was able to trump the secular officials in his sentencing, although the exact reasoning for this is unknown and Ledrede never provided an explanation for why he chose to solely punish Petronilla so harshly. A Kilkenny reporter of the time, John Clyn, said that, “it was neither seen nor heard of that anyone suffered the death penalty for heresy in Ireland”. The exceptionality of this case as draws tourists to the Kilkenny courthouse.
Riddell, William Renwick. “The First Execution for Witchcraft in Ireland.” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Crimology 7 (1917): 828. accessed October 31, 2014. doi:10.2307/1133665.
Williams, Bernadette. “The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler.” History Ireland 2 (1994): 21. Accessed October 31, 2014. url: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27724208.
VisitKilkenny. “Grace’s Courthouse.” http://visitkilkenny.ie/graces_courthouse. Accessed December 11, 2014.
Images: http://new.keepkilkennybeautiful.com/?tag=courthouse, http://www.kilkennypeople.ie/news/kilkenny-news/courthouse-gaol-could-be-new-medieval-mile-attraction-1-5588993