- The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland by Maeve Brigid Callan
Maeve Brigid Callan, Andrew Sneddon, witchcraft, Irish witchcraft, witcraft in Ireland, Medieval witcraft, Medieval magic, Medieval heresy, Templars
Maeve Callan's readable, well-structured, and scholarly book examines Irish medieval heresy trials of the volatile fourteenth century through the lens [End Page 139] of three little-studied, interlocking case studies. Its introductory chapter offers a solid overview of Ireland's distinctive brand of Christianity and the divisions this caused after Gregorian Reform and the Norman Conquest of England. It also skilfully situates the book within existing historiography and states clearly how it throws light on a number of important areas, including: the relationships between the English, Irish, and Anglo-Irish ethnic groupings in Ireland, and how the Church influenced them; the political, cultural, and gender aspects of heresy; and the tensions that existed within the Church hierarchy itself, and between spiritual and secular authority. The book includes a chronology of events, some appendices (consisting of the "Articles against Templars in Ireland" and "The Charges made against Alice Kyteler"), and some good black and white photographs of key locations mentioned in the text.
The first verifiable Irish heretic trials were initiated in 1310 by inquisitor Thomas De Chaddesworth, first against twenty-three Irish Templars and then Phillip de Braybrook. An offshoot of the European-wide trials that first began in France at the behest of the Pope, Callan argues that "the confused image of heresy that emerges in the articles against the order, the flimsiness of the evidence used to condemn it . . . and the areligious and political origin of the Templars' trial make it an accurate representative of those that followed in fourteenth-century Ireland" (76). The trial of de Braybrook was instigated at the same time and in the same place as that of the Irish Templars but was rooted in a decade-long feud between Dublin's Cathedral chapters of St. Patrick's and Holy Trinity. Little, however, is known about de Braybrook's doctrinal impropriety, nor whether as a convicted heretic he even served his comparatively lenient sentence. The next Irish heresy trials were marshalled by Richard de Ledrede, English Franciscan bishop of Ossory, and involved prominent Anglo-Irish colonists: Alice Kyteler and her associates in 1324; and then, over the course of the next five years, "some of the most powerful men in the colony, including his own metropolitan." Callan argues that these latter proceedings represented "the religious face of the infighting that greatly weakened the colony" (18). Based on little real evidence of heretical practices or beliefs, these politically motivated trials reached for the first time beyond Dublin and its rarefied ecclesiastical circles to wider colonial Ireland.
As a historian of Irish witchcraft, I found Callan's re-examination of the Kyteler case (to which two chapters and over a quarter of the book's total page count is dedicated) to be the main selling point of her book. As this is a sentiment probably shared by the majority of the readership of this journal, this aspect warrants closer inspection. Callan suggests that the Kyteler case shared many features of the witch hunts that would surface in other parts of [End Page 140] Europe in the fifteenth and succeeding centuries: it involved women (and centred on an accusation levied against an older woman, namely Alice Kyteler), one of whom, Petronilla de Midia, was tortured for a confession and executed at the stake (a first in Ireland at that time); it involved the use of harmful magic by Kyteler to murder her husbands and cause sexual impotence; and was marked by diabolical conspiracy. Callan, however, makes more historiographically novel and ambitious points than this. First of all, she affords Ledrede a larger role than predecessors in the Kyteler case, regarding him as an ambitious, arrogant, vengeful, and amoral man who trained in France and brought his firsthand knowledge of French heresy trials to bear on "Alice's stepchildren's charge...