Petronilla de Meath

AI image of Petronilla de Meath on trial in Kilkenny. A servant girl in blue in a courthouse next to open fire.

The Forgotten Victim of Witch-Trial Hysteria

Petronilla de Meath, an obscure figure from the annals of history, has a tragic story that is both fascinating and horrifying. Born around 1300, Petronilla’s life was intertwined with that of Dame Alice Kyteler, a Hiberno-Norman noblewoman who lived in what is now County Kilkenny, Ireland.

The Accusation

After the death of Kyteler’s fourth husband, both Kyteler and Petronilla were accused of practicing witchcraft. The charges against them were severe and varied, ranging from denying Christ and the church, to cutting up living animals and scattering the pieces at crossroads as offerings to a demon. They were also accused of stealing the keys of the church and holding meetings there at night.

The Trial

The trial of Petronilla and Kyteler predated any formal witchcraft statute in Ireland, thus relying on ecclesiastical law where witchcraft was treated as heresy. While Kyteler managed to flee to Flanders or England to escape the trial, Petronilla and the other less wealthy associates were not as fortunate.

The Confession and Execution

Bishop Richard de Ledrede of Ossory ordered the torture of Petronilla and the other imprisoned associates. Under duress, they confessed to the charges made against them. Petronilla was then flogged and eventually burnt at the stake on November 3, 1324. Her execution marked the first known case in Ireland or Great Britain of death by fire for the crime of heresy.

The Legacy

Petronilla de Meath’s story serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of hysteria and the tragic consequences of unfounded accusations. Her life and death underscore the importance of due process and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. As we look back on her story, we are reminded of the need for justice and fairness in all aspects of society.

Petronilla de Meath

In the end, a simple servant girl became a symbol of the horrors of witch-trial hysteria. Her story, though tragic, serves as a powerful lesson for future generations. You can discover more about Petronilla, Alice Kytler and the Kilkenny Witch Trials on our boat trip. Also, check out a recent fictionalised historical account of Petronilla and the Witch Trials by author Niamh Boyce entitled Her Kind which is available in most bookstores in Kilkenny.


7th May 2024


Clifford Reid

Written by Clifford Reid


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