The Familiars by Stacey Halls

A few years ago, I was invited to give a talk and tour of the herb garden at a local history museum at Barrowford near Nelson. I was fascinated by the wealth of information about the witches of Pendle, their trial and sad deaths in Lancaster.

When I recently came across book of fiction by Stacey Hills, weaving the story of the witches of Lancashire into her story, I could not resist buying it and certainly was not disappointed.  Being a journalist Stacey makes every word count, and her fictional story set in the early 1600’s, weaves fact and fiction together.

A wealthy mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, did exist, as did the other characters in the book, but the story is a clever work of fiction. It brings together the lives of people from very different backgrounds and yet they need each other and come to learn they can help each other.

Alice Gray was called a witch, as she had knowledge of herbs and used them specially to help women with childbirth. Alice befriends the mistress of Gawthorpe and their lives become entwined. This is fiction, but Alice Gray did indeed stand trial in Lancaster as a witch in 1612 and her life was very different to those of the others accused.

This work of fiction is based on truth and history of the time. It’s disturbing to think what was thought of those with knowledge and skill that helped others with herbs. Many simply could not afford to see the physicians of the day or chose a different kind of medicine and treatment than what was being offered.

Since reading this I went on to read The Foundling and Mrs England and enjoyed them also.


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