1108: Petronilla de Meath

The First Irish Woman Burned at the Stake for the Crime of Heresy

Born: c.1300 AD, Meath, Ireland (Present-day County Meath, Republic of Ireland)

Died: 3 November 1324 AD, Kilkenny, Ireland (Present-day Kilkenny, Republic of Ireland)

Petronilla was a maidservant to Alice Kyteler; both of whom were some of the first Irish women ever accused of witchcraft.

Very little else of Petronilla’s life story survives to this day. When she was born, who were parents were, if she was married, or even what her real last name was has all been lost. It is assumed Petronilla was born in Meath or at least lived there for a significant period of time, as her surname “de Meath” literally means “of Meath.”

In order to obtain more information on Alice, Petronilla was repeatedly tortured. After Petronilla broke and confessed to the crime of witchcraft, she was also forced to publicly announce that she and the others accused were witches and heretics.

Alice was able to escape to England through her family’s connections, and one source says she took Petronilla’s daughter (named either Sarah or Basilia, depending on which source you believe) with her. However, Petronilla and several of the others were left behind and burned alive, which was highly unusual. Most witches were killed first, then burned, at least in Europe. Petronilla's trial happened a century before the real witch hysteria would kick off in Europe, lasting several hundred more and taking several thousand victims with it.

Whether or not Petronilla was actually the first woman burned for witchcraft and heresy is up for debate according to some. However, what is not up for debate is that Petronilla and her friends were the first group of women tried as an organized group of witches in Ireland.