Dame Alice Kytler and Bishop LedredeIn the 14th century sparks flew in Kilkenny. On the one hand there was Dame Alice Kytler, a strong-willed, well-educated, wealthy and controversial woman. Public opinion was that she had gone through too many wealthy husbands for coincidence (number 4 was on the way out). On the other side was Bishop Ledrede, representing a church newly confident from its recent annihilation of the Knights Templar.
Bishop Ledrede had strong ideas about reforming the church. Anyone opposing him was anti-church, anti-Christ, a heretic and therefore engaged in witchcraft. Excommunications became commonplace as the local establishment made clear their opinion of this upstart Englishman and his odd notions.
The knave of the piece was Alice's son, William Outlaw. Among the milder accusations was that Alice was to be seen nightly sweeping the dirt of the town up to her son's door, while reciting: "To the house of William my son, hie all the wealth of Kilkenny Town." Dame Alice and her maid Petronella were condemned to death. Alice fled the country to England, and poor Petronella gained the dubious distinction in 1324 of being the first person burnt alive at the stake in Ireland for witchcraft.
William, who had turned pitiful promises of reform and pleas for mercy into an art form, and then totally ignored his promises, was eventually compelled as penance to repair the cathedral roof. The roof was duly re-leaded, but shortly afterwards, in 1332, the central tower collapsed, taking with it a large part of the choir. William was then accused of deliberately using too much lead on purpose to get his own back on the bishop.
Ledrede had meanwhile got himself on seriously unfriendly terms with both his archbishop and king and had to flee for his life to the Papal court. It was about 20 years before he returned to favour and a Kilkenny ravaged by the Black Death. He repaired his half-ruined cathedral and embellished it with an magnificent east window depicting scenes from the life of Christ. 300 years later Rinuccini (Papal Nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny during the English Civil War) offered £700 for the window, to be taken back to Rome.
In hindsight, the offer should have been accepted, for the window was utterly destroyed by Cromwell a few years later in 1650. Ledrede's tomb is almost certainly the recessed one to the left of the altar. The slab of the Kyteler family tomb is now at the west end of the north aisle, having been found under the High Street pavement in 1894.
To find out more information on Dame Alice Kytler and Bishop Ledrede, contact St. Canice's Cathedral & Round Tower