Mathew Hopkins

Matthew Hopkins

“The Devil hides in every corner and we mustn’t ignore him or he will take us unawares.”   –The World Turned Upside Down

The self proclaimed Witchfinder General worked alongside his partner John Stearn on a crusade to rid East Anglia of those who were believed to be working with the devil. Upon the death of his father, Hopkins purchased a pub called The Thorn Inn in Mistley. From this establishment, he socialised with important members of the community and caught wind of the social change occuring.

Hopkins’ first case was an old one legged woman called Elizabeth Clarke. Her mother had previously been hung as a witch, and soon accusations were pointed in her direction too. The magistrate offered a warrant to gather information about her connection to witchcraft, and it was Matthew Hopkins and John Stearn who accepted the role.

In order to obtain a confession from the witch, Hopkins inflicted methods of torture such as walking, sleep deprivation, starvation, and swimming. Swimming was a method whereby the suspected witch had their hands and feet tied together and would be thrown into a river. If they sank they were innocent, yet drowned, if they floated, it meant they were guilty. They outlawed this method following the trial of the Suffolk Witches in Bury St Edmunds in 1645.

Hopkins died not long after his career had begun, and despite rumours that he was executed for witchcraft himself, he died, likely of tuberculosis, on the 27th August, 1647, at his home in Mistley. He was at most 27 years old. He was buried at the church of St Mary at Mistley Heath.

Hopkins’ Downfall

At a Bury St Edmunds trial, the judge Serjeant Godbold ruled that because of just how many people were being arrested, the cost of the trials should be paid by the towns and villages who presented them. Some of these towns had already paid the witchfinders, searchers and watchers or still owed them money. An officer was appointed to collect funds from locals to feed the prisoners in gaol. The very people that had enjoyed watching the executions found themselves paying for it and were forced to reconsider whether they truly wanted the witch hunting to continue.

Not everyone was happy to have Hopkins in their town, and soon complaints started to spread. A man called Rev. Gaule preached openly against Hopkins’ actions and published a book titled ‘Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft’ which covered his concerns extensively. He wrote that, “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a robber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand & a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch.” It seemed that plenty of people agreed with him, and soon Hopkins’ reputation was worse than ever.

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