The Suffolk Witch Hunts were a purge led by Matthew Hopkins in the 17th Century in an attempt to rid East Anglia of evil, leading to the arrest of over 200 supposed witches. Everyone knows of the Salem witch trials, but what is rarely spoken about is that Hopkins was operating long before the trials in America got underway.
Here at Red Rose Chain, we were fascinated by this rarely discussed piece of history and its significance to the place we live. With funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund, we created a collection of theatre pieces exploring this topic: two community projects, two audio plays, a film written by Leanne Baines, and a play written by Joanna Carrick, which you can read more about below:
In 1642, the Civil War broke out. King Charles I was losing control against the Parliamentarians, many of whom were strong believers in Puritanism, especially in East Anglia.
Puritans believed in religious piety and practicing restraint. No singing, no dancing, and no Christmas were among their new rules, believing such unnecessary merrymaking to be against God’s wishes.
In 1645, fears over the civil war led to puritans trying to find explanations for the chaotic world they lived in. Many of them came to the conclusion that the end of days were near, and that the apocalypse would lead to the devil walking the earth. Because of this, finding witches living among them was to be anticipated. Rigid Puritan belief combined with the terrors of war created the perfect environment for witch hunting to take place.
“In Ipswich, We are sober and grave. We have no drinking, No gambling, No card playing, No ribaldry, And no fashionable clothes. In fact no amusements of any kind.”
The World Turned Upside Down, 2019
What was a Witch?
In 1486, German catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer wrote a manuscript called The Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches. This work detailed how to identify witches, and how to protect yourself against them.
For over 200 years, it was a bestseller second only to the bible. The manuscript elevated sorcery to a criminal status and kickstarted Europe’s obsession for hunting witches.
The Malleus Maleficarum identifies six characteristics of a witch:
- Made a pact with the devil
- Sexual relations with the devil
- Aerial flight
- An assembly of witches (a coven) presided over by Satan
- Practice of maleficent magic
- The slaughter of babies
Who was targeted?
- Widows, especially those who were poor and relied on the village for support
- Women who took up positions of authority or independence such as midwives
- Anyone against whom there was a dislike or neighbourly dispute
- People who had relatives that were suspected witches
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