Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Related Articles

Related Articles

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

From the 16th century, England was in the grips of hysteria over witchcraft, caused in part by King James VI, who was obsessed with the dark arts and wrote a dissertation entitled “Daemonologie” in 1599.

James had been influenced by his personal involvement in the North Berwick witch trials from 1590, and amassed various texts on magical studies that he published into three books to describe the topics of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft, and tried to justify the persecution and punishment of a person accused of being a witch under the rule of canonical law.

 

The published works assisted in the creation of the witchcraft reform, that led to the English Puritan and writer – Richard Bernard to write a manual on witch-hunting in 1629 called “A Guide to Grand-Jury Men”. Historians suggest that both the “Daemonologie” and “A Guide to Grand-Jury Men” was an influence that Matthew Hopkins would draw inspiration from and have a significant impact in the direction his life would take many years later.

Matthew Hopkins was born in Great Wenham, located in Suffolk, England, and was the fourth son of James Hopkins, a Puritan vicar of St John’s of Great Wenham. After his father’s death, Hopkins moved to Manningtree in Essex and used his inheritance to present himself as a gentleman to the local aristocracy.

Hopkins’ witch-finding career began in March 1644, when an associate, John Sterne alleged that a group of women in Manningtree were conducting acts of sorcery and were trying to kill him with witchcraft. Hopkins conducted a physical investigation of the women, looking for deformities and a blemish called the “Devil’s Mark” which would lead to 23 women (sources differ in the number) being accused of witchcraft and were tried in 1645. The trial was presided over by the justices of the peace (a judicial officer of a lower or puisne court), resulting in nineteen women being convicted and hanged, and four women dying in prison.

After their success in the trail, Hopkins and Stearne travelled throughout East Anglia and nearby counties with an entourage of female assistants, falsely claiming to hold the office of Witchfinder General and also claimed to be part of an official commission by Parliament to uncover witches residing in the populous by using a practice called “pricking”. Pricking was the process of pricking a suspected witch with a needle, pin or bodkin. The practice derived from the belief that all witches and sorcerers bore a witch’s mark that would not feel pain or bleed when pricked.

Although torture was considered unlawful under English law, Hopkins would also use techniques such as sleep deprivation to confuse a victim into confessing, cutting the arm of the accused with a blunt knife (if the victim didn’t bleed then they’d be declared a witch) and tying victims to a chair who would be submerged in water (if a victim floated, then they’d be considered a witch).

This proved to be a lucrative opportunity in terms of monetary gain, as Hopkins and his company were paid for their investigations, although Hopkins states in his book “The Discovery of Witches” that “his fees were to maintain his company with three horses”, and that he took “twenty shillings a town”. Historical records from Stowmarket shows that Hopkins actually charged the town £23, taking into account inflation would be around £3800 today.

Between the years of 1644 and 1646, Hopkins and his company are believed to be responsible for the execution of around 300 supposed witches and sent to the gallows more accused people than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.

By 1647, Hopkins and Stearne were questioned by justices of the assizes (the precursor to the English Crown Court) into their activities, but by the time the court resumed both Hopkins and Stearne retired from witch-hunting.

That same year, Hopkins published his book, “The Discovery of Witches” which was used as a manual for the trial and conviction of Margaret Jones in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the east coast of America. Some of Hopkins’ methods were also employed during the Salem Witch Trials, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692–93, resulting in hundreds of inhabitants being accused and 19 people executed.

Matthew Hopkins died at his home in Manningtree on the 12th August 1647 of pleural tuberculosis and was buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Mary at Mistley Heath. Within a year of the death of Hopkins, Stearne retired to his farm and wrote his own manual “A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft” hoping to further profit from the infamous career path both men had undertaken that caused the death of hundreds of innocent souls.

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Camulodunum – The First Capital of Britannia

Camulodunum was a Roman city and the first capital of the Roman province of Britannia, in what is now the present-day city of Colchester in Essex, England.

African Crocodiles Lived in Spain Six Million Years Ago

Millions of years ago, several species of crocodiles of different genera and characteristics inhabited Europe and sometimes even coexisted.

Bat-Winged Dinosaurs That Could Glide

Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Ancient Maya Built Sophisticated Water Filters

Ancient Maya in the once-bustling city of Tikal built sophisticated water filters using natural materials they imported from miles away, according to the University of Cincinnati.

New Clues Revealed About Clovis People

There is much debate surrounding the age of the Clovis - a prehistoric culture named for stone tools found near Clovis, New Mexico in the early 1930s - who once occupied North America during the end of the last Ice Age.

Cognitive Elements of Language Have Existed for 40 Million Years

Humans are not the only beings that can identify rules in complex language-like constructions - monkeys and great apes can do so, too, a study at the University of Zurich has shown.

Bronze Age Herders Were Less Mobile Than Previously Thought

Bronze Age pastoralists in what is now southern Russia apparently covered shorter distances than previously thought.

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

Popular stories

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.